When choosing a guitar, an important consideration is the type of wood that goes to make it. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an electric or acoustic guitar. The main features of a guitar are its body, (which is the major part); the neck and fingerboard. The sound emerges from the neck and the frets are situated in the fingerboard.
So what is the best wood for a guitar? Well, the types of woods used to make up these parts of the guitar are sensitive to its sound, tone, weight and look, making the choice of wood for a guitar extremely critical. Guitars are chosen for the wood types used for their body, tops, back and sides, and neck and fingerboards.
Types of tonewood for guitars: Here are some kinds of tonewood used to make guitars:
- Alder: Light and distinctive by its small pores, alder wood has a great resonance in its tone and very good premium characteristics. When used to make the body of a guitar, alder wood produces low end and mid-range sound. For a lightweight and highly reverberating tonewood, alder is excellent.
- Walnut: Very similar to mahogany as a tonewood, walnut is uniformly dense, though heavier. It could have a dampened sound too, though. Walnut is an excellent choice of wood for a customized guitar. However, for the neck and body of your guitar ensure you find a wood type with an open grain for maximum reverberation.
- Maple: Maple has more density than alder and many other tonewoods which could render a musical note absolutely flat. It is best used for the tops on a typical guitar to keep the tone even when the sound is vastly amplified. Maple is also easy on the eye with its wonderful grain and wavy texture. The waviness of this wood help bring about vibrations in the wood using less grain. Maple makes for a hard tonewood and gives strong sound in the upper midrange, depending on whether you choose soft or hard maple.
- Mahogany: Known for its uniformity in density, mahogany is typified by its few spots between grains that you would find in other wood types. Its tonewood is rigid, so it produces a thick sound. Its wood has large pores, causing it to give out a nasal sound since its high frequencies are suppressed. For high notes that are rich and thick, you couldn’t do better than selecting mahogany.
- Ash: There are two kinds of Ash wood—a hard northern variety and a soft southern type. The former has a bright tone and long sustain while the southern’s sound is warm, bright and balanced.
- Rosewood: Like alder, rosewood too is very heavy and emits a warm sound ending in a high and smooth sound.
- Korina: Distinctive for its warm, balanced and reverberating tone, it also has a lot of clarity and sustain. When finished, its fine grain looks great.
Neck and Fingerboard: The wood used here has a lot to do with the appearance and weight of the guitar and its overall tone. Here are a few wood types you can choose from:
- Maple: Hard maple is best suited for necks and fingerboards due to its density, heavy weight and hardness. It brings a bright tone to the guitar, along with long sustain.
- Swamp Ash: This is a very popular wood type for making guitars because the wood is pretty, it has a nice timbre and it is lightweight. It also has good bass tones, airy highs and a bite in the middle range, apart from good sustain.
- Bubinga: Stiff and strong, this wood is perfect for fingerboards and necks. It has really good sustain, a bright midrange and a thick and definite bottom.
- Ebony: This hard wood brings a lot of sustain and a clear tone. No wonder it is popularly used in Africa and India.
- Spruce: This wood type has a light, gentle grain and is liked for its strength and strong and bright tonal quality. Canadian Spruce or Engelmann Spruce offers a softer tone with the same appearance as other spruces.
- Western Red Cedar: With an extremely subtle and light tone, this wood type has a much higher bass response than others. It isn’t very dense and its colour is similar to mahogany in its gentle and soft grain.
Guitar back and sides:
- Indian Rosewood or Sheesham: This is one of the densest and darkest wood types available for making the sides and back of guitars. It is reddish-maroon in colour and its grain pattern is as light and thin as hair strands. When used for the back and sides of guitars, it helps to emit a striking and bright tone.
- Mahogany: Far lighter in colour and less dense than rosewood, Mahogany is much lighter in color and density than rosewood and resonates with a warm tone and a distinct bass.
- Maple: This wood is far lighter in colour than mahogany and has a unique grain with horizontal patterns sometimes and at other times, circular.
Now that you know what to expect, how do you determine which one is right for you? Music is fluid and depends on one’s creativity, so there’s no popular sound that you should look for. The guitar you buy will ultimately be the vehicle of the music style you want to play. The one that strums the kind of tone you want is the one for you and the best one for you. With a little bit of research and sharpening of your ears to the tone you hear, you can choose the best guitar for yourself.