#1
So most people would agree that the various woods that can make a solid body guitar give it different tonal/resonance qualities etc. Here's a question I can't quite answer; why?

Before you give me a simple answer, consider the following:
Electric guitars work on the basis of a magnetic pick-up picking up the vibration of the strings above it. No other signal is transmitted to the amp. If you just place a pickup on a wooden vibrating surface, it's not going to make a sound. While an acoustic guitar would benefit from the different resonance of different woods, physically, why should it change the sound of an electric guitar?

The only thing I can figure is that maybe the resonance of the strings change depending on the wood they're attached to. Counter to that however is the fact that floyd rose and floating tremolo equipped guitars are not attached to the body of the guitar and instead are attached through springs and screws which should reduce that effect to the resonance qualities of the springs and screws.

Can anyone explain how woods effect the sound of solid body guitars scientifically?
#2
I cant give you the perfect answer, But I think the reason wood matters in electric guitars is because of how they transfer the vibrations throughout its body. Because Alder, Maple, and Mahogany all vibrate differently at different frequencies, it changes the way the pickup absorbs the sound. Its why if you put the same pick up in three different guitars with different types of wood, even if they were all the same relative thickness and shape, it will sound different.
#3
Actually, you're right. The differences aren't profound unless the differences in the woods are profound. For example, if you made a guitar out of balsa wood (and it's been done), the tonal differences and the effects on string vibration will be much greater in comparison to a guitar made of dense woods such as mahogany or cocobolo. As for the Floyd clamping the strings at the bridge and the nut, you must remember the hardware is anchored to the wooden body and neck of the guitar. Therefore, there is some difference depending on the woods, the construction, the various thicknesses and densities of the woods, etc. But even then, the differences are nowhere as great as with a hollowbody or an acoustic guitar.
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#4
Quote by nickdohle
I cant give you the perfect answer, But I think the reason wood matters in electric guitars is because of how they transfer the vibrations throughout its body. Because Alder, Maple, and Mahogany all vibrate differently at different frequencies, it changes the way the pickup absorbs the sound. Its why if you put the same pick up in three different guitars with different types of wood, even if they were all the same relative thickness and shape, it will sound different.

this.. there's also the fact that the body resonance interacts with the string vibrations altering the way they vibrate, thus the sound the vibrating string produces, and the signal that is fed into the pickups as a result.

edit: i got so distracted by the response i failed to notice the TS had already mentioned everything i just said...

however, with regards to hardware things like a floyd - the strings aren't directly attached to the wood there, however the wood is still baring the tension of the strings, and is still going to respond to the string vibrations in a way that affects them. there's some kind of physics involved in this that i kinda understand but don't really know how to explain it coherently

the only way to prevent the material of the guitar from having any influence on the tone is to make it out of a perfectly rigid material that simply does not resonate, that way it can't possibly alter the vibration of the strings. if you did this it would have superb sustain, and a very even response across all fundamental frequencies and harmonics, but would also sound incredibly bland and sterile.
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Last edited by Blompcube at Sep 15, 2011,
#5
The strings are not vibrating in a vacuum. The vibrations don't just go along the springs, they are transferred via the headstock and the bridge's pivot points. The whole system vibrates, and there are feedback loops between the body and strings. If you could somehow get the strings to vibrate all on their own without any wood, it would sound a lot like a MIDI track, where there's only the fundamental and no harmonics. Adding wood adds resonant peaks to the strings' vibrations, which is why electric guitars that sound loud acoustically tend to have a lot of harmonic content when plugged in - the wood's resonant frequencies are more pronounced. Different woods have different resonant frequencies, and different damping speeds, weight, etc., so you get all sorts of different sounds out of them.


You can experiment with doing this backwards:
Tap on the body of the guitar with it plugged in. The strings will start to vibrate because the vibration of the body interacts with them. Ta da.
#6
Exactly what Colin said.

There can be huge differences in the tone from even different bodies/necks made of the same wood.
I changed the neck on my Ibanez S540 a while ago, both necks were Ibanez S necks, both maple with rosewood fretboards. The only real difference was the profile, the newer neck was a little thicker and more rounded.
The original neck was quite a bit heavier/denser than the newer neck. Once I'd changed necks, straight away I noticed the guitar was a lot darker sounding. I was using my Mark IV, which is a bright sounding amp, and it was very dark, almost to the point of being muddy and undefinied. Back to the original neck, and it was fine; bright and clear.

The neck was the only thing I changed, everything else was exactly the same (even the strings)
#7
Quote by Necronomicon

The only thing I can figure is that maybe the resonance of the strings change depending on the wood they're attached to.

That's my answer.

