Poll: Tone wood - is it important?
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View poll results: Tone wood - is it important?
Yes! It's the most important aspect.
6 12%
Yes, but it's not the most important aspect.
38 73%
No! It's all in the pickups/amp selection.
8 15%
Voters: 52.
#1
So I've read so many conflicting opinions on this I really would like to sort it out. Obviously tone wood in an acoustic is going to have a huge impact on the sound, but is it really that big of a deal when building an electric? I've heard many great builders say, more or less, "I've built hundreds of guitars, and 99% of the tone comes from the pickups and amp, not the wood."

Seems to me that the tone is shaped from (greatest factor to least):

1)Amp
2)Pickups
3)Wood

I hear countless people say, "Ditch that guitar, there's no use in upgrading it because it has crap wood." Is this really a valid argument? Would two strats, one made from Alder and one made from plywood, with the same pickups, hardware, and amp, sound TOTALLY different? Besides the Alder probably having superior sustain because of the density and weight of the wood, would it be illogical to think the plywood guitar could sound good?

And that's a big difference example. The differences between Ash, Alder, and Mahogany. Would mahagony REALLY be that much darker used in an identical guitar with the same pickups, hardware and amp as the other two? Besides obviously sustain?

I'm new to the whole guitar building scene, and would really love to hear some of UG's views on this. I've heard it so many different ways, both from experts and beginners.

Is it really worth it to spend hours choosing the right wood for "clear highs" or "nice lows" instead of focussing on the wight and grain of the wood?
#2
All boner jokes aside, body wood imo is THAT important. Of course, the amp and pickups and effects and stuff all have will have a lot more of an impact on the tone, but the body wood is still important.

I compared my alder guitar to a mahogany, and when I had my mahogany guitar w/flamed maple top and neck through neck, I compared it to the same model but with solid finish and set neck, (the model I had was newer), and the difference was definitely there.

Whenever I look at guitars, I don't just look for a brand name, and pickups I like, and the body wood doesn't matter. I look for shape, body wood, and the neck. I know what works good with my amp and playing style, so I have certain criteria I base everything around.

I remember my friend said his Ibanez (basswood body, bolt on, stock pups) would sound exactly like my Charvel (basswood body, bolt on, Jackson pickups with active preamp) if we ran them through the same amp. He wasn't right.
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#4
"Yes, but it's not the most important aspect."

That one. Depends on the set up too. Is it a semi hollow? Is going to be played mostly on a clean setting, or is there a lot of distortion? Imo, it really only matters if your after a certain tone clean wise. With enough distortion it doesn't really matter what woods you use at all. And tonewoods dont matter that much at all if the guitar was built with shit quality.
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#6
Quote by ethan_hanus
The wood only really makes a difference with clean tones and sustain. When it comes to metal, there is so much gain that you'll never hear a difference.

Not true. You can tell a mahogany body from an alder pretty easily if you have a good ear, no matter how much distortion there is.
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#7
Lining it up as

Amp
Pickups
Wood

kind of throws off the perspective. Yes, it is last in that hierarchy, but look at the other two. Amps and pickups have HUGE effects on tone. They change nearly everything about your tone. Wood is more subtle, but a difference is still very noticeable.

Play a PRS 513. Then play a PRS Swamp Ash Special. Same body, same pickups, same amp, different wood. There will be a noticeable change.
#8
I agree with most everything said. Mahogany giving a slightly warmer tone, Alder a slightly brighter, etc., but I think you could balance this out with a little EQ'ing.

EDIT: What about tops? i.e. an alder body, quilted maple top. I'm assuming the quilted maple wouldn't effect the tone that much as it's so thin but I could be wrong.
Last edited by cjmabry at Aug 24, 2010,
#9
Tonewood - schmonewood - at least that is my opinion.

I have two almost identical guitars, a 1970 Gibson ES 330 and a 2001 Epiphone Casino


For those not familiar with these models, they are archtop, full hollow, acoustic electric guitars - there is no block of wood inside.

I don't know what kind of wood there is in the guitar, but I do know that as an acoustic, the Gibson sounds much better.

So it's quite evident that as far as tonewood and all other aspects of acoustic tone are concerned, the Gibson is superior.

That is until you plug them in.

The Gibson has the stock Gibson P90 pickups on it and the Epiphone has Seymour Duncan P90s.

Plug the two guitars in and the Casino sounds better. Crisper highs, fuller midrange, and more dynamic response.

If tonewood made that much of a difference, a simple pickup swap on an acoustically inferior sounding guitar couldn't have made it sound better.

And that makes sense too. After all, the pickups on a guitar are not microphones. Unless your pickup is defective, you can put your mouth an inch away, make sure the strings can't vibrate, and scream at the pickup, and nothing will come out of the amp.

The vibrating string disturbs a magnetic field and that generates an electrical signal in the pickups which is sent to the effects and amp for processing and amplifying.

There is nothing acoustic about the pickup, so the acoustic properties of the guitar should not be able to affect it.

IMHO Tonewood is just a marketing term invented by the guitar companies to extract more money out of your bank account ;-)

The only difference the wood can do is affect the sustain. With all other things being equal, a stiffer guitar should sustain more.

Of course, unless we are talking acoustic guitars. Then the wood matters.

