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Tornovoz

The Tornavoz, demystified Historians of the Spanish guitar have tried to describe the strange apparatus Torres used in his guitars. Most believe the cone-shaped resonator, frequently of brass, was intended to amplify the sound projecting form the sound-hole, though a minority believe its purpose was simply to prevent rivals from examining his bracing, the secret Torres sound. In Antonio De Torres: Guitar Maker His Life & Work, Jose Romonillios discusses his understanding of how the Tornavoz works: a resonance peak must be present on account of the natural pitch of the Tornavoz that inevitably must vibrate sympathetically with certain string and guitar body frequencies. How much resonance the Tornavoz can contribute to the overall sound is impossible to assess without a thorough investigation of its overall function, but there is no doubt about it has an audible effect. (p. 175)

Historical explanations of the Tornavoz range from the mystical to the scientific, but I believe most totally miss the mark. My own recent experience building The Dresden, using a parchment rose in the sound hole with the hope of giving it a more lute-like sound, refocused by attention upon the tone-altering affect the size of the sound hole has on the instrument. I wanted to incorporate this tone into the modern guitar but without changing the aesthetics of the guitar design. It was while designing a Zen-like parchment rose more suitable to modern tastes that I began to ask myself whether Torres had not in fact done something very similar. The thought arose that the Tornavoz might achieve the same affect as the multi-dimensional parchment rose did in the baroque guitar. The Tornavoz was not invented or used solely by Torres. Miguel Simon Moya, Lorca Pino, Benito Ferrer maker of Segovias first guitar, Manuel Rameriz, Santos Hernandez, Domingo Esteso, Enrique Garcia, Fransico Simplicio and Herman Hauser I all employed the device. Nonetheless, the coincidence of Torres use of the device together with the great leap forward in sound quality represented by Torres guitars, particularly those of his first epoch, merits renewed attention. FE17, Tarregas first Torres guitar, was fitted with a Tornavoz. The instrument of flamed maple back and sides is described by Pujols first-hand account: In addition to the spontaneity of the sound, perhaps due to its Tornavoz, there was a clear warm timbre as if it were of gold. The balance between bass and treble was proportionally exact in volume and the duration of its vibrations equally generous throughout the fingerboard. It sufficed to finger a perfect chord in order that, by plucking only three bass notes one could clearly perceive the harmonics of the other strings. (Romanillios, page 181) FE 09, Miguel Llobets instrument, also employed a Tornavoz. This instrument may be heard on a recording, but its tone qualities are much compromised by the multiple soundboard cracks. These Llobet would not permit to be repaired for fear the instruments sound might be compromised. In 1863 Helmholtz published On the Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music, focusing upon his interest in the physics of perception. This book influenced musicologists into the twentieth century. Helmholtz invented the Helmholtz resonator to show the height of the various tones. It would seem logical that Torres and his contemporaries would have been familiar with the principles of Helmholtz. In fact, the tube or neck of a Helmholtz resonator seems to be in all practicality a Tornavoz! We know some useful facts about Helmholtz resonance from simple empirical studies. The resonance is proportional to:

The inverse square-root of the cavity volume The inverse square-root of the length of the cavity outlet The square-root of the area of the cavity opening

An air cavity will exhibit a single resonate frequency. If extra air is pushed into the volume and then released, the pressure will drive it out. But, acting somewhat like a mass on a spring which is pulled down and then released, it will overshoot and produce a slight vacuum in the cavity. The air will oscillate into and out of the container for a few cycles at a natural frequency. If the opening to the cavity is larger, the excess air can escape, returning to atmospheric pressure more rapidly. This leads to a higher cavity resonant frequency. If the neck of the cavity is longer, there is more resistance to the flow of the excess air and the resonant frequency is lowered. If the cavity volume is increased, then it takes a greater excess mass of air to produce a given overpressure, and it therefore takes longer for that excess pressure to be relieved. The larger cavity will have a lower resonant frequency. It might help to visualize a large test tube with a round bottom, and a long narrow neck much like a beer bottle. The bottom of the bottle represents the shape of the guitar, the long norrow neck is the Tornovoz, and the opening at the top of the neck the soundhole. We can now lower the air resonance by decreasing the size of the sound hole, at the same time, the audible volume does not decrease! Lowering the air resonance has a very positive effect on the tonal qualities of a guitar. With the guitar, we might say that the lowest resonance (associated with the Helmholtz resonance) falls near the pitch of the second lowest string, around A, and the lowest body mode falls near the pitch of the third lowest, around D. Together these increase the sound radiation at fundamentals of several of the notes in the low range of the instrument. Further body resonances are distributed at higher frequencies. These improve radiation of the fundamentals of higher notes, and to harmonics of lower notes. The perceived effect of a stronger fundamental in the higher trebles something extremely desirable to most guitarists; this translates in laymans terms as a fat treble, not thin sounding.

Since aesthetically, the plantilla of Torres guitar was set, he could not make the sound hole smaller, so instead he sought a lower air resonance by increasing the cavity outlet the long, narrow, neck by inserting under and into the sound hole, a conical brass tube. This brass cylinder further restricts the flow of air in and out of the sound hole, thereby lowering the air resonance and effectively creating a near working model of a Helmholtz resonator! Understanding these basic principles, Torres next set his sights upon something else. The six-string guitar up to, and during Torres lifetime was a small-bodied instrument with an unobstructed sound hole. Lute and baroque guitar makers from the 16th through the 18th century were making instruments with obstructed openings such as the carved lute rose and the multi-dimensional parchment roses descending below and into the body of the guitar in excatly the same way as a free floating Tornovoz. The tornavoz on Torres instruments even incorporate the decorative motifs found on baroque guitar roses. Clearly Torres put 2 + 2 together, and sought answers in the traditions of the past. In fact, this innate ability of Torres to recognize and incorporate the many different

traditions was the real nature of his genius, and adding to them his own vision, he created the modern guitar of today. In studying the data given in Rominillios book on Torres, a clear and convincing pattern starts to emerge. All of Torres guitars featuring a Tornavoz have lower open harmonic bars. Rominillios states, Torres used the Tornavoz to free the area of soundboard around the lower harmonic bar, a cut out bar, to increase the vibratory area of the soundboard. However, what Torres was really doing, was lowering the plate (soundboard) resonance even further! Now that he was able to boost the treble with the Tornovoz, further plate resonance reduction allowed him to do away with the high frequency partials. The soundboard of a guitar doesnt have a large range for variation in thickness compared to say a violin. If one thins the soundboard down much below 2mm one can accomplish a definite frequency reduction while at the same time risking the structural integrity of the soundboard. However Torres figured out the most effective way of lowering the plate resonance, while still maintaining structural integrity is to open the lower harmonic bar. The harmonic bar is also called, the transverse bar, the brace that is glued across the top right below the sound hole).

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