Experienced guitarists know the importance of choosing the best wood for a good 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 hands of the players 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. It should be noted that some guitars feature other materials like aluminum and carbon on the body – solid, hollow or semi hollow body. How the wood has been treated also dictates how the instrument sounds and looks. Let’s look at the lumber!
The kind of body woods that were used in old guitars are different from what is seen in modern guitars. Whether they sound better or worse depends on the taste of the player. Certain wood varieties that were 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.
What to Look for in the Best Wood for Solid Body Electric Guitars
Not every 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 is looking for.
A Quick Electric Guitar Tonewoods Guide
Here are the most commonly used woods of a guitar body.
Many bass guitar bodies are constructed in mahogany. This hardwood provides a warm timbre coupled with the profound bottom end. In some cases, mahogany is topped with maple to give a balanced ensemble. While mahogany is the main material for acoustic instruments, it is still popular with electric guitars because it is resonant, durable, economical, easy to work with, and physically appealing. It lends a parlor type of 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 made from this is the Gibson Les Paul and Gibson SG.
Here are some excellent mahogany body blanks – check them out here.
This inexpensive wood is very easy to cut and finish in the factory thanks to its light weight and large pores. Overall, it has a low mass. Solid basswood guitar bodies are soft with tight grains. They have a tendency of softening and dampening sharp highs. This helps to balance out high pitched and often irritating sounds that are common 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 tones highly pronounced with clarity in the response curve. Overall, it has good sustain. Unfortunately, basswood can dent easily since there isn’t much grain and color.
Here are some excellent basswood body blanks – check them out here.
A relatively expensive alder wood comes with beautiful brownish grain patterns and light weight, giving warm tones with lots of highs. With a strong and precise full-bodied sound, alder body is ideal for excellent lows and beefy mid-ranges. The highs may sizzle a little bit but they are not so harsh. Plus, it offers a decent level of sustain. Traditionally, alder goes well with opaque finishes and darker translucent shades 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. As such, it gives a wide array of tones but fewer mids than a basswood guitar.
This is a fairly common wood used to build Ibanez, Fender Stratocasters and Telecasters.
Here are some great alder bodies – check them out here.
Hard ash is famed for bright tones with excellent sustain. Soft ash (swamp ash), on the other side, has a warmer feel. Both feature open grain so a lot of prepping is required in the factory to make sure that 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 sound characteristics, ash wood is firm in bass tones and offers good sustain. It has a bite in the mid-range and yields airy highs.
Often preferred for fretboards or guitar fretboard wood and necks, maple wood is one of the easiest 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. When it comes to sound, a guitar with maple body shouts with strong upper mid-range and bright highs.
Looking for a comparison? Look at this article on maple vs mahogany guitar bodies.
Here are some great flamed maple guitar body blanks – check them out here.
With a slightly warmer tone than maple, walnut looks good with an oil finish. Its brown color and grain patterns look great under translucent lacquer coating. It is relatively heavy 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.
Rosewood stands out with its rich variety of purple and brown colors. It creates warm and rich sounds with great volume and resonance. The reason rosewood guitars are a bit expensive is that 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.
Koa wood is available in a plethora of golden hues ranging from light to dark. It looks stunning with its strong grains. Koa brings well balanced sounds matching the bright and warm tones of mahogany and rosewood guitars. Its highs are more omnipresent as opposed to jumping out like shattering glass. Again, the 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 involved contribute to the tone and feel. There are other factors that come into play: where the tree has been grown, how old it grew, and the treatment that followed wood cutting. Other woods for guitar bodies include the American tulip wood, Japanese ash, and korina.
*Interested in acoustic guitar woods? Check this post – The Difference Between Solid & Laminate Wood In Acoustic Guitars
Why Do Different Guitar Tonewoods Sound Different?
A guitar’s sound is largely dependent on the materials used to make the body and strings, as well as on the construction of those parts. In order to produce a unique sound, a guitar builder may choose multiple tonewoods for their guitar. Some tonewoods, like mahogany, will generate a warm tone that is rich in harmonics; others may have a brighter tone that is louder.
A guitar maker will choose tonewoods that will resonate at a desired frequency attack. This property is called “thickness” and “density.” These two properties work together to allow the tonewood 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 thick plank of wood than it does a thin one. This is called the “acoustic 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 Wood Types Conclusion
Whatever your choice of woods for your electric guitar, it really all comes down to your personal preference and what you like in a guitar tone. Also, remember that other things such as fretboard wood, neck wood, guitar transparent finishes, natural finishes, translucent finishes, etc all have an impact as well.