In the case of Floyd-equipped guitars like you mentioned, the string vibration does still transfer through the body, so the wood does resonate, though I'm not sure if tonally a floyd rose equipped guitar with a mahogany body would be any different to a mahogany body with a stopbar/string through/etc.
#8
think of it this way.

you pluck a string on an electric guitar. that is the noise being heard with its natural timbre which is audible and has a certain pitch

pickups don't make the guitar sound (read pickups don't make guitar sound). what pickups do is to basically use a coil(s) and a little bit of electricity (thourgh your cable) which converts the vibration to an electrical impulse, and that is what pickups do.then you have used your pickups, to get the frequency its electrical destination, whether it go to effects/rack/amp/processor/etc.
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Last edited by trashedlostfdup at Sep 16, 2011,
#9
Do not underestimate the force of the strings on the neck/headstock.

Place your guitar on a stand and pluck your low E-string. Feel how the complete neck resonates which energy goes via the headstock/neck to the body.
When you pluck a string, energy will be given via the headstock/neck to the whole body and back to the strings where they blend with the original vibrations.
This energy as vibrations will have certain characteristics such as amplitude and frequency.
This will vary depending on the wood because every wood has a certain density and some will absorb more energy than others and the differences can be big.

Take for example a big peace of one of the softest wood (balsa for example) and smash it against the wall. Most energy will be absorbed by the wood.
Do the same with one of the hardest wood and most energy will be transferred to your arms. Auch!
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Last edited by xgunterx at Sep 16, 2011,
#10
It's the way the body amplifies the vibrations and forces of the strings that effects it. The woods have no effect on pick-ups but rather the vibrations of the string itself.

http://www.kettering.edu/physics/drussell/guitars/electric.html

^ So basically you strum the strings by exerting a force, they vibrate and exert a force on the body which vibrates. The tonal woods and hardware effects how these vibrations are amplified, resonate or are damped and cause the body to vibrate differently for each guitar. The body's vibrations also exert force on the strings and change their vibrations. THis is what colours your tone.

In theory, no two guitars will sound exactly the same.
#11
Quote by baumaxx1
It's the way the body amplifies the vibrations and forces of the strings that effects it. The woods have no effect on pick-ups but rather the vibrations of the string itself.


The wood does affect pickups. The pickups vibrate as you play because they're attached to vibrating wood.
#12
Quote by JELIFISH19
The wood does affect pickups. The pickups vibrate as you play because they're attached to vibrating wood.

They are attached to the body quite loosely. They are suspended on a pair of screws from a plastic frame. I doubt a lot of vibrations are transferred to them. I think the effect of this is negligible, compared to the effect of the body vibration on the strings.
#13
^ Exactly... the body's magnitude of vibration is negligible compared to the string.
#14
Keep in mind that the pickups have piezoelectric properties, in addition to the electromagnetic. If you smack a pickup with your finger, you can surely hear it in the amp. Since most of us don't have metal or magnetic fingers, you have to wonder how much of that effect, via body resonance contributes to the overall sound.

If these effects aren't created by the wood of the guitar body, then a Les Paul would sound like a Telecaster. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, single coil versus dual. But my guess is, that if you equipped them both with the same PUPs, they'd still sound different.

Although obviously, not as different as they normally sound.
Last edited by Captaincranky at Sep 17, 2011,
#15
I just have one thing to add. You know how feedback works, right? String plays a note; speaker amplifies it; that sound makes that note vibrate more; sends more signal to speaker; speaker gets louder... et cetera.

Some woods have a frequency where that happens. On my RG2228, that's around 174hz, or F. That note, if I strip away the higher harmonics and really emphasise the fundamental, is extremely bloody loud in comparison to every other note. Look up the 'wolf tone'; that's caused on bowed instruments by hitting a note at the same frequency as the instrument's body's resonant frequency.

So if a wood naturally resonates more highs... your strings are going to vibrate with more highs, all things being equal. That's pretty much the basis of wood tonal characteristics.
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#16
Quote by xgunterx
Do not underestimate the force of the strings on the neck/headstock.

Place your guitar on a stand and pluck your low E-string. Feel how the complete neck resonates which energy goes via the headstock/neck to the body.
When you pluck a string, energy will be given via the headstock/neck to the whole body and back to the strings where they blend with the original vibrations.
This energy as vibrations will have certain characteristics such as amplitude and frequency.
This will vary depending on the wood because every wood has a certain density and some will absorb more energy than others and the differences can be big.

Take for example a big peace of one of the softest wood (balsa for example) and smash it against the wall. Most energy will be absorbed by the wood.
Do the same with one of the hardest wood and most energy will be transferred to your arms. Auch!
This was my first thought
Last edited by megaduu at Sep 17, 2011,