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Best guitar wood?

Postby Nightredt » Thu Sep 22, 2011 6:33 pm

So let's have a discussion on what is the best wood to have your guitar made out of. We would be looking into the sound quality, resonance, sustain, weight and other aspects I don't know about!

I'm personally looking what's the best wood for a metal guitar (ironical?). I've heard recommendation of swamp ash and alder, but didn't see any justification.
GO!
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Re: Best guitar wood?

Postby . . . Delete This User . . . » Thu Sep 22, 2011 7:15 pm

there's no BEST.

they're all just different...

probably the most commonly chosen on metal guitars is bass wood, but it is by no means the only answer, alder, ash, swamp ash, mahogany, maple, koa, cherry, oak, rosewood, all have their own characters, some differences are subtle, some are not.,...

most often i favour alder or basswood for my shredders, mahogany or swamp ash for toneful wailers, and ash for characterful strat types.

but i am by no means fixed on this,....

neck wood , and fingerboard material, also makes a difference.,... as does the bridge type, string gauge, how the strings attach, and of course the pickup types, it's the combination of the whole package that matters....


what you need to define is what you personally want from the instrument, defining it's main role, and setting out those jobs it will not be asked to do.... and then talking to people abut what they'd do to achieve that....
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Re: Best guitar wood?

Postby TheChorltonWheelie » Thu Sep 22, 2011 7:43 pm

Nightredt wrote:So let's have a discussion on what is the best wood to have your guitar made out of.

www.warmoth.com

Look at their site, they have a useful guide as to the properties of each type of wood, both in the body and the neck too.
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Re: Best guitar wood?

Postby zenguitar » Fri Sep 23, 2011 12:18 am

And to add to all Idris has explained...

where you find problems is when you look for The Best. There really is no such thing, what you need to find is the combination of woods, materials, hardware, construction, and design that together add up to the Most Appropriate.

And as a quick example, the ONLY difference between Ash and Swamp Ash is where the trees grow. They are exactly the same species.

And in addition to the Warmoth site TheChorltonWheelie mentioned, you can look at StewMac, Luthiers Mercantile, The Guild of American Luthiers, and FRETS, among many others, for discussions of the different tone woods.

Guitars are not simple, they are complex systems that are highly interactive which means that there are no easy solutions. The best lesson you can learn is that there is no way to accurately predict how a guitar will sound from it's specification. The best you can hope for is a rough, very rough, guide to how it might sound. The only reliable indication is to try a guitar and trust your ears.

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Re: Best guitar wood?

Postby Frisonic » Fri Sep 23, 2011 2:14 am

One thing I love about alder. The weight!
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Re: Best guitar wood?

Postby ef37a » Fri Sep 23, 2011 8:27 am

There is a long discussion over at studio-central about NON wooden guitars.

But "wood" is not just wood, it varies even within the same tree! Drumsticks for instance are usually hickory and even when machine made to exacting tolerances vary in finished weight and have to be sorted into pairs (good ones anyway!)

Best shotgun stock are walnut but not English walnut since IIRC French walnut is lighter and stronger. To continue with the firearms theme, many rifle stocks are wood laminates (but NOT shuttering ply!) and are far stronger than any single timber could be and are much more stable WRT to changes in T and RH.Qualities that I would have thought would endear them to guitarists?

I recently watched a programme about building cellos almost entirely from carbon fibre, they finish up much louder it seems than any woody ones? But the amount of fossil fuels used, both as feedstock and in the curing makes them very ungreen (Boom! Boom!).

Sustained timber for guitars is the best way of course but can we all be sure of this?
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Re: Best guitar wood?

Postby . . . Delete This User . . . » Fri Sep 23, 2011 9:45 am

re lamination , Dave... or put it more simply, plywood...... it has been done, for cheapo cheapo nasty ass copies , the laminating process, with all those glue layers , affects how the wood resonates, showing markedly in the tone and the sustain.... comparatively dull, and lifeless ..... and , shows no improvement with age either....

just simply not good..... for anything...... other than MAYBE hostile environment survival, and even then..... probably not.....


but maybe marginally better than MDF (i kid you not, some cheap guitars HAVE been made from MDF, you have NO idea how shite they were...... )
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Re: Best guitar wood?

Postby caveman82 » Fri Sep 23, 2011 10:21 am

Nightredt wrote:
I'm personally looking what's the best wood for a metal guitar (ironical?). I've heard recommendation of swamp ash and alder, but didn't see any justification.
GO!

