Wood tones are not the most important factor in deciding tone, but like all components selected by a guitar builder, they all play a part.
In acoustic guitars, the saddle of the guitar determines what frequencies and harmonics transfer into the guitar top, what remains in the strings, how long the note is and how long it will last. It starts as vibrations from the string, amplifies through the saddle into the guitar and out. Any inconsistencies (known to kill tone) hamper the consistent transfer of harmonics into the wood and results in flat or dead spots. TUSQ nuts and saddles are consistent from piece to piece and within each piece, effectively transferring frequencies, maximizing the tone and harmonic potential of the guitar. (Read more about the importance of a saddle here).
Different woods can also affect the tone significantly. 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.
The inherent inconsistencies in plywood (due to various woods and glue), will not offer the same sound as a solid piece of maple. That isn’t to say that you require the highest quality of wood to get the best guitar, but learning about what types of woods will give you a certain quality or tone of sound will allow you to key into what kind of guitar to invest in.
Neck material and fret board material also play a role in tones. Maple is a common wood for necks, as it is stiff, and the wood creates a bright tone. Rosewood and maple are generally used for fret boards because Rosewood creates a warm tone which is favoured over ebony, a slightly less common wood, due to its nature to be very heavy with a bright, hard attack.
Mahogany is also sometimes used in necks, as well as bodies, for its classic warm feel. Be wary, as getting that great mahogany tone can create 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 – you don’t want to be dragged down by your guitar when playing a long gig.
Stay tuned, as we explore various woods and the different tones they achieve.
We’ll change the way you play!