Hand Tools Archive

Re: Tone wood and aesthetics
Response To:
Tone wood and aesthetics ()

David Weaver
These are my opinions....

...warren often talks about woods that are dead vs. woods that are musical. Beech would probably be a terrible tone wood. Maple is not a great tool wood because it transmits vibrations, but it was walked into accidentally because leo fender was cheap, and also because it does make a wonderful violin neck.

For the purpose of electric guitars, though, it was considered unsuitable for a time (that's obviously not true, though).

Stepping aside from that, what makes the various musical woods good, I think, is just a matter of whether or not people can do an A-B comparison of an instrument and like one better than another. In electric guitars, mahogany bodies and necks seem to go better with shorter scale instruments when you want nice mid presence. harder woods like maple do better on a longer scale, and for whatever reason, alder of the same density of mahogany will make an electric guitar that's ever so slightly more punchy and bright and with less mids. The differences are small, but those are all nice sounding woods. Use on the neck of a guitar seems to make the biggest difference.

When you go to the low side of the market, you tend to find things like basswood and paulownia and some types of ash that are fast growing - they make guitars that are decent, but don't sound quite as good. Acoustically (for instruments that don't plug in), they're soft and dead and no good.

The discussion is different types of woods for things like flat top acoustic guitars (generally some kind of harder spruce for picked guitars, softer tops or very hard tops for finger picked guitars - depending on the wants - they're voiced differently) and then back and side wood that does something specific. Mahogany makes for a guitar that's got a more fundamental punchy sound, rosewood makes for an acoustic guitar that's more complex and has more overtones (especially the often referenced brazilian rosewood), and maple (which has become more popular) does something in between. Lots of woods are acceptable or even desirable - bent ash makes for a nice (but ugly) acoustic. Locust makes for a nice sounding guitar (horribly ugly) and cherry can make for a nice acoustic guitar (spruce tops on all of these, just change the sides).

All of them have some musical property when you tap them whereas something like beech sounds like a thud. The lighter cheaper woods sound like a thud, too - they don't have enough conviction to carry much vibration.

Limba is very similar to lighter weight mahogany from what I understand, and because it's actually available, I'm going to give it a shot. It'll probably make a telecaster that doesn't quite sound right, but I have a set of pickups that I want to use that would benefit from an altered scale for the strings and a softer more mid-focused body wood. Even though the effect of body wood is really small. This is a surprisingly contentious thing with guitars, but mostly because there were a lot of makers who way oversold differences to sell guitars to uneducated buyers. The musical quality of a particular type of wood makes a difference, but then the density of the wood for guitars also makes some difference.

Not to go too far afield, but taking advantage of these things or not is also part of bridge design, etc, in guitars. If you want a guitar to sustain a lot and not show too much wood characteristic, you exaggerate what the more dense woods would've done by adding a heavy bridge and in some cases, even a brass block under it (that's no longer fashionable). If you want a guitar that has a lot of sonic decay and has more of a woody sound - more punchy, like an archtop acoustic, then you get a wood that vibrates well and use a light weight bridge to get as much of the string energy to the guitar top itself as posible - much like a cello, violin or banjo bridge - those are more extreme.

If you listen to this guitar, you can hear the initial note is very strong and doesn't last long. Some of that is not just the guitar (but the amp and mix setup), but a lot is the guitar. The bridge is rosewood instead of brass or zinc.

I picked this because I have one of these guitars. They're hand carved in china by someone who is an excellent maker, but I ran across one that someone dented on the bottom edge with a guitar cable. They're not that expensive if they're not new and perfect and they're way beyond my skill level to build at this point, so I wanted to have one to look at. They're really loud acoustically if you want them to be because the energy is dumped into a top that is really resonant.

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