Guitar Tone Woods

acoustic-guitarSolid Wood or Laminate

When looking to buy an acoustic guitar
you must consider solid or laminate wood.

If your budget is under $800 you will
probably have to purchase a guitar with
laminated wood. Some guitar makers such as” Wechter” and “Seagull” offer solid wood guitars for very reasonable prices.

Guitar makers began using laminate to reduce guitar cost. The spruce top is often solid because it is the sound board that vibrates and produces most
of the sound. I would recommend a solid spruce top if at all possible.

Pro’s and cons of solid vs. laminate

Solid wood ages and sounds better with time and use. It is more apt to cracking but keeping your guitars in about 60% humidity goes a long way to avoiding cracks. Solid wood guitars have a crisper more pronounced tone.

Laminate is not apt to crack because of the sterength of two pieces of wood glued together. It does not expand and contract as a solid wood guitar does.
Their may be some cracking  with the expanding and contracting of a solid
spruce top but a humidifier can resolve this issue.

Rosewood:    This is probably the most sought after tone wood .It offers a broad range of sound with rich highs and smooth midrange to deep base
tones.  It is used in all styles from flat pickers, finger pickers,  finger style,
Jazz, blues, bluegrass, country and even slide guitar.

Indian Rosewood

Brazilian rosewood used to be the most common but was made illegal
to preserve the rain forrest. They still sell new Brazilian wood guitars,
but it has to be certified cut before the ban.When found  in lakes and rivers
it can be used. Most of these beauties are $8000 and up.
Indian rosewood has taken over as the most common rosewood. There are
always differences in the tone qualities of different woods.

Mahogany:      This could arguably be called the most common tonewood.
Mahogany is more affordable and offers up a mellow tone with rich highs and lows. The sharp sounds of other tone woods are smoothed out with
mahogany. Finger pickers, flat pickers, bluegrass and blues players do well with a mahogany guitar.

Koa:        This is an interesting tone wood. It starts out being sort of plain and a little dull. When it is played a lot it opens up gets more pronounced
Than Mahogany. But unlike other tonewoods if it is not played will revert back. It is best with a player that plays a lot.

Maple:    Maple is the brightest of the tone woods. The curly maple is
the wood of choice for fine violins “fiddles” if you prefer, because
of it’s bright tonal qualities. Finger pickers like maple because it projects
the sound.

Ovangkol:    This is a wood that is affordable and  compares to rosewood. It has a pronounced midrange.

Cocobola:     This wood offers a balanced sound from lows to mids to highs.
It enables individual notes to stand out and has an even sound in all ranges.

Sapele: Sapele closely resembles the West African wood khaya that is known as African mahogany. Sapele is a wood that grows fast. It has all the tonal qualities of mahogany with a little extra in the treble range. It blends well with all other tone woods and has a well- balanced range. It works well with all acoustic styles from strumming to fingerpicking.

Soundboard or top tonewoods .

Sitka Spruce: This is the most widely used soundboard tonewood. It provides strength and elasticity for a broad tonal range. It has crisp sound qualities and is good for all styles. It grows in the north-west United States and is common in the coastal areas as far north as Alaska. High altitude Sitka spruce is prized because of its tight small grain. This is because of the short growing season. High quality, high altitude Sitka spruce will have a sheen to it that gives it a 3d look.
Sitka spruce goes with all tonewoods and is good with all styles of play.

Engelman Spruce: Engelman spruce is a different species from Sitka spruce. It has a milkier, whiter look. It is known as European or German spruce. It is now in limited supply because of lack of old growth. It offers a richer mid range that makes the guitar sound older, smoother and more refined. It goes well with all tonewoods.

Western Red Cedar: Cedar is not as dense as spruce and offers a warmer sound. Cedar enhances quite tones and puts a top end on loud tones by more aggressive players. Cedar works well for lighter finger style players. It may, however frustrate aggressive flat pickers who won’t be able to hear the sound they are looking for. It goes well with mahogany and rosewood guitars.

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2 thoughts on “Guitar Tone Woods

  • October 19, 2015 at 10:07 pm

    Hi Marty,
    Great site you have. I really like guitars but never really knew they used different wood types. So what is the price difference between the solid and laminate? If you buy solid it sounds like a better deal all the way around. Thanks for listing the different types of wood and educating on me as to what is available. Have a great day!

    • October 20, 2015 at 1:11 am

      Thanks Kristie, for stopping by Martstervt. There are certain makes like “Seagull” and “Wechter” where you can get a solid wood guitar for $600. “Seagull” is Canadian and uses a lot of native woods such as cherry wood to build solid wood guitars.Much of the expense depends on the type of wood. Rose wood will be more expensive than Mahogany. Top of the line makers such as Martin, Gibson, and Taylor are going to be Priced in the $1500 and up for solid wood guitars.

      There are less known companies that offer well made solid wood guitars for a more reasonable price. Laminated guitars are not bad guitars if you can’t afford solid wood. The most important thing is to get a solid wood top or sound board because the vibration is where most of the sound comes from. If you go to my acoustic guitar review post and click on Guitar fella you will find reviews of many guitars. Marty

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