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#10
Quote by Notes_Norton
The vibrating string disturbs a magnetic field and that generates an electrical signal in the pickups which is sent to the effects and amp for processing and amplifying.

There is nothing acoustic about the pickup, so the acoustic properties of the guitar should not be able to affect it.

IMHO Tonewood is just a marketing term invented by the guitar companies to extract more money out of your bank account ;-)


Conspiracy hats-- ACTIVATE!!

There's nothing acoustic about pickups, true, but the wood does affect the tone that the pickups generate. Think about it--the steel strings vibrate in the pickups magnetic field which creates the signal that goes to your amp. But, the instrument vibrates as well. The body wood vibrates. That causes the pickup to vibrate beneath the vibrating strings, thus changing the disturbance of the magnetic field and impacting tone. Different woods have different densities and as such have different resonant oscillation.

You said that if tonewoods in an electric guitar truly affected tone then a pickup swap wouldn't have made it sound better. This is not true. It can most definitely sound better, but the argument is in that a guitar made of Alder with a JB in the bridge sounding identical to a guitar made of Purpleheart with a JB in the bridge. They wont sound the same. The worse sounding one might sound better or different, but they wont sound exactly the same. There will always be even the smallest of differences as long as wood densities vary.
Last edited by Seref at Aug 24, 2010,
#11
Yeah, If you're using piezo pickup or playing acoustic it makes a lot of difference. otherwise no it doesn't. I'm anal about it anyway.

/thread
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#12
I'm so glad tho surprised people don't overrate woods. I had an Ibanez gio and an epi SG special w thick neck, mahogany I am told. I've tried lots of pickups on both. The mahogany is very dark which means I can crank the treble/presence and get lots of definition in my attack. The gio lacked so much bass it was criminal, in fact unplugged it sounded like a tennis racquet with rubber bands. I traded it in for a Charvel which was significantly beefier but not like a Damien i passed up. So I do think if you strum it unplugged you get a decent idea of what character your feeding your pickups from the get go. That said, pickup brands and models are where it's at! Then amp, then wood for bass, hi def, mid character, moreso if you play a hollowbody with single coil or microphonic pkups. Don't pay alot.
#13
It will have some effect, but to the untrained ear, it won't really matter. I feel it will affect how the guitar will act more as opposed to how it sounds. Things like the fretboard wood will have a definite impact on your guitar, neck wood too. It will affect your stustain and attack more.

The tonal differences in the tonewoods is probably there, however slight, but could be EQ'd to sound completely different if need be.

Also, I think that Amps and effects will have more of an effect on tone than pickups, as you are actively shaping your tone, while pickups are just picking up the sound (not saying they don't act differently, just that not as much as amps and stuff).

Lastly, crappy built things will sound crappy, whether it's a guitar, pickups, amps or effects.


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#14
I guess it depends on the type of music you like to play. I'm a balls out super high gain player with active and non-active pickups. In my case I don't feel that the type of wood impacts it as much as if I'd be playing hollow bodies and such.
#15
Your tonewood is like a spice for your tone. It's not the most important aspect in the recipe, but it's still pretty important and using the wrong tonewood for the wrong application can ruin your tone just like using the right tonewood can significantly enhance your tone. The challange is that acoustic tone and electric tone happen for different reasons so just because something is acoustically better doesn't mean it's gonna sound better when it's plugged in.

I'm usually one of the 1st people to say that the "good wood" they use in top shelf guitars doesn't actually give you better tone than the cheaper guitars that use the same species of wood but I will always acknowledge that different tonewoods do produce different tones. Basswood tends to be dry with a strong upper midrange, mahogany is warm with a full low end, alder is bright and open, hard ash is bright and punchy and so on. Now this doesn't mean that all mahogany guitars are going to be warm with a full low end, it just means that the wood used lends it's self to that tone and it needs to be paired with pickups and an amp that complement it. I've got pickups that I strongly recommend nobody pair with basswood because they sound bad when you pair them with basswood but they sound great in mahogany. If tonewood didn't matter then I wouldn't make that kind of distinction.
#16
Quote by CorduroyEW
Your tonewood is like a spice for your tone. It's not the most important aspect in the recipe, but it's still pretty important and using the wrong tonewood for the wrong application can ruin your tone just like using the right tonewood can significantly enhance your tone. The challange is that acoustic tone and electric tone happen for different reasons so just because something is acoustically better doesn't mean it's gonna sound better when it's plugged in.

I'm usually one of the 1st people to say that the "good wood" they use in top shelf guitars doesn't actually give you better tone than the cheaper guitars that use the same species of wood but I will always acknowledge that different tonewoods do produce different tones. Basswood tends to be dry with a strong upper midrange, mahogany is warm with a full low end, alder is bright and open, hard ash is bright and punchy and so on. Now this doesn't mean that all mahogany guitars are going to be warm with a full low end, it just means that the wood used lends it's self to that tone and it needs to be paired with pickups and an amp that complement it. I've got pickups that I strongly recommend nobody pair with basswood because they sound bad when you pair them with basswood but they sound great in mahogany. If tonewood didn't matter then I wouldn't make that kind of distinction.


+1 absolutely, what he said, said well. Also, ck out the anon. article on Dinosaur Rock by the employee that tried thousands of mediocre and poor LesPauls that came thru his store...