I get alot of emails from players asking about the woods that guitars are made out of and if the wood really matters. The questions come moslty from players with solid body guitars so we will adress this question in regards to the solid body guitar.
So…….on a solid body guitar does the wood really matter? One word, YES! The quality and type of wood definitely matters. Some players have a point saying that because the guitar’s body is solid then it really shouldn’t make that much of a difference. I can tell you from all of my experience building, repairing and restoring guitars that if you have bad wood you have a bad guitar. Period.
Let’s take two extreme guitars for the sake of example. The first guitar is made of decent quality plywood and the second guitar is made of ash. Let’s also say that each guitar weighs in at about the same weight. Both guitars are both in fact made of wood but that’s where the similarity ends. How resonant do you think a piece of plywood really is? You guessed it, not very resonant at all because of all the thin wood layers and glue. So if the body wood is not resonant then what would you expect the sound to be like when it gets to your amp even if you have the best possible pickups in your guitar? On the other hand the guitar made from the piece of ash will be more resonant and have a more pleasing tone from the start before it even gets to your amp. See where we’re going with this??
Different species of wood have a different impact on the overall tone of your guitar as well. In other words not all wood sounds the same. Ash has a nice bright, clear, “pop” sort of sound. Alder is not as bright as ash and has a bit of a pronounced midrange. Maple is bright with alot of clarity. Mahogany has a rich bottom pronounced midrange and smooth treble response. You get the picture. Also to note is that not every piece of alder will sound the same. I have built several Telecaster type guitars made from ash. Each and every one sounds different! What’s more is that each one is about the same weight, with a thin nitrocellulose lacquer finish and has a one piece maple neck. Go figure. Wood is an organic material and each piece is unique and has its individual properties.
In this article we will not even delve into the debate over one-piece vs multi-piece bodies, old growth vs new growth wood, type of neck wood, neck construction, fingerboard wood and how a finish can affect the wood which can either enhance or dampen the guitar body’s resonance. (There is most definitely a lot going on with guitar construction!)
So in the end when building a solid body guitar or choosing to buy a solid body guitar the wood absolutely matters and can influence how a guitar sounds, feels and can help determine what type of music the guitar is best suited for. Don’t underestimate the effect of the type of wood for a solid body guitar!
Resources: Musikraft Guitar Bodies & Necks.
Read an interview with Musikraft’s Scott Smith here. This interview is packed with great content with many questions about guitar bodies and necks answered.