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Choosing Your Guitar's Tonewood

Help with guitar tonewoods
Which tonewood to choose?
One of the most crucial things to consider when you buy a guitar is the wood it's made from, which can affect the tone you produce to varying extents.

An acoustic guitar can be made from solid sheets of wood on the top, back and sides. These are often the most expensive guitars. The top panel is the one that carries the most vibrations from the strings, so you'll often find guitars with a solid top but laminate back and sides. Solid wood has an uninterrupted grain pattern which makes it vibrate better than laminate, which will have a thin top layer of wood.

Electric guitars can either have a solidbody, a block of shaped solid wood or a hollowbody, which produces a smooth tone with a greater acoustic amplification, which is why they're sometimes called 'semi-acoustic'. Semi-hollowbody guitars have space where the sound can resonate, either by adding blocks of wood to a hollowbody or creating chambers in a solidbody model.

The quality of the wood can make all the difference if you're struggling to narrow your choice down. Go for a guitar that uses high-quality wood - one that's not likely to have 'dead' spots or areas where the sound will be dampened.

Type of Wood

There are many types of tonewoods used, we'll run through some of the most popular. If you can't physically try the guitar before you buy, this guide can help you to make an informed decision.

Maple is commonly used on necks because it's resistant to humidity variations that can warp the wood of your electric guitar. Loud projection and very bright, maple-bodied guitars are ideal for Jazz styles.

Mahogany has a warm sound that improves with time, great for players who desire plenty of sustain. Found on the bodies of many Gibson and PRS Guitars and also produces a warm sound when used as the neck tonewood.

Basswood, similar to Mahogany but just a touch brighter.

Koa, a little less brighter than maple, becomes warmer as it's played. Koa originates from Hawaii and is therefore highly sought-after. Taylor have a series of acoustic guitars that feature this tonewood.

Bubinga is sometimes called African rosewood because of its similarity to rosewood, although it's less porous. Often overlooked, it's one of the best value tonewoods around.

Ash is bright-sounding and relatively light, typical with Fender Telecaster models.

Alder is light with a warm and bright tone. Its tonal distribution tends to be more even than Ash. Popular on many Fender Stratocaster models.

Walnut is a hard wood which sounds similar to Koa, it's a fairly new wood in relation to maple or mahogany but carries characteristics of both, its sound is inbetween.

Spruce can be a great all-rounder but especially the thing for fingerpickers. Spruce tops come in a few origins - Sitka and Engelmann are the most common, capable of a variety of tones.

Rosewood is like spruce, it's great for all playing styles and has a classic tone that will work for years to come. Seen on many fretboards and a few acoustics, rosewood is very rarely found in solidbody electric guitars.

Sapele is another all-purpose tonewood, a real mahogany doppelganger in both sound and look.

Cedar is a softwood usually found on classical guitars, it responds sensitively to delicate playing, and can pick up nuances well.

Posted on 11 Jul 2013 12:29 to category : Tips and advice

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