Experienced guitarists know the importance of choosing the best wood for an amazing electric guitar body. While other components of an electric guitar, such as pickups, can be changed, the body stays put, so it is good to get the right one in the first place. Guitars come alive when they are in the players’ hands, and no two instruments can yield the same voice even if they look alike. The type of material used for the body matters a lot. You should note that some guitars feature other materials like aluminum and carbon on the body – solid, hollow, or semi-hollow body. How the piece of wood is treated also dictates how the instrument sounds and looks. Let’s look at the lumber and common woods variations!
When it comes to guitar tone, wood matters!
The body woods that luthiers use in old guitars are different from modern guitar models. Whether they sound better or worse depends on the taste of the player. Certain wood and tree varieties around the world used to make guitars in the 50s no longer exist. It is good to try several before finding the type of body wood that resonates with the desired tone.
* Looking to build a guitar? Take a look at this post on building your DIY guitar kits, where you can learn guitar building and how to care for your guitar.
What to Look for in the Best Wood for Solid Body Electric Guitars
Not every piece of wood makes a good guitar body or even electric guitar body templates. Some timbers are more suited for the body, while others like spruce do well in acoustic guitar tops. The best wood for electric guitar bodies should be structurally strong. It must also possess the desired tonal characteristics and qualities that a guitarist wants in the constructions.
Also, check out – Laminate Vs. Solid Body Guitar – how hard is it to make a guitar? – best wood for an electric guitar neck.
A Quick Electric Guitar Tonewoods Guide
Here are the most commonly used types of popular woods of a guitar body.
Many bass guitar bodies are constructed in mahogany tonewood. This hardwood provides a warm sound coupled with the deep bottom end. In some cases, mahogany wood is topped with maple to give a balanced ensemble. While mahogany is the primary material for acoustic instruments, it is still popular with electrics because it is resonant, durable, strength, economical, easy to work with, and physically appealing. It lends a parlor type of balanced sound; hence it is twangier though not overly bright. It may not bring the loudest voice, but its character is distinctive.
One of the most popular guitars is the Gibson Les Paul and Gibson SG.
Here are some excellent mahogany body blanks – check them out here.
Thanks to its lightweight and large pores, this inexpensive piece of tonewood is effortless to cut and finish in the factory. Overall, it has a low mass. Solid basswood guitar bodies are soft with tight grains. They tend to soften and dampen sharp highs. This helps balance out high-pitched and often irritating sounds familiar in knife-edged tremolo contacts. The soft nature of basswood can trigger weaker low ends. It reduces the deep breathy sub-lows, leaving the mid-range guitar tones pronounced with excellent clarity in the response curve. Overall, it has good sustain. Unfortunately, basswood can dent since there isn’t much pronounced grain and color.
The appearance of basswood is light in color to dark brown. It is usually straight grained, but can occasionally be wavy or irregular. The texture is uniform and coarse, with a hard and firm feel. Grain sizes typically range from medium to very fine with curl ranging from tight to open curl with the medullary rays showing as scattered knots in most wood species.
Here are some excellent basswood body blank options – check them out here.
A relatively expensive alder wood comes with a beautiful grain wood pattern and is lightweight, giving warm tones with lots of highs and openness. The alder body is ideal for excellent lows and beefy mid-ranges with a solid and precise full-bodied expressive sound. The highs may sizzle slightly, but they are not so harsh. Plus, it offers a decent level of sustain and weight. Traditionally, alder goes well with opaque finishes and darker transparent finish sometimes. A guitar body in alder is likely to produce less bass and mid-range. It tends to retain the highs while giving room for the lows. It provides many tones but fewer mids than a basswood guitar.
This is a reasonably common piece of tonewood used to build Ibanez, Fender Guitars like Stratocasters and Telecasters, Explorer, etc.
The appearance of alder is a consistent grain pattern. The grain tends to be straight and rectangular rather than curly or wavy which makes it an attractive option for guitars.
Alder also has a fast growing rate which means it can be harvested more easily without compromising the quality of the timber. This makes it an excellent option for guitar manufacturers who are looking to reduce the impact on their forests by using sustainable wood.
Here are some great alder bodies – check them out here.
Hard Ash Or Soft Swamp Ash Tree
Hard ash is famed for bright tones with excellent sustain and durability. Soft ash (swamp ash), on the other side, has a warmer feel and depth. Both feature open grain, so a lot of prepping is required in the factory to ensure they are filled with lacquer or fillers for a smooth surface. Most American guitar manufacturers use swamp ash because of its lightweight quality in addition to a pleasant timbre. As for the musical sound characteristics, ash wood is firm in bass tones and offers good sustain. These hardwoods have a bite in the mid-range and yields airy high frequencies.
