The kind of wood used for making an electric guitar requires high stability and strength and is called “tone wood.” There are different kinds of tone woods and each has its own tonal property and sustain, affecting the overall sound of the guitar. In addition, tone woods respond differently and take on different characteristics depending on how it is fashioned and made. While wood can affect the tone of the guitar, the skill of the maker, the design, and the quality of each piece of wood used are equally important in determining the final quality of the sound.
One of the most important factors to consider when it comes to the material used in guitar is the velocity of sound-the speed at which the material transmits the energy it receives. Materials should facilitate the transmission of vibrating energy. Good material is that which has a high velocity of sound, resulting in low internal damping and great quality transmission. Here are the different kinds of tone woods and their characteristics:
Mahogany as a guitar top has a relatively low velocity of sound, low overtone content and just enough density to produce a solid tone. It has a forceful tone that is best suited for country blues playing and responds best at the upper end of the dynamic range. Mahogany also sounds more wood-like compared to rosewoods and thus has more acoustic properties. As a neck, mahogany creates a warmer tonal range.
Koa is a hardwood with considerable density, a low overtone content, and relatively low velocity that also produces a solid tone. Compared to mahogany it has a more midrange tone that works best for rhythm playing and Hawaiian-style slide playing.
Rosewood is known for its broad range of overtones and high sound velocity. It contributes to tonal coloration and has a pronounced reverberant tonal quality. Brazilian rosewood produces complexity and strength in the bottom end of the dynamic range and a darkness of tone in the rest of the range. It also creates a rich tone in the upper registers due to strong highs and mids, clarity at the bottom, and a sparkling sound at the top. As a neck, Brazilian rosewood adds a ring and sparkle to the sound of the strings. Indian rosewood in general, has a thicker coloration with a more midrange tone.
Maple has a lower sound velocity and greater weight and Koa wood rings thus produces a flat sound. This is desirable when the guitar is amplified at high sound pressure levels and why maple is the common wood of choice for guitar tops. When used as a neck, maple produces a poppy tone.
A lightweight wood, Adler is highly resonant and produces a full rich tone. It has good sustain, high-end characteristics, good low end and midrange and a good performance at the lower midrange.
Poplar is known for producing a bouncy and clean sound, great for funk playing. It is best for those who prefer a crisp single-coil snap sound.
Spruce is a standard soundboard material that produces a natural high velocity sound. Sitka spruce is a great choice for players who want a robust and meaty tone.