One of Carolan’s distinctive features is the sound port that sits atop the guitar, facing up towards the player’s ear. This can opened up or closed using a magnetic cover that is decorated with its interactive artcode.
Sound ports like this have been around for decades, especially on high-end designer instruments, but have struggled to gain widespread acceptance. Until now that is, as Gibson’s newly announced Generation Collection feature top-side sound ports as standard.
Debate around the pros an cons of sound ports has focused on how they affect the sound of the instrument. One popular line of argument is that they provide a kind of personal monitor that enables the player to appreciate the sound of the guitar as would normally be heard by the audience. It has also been argued that sound ports can brighten up a dull sounding instrument as luthiers can use them to fine tune the high frequency response (there’s a longer discussion of the sonic properties of sound ports here).
Carolan’s sound port certainly does provide a powerful personal monitor that notably changes the experience of playing it. However, this is not its only benefit. Carolan’s unusual design, lacking a conventional front sound hole, makes a side sound port a necessity to access the inside of the guitar for repairs or routine maintenance such as changing the battery in its pickup.
Carolans’ sound port has also proved useful for introducing additional ‘payloads’ into the guitar such as still and video cameras that capture unusual guitar eye views of the world (see Posts 49 and 94), sensors that measure temperature and movements as part of monitoring its health (Post 46), and even a bluetooth speaker that enables the instrument to play it’s own backing tracks. This latter ideas mirrors several recent guitar designs that use vibrating actuators to directly play sounds through the body of the guitar as a way of delivering effects such as echo and chorus without the need for an external pedal or amplifier (see for example Yamaha’s Transacoustic guitars and the LAVA ME3 guitar).
This would be useful even for guitars with regular sound holes as various gizmos can be introduced into the instrument without needing to first remove the strings. While the sound enhancing qualities of sound ports has been debated for years, we suggest that it is this more pragmatic quality – the ability to introduce all manner of gizmos directly into the instrument – that may ultimately make them a go to feature feature of acoustic guitars. And with a natty cover such as Carolan’s they don’t even have to be open all of the time.