For a metal guitar the best body choice is ALUMINIUM.

http://www.electricalguitarcompany.com/index.php/model/Standard/fuseaction/models.34e1d958.htm
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Re: Best guitar wood?

Postby ef37a » Fri Sep 23, 2011 10:31 am

Off duty BBQ lighter AKA Idris wrote:re lamination , Dave... or put it more simply, plywood...... it has been done, for cheapo cheapo nasty ass copies , the laminating process, with all those glue layers , affects how the wood resonates, showing markedly in the tone and the sustain.... comparatively dull, and lifeless ..... and , shows no improvement with age either....

just simply not good..... for anything...... other than MAYBE hostile environment survival, and even then..... probably not.....


but maybe marginally better than MDF (i kid you not, some cheap guitars HAVE been made from MDF, you have NO idea how shite they were...... )
Bit of a (predictable!) no then? Just because it was not found to work (to your staisfaction) in low cost attempts does not mean it could not be MADE to work. Wood is only a composite after all and one could presume that the ratio of lignin to fibre in different woods goes a long way to explain their acoustic behaviour? Laminate from layers of good timber using minimal amounts of the RIGHT resins* and who knows? That carbon cello clearly resonates very well, drum shells are laminates. I am not talking cheap here, just an efficient way to use scarce resources.

*We get natural resins FROM trees!

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Re: Best guitar wood?

Postby . . . Delete This User . . . » Fri Sep 23, 2011 10:49 am

With respect, Dave, vis a vis the carbon cello, (and other ideas of that ilk) there's a WORLD of difference between being loud, and being good....


just because a thing does resonate, does not mean it does so beneficially... or nicely,

any number of guitars have been made over the years, with plastics, plywood, mdf, metal, and other timbers grown sustainably...


they've never caught on.... really.....


mostly, i guess, because they simply do not sound the way the buyers think they should.... not that the buyer is necessarily a good judge, but they have preconceptions and tastes built in to them by the last 100 or so years of guitar building history.....
which are awfully difficult to shift...... whether or not the attempt is worthwhile.....
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Re: Best guitar wood?

Postby Music Wolf » Fri Sep 23, 2011 11:02 am

Off duty BBQ lighter AKA Idris wrote:preconceptions and tastes built in to them by the last 100 or so years of guitar building history.....
which are awfully difficult to shift...... whether or not the attempt is worthwhile.....

Which is so true about any guitar technology (guitar construction, pickups, amplifiers, speakers etc). The sounds that shaped Rock and/or Roll were made with wooden guitars, pickups wound around Alnico magnets, valve amplifiers, spring reverb tanks, tape echo, speakers with no top end response. I wonder, if we'd started with the newer technology, would the 'traditional' stuff now be perceived as being better or worse?
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Re: Best guitar wood?

Postby ef37a » Fri Sep 23, 2011 11:22 am

"but they have preconceptions and tastes built in to them by the last 100 or so years of guitar building history"

Hang on! I thought we were talking SOLID electricaklly guitars? All bets off (a bit!) for acoustics but they do have glassfibre jobbies!

Anyway, that cello sounded fine over my 32" Bravia to me. Yes, silly I know but I did not get the impression that these were cheap...VERY labour intensive. Lot of expensive moulds, The peeps playing them seemed to be mature orchestral bod?

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Re: Best guitar wood?

Postby ef37a » Fri Sep 23, 2011 11:25 am

Music Wolf wrote:
Off duty BBQ lighter AKA Idris wrote:preconceptions and tastes built in to them by the last 100 or so years of guitar building history.....
which are awfully difficult to shift...... whether or not the attempt is worthwhile.....

Which is so true about any guitar technology (guitar construction, pickups, amplifiers, speakers etc). The sounds that shaped Rock and/or Roll were made with wooden guitars, pickups wound around Alnico magnets, valve amplifiers, spring reverb tanks, tape echo, speakers with no top end response. I wonder, if we'd started with the newer technology, would the 'traditional' stuff now be perceived as being better or worse?

Yes MW, and the 4x12" breaks just about every hi fi cab rule in the book...But we love 'em!

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Re: Best guitar wood?

Postby . . . Delete This User . . . » Fri Sep 23, 2011 12:28 pm

1) a musician will play ANYTHING, if you offer to pay them.... including a plastic cello.

