Guitar tone woods are an important part of the guitar-building process.
Different types of wood will affect the sound of your instrument in different ways. If you’re looking to buy a new acoustic guitar, it’s important to know the different tone woods available and what might work best for your playing style.
What is a guitar tone?
A guitar tone is the overall sound of your instrument, which is influenced by many factors including the type of wood used in the construction of your guitar. The type of wood used for the neck, body, fingerboard, and headstock can all have an impact on the sound of your instrument.
↳ What makes a “good guitar tone”?
This is a difficult question to answer because it is completely subjective. Guitar tone is the result of many factors, including the type of guitar you are using, the amplifier and effects you are using, your technique, and the room in which you are playing. Good guitar tone may sound different to different people. We all know that not everyone likes the same thing.
↳ How to describe your guitar’s tone?
If you’ve ever been shopping for a guitar, you’ve probably come across a lot of confusing terminology. What’s the difference between “fat” and “thick” tone? And how is “bright” different from “glassy”? To the uninitiated, it can all sound like a bunch of marketing gibberish. But in reality, these terms can be quite useful in describing the unique sound of a particular guitar. So let’s take a closer look at some of the most commonly used terms.
Most people agree that tone comes down to three basic elements: timbre, texture, and density.
- Timbre is the quality that gives a sound its distinctive character. It’s often described in terms of ” brightness,” “darkness,” or “warmth.”
- Texture refers to the way the different frequencies are balanced within the overall sound. A guitar with a “smooth” texture will have evenly-balanced frequencies, while one with a “rough” texture will have more pronounced highs and lows.
- Density refers to the overall power and fullness of the sound. A guitar with a “thick” density will have a fuller, richer sound, while one with a “thin” density will be lighter and brighter.
Of course, these are just general guidelines. The best way to really understand how a guitar sounds is to play it yourself. But by becoming familiar with some of the common terminology, you’ll be able to zero in on the instruments that are right for your particular style of playing.
What exactly is tonewood?
The term “tonewood” is used to describe the type of wood that produces specific tones when used in guitar construction. The sound of your instrument may be influenced by the kind of wood used on the neck, body (top, back and sides), fingerboard, and headstock.
3 Most Popular Acoustic Guitar Tone Woods
If you’re looking for a specific tone, it’s important to know which woods are best for guitar sound. Different woods will produce different sounds. The three most popular tone woods are spruce, rosewood, and mahogany. Each one has its own unique characteristics that will affect the sound of your guitar.
Spruce is a light-colored, smooth wood with a fine grain that is often used for the top of an acoustic guitar.
It has a very balanced sound, making it a good choice for a versatile instrument. This wood has a lot of dynamic range with its brightness and volume. It’s not as harsh on the ears, making it great for instruments like guitars. It blends in well with most woods. Spruce is the most popular tonewood used in steel-string soundboards.
- Sitka Spruce is the most popular type of spruce used for guitar tops. It has a wide range of frequencies and a bright, clear sound. This wood is commonly used for guitars because it speaks to its audience. 80% of all guitars are made with this wood.
- Adirondack or Red Spruce is another type of spruce with wider grains that is used for guitar tops. It has a powerful, bold sound that’s ideal for dreadnought guitars. This wood has a lot of headroom, and it continues to produce volume as you strum harder. Red Spruce is less common because it’s more expensive and harder to find.
Mahogany is a denser, darker wood that is often used for the back and sides of an acoustic guitar. It may also be used as a top wood. Mahogany has a lot of mid-range frequencies with less low end, making it easy to record. It also works well in a band setting.
Many guitarists use mahogany because it is less expensive than rosewood. This wood is a cost-effective, durable, and good-looking option. It’s easy to work with and has a pleasing sound quality.
Rosewood is another dark-colored wood that is often used for the back, sides and fingerboards of an acoustic guitar. It is heavier and more dense than other woods. This is a rare, expensive and less sustainable wood.
Rosewood is a beautiful wood with a lot of character. It has a very distinct sound that is hard to replicate. Many guitarists use rosewood because it gives their instrument a unique voice. It has a warm, mellow sound that blends well with other woods. It has a wider dynamic range than mahogany. It is both rich in overtone and sustain.
- Brazilian Rosewood is the most popular type of rosewood used for guitars. It has a very rich, full sound with a lot of low end. This wood is very rare and expensive.
- Indian Rosewood is another type of rosewood that is widely used in acoustic guitars. It has a bright, articulate sound with great projection. It’s less expensive and more readily available than Brazilian Rosewood.
Other Acoustic Guitar Tonewoods
In addition to the three most popular tone woods, there are a few other options that are worth considering.
- Maple is also a light-colored wood, but it is harder than spruce. It has a bright, articulate sound that makes it a good choice for fingerpicking styles. This hard, dense wood provides a clean sound because its low ends are not competing for attention. Many luthiers prefer this wood for neck and fretboards and occasionally used as soundboards. Gibson is especially well-known for using this wood in their acoustic guitars.
- Cedar is a soft wood that is often used for the top of a classical guitar. It has a very warm sound with less sustain. It is distinct, somewhat darker, and reddish in comparison to spruce.
- Walnut is a hard wood that is often used for back and sides of acoustic guitars, as well as neck and fretboards. It has a rich, dark color that can add a lot of depth to the sound of your guitar. For the back and sides, walnut is a wonderful alternative to mahogany.
- Ebony is a hard wood that is often used for the fretboard of an acoustic guitar. It’s a beautiful wood with an output tone that’s bright and responsive. It has remarkable sustain when fretting out your favorite tunes on this wonderful board material!
- Alder is a light-colored wood that is often used for the body of an acoustic guitar. It’s frequently described as the most balanced tone, making it a good choice for a versatile instrument. Alder is a popular choice for many guitarists because it produces a well-rounded sound and is relatively lightweight.
- Koa is a tropical wood that is often used for the body or neck of an acoustic guitar. It has a bright, articulate sound with excellent projection.
Koa is a rare, incredibly distinctive, and complex wood with a style that can’t be compared to anything else. The bottom end is strong and the upper range is defined, but the overall tone is clear and warm. The sound is well-balanced.
- Sapele is a hardwood with fine grain that is comparable to Mahogany and can be used as a substitute.
Which is better – solid wood or laminated wood?
You might be asking if solid wood or laminate is a better option. There are certainly advantages to both types of wood. Here’s a look at the pros and cons of each to help you make a decision.
Solid wood is a single piece of wood that has been cut into the desired shape.
- Pros: Solid wood is more resonant, resulting in a richer, fuller sound. As the wood matures, its tone improves over time.
- Cons: Can be more susceptible to changes in temperature and humidity. More expensive than laminate wood.
Laminate wood is composed of multiple layers of wood that have been glued together. It is also called layered or engineered wood.
- Pros: It’s less expensive, more durable and consistent tone. This wood is also more resistant to changes in temperature and humidity. You will be able to make efficient use of waste/cut-offs and conserve rare tone woods.
- Cons: A less vibrant tone as a result of reduced resonance.
How to Get Better Sound Quality
Guitars need more than just tonewood to sound great. The construction, bracing, and electronics all play a role in the overall tone of the instrument. But if you’re looking for a place to start, focusing on the type of wood can be a great way to improve your sound.
Be sure to consider the type of wood when choosing an instrument, as it can have a significant impact on the sound of your guitar. When it comes to tone woods, there are many options to choose from.
But ultimately, the type of wood you choose will depend on the sound you’re looking for. Do some research and experiment with different woods to find the perfect match for your playing style. With a little effort, you can take your sound to the next level!