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The Truth on Guitar Wood Tones

The never ending war wages on. Will there be an end in sight? I can answer that question with a definitive YES. The material that your guitar is made out of does indeed have an affect on the way it sounds, but you may be interested to read up on the matter if your looking for a new axe.

The Answer

In regards to the type of wood your guitar is made out of, it most definitely affects the tone of your guitar – ACOUSTICALLY.  This is when you strum your lovely lady, unplugged. The difference is obvious and any laymen can tell the difference.

 

Take a gander at this guitar wood tone chart:

gutiar-woods-tone-chart

Click to enlarge

How wood types change your guitar sound:

After hours of research, hundreds of web pages and videos, here’s what I’ve found to be consistent. These are real tonal differences, not just some mumbo jumbo that a witch doctor came up with in the 50’s to make a sale. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll find the characteristics of the wood often resemble the sound that they resonate. For example Dark wood; Dark sound.

Mahogany:mahogany

Most commonly used on the Gibson Les Paul, mahogany features a rich, warm, sound with a lot of bottom end in the bass-y areas. Overall there is a great depth of character that’s blended smoothly to form a nice even tone.

alderAlder:

First used in the 50’s & 60’s, Alder is a common staple among Fender Stratocasters. It offers great definition in the high end – without sounding too shrill or harsh. This wood focuses more towards the treble, but doesn’t cut out any bass or mids.

mapleMaple:

Maple is a very dense, heavy wood, so it’s usually combined with other wood types when constructing a guitar. It’s well known for it’s clarity and note definition. Along with other light colored woods, its emphasis is on the high end.

sawmpashSwamp Ash:

With distinct grains, and overall lightness, Swamp Ash is a desirable material for building guitars – most commonly the Telecaster. With defined lows, highs that punch, and a slight twang, swamp ash has an all around great timbre for guitar construction.

basswoodBasswood:

Basswood is a softer wood and offers softer tones. Although its sometimes associated with budget guitars (due to its natural abundance) it is favored by top guitarists such as Joe Satriani for its good sustain, as well as warm balanced tone.

 

Of course there are more woods, but these are the main types associated with guitars.

 

Do The Magnets Detect the Wood’s Natural Frequencies?

Here is a cool video showing a guitar with no strings that is plugged into an amplifier. Arguments are being made that it is impossible for the magnets in your pickups to detect any kind of resonance in the guitar wood. (Quick reference to guitar pickups – Basics ) This video proves that argument to be invalid.

You don’t have to watch the whole thing if you don’t want to, you get the jist of it after a few hits.

Skip to (0:30) seconds

So here in the video you can see that the pickups alone are sensitive to the vibrations being cause by the wood. I was honestly a little surprised by this because, I thought they only responded to other metals – like the strings.

 

 

So what about plugged in?

We know that there are definite differences with the guitar unplugged, but what about running through an amplifier? After all, these are electric guitars, and we don’t really much care about how they sound unplugged. But here’s why the above information is important: If these tonal qualities do exist naturally in the guitar, then they should only be accentuated by the amplifier. Correct?

Correct.

When running your guitar through a completely clean channel, you can hear the audible difference in tone from wood to wood.

Here is a video comparison of 9 different wood types. Although some of these wood types are not covered in the chart above, that is because they are less commonly used in name brand builders. Take the general rule of thumb mentioned earlier and you can hear the difference between each guitar.

Remember, each guitar is tuned the same, so an E will sound like E, and a G will sound like G from guitar to guitar. What you want to listen to is the overall EQ that each guitar carries naturally. What’s the mix sound like? Are the bass notes more prominent? Can you hear some notes more clearly than others? Listen to the mix, and you’ll hear some notable differences.

 

He spends the first minute talking about how they are made (if that interests you). If you wanna get right to the playing, skip to (0:50) to hear the tone & resonance comparison tests.

 

 

Does distortion help?

Distortion does just that. It distorts the tone. All that guitar wood sound is getting filtered through your amp and coming out the other end completely different.

When it comes to matters that affect your electric guitar tone, it is the electric components that really make the most difference: The way that the pickups are wound, the gauge of the string, the string material, the type of magnets used in the pickups. These are all things that affect your electric sound. This is where you really pay money for craftsmanship if you want good tone. The most expensive wood will sound like total kaka if it doesn’t have good electronics backing it up.

amp_tone_lightning_woodWhen everything’s said and done; you’ve got your guitar running through your pedal rig and into your amp of choice. Everything’s dialed in, just the way you want it… The natural frequencies of the guitar wood will be very near the bottom of the list on things that affect your sound. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a pedal out there to make your maple guitar sound more like a mahogany guitar. Given the chart above it would be, really, quite easy to make my tone more warm, with more bass. Dial down the treble a little bit, and voilà. I’ve just swapped wood on my guitar….electronically.

 

What’s the point then?

Yes, guitar wood affects tone..

Does it matter, no not really.

If you like a really clean, pure, tone. One that’s untouched by filters, pedals and the like. Then I would say definitely! Go ahead and choose one of the woods above that sounds like what you want, and you will hear a clear difference in tone.

But with the variety of effects and amps, you could get your guitar to sound any way you want. The natural tone of the wood will hardly be apparent. Don’t bother buying some ultra rare african bolsa wood that’s claiming you “unheard of tones”. Get a decent guitar with good electronics in it. Money can’t buy you skills, but hard work and dedication most certainly can.

 

What do you think?

Hit up the comments sections and start some fire.

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-Happy Shredding

 

 

 

 

Phillip Dahir

4 Comments

  1. Great site man! Layout is great. Your posts are clear and legit. Your placement of videos is spot on. There’s information here that I know nothing about but after reading, I will! Excellent.

    • Hey Cole, I really dig your positive feedback. I’m hoping to reach lots of people to share this great info with, and comments like your help keep the fires burning. Much love man

  2. Oh wow. I don’t know much about guitars. But it was nice to read how different wood provides different sounds when the guitar is played. I thought it was just based on the strings adjustments when pluck.

    • String height from the pickups is also very important. Manufactures like Fender measure these to the millimeter to get their sounds just. That’s why they can charge what they want for their beautiful guitars 🙂

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