2) electric guitars are every bit as reliant on their timbers for tone as an acoustic..... perhaps more so in some ways for solid bodies.... , as they're generally not enclosing a resonant cavity....

3) 4x12's , yes we love em, but they do not REALLY break every rule in the book.... simply because the hi-fi cabinet book is not relevant to guitar amplification.... run a guitar amp thru a hi fi speaker and see how [ ****** ] that sounds.... just because a set of rules exists for an essentially conceptually similar, but purposefully differently applied device, does not mean ANY of the rules are interchangeable between devices....
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Re: Best guitar wood?

Postby ef37a » Fri Sep 23, 2011 12:44 pm

A carbon fibre cello is not "plastic" any more than a wooden one is.

(an aluminium guitar on the other hand COULD be described as plastic since it will so deform if pressed hard enough!).

And I will have you know that my son is a musician! (yes, he will do anything, legal I hope, for money!)

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Re: Best guitar wood?

Postby dubbmann » Fri Sep 23, 2011 5:56 pm

while on the topic of non-wooden materials....

years ago a friend had a collection of dan armstrong plastic-body guitars. he spent years (pre-Internet era, obviously) tracking down models that weren't the usual clear plastic, as these were much rarer. when i asked why they were rarer, he explained that armstrong had discovered that the tinted plastic bodies were fine everywhere except on stage in front of bright lights: the energy they absorbed caused the body to expand enough to cause major intonation problems as a concert went on.

the things you learn playing guitar ;-)

cheers,

d
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Re: Best guitar wood?

Postby Music Wolf » Fri Sep 23, 2011 7:54 pm

In my teens I bought a clear perspex bodied six string. Not a Dan Armstrong but a copy (I think that the name on the headstock was Shaftesbury?). I guess that this was around 1980 - 1982, although the guitar was second hand so no idea when it was built. Looked the part but certainly didn't sound it - at least not in my hands.
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Re: Best guitar wood?

Postby grab » Mon Sep 26, 2011 12:35 pm

Off duty BBQ lighter AKA Idris wrote:1) a musician will play ANYTHING, if you offer to pay them.... including a plastic cello.


Like Maccaferri's injection-moulded violins, which are decent instruments. Not a top-end instrument, but that wasn't what he was intending. And various unis have done (and may still be doing) research into how to make plastic with an acoustic response similar to wood, which may still pay dividends.
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Re: Best guitar wood?

Postby Hewesy » Mon Sep 26, 2011 12:59 pm

It all comes down to how the material resonates the sound wave, or doesn't in some cases!

There's a degree of traditionalism, sure, but largely guitars are solid wood because they give the required/desired resonance to the sound wave.

Look at amps, with enough development modelling has become accepted, for practice, live and studio applications, which only 15 years ago would have seemed unlikely to most players.

Not doubt that guitar bodies could be engineered along the same lines, but a) at what cost and b) for what market? How niche a market do/did Parker and Steinberger have? Perhaps when wood starts to become scarce, sure. But a company needs to really invest significant time and money to get things going, and I just can't see anyone going for it.

Even Line6 used wood/solid wood for most of the Variaxe range, and a quick Google will tell you the cheaper laminated wood versions were pants compared to the solid wood models(even though the electronics were the same across the range).

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Re: Best guitar wood?

Postby ef37a » Mon Sep 26, 2011 1:34 pm

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Re: Best guitar wood?

Postby Frisonic » Mon Sep 26, 2011 1:37 pm

Hewesy wrote: Perhaps when wood starts to become scarce, sure.

I guess its a relative thing but I thought it already was. Certainly the more sought after tone woods.

I also expect to see 3D modeling explode over the next 15/25 years, going through the sort of transition 2D printing did, from local 'copy shop' businesses to most homes in the more affluent countries having a printer of their own. That trend is likely to have an enormous impact upon the entire global manufacturing and logistics industries, not to mention the design sector and how intellectual property laws are amended. Equally it is inconceivable that the materials we use to make many everyday objects won't also evolve to accommodate this trend and musical instruments are already being used by those promoting it as an exemplar case in point.

So will fashions also change according to what is available, or will tomorrows guitarists cherish the wooden instruments we are still building today above the composite ones they will no doubt be able to 'print' cheaply at home? Who knows.
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Re: Best guitar wood?

