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. How the wood has been treated also dictates how the instrument sounds and looks.
The kind of 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 Electric Guitar Bodies
Not every wood makes a good guitar body. 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 qualities that a guitarist is looking for. Here are the most commonly used woods of a guitar body.
Many bass guitar bodies are constructed in mahogany. This wood 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.
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 bass 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 in the response curve. Overall, it has good sustain. Unfortunately, basswood can dent easily since there isn’t much grain and color.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.