Picking Your Next Guitar – Choosing Woods (Part 2 of 3)

Timber is essentially the xylem of a tree – cells that transport water and minerals from the roots to the leaves. The structure of these cells has a direct impact on the hardness, density, and weight of the resultant wood. Different species of tree will have different growth patterns which will in turn result in timber with different acoustic properties.

For example, Sitka spruce trees have straight trunks with relatively few branches. The grain is tight and even, resulting in light and stiff timber – perfect for building guitar tops! On the other hand, mahogany trees have a more irregular growth pattern, resulting in timber that is heavier and has a more open grain structure. This makes it less suitable for guitar tops but perfect for constructing the bodies and necks of instruments.

Different timbers will produce different tones when used in construction. For example, instruments built with cedar tops tend to have a warmer sound whereas those built with spruce tend to be brighter. Ultimately, it’s up to the builder (or player) to decide which sonic characteristics are most desirable. Some timbers are better at absorbing low frequencies than others. This means that if you want your guitar to have a warm, rich sound, you should look for timber with good low-frequency absorption. Other timbers are better at reflecting high frequencies, giving your guitar a brighter, crisper sound.

Here is a great example of Breedlove Guitars infographic on tone and frequency response for various kinds of wood.

The table below reveals how different aspects of wood manifest themselves with tone.

Property Impact On Sound
Density The absorption of energy from strings is affected by density and type. “Denser” woods like basswood will absorb more than lighter ones, but still not as much so that you can escape its sound completely even with light gauge instruments such as flute or clarinet; however if playing in dense timbers it may be best to take up your options earlier since this timber does provide less “resistance” which means stronger influence came directly out wood itself rather then being absorbed first before reaching our ears via microphone.
In general, harder woods are more absorbent and thus produce a brighter-sounding mid-range with quicker decay. Mahogany is an example of this trend as it has very little density compared to other species such that vibration ends up being easily dissipated through its fibers making them warmer on audio systems rather than harsh like harder juniper trees might be perceived at first glance when listening without context or knowledge about how different kinds affect tone.
Hardness Hardness is an essential component of a guitar’s sound. The higher the frequencies, the harder and more brittle the material seems to be on its surface – this accentuates those notes by making them stand out from other instruments in comparison with your voice or keyboard playing for instance!
As you can imagine there isn’t always agreement among musicians about what exactly “hard” means so we’ll just go ahead & say that these two terms refer differently when talking physics-related stuff here at Guitar Center.
Flexible Strength Spruce, has been found by scientists and musicians alike as being one the most commonly used tonewoods for violins because it produces clearer audio with greater volume than other woods such as cedar or redwood does; making them more popular among professionals who need those qualities while performing on stage
In order words: Stronger flexible timbers receive energy from strings producing a wide dynamic range–great clarity & projection

When choosing the right timber for your guitar, it’s important to keep in mind what sound you’re trying to achieve. If you’re not sure what sound you want, we recommend trying out a few different types of timber until you find one that you like. Here are a few of my favorite timbers for building guitars.

Easily the most commonly used top wood for acoustic guitars and classical guitars. When compared to Cedar (another commonly used soundboard timber), spruce is lighter and possesses greater flexible strength resulting in a wider dynamic range and bright, responsive tone.

Cedar (a member of the Mahogany family, sometimes referred to as Indian Mahogany) is a softer wood than spruce and as a result produces a warm tone, darker, and more complex sounding in comparison.

A medium-density tonewood. Walnut produces a warm, airy, woody tone similar to African mahogany with fewer overtones and more of a focus on the prominent mid-tones. It has a very even dynamic range, meaning it doesn’t accentuate one frequency band over another, resulting in a very balanced sound.

Mahogany is a great all-rounder when it comes to acoustic properties. It has good low-frequency absorption and good high-frequency reflection, which gives it a warm, balanced sound. Mahogany is also relatively soft, which makes it easy to work with.

Maple is another great all-rounder, but it tends to lean more towards the brighter side of the spectrum. Maple has good high-frequency reflection and fair low-frequency absorption. This gives it a crisp, clear sound that is great for all styles of music.

Rosewood is one of the most popular choices for guitar builders thanks to its rich, full sound. Rosewood has excellent low-frequency absorption and good high-frequency reflection. This makes it great for genres like blues and jazz where a warm, resonant tone is desired.

There are many different types of timber available for use in guitar construction, and each type has its own unique set of acoustic properties. Most hardwoods are unsuitable for soundboard construction. The density of the wood requires too much energy to resonate and has a dull-sounding box, except for Mahogany. Softwoods are not suitable either because they simply wouldn’t have the strength to handle the tension from the guitar’s strings, except for Spruce which is commonly used for acoustic guitar soundboard. The woods used in the construction of the neck, the back, and the sides contribute to the sound of the guitar.

When choosing the right timber for your guitar, it’s important to keep in mind what sound you’re trying to achieve. Set some time aside, play as many guitars as you can, and always trust your ear!

JPS Nagi
Sept. 13, 2022