Guitar Woods Guide
Wood is one of the largest determining factors of a guitar’s sound and longevity. Specific woods used to build guitars, acoustic and electric, are called tone woods. Tone woods have resonant properties that other woods do not. For example, oak is a beautiful and strong wood, but it has no resonant properties, which would not be best for guitar building.
We find that alder has the richest tone, characterized by lots of fat low-end, well defined mid ranges and a lot of sustain. Alder is a light wood, which makes it more comfortable for lengthy gigs. It is one of the original woods used for solid body guitars. Although other manufacturers use woods like poplar and basswood, they are considered alder substitutes.
Alder is a fairly light and incredibly resilient wood that is a favorite amongst electric guitar makers. It is a close-grained wood with a naturally light tan color. Alder is mostly used for electric guitar bodybuilding because of its full sound, great sustain and density. It is a porous wood that takes quite well to a variety of finishes. This gives the guitar a richer sound because the solid wood soundboard can vibrate more freely and thoroughly.
Spruce is the most commonly used wood on acoustic guitar soundboards. The soundboards on acoustics are generally made of tightly grained spruce. Naturally yellow in color, spruce is a lightwood that has a very high degree of resonance, so it is a perfect match for acoustic guitars.
Solid spruce refers less to a difference in the wood than to how it is actually cut for the guitar. Laminate spruce soundboards are built as layers of cross-grained wood glued to each other. Solid spruce soundboards consist of one piece of wood running all the way through. This gives the guitar a richer sound because the solid wood soundboard can vibrate more freely and thoroughly.
Canadian Sitka Spruce
Canadian Sitka Spruce is a harder to find, more expensive variety of spruce. It has a light yellow color and is also used for acoustic guitar soundboards. It gives guitars a bigger more resonant sound, flush with crisp highs. It also improves with age more than other types of spruce.
Mahogany is a moderately dense and very durable wood. It is commonly used for the backs, sides and necks of acoustic guitars. It is sometimes used on electric guitar bodies and necks. Because it is very sonorous and durable, mahogany is also used in banjos, resonators, ukuleles and acoustic guitar soundboards. It is lighter than maple and specifically provides acoustic guitars with great sustain. Mahogany also provides great weight balance between the neck and the body of an acoustic. It is reddish-brown in color and is incredibly strong and resonant, giving the guitar big, beautiful tones.
Maple is a strong and extremely dense, heavy wood. It is excellent for guitar necks and bodies because it can handle an inordinate amount of string tension. Maple has a bright and crisp tone and is used on flamenco guitars as well as some electrics. It has a wide variety of exotic grains that show up quite well when finished. Flamed maple is a very popular and brilliant looking exotic type of maple. “Flamed” refers to the rippling, or curls of the grain of wood that run across the body. Flamed maple in generally “book matched,” which means that the body is made of two half pieces of a single cut piece of maple. This gives the guitar even weight, look and tone throughout the body.
Nato wood, also known as Eastern Mahogany, is a reliable, strong wood used on guitar necks. It is a value-priced wood used more for beginner instruments. However, it still embodies all of the properties of more commonly used mahogany.