#1
Im curious about the effect that different woods make on the overal tone of an acoustic.
I know that dean has an exotica series that has many different woods such as ash, koa, ect.

Also does the fretboard wood change tone as well? How much?

What wood do you prefer?
#2
i find that the wood matters less the higher up the guitar food chain you go. when you get into upper end gibsons or the real good stuff like goodalls, they take woods known to be very bright woods and make deep bassy intstruments with them. that's partly because they spend time on the bracing, which probably makes more difference to the tone than woods in most cases.

that being said, factory made guitars don't generally have a luthier doing tap tuning and custom bracing, so in most factory guitars the woods count more. on the other hand, the exotic wood deans and ibanez guitars are usually ALL laminate - and apparently not very high quality laminate - and laminate (basically plywood) takes away from the nuances that the woods would ordinarily bring by being several slices of wood glued together. that means that the slices and the glue between the slices, cancel each others vibration, and vibration is what makes sound. the deans and ibanez's i tried didn't bring much tone to the party, had less sustain than other guitars in their price range and sounded pretty much like toys - although their exotic (laminate) tops looked purty.

keep in mind that how much the fretboard and neck woods change the tone also depends on build quality. more glue, or something poorly glued, can steal part of the tone. that's why i tend to recommend a couple brands of guitars over and over when people in the lower price ranges ask - because those two brands are careful with their build quality and their gluing.

there are a few woods that shine in almost any case. koa is one of them, as it has the sweetest tone i've heard in any wood - even in the takamine all-koa all-laminate guitar. in fact, i'd say koa is the wood that seems to transcend almost everything, and is one of my favorite woods. the other is madagascar rosewood, a wood you won't run into much that is magic in how wonderful it sounds. i played a martin eric clapton and then a martin eric clapton with madagascar rosewood. best guitar i've ever heard, and the other few madagascar guitars were also amazing.

while all things being equal, i like rosewoods more than mahoganies, gibson makes some mahogany dreds that sound as good as any rosewood dred i've heard. i've recently discovered that i tend to like cedar tops more than sitka spruce, but i'm also liking engelman spruce a lot.

still, it's about the builder more than the wood. i'm fortunate enough to live in l.a. near mccabe's, and they have a number of goodall guitars there. best sounding guitars in the universe, hand made by a small shop of only a few guys including james goodall and his son. every goodall sounds great, and they get lots of bass response even in their grand concert models.
Last edited by patticake at Oct 26, 2009,
#3
First of all, Dean acoustics are all garbage, don't even bother with them.


Also, there are too many woods out there to go over them all, but I'll go over a couple of the general standards (which will not include specific species).

For soundboards:

Spruce - brighter than cedar, with a very up-front sound. very hard to overdrive, especially on large guitars.

Cedar - a bit darker than spruce, more of a three-dimensional sound, can be overdriven easily with hard strumming, dents more easily than spruce.

I like both woods depending on the type of music being played.

For back/sides:

Rosewood - strong, dark low-end, slightly bright high-end, extremely resonant (which usually means more overtones), slightly subdued mids, sort of "slow"

Mahogany - okay low-end, okay high-end, great mids, responsiveness varies but is usually quicker than rosewood

Maple - strong fundamental, very small amount of overtones, very responsive, very bright high end, heavily subdued bass, good mids, usually does not have a lot of sustain


Personally, I'm a fan of both bubinga (sounds like a cross between rosewood and mahogany, but closer to rosewood) and African blackwood (less expensive "alternative" to Brazilian rosewood, but is still very expensive).


As far as fretboards go, ebony is usually preferred over rosewood for two reasons. First of all, it has much tighter grain than rosewood, resulting in a faster-feeling fretboard. Also, rosewood resonates while ebony dampens. Most people don't want the fretboard to resonate, they want the body to resonate, which makes sense because that's where the sound comes from.
Last edited by i_don't_know at Oct 26, 2009,
#4
i'd like to add to i_don't_know's post. there are several kinds of spruce used in soundboards. the most common one - the one that it sounds like his post is referring to - is sitka spruce. engelman is quieter and more nuanced, and it's also a bit softer. there are a couple european spruces, and there's the legendary adirondak spruce used in the famous martins from their golden era. it's in shorter supply, but is supposed to be louder with better response.

if you're really interested in woods, go to http://www.lmii.com/ and order their paper catalog. it has lots of information about the various tonewoods they sell, and it's pretty good info, too. even if you never plan to make a guitar, knowing this stuff about all these woods will be interesting.

btw, i_don't_know, i also like buginga, but i'd say fretboards are evenly available in 3 woods - rosewood, ebony and mahogany.
#5
Quote by patticake
btw, i_don't_know, i also like buginga, but i'd say fretboards are evenly available in 3 woods - rosewood, ebony and mahogany.


