I have a lack of sustain on my 3 string guitars: using A-D-G strings tuned G-D-G, my lowest string (the A tuned to G) has a noticeable lack of sustain, especially with a slide, from about the 10th fret on up. I notice it more with a tailpiece than with strings coming through the bottom of the neck. Any suggestions? Note- it is not really a big deal to me, but if I can improve it, it'd be nice.

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Les Paul explored and conquered the problem of sustain.   Read what you can about "the log"

Inherently, less tension means more sustain to some degree, and.... there are many contributing factors. That being said though, that's based on tuning strings to the correct pitch they were meant for, so de-tuning the A string to G, can have an opposite effect by being too slack and loosing sustain as well, as will a shorter scale length. See, many factors at work. Ideally, the best(I use best loosely) situation for open G tuning on a cigar box would be a longer scale length like 25-25-1/2" range to compensate for using the A string, make sure you have a good break angle coming off the strings and lastly, a thin soundboard with maybe some internal acoustic type bracing and sound hole. But you can only expect so much with these boxes.

Adding a reverb spring inside can give a slightly different sound but add a longer "ring" to the strings, something to experiment with and easily reversed if the desired effect isn't achieved.

That's what I like about these type of instruments, you can do most anything you want to them, and if one makes you want to pull your hair out, grab it by the neck and find a tree to tune it up lol and start over. ;-o

Hi, the strings job is to excite the top into motion/vibration whitch in turn (at different frequencies) sets the air in the box in motion producing the sounds we hear exiting the soundhole.

So, the more responsive the top is to string vibrations, the more likely the guitar will have "good" sustain. All other components being ideal, of course. 

I think a string could vibrate for a long time say 15 seconds or and more, but lose the energy to produce an audible acoustic sound because it's not driving the top.

Cheers Taff

Taff, you are right that the top vibrates.  It uses energy from the strings to make it vibrate.  The less energy the strings lose , the longer they will vibrate (sustain). Here is a link to an article about Les Paul and sustain. http://www.les-paul.com/timeline/red-hot-red/  and a short quote from that article   "

The Rail

Les found his next inspiration across the street from his home at the railroad tracks. He and his friends collected a 2-foot piece of discarded rail and with the microphone from his mother’s phone and a guitar string stretched the length of the rail, Les could hear just the string vibrate and the sustain went on forever." 

An acoustic cigar box guitar has limited sustain because of the energy required to make the top vibrate.  So, a magnetic pickup (rather than a piezoelectric which amplifies the mechanical vibrations) in a more or less solid or rigid cigar box will allow for longer sustain.

If the magnetic pickup has a strong magnet and is too close to the strings, it will dampen the sustain.

Happens a lot since most people will adjust the pickup height as close to the strings as possible in stead of finding the sweet spot.

So pickups can be a catch 22 situation if not done right.

I've heard the Les Paul story in a different way, stories get mixed up over time or 2 stories get mixed together. The way I heard it was he heard the glass rattle in the window when a train passed by. He then took a needle and speaker from the family's old non-working Victrola, embedded the needle in the bridge of his acoustic guitar and wired it to the speaker. Thus the electric guitar was born. The rail story could also be true since Les Paul was always doing little experiments. He once put strings to 2 fence posts trying to isolate the wood influence on guitar sound.

Also, some believe that the first electric guitar was developed by Adlof Rickenbacker and a few other supporters  and was called the "fryingpan". Nolan Beauchamp developed pickups using a length of 4x2 with strings to test them, in the early 1930's.

He also used phonograph amplification, modified with needle removed.

Taff

Lots of old inventors got the cold shoulder from some of the media back in those days, so their story didn't make the news sometimes.

We were all taught that the Wright Brothers were first in flight, but there's a story from a little known paper reporter on site of a German American inventor that flew his plane almost a year earlier. The news didn't make it to the major media outlets.

Bet there's a lot of inventors that got hosed over the years. ;)

Sustain comes from the endpoints being rock solid.  Squishy bridge, floppy soundboard, rubbery slide, these steal the energy.

Thought experiment: stretch out a slinky and tie the ends to the a pair of trees and pluck it, versus stretching out a slinky and tie the ends to bath towels and tie the bath towels to the trees.

I have found that along with string dia the angle from the tail stock to the bridge can make a difference. If it is too shallow I have found the string deadens more rapidly. Also, make sure the string isn’t “grabbed” too much by the notch in the bridge, that is isn’t seated too deeply. I like to use hard bridge materials like bone or often a notched piece of fret wire embedded in a wooden bridge. Hope that is some food for thought.

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