5.15.2009

11 Guitar Woods You Should Know

I was hanging out with some of my guitar and jam buddies the other night. We were doing what all guys do when they get together to have a couple cold ones and play. We talked techniques, chords, songs, lied to each other about how good we sounded and had a ball.

We all have different guitars, amps, pedals, cords, strings and the like. While we were talking about guitars we started talking about the different kinds of wood that can be used to make a guitar. The funny thing is that although we pretty much knew what kind of wood our guitars were made of, we really didn't know why we picked that wood for our guitar. The guitars each of us had we chose for style, brand and sound. It occurred to us at about beer 3 how maybe we should have thought about the wood of the guitar more because it really does have an impact on the sound that you will get from it, along with other factors of the guitar for example the pickups and strings.

So, I did some searching and found 11 woods that are used in guitars that I felt you might be interested to know about and possibly keep in mind when you get a little GAS and start looking for your next great axe.

Ash
There are two very different types of Ash, Northern Hard Ash and Southern Soft, or Swamp Ash. With its density, the tone is very bright with a long sustain. Swamp Ash is a prized wood for many reasons. This is the wood many 50's Fenders were made of. It is easily distinguishable from Northern Ash by weight. A Strat body will be under 5 lbs. This is a very musical wood offering a very nice balance of brightness and warmth.

Alder
Alder is used extensively for bodies because of its lighter weight (about four pounds for a Strat body) and its full sound. Its closed grain makes this wood easy to finish. Alder's natural color is a light tan, with little or no distinct grain lines. Alder has been the mainstay for Fender bodies for many years. It looks good with a sunburst and in solid colors

Basswood
The color is white, This is a closed-grain wood, but can absorb a lot of finish. This is not a wood for clear finishes, and it is quite soft, not good for much abuse. Sound wise, Basswood has a nice, warm tone.

Rosewood
The traditional and most revered wood for guitar back and sides is Brazilian rosewood. This wood has a beautiful rich variety of brown and purple colors in it, and makes a warm rich sounding guitar with great resonance and volume. However, Brazilian rosewood is no longer available in commercial quality or quantity.

Flame Maple
Maple comes in a variety of grain patterns. Two of the most popular are quilted and flame. Quilted catches the rays of light in a more circular pattern whereas flame reflects light in long streaks. Maple gives a bright sound with great punch in the lower (5th and 6th) strings. Maple is very strong and a bit heavier than mahogany. It is also a good choice for necks.

Koa
This very beautiful wood comes exclusively from Hawaii and has been in short supply. Weight varies somewhat from medium to heavy, a good wood for basses. Koa has a warm sound similar to mahogany, but with a little more brightness. Like walnut, this wood may be oiled, but generally will look its best sprayed clear. Koa is sometimes available in flame figure.

Korina
True name is White Limba, from Africa. Used in Gibson's Explorer and V's. A medium weight wood similar to mahogany.

Ebony
Ebony, when not used in pianos, is a great material to use in fretboards. The wood is extremely strong, bright, and durable. .

Quilted Mahogany
This is a fine wood with good musical properties, the tone is warm and full with good sustain. Weight-wise, mahogany is mid to heavy with a Strat body averaging 5 lbs. or more. The grain is easy to fill although not particularly good looking for clear finishes.

Sitka Spruce
The most common spruce these days is Sitka, which comes from the west coast of the United states and Canada. Because it is still plentiful and the trees are huge, it is still possible to get wonderful Sitka spruce. It makes a very strong, loud guitar which has a balanced resonant sound with good sustain. Sitka shows a very strong tendency to improve with age.

Red Cedar
It makes a very rich warm guitar with good definition, and a very immediate sound. It is generally not well suited for vigorous attack and wide dynamic range.

So the next time you're looking for a new (or used) guitar remember these wood types, keep them in mind because they will and should be a deciding factor for your next purchase.


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4 comments:

G said...

Good article my man.Must have facts and knowledge about woods,and not long and drawn out with too much detail.
G'/Guitar Answers Blog

sarge1875 said...

Thanks G. Ya know it's just something that many of us just don't talk about

Gary Fletcher said...

Some of these woods have already disappeared or in short supply. I think it's a good idea to ask about where the wood in the guitar you plan on buying comes from. Ask if the manufacturer does something to protect and sustain the forests on which we all depend for good sounds.

Stormy Maverick said...

Great info in a concise format. To the point!