One of the most crucial elements to a guitar’s tone comes from the woods and materials that make up it’s construction. With a wide variety of guitars available on the market today, the selections of guitar woods and fretboard woods has become quite vast. Because so many variables will come into play (body shape, thickness, moisture level) this will be worded as general as possible to help give the overall idea. Most of the wood mentioned here are considered the “tone woods” in electric guitar building.
One of the most popular body and neck woods in today’s market. The density of mahogany makes it an ideal choice for most hard rock and metal guitars as it is know to have “punch”. It has a rounded sound overall emphasis on the bass and treble end. The natural dip in the midrange area it what makes it ideal for guitarist who tend to scoop the mids from their amps anyway. Mahogany is a medium weight wood, which is why it is found on most cheaper Les Paul imitations, as the body can be quite thick without weighing the shoulder of the owner down during long sets.
Pair with Alnico II or Alnico V magnet pickups for best tone.
It’s hard to find a sturdy Fender guitar that doesn’t use a Maple neck. It’s known for it’s strength and density, and tends to be a bit on the heavier side of the tone woods. But the additional weight makes it a great option for a neck material, as it can easily balance out the weight of a large, solid body electric guitar. It has a minimal sound velocity, and an overall flat sound with most of the emphasis on the treble range. As a fretboard wood, maple is much brighter and faster on attack when compared to rosewood fretboards. But don’t let it fool you. It’s the most popular cap wood in electric guitars for its tonal characteristics. Would a Gibson Les Paul still be a Les Paul without the maple top? No. And I my opinion, nothing is prettier on guitars than a flamed maple top.
Can be used with Alnico II, Alnico V and Ceramic magnet pickups as the fretboard wood plays a bigger role.
In the early days of the solid body electric guitar, alder was the most preferred. Alder is known for having an overall rich sound with lots of bottom end, and focused upper midrange. It is also a fairly light-weight wood, making it ideal for larger electric guitar bodies like the Stratocaster. Because short grains in the wood keep it from being as strong as other tone woods, it’s rarely used as neck wood. Poplar and basswood are very similar in characteristics, and are sometimes considered cheaper substitutes.
Mostly a fretboard wood. Works best with Alnico V and Ceramic magnet pickups.
In modern electric guitars, rosewood bodied guitars are few and far between, and almost unheard of in mass production. But rosewood today out ranks both maple and ebony as the fretboard wood of choice in electric guitars. It’s known for having a very resonant tone similar to mahogany, with solid bass and treble ranges. But most noticeably is the piano-like ringing in the midrange. For modern guitars mostly built with mahogany bodies and a natural midrange dip, rosewood fretboards make a great tonal combination. Common types of this wood are Brazilian rosewood and East Indian rosewood.
- by Aaron Chabak 08/22/2007