Understanding WoodFirst of all, to understand woods, the first rule is "quality first". You can have your guitar made out of mahogany if you want, but if the mahogany wood came from an area with a bad growth pattern, or diseases, you're not getting what you pay for, no matter what you are being charged. It is safe to say that most companies spend a great deal of time finding high quality wood, otherwise Paul Reed Smith wouldn't charge $3,00 for a Custom 24 model. But when you are buying into the lesser known brands that cost less, but supposedly sound as great as high end guitars, you should be weary of what you're getting. Always give guitars a good play in the store, to make sure that you're not getting a dud. Knock lightly on different parts of the guitar to ensure that the wood is solid, and there aren't any major dead parts. Some dead parts are merely part of wood. If you hear one part of a guitar giving off a slightly less clear tone, don't be alarmed. If there were no dead parts in your guitar's wood, that would mean it is classified as "10-top", meaning the wood is perfect. Paul Reed Smith is one company that offers 10-top quality wood in their guitars as an option - for a very real price increase. When knocking lightly on the guitar, look for even tone quality. If you hear a muddy, dead sound, put the guitar back. If you hear a nice, solid crisp knock all over, you've got some nice wood in your hands. If the guitar's wood has an overall good quality, you should classify it as a keeper. Definitely try this practise out when you have an option of picking between two or more "identical" guitars.
Different TonesWood tones are not the most important factor in deciding tone, but they do play a large role. The same two high quality pickups in the same guitar shape would sound entirely different if one guitar were made out of plywood and the other out of maple. So, in the end, don't limit yourself to thinking that a plywood guitar will sound the same as a mahogany guitar, but don't think you need a 10-top mahogany guitar to sound great. Don't make compromises on quality, but don't spend all your money to get the right wood. Neck material and fretboard material also help create their part in tones. Maple is a common wood for necks, as it is stiff, and creates a bright tone. Rosewood and maple are used for fretboards. Rosewood creates a warm tone, but ebony, a slightly less common wood, is very heavy and creates a bright, hard attack. Mahogany is also sometimes used in necks, as well as bodies, for its classic warm feel. Be wary, though, sometimes getting that great mahogany tone creates a lot of weight in the guitar. Always check out the weight of the guitar standing up and sitting down when playing it in the store - sometimes you don't want to dragged down by your guitar when playing a long gig.
In ConclusionIn conclusion, choosing your guitar wood should be based on playing guitars in store. Try playing two similar guitars made out of different materials on the same amplifier. With some experience, you should be able to hear the difference in the tones. Remember that on necks, different finishes can affect how fast you can move your hand along the neck, so don't be put off from a certain type of wood because of one guitar. Remember that quality is a very important element in wood, so if you play one mahogany guitar that sounds bad, don't think all guitars may be like that. Also, body shapes can affect tone - an arched top guitar will sound different than a flat top guitar. Variety is the key to finding out, first hand, the subtle nuances between wood tones. Thanks for reading my article, and I hope anything you've learned will serve you well. Peace Out, - Backup Guitar