Why the Acoustic "F-Hole" Guitar Design?

Have you ever wondered why some guitars have acoustic, “F-Holes.” Do they actually serve any purpose? Are they only ornaments? Well, there's a study published by a group of acoustic scientists from MIT that set out to understand the business of the "F-Hole." In this post, we'll dive into that study and learn more...



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The Design History of the “F-Hole” 
The acoustic "F-Hole" design is certainly is a nod back to the Violin and to the Renaissance period. In Europe, the Renaissance period was a time based upon the rediscovery of; literature, engineering, and modern history.


Instrument “F-holes” date from the Renaissance period and while many people will say that their design is purely aesthetic, the “F-Hole” is actually much more than just ornamental. The placement and length of the "F-Hole," design (whether it was arrived at by accident or by conscious intent), has had a remarkable staying power for very good reason.



MIT Studies the F-Hole for Acoustics:
Back in 2015 a group of acoustic scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), announced a break-through study of sound hole acoustics that was later published by the Royal Society of Science  ...[If you don’t know about this organization, The Royal Society is the oldest scientific academy in existence with a Fellowship of many of the world's most eminent scientists].

The MIT researchers discovered that the acoustic F-hole design served as the perfect means of delivering the most powerful acoustic sound. They went to work and tested this and they noticed that the “F-hole” design had "twice the sonic power," of circular holes when it came to delivering sound from a hollow wooden RESONANCE chamber.


The Joe Pass Epiphone used in the video

And, it was able to produce double the acoustics at amplifying the sound of instrument strings strung across the acoustic sound-board.



How the "F-Hole" Evolved:
The evolution of the “F Hole” was slow and most historians will agree that the design started with the Amati family of violin makers back in the 16th century.

 
Then, over the years, the evolution of the “F-Hole” design for instruments continued to evolve until we arrived at the design we find in use today.

The MIT scientists wrote something interesting in their report. They said that, just like in biology, they found that for instrument design: the “F-holes,” actually arose from "craftsmanship error.”


Makers inevitably created imperfect copies of other instruments. But, once violin makers like the famed Stradivari arrived at the “F-hole,” they found that they had a superior shape, and they definitely knew that it was also a better instrument with that design.



Now, whether or not those master craftsmen back 300 plus years ago truly understood the mathematical principles of the “F-hole, (like the acoustic engineers at MIT) well, no one can truly say that for certain.



The F-Hole Principle for Acoustic Projection:
Before we wrap up, I wanted to share one more thing that the acoustic engineer’s team at MIT found, and that was something they called the relationship between "the linear proportionality of conductance" and "sound-hole perimeter length."



I know that comes off as seeming like a lot of engineer technical talk, but what it means is actually quite simple. The more elongated the “F” sound hole design, the more sound can escape from the instrument. The researchers discovered that the more power-efficient elongated sound holes were applied by instrument builders between the 16th and the 18th centuries.


All further attempts made throughout the 19th century - to work toward creating an improved geometrical change to the “F-holes' design” - actually served to make things worse. And so, we still have that same 18th century, “F-Hole” design still in use to this very day!



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