A tone guide for Guitar Woods, Body, Neck and Fretboard.
Here is a guide into woods and how they effect the tone of a guitar.
Alder is a lightweight wood with soft tight pores and has a large swirling grain pattern to it. These larger rings and sections give it strength and complexity of the tones and retains keeps high tones, but also gives room for the lows. You do get a wider scope of tones, but leads to the perception of a little less middle tone. Alder is generally consider the go to wood for electric guitars.
Basswood is an Inexpensive tone wood which is easy to cut, sand and finish and is a soft wood with tight grains and tends to soften any sharp high tones and helps to level out the thin tinny sound. The softness of Basswood also stimulates a weaker low end. It’s light in weight, but not because of large pores. Rather it’s low in mass overall. Deep, breathy sub-lows aren’t resonated in Basswood. The reduction in these outer frequencies leaves the mids pronounced in a hypothetical response curve.
Mahogany, is mainly used in the acoustic world for back and sides, it is economical, durable, attractive, easy to work with and resonant. Mahogany lends more of a parlor kind of tone to the guitar and contains a distinct character. This character was present on most of the acoustic guitar sounds on early Beatles recordings since they used Gibson’s of mahogany build.
There are two types of Ash, The Northern (hard) or The Southern (soft). Hard Ash is popular because of it’s bright tone and long sustaining qualities. Soft Ash, also known as Swamp Ash, has a much warmer feel than the hard ash.
Both the soft Ash and the hard Ash have an open grain, meaning a good amount of preparation has to be done to ensure the grain is filled to ensure a smooth finished surface.
Walnut’s tone is slightly warmer than maple, although it still has good sustain. Walnut looks beautiful with oil finishes and is comparatively heavy, but still lighter than maple.
Hugely popular wood for necks and fretboards and easily identifiable because of its lovely bright tone, characteristic grain patterns. It’s tonal characteristics include good sustain with plenty of bite and can be as dense as hard ash, but is much easier to finish due to it’s tight grain and is very durable. Hard Maple is tough on factory tools so it’s generally used for slimmer guitars. It really shouts with bright highs and strong upper mid range.
This wood has a beautiful rich variety of brown and purple colours and it makes a warm rich sounding guitar with great resonance and volume. Brazilian rosewood has better clarity than Indian rosewood with almost bell like tone in the trebles, however is now difficult to buy. Indian rosewood has become the general substitute and is not as attractive as Brazilian and It has a noticeably purple color and the grain markings are coarser. Although Rosewood is a hard wood it’s porous nature gives it a warmer tone in general.
The Hawaiian wood Koa comes in a variety of rich golden colours from light to dark and usually has very strong grain markings giving it a beautiful look. Koa produces a very balanced sounding guitar and has much of the warmth of rosewood and the brightness of Mahogany. The highs don’t jump out and are more widespread and are more in the upper mid range than highs.
Rosewood is the most common fretboard wood. The Rosewood sound is richer than Maple because the stray overtones are absorbed into the oily pores. Rosewood is a naturally oily wood and this is why we use lemon oil to stop a rosewood fretboard from drying out and cracking. Rosewood is one of the heaviest woods available to the guitar maker and its colour varies a great deal from piece to piece, all being very attractive.
Easy to recognise for its bright tone, grain patterns and moderate weight. It’s tonal characteristics include good sustain with plenty of bite. It is about as dense as hard ash, but is much easier to finish and is very durable. When used on a fretboard, Maple produces tremendous amounts of higher overtones and its tight, almost filtered away bass favors harmonics and variations in pick attack.
A bright full on attack, great long sustain and excellent durability compared to rosewood. Ebony has a crisp sound with the density of Maple, but with more brittle grains, oilier pores, and a stronger fundamental tone than Maple. It has a great amount of percussive overtones in the pick attack, that mute out shortly thereafter to foster long sustain. Ebony sounds great on a guitar with a long neck, it’s more percussive, as long as you don’t have a real hard wood body like solid Maple it makes for a great tonal combination.
Maple is the traditional Fender neck wood that is dense, hard and strong and offers great sustain and stability with bright tone. Maple is also the most common electric guitar neck wood and has a uniform grain and has less reaction from environmental changes than other hardwoods. Its tone is highly reflective and focuses more energy onto the body wood.
A Rosewood neck will give great sustain while also smoothening out the highs. A lot of the time with greater sustain comes a brighter top end. Rosewood mutes the high frequency overtones, producing a strong fundamental that still has the complexities of mid and low mid overtones.
Mahogany makes for a very stable neck due to it’s even density reducing the risk of warping, cracking or snapping. The open pores make the neck a little more responsive than a maple neck and Mahogany will absorb a little more of the string vibration than Maple. Mahogany is the wood most associated with Gibson guitars. Good for warmer, fatter guitar tones to round off the humbuckers. This wood is usually played raw with no finish required.
A black hard wood that is stiff and very strong with chocolate brown stripes, textured wood with open grain. This wood makes amazing bass necks with strong midrange tones and warm lows. Used mainly as neck shafts, but can also be used as a coarse fretboard. This wood is usually played raw and has no finish. Wenge trims some high overtones like Rosewood does, while resonating more fundamental mids and low mids due to it’s multi-density “stripes” combing away a little more of the mid and low mid overtones.
Tone is somewhere between Mahogany and Maple with a little sweeter top end. Sounds especially good when combined with an Ebony fingerboard.