Postby zenguitar » Mon Sep 26, 2011 7:43 pm


I don't have any real issues with laminates. You often find that a good laminate back & sides can outperform poorly cut and selected solid wood. And on electro-acoustics laminates can help reduce feedback too.

Best is a subjective term, a lot depends on your budget and the use a guitar will be put too.

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Re: Best guitar wood?

Postby IainR » Sun Oct 02, 2011 9:01 pm

C'mon, RE laminates can I point you in the direction of the 135, 330, 335, 356, Epi Casino. For acoustics then yes the type of woods used in the construction do make a real difference to the sound. For electrics other than obvious Mahogany with Maple cap vs Ash of some sort and then armed with totally different pick-ups differences my own jury is out. I've heard very very great country played on a Les Paul and of course the genesis of hard rock came from Mr Pages Tele. So go figure. The good thing about that is that of course you now have the perfect excuse to purchace addional research materials while trying to solve this puzzle
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Re: Best guitar wood?

Postby russ123 » Mon Oct 03, 2011 10:18 am

use of common names can be misleading, not only can different species have the same common name but often to unrelated species. There are many different trees grown around the world losely called mahogany for example, differing species and sometimes not even from the same genus. The same is true for rosewood, ash and many timbers. The tonal characteristics will be clearly different. Trees of identical species will vary because of different growing conditions. Timber from the same tree will also vary depending where abouts it's taken from, high up or low down, outside or from the middle. How close the grain is will influence the sound too. How much of course, is how long is a piece of string.

theoretically, it is possible for two pieces of wood from completely unrelated species from opposite sides of the world to sound more similar than two pieces from the same tree!
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Re: Best guitar wood?

Postby Shambolic Charm » Mon Oct 03, 2011 11:58 am

Music Wolf wrote:In my teens I bought a clear perspex bodied six string. Not a Dan Armstrong but a copy (I think that the name on the headstock was Shaftesbury?). I guess that this was around 1980 - 1982, although the guitar was second hand so no idea when it was built. Looked the part but certainly didn't sound it - at least not in my hands.

Had the very same guitar myself back in '76' nice guitar, I thought it sounded ok. Got another perspex now put together out of a few guitars. they have a definite sharp cutting electronic quality. I've noticed a similar sound on some of the faces music where Ronnie wood had a dan armstrong ( i.e. Stay with me). Must be a quality imparted by the perspex.
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Re: Best guitar wood?

Postby grab » Mon Oct 03, 2011 1:34 pm

The main reason for changing wood for plastic/composite isn't necessarily having a different tone, or shortage of suitable wood. It's repeatability. What's the first thing you tell anyone looking at buying a good guitar? Answer: "Try it before you hand the money over."

You're starting with bits of wood, which are a natural item. Luthiers will do their best to pick wood that's similar in source and grain, but inevitably there's going to be differences. On more expensive guitars, luthiers might thickness this slightly differently depending on the response of an individual bit of wood, so we've got further variation in individual instruments. And that's before we get to tolerances on the dimension of the various bits of wood involved.

The ultimate goal of plastic instruments is to figure out what drives all the tonal factors and reproduce them. At that point you can effectively mass-produce Stradivarius-quality instruments for a tiny unit cost, and know that all these instruments will behave identically.

Some might say that this takes the soul out of the instrument. Similar statements were made about mass-producing guitars in the past though (hallo Fender, Gibson and Martin), and I've not noticed sales of those instruments suffering. Or National guitars, which with their metal bodies and resonator cones are possibly the last word for unvarying material. In the violin world, carbon bows are ubiquitous now, and many very serious players use carbon bows from preference, even when they could justify getting something much more expensive in wood.
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Re: Best guitar wood?

Postby ef37a » Mon Oct 03, 2011 1:55 pm

Yes Grab,repeatability.
This feeds into something I have thought about, the hype over "hand built" guitar amps.

For my money a PCB based amp will be better because once the values of C&R have been sorted for voicing the layout will not change and amp after amp should sound the same and that "same" should be the best it CAN sound.
Much of the kudos is in the expense of course and peeps say handbuilt amps are easier to repair but unless they are built really well (cough!) they look a bloody mess and good, plated thru' FR4 PCB is easy to service if you have some skill (and of course no "%^&***ing SM ***t!).

Mind you I really had very few component failures, can't recall even one elctro popping in 2 busy years.
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