TONE WOODS

“Our imagination is the workshop of the mind. This is the place where dreams are born, ideas are nourished, and plans are made” David DeNotaris

Bass Wood

Inexpensive tone wood, which is easy to work with in the factory, easy to cut, sand and finish. Basswood is a soft wood with tight grains, and will tend to dampen sharp highs and soften them . Helping level out the thin tinny sound associated with knife edged tremolo contacts. The softness of Basswood also stimulates a weaker low end. It’s light in weight, but not because of large pores. Rather it’s low in mass overall. Deep, breathy sub-lows aren’t resonated in Basswood. The reduction in these outer frequencies leaves the mids pronounced in a hypothetical response curve.

Alder

Similar to Basswood, alder is lightweight with soft tight pores. It also has a large swirling grain pattern to it. These larger rings and sections add to its strength, and the complexity of the tones. Unlike Basswood, which tends to soften any highs, Alder retains many more, but also gives room for the lows. You have a wider scope of tones, which leads to the perception of a little less mids than Basswood.

Mahogany

Mahogany, mainly used in the acoustic world, for back and sides. It is the most commonly used hardwood because it’s relatively economical, durable, attractive, easy to work with and resonant. Mahogany became popular in guitars because it is attractive and cheaper to get than rosewood. Whereas the high-end Martin D-28 would have rosewood back and sides, the lower-end D-18 used mahogany. Mahogany lends more of a parlor kind of tone to the guitar. i.e. it’s twangier but not as brilliant. It’s not as big sounding either, but contains a distinct character. This character was present on most of the acoustic guitar sounds on early Beatles recordings since they used Gibsons of mahogany construction.

Swamp Ash

Ash is available in two types: Northern (hard) or Southern (soft). Hard Ash is popular because of it’s bright tone and long sustaining qualities. Many 50’s era Fender guitars were built with Soft Ash (aka Swamp Ash) As it has a much warmer feel than hard ash. Both variations have an open grain, meaning a good amount of prep has to be done at the factory to ensure the grain is filled, either with lacquer or coloured fillers, to ensure a smooth surface for clearing.

Walnut

Walnut’s tone is slightly warmer than maple, although it still has good sustain. Walnut looks great with oil finishes, and is comparatively heavy, but still lighter than maple.

Koa

Koa comes from Hawaii, which automatically means that it is in short supply. It comes in a variety of rich golden colors, from light to dark, and often with very strong grain markings, which look stunning. Koa makes a very balanced sounding guitar. Much of the warmth of rosewood and much of the brightness of Mahogany. The highs don’t jump out like glass breaking. They are more omnipresent. And they are more in the upper midrange than the highs. That’s either a very musical sound for someone interested in fundamental, or a less expressive sound for someone into playing hard picking blues.

Maple

Hugely popular wood for necks and fretboards. Easily identifiable because of its bright tone, characteristic grain patterns and moderate weight. It’s tonal characteristics include good sustain with plenty of bite. It is about as dense as hard ash, but is much easier to finish due to it’s tight grain, very durable. Hard Maple is tough on factory tools so it’s generally used for slimmer guitars. It really shouts with bright highs and strong upper midrange.

Rosewood

This wood has a beautiful rich variety of brown and purple colours. It makes a warm rich sounding guitar with great resonance and volume. However, Brazilian rosewood is no longer available in commercial quality or quantity. As a result it now sells for sizeable prices. To most, Brazilian has better clarity in the bottom and a almost bell like tone in the trebles. Indian rosewood has become the general substitute for Brazilian rosewood. Generally speaking, this wood is not as attractive as Brazilian and It has a noticeably purple color and the grain markings are coarser. Making a solid guitar out of Rosewood would be too heavy and/or cost prohibitive in most cases. This is because the wood is rare and expensive. Plus its porous nature requires a good deal of “pore fill” (and subsequent labour) before lacquer can be applied. Although, Rosewood is a very hard wood (harder than Maple) it’s porous nature gives it a warmer tone in general.


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