A guitar tonewoods guide is essential if you want to make a guitar and answer the following questions: which woods are the most commonly used? What are their properties? And, more importantly, does the sound of the guitar change depending on the wood you choose? Everything’s answered here.
1. Does it change anything?
There’s an endless debate between guitar players on the importance of choosing the right tonewood. So, concretely, does that alter the guitar sound? The answer is: yes.
Of course, there are other factors to take into account. The way the guitar is made, its size, shape, age… And a lot more. Not even two identical models would sound the same, due to a simply natural reason : wood. It changes constantly.
2. On guitar wood knowledge…
You must have come to this page for a reason, which maybe is that:
- You want to repair your guitar, replace or fill one part of it.
- You intend to buy a guitar and wanna know which wood suits better your playing.
- You want to build a guitar and do not know where to start.
Whichever goal you might have, you will leave this page with a greater knowledge on guitar wood, and – well, I cannot guarantee it – with your definitive idea in mind.
3. Acoustic guitar
Even though wood plays its role on both electric and acoustic guitar, it certainly has more impact on the latter. But again, it goes back to the eternal debate.
There’s a couple of wood types used for this instrument, let’s see first those used for the soundboard.
If you plan on making an acoustic guitar, or even have it built, taking your time before choosing the top wood is necessary. The top is responsible for a large part of the guitar sound. Here are two tonewoods commonly used (click on the picture to see the description):
Sometimes, other types are used such as mahogany for steel-string guitars, or basswood for classical guitars. If you desire a more unique sound on your guitar, go for a rarer guitar wood, but keep in mind that it’s often more expensive, as less employed.
3.2. Side, back and neck.
Typically, hardwood is preferred for those guitar parts. What’s the right type of wood to use for the back, sides and neck of your guitar? Well… It’s not as important to know that as it is for the top. But still, if you want to make the right choice, here’s what you can find:
And there are many other woods usable for guitar neck, back and sides such as: Meranti, Australian Red Cedar, or Sapele… The choice is yours to make.
4. Electric guitar
The pickup is more important than the wood you’re going to choose. But the latter still has a role to play in the sound. Make sure you give it a thought before you buy any components.
The guitar top is 50% of the time the same wood as the body. So… What about the rest? Let’s see what we have:
On archtop guitars, it’s not rare to see a top made of sitka spruce as an alternative to maple. But the latter remains the common choice made by manufacturers.
4.2. Body and neck.
Every piece of wood is different, even for the same type, cut nearly at the same place. Before buying a guitar, it’s good to see if the wood is of quality. Knock on it and check the resonance. If it sounds deaf, try another guitar. That said, let’s see the common neck and body woods used for the electric guitar:
Now, let’s see the kinds of wood used for both acoustic and electric guitars fingerboard:
- Rosewood: this is clearly the most popular guitar wood here. Classical, steel-string, Strat’, Les Paul… You will find mostly rosewood on their fretboard.
- Maple: as usual, Stratocasters and Telecasters employ this type of wood. Rarely used otherwise.
- Ebony (Gaboon Ebony): This wood tends to be the luxury choice for any guitar players. It has grown very rare, and now, the only place we can find it is in Cameroon (except for the stock left in other countries).
Ebony on fretboards used to be jet black, and it was loved for that. Bob Taylor made the recent decision to use all the wood from the trees sown. Now you won’t find any newly made guitar with entirely black fretboards.
However, it’s still a great wood for fingerboards, certainly the best. But it comes with the price.