#1
So I have been offered a 1991 Gibson ES-135. I was looking through the specs and saw that it has a "balsa wood" center block. Googled it and found mixed reviews about it as a tonewood. However, it is said to be very light, which is a plus for me.

What do you people think about it? Is it a good tonewood?
#2
Wow, I did not know balsa had been used in any guitars. I did some googling, mostly saw it as being used in LP 'Lite' models. Reviews were not encouraging. I think it would definitely be a 'try before I buy' on that.
#5
I have a model Parrot made of Balsa wood. I have no idea how it would do as a tone wood, but after taking it as a mascot on a walk with some mates, it no longer has a beak...
#6
Balsa wood is the kind of wood that $50 Wallmart brand guitars use.
o()o

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#7
Balsa is an extremely light and soft wood. I wouldn't know anything about how it sounds though.
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#8
Quote by EpiExplorer
Balsa wood is the kind of wood that $50 Wallmart brand guitars use.

No, it's not. Balsa is so very light that it has almost no structural value. Walmart guitars would be MFD or ply or super crappy alder perhaps, but I've never seen one in balsa and I doubt there are any. It's just not a viable material for a solidbody. I don't think it would hold a bridge or stopbar tailpiece, or a neck joint.

The reason Gibson chose balsa in this case is probably that they were trying to split the difference between a semi- and a full-hollowbody construction. Using a very lightweight center block could give a more hollowbody type sound while still blocking feedback and giving a bit more sustain. I suspect it would be a neat tonal middle point between no center block at all and the usual mahogany block. A small benefit on top of that would be that the guitar would be physically lighter. The center block doesn't have to be structural, so the use of balsa shouldn't be a problem in that respect.

Balsa is actually known as one of the best sounding materials for making violins. Many experimental luthiers have worked with it, since its density allows for a ton of vibration. The reason you don't see instruments made of it in the wild is because they'd never last. Balsa won't take a lacquer well, and it's just no good as a body material.

So, from a purely technical standpoint, the balsa makes some sense. I think a lot of the blowback for the decision is from people who see balsa and think of a light, cheap wood used for kids' toys. I haven't played one of these guitars, so I won't claim that the experiment worked, but there are some strong arguments for using balsa in a center block that go beyond the low price. Price may have been a consideration but I don't think it's fair at all to say that they just threw a balsa block in there because it was cheap.

TL;DR: Balsa actually has really good tonal properties but it sucks structurally and people perceive it as a cheap wood.
#9
My bet is that the balsa is there solely to prevent feedback*, and serves no structural purpose whatsoever. The guitar is probably built so that it is amply braced with more tradiitional materials.


* like how Billy Duffy uses blocks of foam rubber in his Gretsch White Falcons.
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Last edited by dannyalcatraz at May 31, 2013,
#10
It's low-density but high in strength, so soft but strong. I'd imagine the tone to be nice and warm, and the body super light. I always thought it was more expensive than most woods, due to it's lightness, used to make planes with it, was expensive to buy in hobby shops is all I remember.

found this old post by 6591mkmk in 2006

I'm from england, made 4 guitars out of Balsa for Zz Top and there wasn't any thin sound at all. Afterburner Tour white explorers.
Best guitars Billy and Dusty ever played.

old thread
https://www.ultimate-guitar.com/forum/archive/index.php?t-457448.html
Last edited by Tempoe at May 31, 2013,
#11
Wow, that's very interesting. I wouldn't have thought that balsa would work for a solidbody. It seems to soft to hold the hardware.

Plus I don't buy that "Best guitars Billy and Dusty ever played" business for a minute, but that's ZZ Top for you. Lots of myth surrounding that bunch.
#12
Quote by Powersurge213
I have a model Parrot made of Balsa wood. I have no idea how it would do as a tone wood, but after taking it as a mascot on a walk with some mates, it no longer has a beak...


LMAO on this one ^^^
#16
If you get tired of the guitar you can put a rubber band and plastic propeller on the end of it and use it as a plane like those balsa wood model kits at the dollar stores.
Quote by BlackVoid
Every guitar and bass forum I've visited has some people chasing some magical tone that will shoot jizzing unicorns riding on a rainbow out of their amp.
#17
Balsa is very soft (like dent it with your fingernail) and very light. I'm surprised it can support the bridge and tailpiece. Interestingly enough it IS a hardwood, technically.
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#19
Bizarrely balsa is technically a hardwood!

It is used in many applications where it's strength is important, combined with its light weight. For example surfboards, boats and even part of the bodyshell of the Chevy Corvette!

It usually needs to be laminated, usually with some other substance, such as a 'hard' wood, or fibreglass. But the reason it's used in model planes is because its so strong and so light!
#20
The reason balsa is technically a hardwood is because hardwoods are categorized by the region they're grown in, not by how 'hard' they are.
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#21
Quote by T00DEEPBLUE
The reason balsa is technically a hardwood is because hardwoods are categorized by the region they're grown in, not by how 'hard' they are.



Nah, seed structure.

Angiosperm v. Gymnosperm, location isn't pertinent.
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#22
Quote by Arby911
Nah, seed structure.

Angiosperm v. Gymnosperm, location isn't pertinent.

Ah.
Roses are red
Violets are blue
Omae wa mou
Shindeiru



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#23
Quote by Arby911
Nah, seed structure.

Angiosperm v. Gymnosperm, location isn't pertinent.

Right, because if you look at spruce it's quite hard wood but it isn't a hardwood because it's a conifer.
Current Gear:
LTD MH-400 with Gotoh GE1996T (EMG 85/60)
PRS SE Custom 24 (Suhr SSH+/SSV)
Ibanez RG3120 Prestige (Dimarzio Titans)
Squier Vintage Modified 70s Jazz V
Audient iD22 interface
Peavey Revalver 4, UAD Friedman BE100/DS40
Adam S3A monitors
Quote by Anonden
You CAN play anything with anything....but some guitars sound right for some things, and not for others. Single coils sound retarded for metal, though those who are apeshit about harpsichord probably beg to differ.