Often preferred for fretboards or guitar fretboard wood and guitar necks, maple wood is one of the most accessible guitar woods to identify because of its bright tone and distinct grain pattern. It is moderate in weight, while its tonal qualities include plenty of bites and good sustain. While it is almost as dense as hard ash, maple wood features durable tight grains that are easier to finish. Generally, it is used in slimmer guitars because it can be tough on factory equipment. A guitar with a maple tonewood body shouts with strong upper mid frequency range and bright highs when it comes to bright sound.
Are you looking for a comparison? Look at this article on maple vs. mahogany guitar bodies.
Here are some tremendous flamed maple guitar body wood blanks from trees – check them out here.
The appearance of maple is relatively light in color. As it is lighter than other woods, it may not take much guitar paint or stain to cover the surface of this wood but when matched with two or three coats, it will produce an excellent finish that will remain very durable for quite some time.
Maple is common in guitar necks too because of its maple neck stability.
With a slightly warmer tone than maple, walnut looks good with an oil finish. Its brown color and visible grain patterns look great under a translucent lacquer coating. It is a relatively heavy wood but lighter than maple. It has a good sustain, and the sonic characteristics can be compared to those of mahogany. The voice of a walnut guitar body is usually warm and full with firm low ends and overall tightness.
Here is a good recommended walnut guitar body – check it out here.
The appearance of walnut tonewood is a consistent color and density that is traditionally matched with mahogany on the back of the guitar, which can blend between various shades for an appealing look.
Rosewood stands out with its wide variety of purple and brown colors. It creates warmth and rich sounds with excellent volume, overtones, midrange and resonance. Rosewood guitars are a bit expensive because this material is rare to find and prohibited in some places. The porous nature of rosewood needs to be worked on with pore fill before finishing with lacquer. Generally, the porosity of rosewood is responsible for warmer tones. It makes for heavy and brilliantly sounding guitar.
You probably know this wood best from having rosewood fretboard material.
The brown appearance of rosewood is made more attractive by the dark color and the reddish color. The reddish and dark green that makes up a guitar body is visually pleasing and intriguing. It is made to be appealing to all types of people and attract many different markets.
Brazilian Rosewood along with Ebony fretboard options can also be found in a lot of fretboards or fingerboards.
Koa wood is available in many golden hues ranging from light to dark. It looks stunning with its firm grains. Koa brings well-balanced sounds matching mahogany and rosewood guitars’ brightness and warm tones. Its highs are more omnipresent as opposed to jumping out like shattering glass. Again, the blanaced sound falls under the upper mid-range rather than the highs. This is a perfect combination for a guitarist looking for fundamental sounds or expressive tones for hard-picking blues.
Apart from the type of wood used in an electric guitar, the blanks and pieces contribute to the tone and feel. Other factors include where the tree has been grown, how old it grew, and the treatment that followed wood cutting. Other guitar bodies’ wood consists of the American tulipwood, Japanese ash, and Korina.
*Interested in acoustic guitar woods? Check this post – The Difference Between Solid & Laminate Wood In Acoustic Guitars
The appearance of Koa tonewood is a new trend for custom guitar building and by some players and builders of guitars. Koa is a relative newcomer to the guitar industry, but it has already made a significant impact.
An auburn shade of Wenge wood from Africa makes beautiful guitar bodies. Due to the natural hue, wenge wood can make stunning instruments that have a lush, romantic appeal. It also has an appealing color transition from brown to dark reddish purple. African Wenge wood is extremely hard and strong. It is the heaviest member of the rosewood family and is also resistant to rot and decay. This makes wenge wood ideal for guitar bodies.
Poplar wood is a great material for guitars because of its ability to withstand harsh treatment. It’s also lighter and has more softness than maple or mahogany. This makes the guitar quite durable, it won’t vibrate excessively, and it’ll sound wonderful for years to come.
The tone is warm and clear.
Why Do Different Guitar Tonewoods Sound Different?
A guitar’s sound is mainly dependent on the materials or wood combinations used to make the body and strings and the guitar construction of those parts. A guitar builder may choose multiple tonewoods for their guitar to produce a unique sound. Some tonewoods, like mahogany, will generate a warm tone rich in harmonics; others may have a brighter tone that is louder.
A guitar maker will choose tonewoods that resonate at the desired frequency attack and bright clarity. This property is called “thickness” and “density.” These two properties work together to allow the tone wood to vibrate. The thicker the guitar or dense wood, the fuller and lower in pitch its tone will be. However, it takes more energy to vibrate a wide piece of wood than it does a thin one. This is called the “acoustics impedance effect.” Acoustic impedance describes the relationship between the types of air and materials that are trapped by a porous structure, such as an open-grained wood or voice-coil, and its total energy (measured in J) that can be stored by the porous structure over one cycle.
An Electric Guitar Body Wood Types Conclusion
Whatever your choice of wood for your electric guitar, it all comes down to your personal preference and what you like in a guitar tone. Also, remember that other things such as fretboard wood, guitar’s neck wood, transparent guitar finishes, natural finishes, sunburst finish, translucent finishes, etc. all have an impact with the finishing process as well.