Most mahogany is too soft for practical use as a fretboard. You're thinking of necks.
#6
i am - thanks.

here are the fingerboards sold by lmi
http://www.lmii.com/CartTwo/Secondproducthead.asp?CategoryName=Fingerboards

btw, while the original poster didn't ask about neck woods, they can have a definitely effect on guitar tone, much more than the fingerboard.

Quote by i_don't_know
Most mahogany is too soft for practical use as a fretboard. You're thinking of necks.
Last edited by patticake at Oct 26, 2009,
#7
I would be far more concerned with the Bracing and neck than the side woods. Before you tell me im crazy, there was a playable acoustic guitar made with paper mache back and sides.

Heavier neck means less of the energy in the string is absorbed by the neck, so more sound is input into the body, and the bracing is a major player in the actual projection of the guitar, so lots of care should be taken with it. shaping, sanding, correct alignment and most of all, what woods? Tends to usually be made of spruce or sometimes in factory guitars Pine will be used. Im wondering how much of the sound is lost with the bracing
Music is an art form that celebrates potential. So long as you're looking for it, you'll always find it.
#8
Quote by Mr.Pink101
I would be far more concerned with the Bracing and neck than the side woods. Before you tell me im crazy, there was a playable acoustic guitar made with paper mache back and sides.



Ah, the famous experiment by Antonio Torres circa 1850s in Spain.
And yes your observation is certainly seconded by me.

Quote by Mr.Pink101
Heavier neck means less of the energy in the string is absorbed by the neck, so more sound is input into the body, and the bracing is a major player in the actual projection of the guitar, so lots of care should be taken with it. shaping, sanding, correct alignment and most of all, what wood <snip>


Also I'd like to point out that contrary to an opinion expressed earlier, rosewood and similar woods are not at all chosen for their resonant properties in the construction of back and sides, but for their acoustically reflective qualities. As said above in regard to neck woods, resonant woods tend to absorb energy in order to move, and that doesn't help in sound projection. Ideally only the top should move in order to work the air in front of it and within the body.
#9
Quote by R.Christie
Also I'd like to point out that contrary to an opinion expressed earlier, rosewood and similar woods are not at all chosen for their resonant properties in the construction of back and sides, but for their acoustically reflective qualities. As said above in regard to neck woods, resonant woods tend to absorb energy in order to move, and that doesn't help in sound projection. Ideally only the top should move in order to work the air in front of it and within the body.


Ever heard of tone-tapping? Back and side woods, as well as soundboards, ARE chosen for their resonant properties. A wood that does not resonate well does so because it is absorbing energy rather than transferring it. Woods that do not resonate dampen the sound, and vice versa. The two are polar opposites, so when one property is less present, the other is more prominent. This is the very reason people will often put damping material on the housings of speaker cabinets to prevent anything other than the driver from resonating/vibrating (you can hear the housings vibrate when not dampened, while without damping all you hear is the music). In the case of an acoustic guitar, you NEED those vibrations because that's what creates the sound.

See this video of Somogyi himself tapping woods to show different resonant properties and sounds in the woods. Notice how much the rosewood resonates when tapped. He's not firing sound at it, he's simply hitting it, therefore the "reflection" argument is proven to be invalid (the wood is transforming energy into sound by resonating, not reflecting the sound itself). Resonant woods will sustain longer and project further, and damping woods will sustain less and give a quicker response, while also having less bass on average due to the fact that bass requires resonance to be heard in abundance.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-HtN_HKRHI
Last edited by i_don't_know at Oct 27, 2009,
#10
after watching the somogyi video and another one about tone tapping, we went to rockler and bought a bunch of thin 12x3 samples of various tonewoods and tried it ourselves. with such small pieces, you have to figure out how to hold them, but once you have it figured out, the different tones out of each type of wood is very interesting. i found knocking on the smaller pieces got a better response. we can knock harder on the prima vera back wood we bought to make our first guitar.

btw, for those who live near a rockler or don't mind doing this mail order, you can learn a lot about not only the tone but the grains of interesting guitar woods like zebrawood, walnut, bolivian rosewood, wenge, bloodwood, bubinga, mahogany, cherry and more - those are some of the ones we got, and i feel i "get" tonewoods now a lot more than i did before we did this.

