Stringed instruments, for the entirety of their existence, have been dependent on the type of tonewood used to make them. That hasn’t changed even to this day, although modern electric guitars definitely minimize the impact of tonewood. When it comes to acoustic guitars, the type of wood used will still make a significant difference. Today we are going to talk about different types of tonewood and how they impact the sound of your acoustic guitar. By the time we are done, you should have a pretty clear understanding of this topic. Let’s get to it
Anatomy Of An Acoustic Guitar
When it comes to tonewood and acoustic guitars, different kind of wood is going to be used for different parts of the instrument. The top of the guitar is usually going to define its tone while the back and sides have a significant impact on the resonance as well as the volume of the guitar. The idea is to find a combination of tonewood that gives you the tonal profile you are looking for. With that said, let’s take a look at different types of woods used for the top, and then we will check out what usually works best for back and sides.
Whether you are looking for an affordable guitar or a top tier one, the type of tonewood used for the top is one of the most important things to pay attention to. Here are some of the most popular choices you are going to see on the market.
Out of all the tonewood types available, spruce is one of the most commonly used. The reason for this is its abundance and the fact that it brings a good balance of tone. It is warm enough, reasonably bright, and it simply works well with most back and sides tonewood choices. A solid Sitka spruce top will get you a pretty good performance overall.
Compared to spruce, Sapele is much closer to mahogany in its tonal characteristics. It’s not as widespread, but you see it often enough across different categories of acoustic guitars. The tone it offers is pretty bright with enough kick in the higher portions of the frequency range. However, where it really comes to life is the mid range. A good example of a Sapele solid top acoustic guitar is Eastman’s AC-DR2. This entire guitar is made of Sapele, which gives it a rather interesting tone.
While spruce and Sapele are usually the wood of choice for steel string acoustic guitars, cedar is more often found in classical models. The reason for this is the fact that cedar brings a whole lot of warmth to the tone. It is softer by nature, and generally more mellow. With that said, there are some steel acoustics out there which use cedar. One that comes to mind is Washburn’s WD160SW. This model offers the punchy nature of a steel string combined with the warmth that only a cedar top can bring.
When it comes to back and sides of the guitar, we start seeing somewhat different tonewood being the standard. What most of these have in common is hardness. After all, this portion of acoustic guitar’s body is responsible for projection and volume. Let’s go over the most popular choices.
Mahogany is generally one of the densest tonewoods used in making modern guitars, both electric and acoustic. When put to use as a back and sides material, mahogany will give you an abundance of projection with very defined tones and underlying brightness everywhere. However, it also saturates the tone with warmth in specific parts of the range.
Although most of us are used to seeing rosewood being the wood of choice for fretboards, bridges and similar, it is also often seen in bodies of acoustic guitars. Rare, expensive but ultimately unique, rosewood back and sides bring a very complex dose of warmth, brightness, and projection. This is even truer if they’ve used quality rosewood. Unfortunately, Brazilian rosewood – which was always held in high regard – is borderline nonexistent.
Last but not the least, we have maple. Abundant and relatively affordable, maple is one of the most common types of tonewood used in guitars production in general. While we most often see it used for guitar necks, maple is a great choice for back and sides of an acoustic guitar. It is incredibly dense and strong. As such, maple is known to produce high definition tones across the spectrum while its projection is almost next to none.
Solid or Laminate Tonewood
When you go out shopping for an acoustic guitar, you will often see tonewood being declared as either solid or laminate. You will see this with guitar tops a lot more than bodies. All this means is that the wood used is either a single piece, or it has been made by laminating several smaller pieces together. While some laminate guitars do sound decent, solid wood is what you generally want to have on your guitar. Especially if you are looking for the best performance and tone. With that said, guitars with laminate body parts are generally cheaper, which makes them much more attractive to those who are on a budget.
How important the tonewood is to a guitar player is going to depend on that person’s experience and skill. Someone who has been playing acoustic guitars for decades will easily recognize and appreciate quality tonewood. On the other hand, a beginner will be no wiser. On that note, it is always recommended that you get the best your money can buy, even as a beginner.
The information we’ve presented you with today should allow you to make the best possible decision. We haven’t covered all the possible types of tonewood, or their combinations, since doing so is borderline impossible. The ones we did mention are what you will most commonly see on the market.