Types of Guitar Tone Wood Explained
Solid Wood and Laminated Wood Guitars
The type/species of wood used in the construction of a guitar is not the only factor affecting the guitars price and sound. Solid wood guitars are more expensive and ultimately produce a nicer sounding, more resonant guitar. Solid wood guitars produce a vibration that offers wonderful feedback when you play the guitar and the sound they produce is more vibrant. Laminated woods are an economical way of producing guitars allowing the guitar to capture a degree of the tonal properties of a wood species in a lower priced instrument.
So what is solid wood? It shouldn’t be confused with a solid body which is a technique used on many electric guitars. It basically means the wood on the acoustic guitar is cut to shape from a solid block of wood and is not layered in any way. It allows the wood to retain its natural qualities, its unique tonal characteristics and vibrations just as nature intended. It produces guitars that are the best they can be in sound and tone.
How is laminated guitar wood made? Laminated wood is a technique used in making guitars to preserve resources and lower the cost of instruments. Essentially what happens is a solid block of wood is shaved in to micro thin sheets then glued, layered, and heated together to form a new layered piece of wood. Working with laminated wood is easier and makes forming the different components of a guitar more economical.
Should you go for a solid wood guitar or a laminated guitar? The answer to this question boils down to personal budget. Without question you get a better sounding guitar from solid woods but the price is higher. Laminated guitars offer a compromise between price and sound.
At Stretton Payne we select the wood species for its tonal properties and construct the guitar from either laminated or solid woods to suit each budget. We carefully blend different species of wood on the guitars top, back and sides to produce great sounding guitars. Some of our guitar ranges are all laminate tonal woods and we select the best wood species to make them stand above the competition. Some of our ranges combine solid and laminated woods. Most commonly using a solid top as this has the biggest impact on the guitars sound and using laminated back and sides to bring the cost of the guitar down. Our all solid wood guitars are the finest an acoustic guitar can be. We select the very best tonal woods and combine them to make exquisite acoustic guitars in both beauty and tone.
Here is an explanation of the tonal properties you can expect from the range of woods we use in our guitars.
Koa is a tropical hardwood that is synonymous with Hawaii. It was traditionally used to craft surfboards as well as Hawaiian instruments. As a tonal wood its strikes a balance between good midrange tone and bright top end. The more a Koa guitar is played the better it sounds, over time it opens up expanding the midrange with a richer, sweeter more resonant sound. The tone is warm and clear with good projection. Koa is highly sort after for its aesthetic beauty, with colours ranging from brown to gold with a rich varying grain.
Agathis is a member of the conifer family and is widespread across the southern hemisphere. It is commonly used for guitar production because of its relatively low cost of production and its reputation for being easy to work with. When paired with other tonal woods Agathis is a good compromise between overall tone and affordability.
Ash is a fairly dense wood and produces guitars with a light and resonant sound. Its attractive grain is often selected for its beauty when paired with translucent finishes. The sound is characterised as being airy and sweet with firm lows, good midrange and pleasing highs.
Basswood or Linden or Lime
The name of this type of guitar wood interchanges depending on cultural preference but they all come from the Tilia genus of about 30 species of trees native to the northern hemisphere. It’s widely used in the construction of guitars due to its abundance and affordability. It’s tonal properties are good with a light and soft nature producing balanced tone.
Cedar is perhaps the second most selected tonal wood for guitar tops behind spruce. It is less dense than spruce with an attractive red hue grain. It has a dark warm tone with soft mellow characteristics. It was traditionally used for classical guitars but has gained popularity amongst steel string acoustic guitar players who play finger picking melodic strumming styles of music. It offers a depth of sound that is full of character with quality tone.
Ebony is a high priced hardwood that is mainly used for fretboards and acoustic guitar bridges. It is black in colour and is very hard and dense with a tight grain. It is generally thought to be the best possible wood to use in a fretboard and bridge but is reserved for the highest spec guitars due to its high price. It has superior tonal properties and is renowned for being a pleasure to work with.
Lacewood has a uniquely beautiful grain pattern that is reminiscent of leopard or snake skin. It is a dense tonal wood with loud sustaining sound. Its bold unusual grain provide characteristics of a guitar many years older, giving a lacewood guitar maturity of sound beyond its years.
Mahogany is a straight grained redish-brown wood that produces guitars with an impressive beauty and depth of sound. Its stunning colour produces beautiful natural finished guitars. It is widely used in quality guitar necks due to its straight grain, density and strength. When used in the guitar body it is characterised as having a warm, soft sound with pleasing resonance and balanced tone.
Maple is a popular tonal wood, it has a light colour, tight grain and is quite heavy and dense. A maple guitar body produces precise bright tone with tight lows. When used on the guitars back and sides and paired with other tonal woods, it offers both unique appearance and well balanced tone. A maple top will produce pleasing sustain, good tonal clarity and definition. Maple is a popular choice for guitar necks, especially on electric guitars. Its light colour and tight dense grain make the guitar neck fast and smooth while producing a clear tone.
Purple Heart is a very hard, stiff and dense wood with a straight tight grain. It has become a popular choice for quality guitar fretboards and bridges due to its similar tonal properties to Rosewood but is a more sustainable choice. When freshly cut the timber is a deep purple colour and becomes a dark brown when exposed to UV light. The dense hard wearing character of Purple Heart make it a great choice for fretboards and guitar bridges as it transfers sound waves efficiently to the rest of the guitar.
Rosewood is highly priced and used mainly on the back and sides of guitars as a compliment to other tonal woods. It is renowned for its beautiful dark and light contrasting grain. Guitar bodies made from Rosewood produce a really bright vibrant sound. Rosewood is strong, heavy and dense making it a highly prized wood for guitar fretboards and acoustic guitar bridges. It has the ability like few tonal woods possess to transfer sound efficiently through the guitar body.
Sapele is an African tonal wood that is closely related to Mahogany. It is widely used as an alternative to Mahogany as it shares many tonal properties but is considered more sustainable timber. It has a lightish red attractive grain and produces guitars with strong low to midrange tone and good top end definition. It delivers warm tones for strumming with the versatility of bright tone for lead finger picking styles.
Spruce - Englemann (European) Spruce – Sitka Spruce
Spruce is generally regarded as the industry standard tone wood for guitar tops. It offers the widest depth of tone and character for every playing style. Spruce is a softwood and is generally considered more sustainable than hard woods because it has a faster growth and regeneration rate. It has a tight creamy white grain with good pliability that produces a broad dynamic range of sound. There are a number of species of spruce used in guitar construction and each offer slightly different characteristics. Englemann or European spruce tends to be a little lighter and less stiff than other spruces and will produce a softer more resonant sound. Sitka spruce is slightly heavier and stiffer which produces a marginally louder tone. The reason for spruces persistent popularity is its ability to produce bright responsive balanced tone.
Walnut has spectacular wood grain producing beautiful guitar bodies. It has a hard, dense tight dark chocolate and creamy white contrasting grain. It has warm and full tonal properties with a strong low end sound. It is often used on the back and sides of a guitar to compliment the sound of other tonal woods. It has pleasing resonance and good sustain.