Quote by i_don't_know
Ever heard of tone-tapping? Back and side woods, as well as soundboards, ARE chosen for their resonant properties. A wood that does not resonate well does so because it is absorbing energy rather than transferring it. Woods that do not resonate dampen the sound, and vice versa. The two are polar opposites, so when one property is less present, the other is more prominent. This is the very reason people will often put damping material on the housings of speaker cabinets to prevent anything other than the driver from resonating/vibrating (you can hear the housings vibrate when not dampened, while without damping all you hear is the music). In the case of an acoustic guitar, you NEED those vibrations because that's what creates the sound.

See this video of Somogyi himself tapping woods to show different resonant properties and sounds in the woods. Notice how much the rosewood resonates when tapped. He's not firing sound at it, he's simply hitting it, therefore the "reflection" argument is proven to be invalid (the wood is transforming energy into sound by resonating, not reflecting the sound itself). Resonant woods will sustain longer and project further, and damping woods will sustain less and give a quicker response, while also having less bass on average due to the fact that bass requires resonance to be heard in abundance.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-HtN_HKRHI
Last edited by patticake at Oct 27, 2009,
#11
Quote by patticake
after watching the somogyi video and another one about tone tapping, we went to rockler and bought a bunch of thin 12x3 samples of various tonewoods and tried it ourselves. with such small pieces, you have to figure out how to hold them, but once you have it figured out, the different tones out of each type of wood is very interesting. i found knocking on the smaller pieces got a better response. we can knock harder on the prima vera back wood we bought to make our first guitar.

btw, for those who live near a rockler or don't mind doing this mail order, you can learn a lot about not only the tone but the grains of interesting guitar woods like zebrawood, walnut, bolivian rosewood, wenge, bloodwood, bubinga, mahogany, cherry and more - those are some of the ones we got, and i feel i "get" tonewoods now a lot more than i did before we did this.


From what I understand, bloodwood sounds incredible. Why oh why must it be that hideous solid bright red?!? Do you think with some staining and the right finish it could actually be made to look good?
#12
i would think a dark brown or black transparent stain could tone it down pretty well. if we get some stains, i'll try it on the bloodwood piece and see what happens.

Quote by i_don't_know
From what I understand, bloodwood sounds incredible. Why oh why must it be that hideous solid bright red?!? Do you think with some staining and the right finish it could actually be made to look good?
#13
Fret board won't change the tone at all. The type of wood used in the guitar definitely effects the tone. Rosewood has a deep complex tone. Mahogany more balanced with better mids and highs. Maple is all mids and highs and no base. The top affects tone as well too.

Type in "tonewoods" at yahoo and you'll get plenty of explanation about what woods sound like from people who actually know.
#14
Quote by i_don't_know
Ever heard of tone-tapping? Back and side woods, as well as soundboards, ARE chosen for their resonant properties. A wood that does not resonate well does so because it is absorbing energy rather than transferring it. Woods that do not resonate dampen the sound, and vice versa. The two are polar opposites, so when one property is less present, the other is more prominent. This is the very reason people will often put damping material on the housings of speaker cabinets to prevent anything other than the driver from resonating/vibrating (you can hear the housings vibrate when not dampened, while without damping all you hear is the music). In the case of an acoustic guitar, you NEED those vibrations because that's what creates the sound.

See this video of Somogyi himself tapping woods to show different resonant properties and sounds in the woods. Notice how much the rosewood resonates when tapped. He's not firing sound at it, he's simply hitting it, therefore the "reflection" argument is proven to be invalid (the wood is transforming energy into sound by resonating, not reflecting the sound itself). Resonant woods will sustain longer and project further, and damping woods will sustain less and give a quicker response, while also having less bass on average due to the fact that bass requires resonance to be heard in abundance.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-HtN_HKRHI


I think we realise the same thing, but are talking cross purposes as to the use of the term resonant; rosewood etc are hard and stiff, the woods don't resonate within their own cellular structure but will transfer or reflect energy, without absorbing it.
Stiff materials that will not absorb energy or dissipate it are best for backs and sides.

edit I might add, that according to my understanding of physics, resonant systems first absorb enrgy in order to resonate. Resonance then decays at a rate dependent on any further energy input and damping factors.
Last edited by R.Christie at Oct 28, 2009,
#17
Quote by maverick1972
Anyone ever see an Oak or Walnut guitar?

I have photos of both types in my profile - electric ones