In Tone Woods and Acoustic Guitars – Part 1, we discussed some of the most popular tonewoods used for the sound board or top of the acoustic guitar. In this second part, we will discuss more woods that are used in the top, as well as the sides and back to complete the body or sound box of the acoustic guitar.
If you are a beginner, be sure to understand as much as possible before you invest so that you can get the best entry level acoustic guitar for your budget. If you are a more advanced player looking to add to your collection, the same homework benefits apply.
Tonewoods used for both the top, sides and back
Mahogany can come in a few varieties (species) that are most commonly used, though it is used far less than Spruce or Ceder for the top or soundboard of an acoustic guitar because of its tonal qualities. It is perhaps one of the most popular for construction of the sides and back, but we will discuss that later.
Mahogany gives good responsiveness, though less than the spruces and cedars, and gives a tonal balance more voluminous in the mid and higher ranges, as well as higher dynamics. Overall, it has a warmer overtone quality than the spruces and cedars.
Maple, though used far less frequently than the previously mentioned tone woods, has become more recently more popular in guitar making. The overall sound velocity is lower in maple than the previous woods, and therefore the sound is less projecting and more “dampening” occurs in the sound box. Therefore, the tone quality is less complex than the other woods giving a more straight or transparent quality of tone.
Popular tonewoods for the back and sides
Although Mahogany is one of the most popular tonewoods used for the back and sides (creating the sound box or body of the guitar), perhaps the most favored tonewood for its rich tones as well as fullness of projection in all 3 general levels of the Eq. Spectrum (Bass, Mid, Treble), is Rosewood, preferably East Indian Rosewood followed by Brazilian Rosewood.
This does not mean that most people favor the sound of Rosewood, because each tonewood can have different advantages with different music ensembles and genres of music, and each musician has his or her personal preferences, but Rosewood is arguably known for the robust bass projection as well as fullness of sound across the spectrum.
Of all the tonewoods used for the back and sides, many luthiers as well as seasoned acoustic guitar players would agree that Rosewood projects more bass tones than Mahogany, Maple, Sapele Mahogany, and other popular woods, giving it a distinct and more well rounded projection in all ranges of the Eq. Spectrum.
Mahogany and Maple have similar characteristics as they are described above when used for the back and sides. Affects are more subtle when these woods are used on the back and sides than on the top or sound board,a s many quality luthiers agree that the guitar top is responsible for the major characteristics of the acoustic tone. The overtones that are created both as the guitar is played and as the sound tapers off of the initial attack of the sound wave are affected subtly by the tonewoods that are used for the back and sides (secondary from the top our sound board tonewood).
Some other honorable mentions in the production of the back and sides of the guitar are:
Koa – used extensively in Hawaiian Ukeleles and more recently in acoustic guitar production, this exotic wood has a rich, meaty warm tone that is very noticeable in Hawaiian “steel slide” guitars and playing styles.
Walnut is actually similar in it’s dampening and “discoloring” of some of the overtones created by some more lively tops. If someone was looking for a less complex acoustic guitar sound with less projection, less bass, and an overall more simple, straightforward guitar sound, walnut (and maple) would be considerable choices.
Though the experimentation of tonewoods for acoustic guitars continues to evolve as certain species of choice tonewoods become subject of extinction and preservation (such as Brazilian Rosewood), and professional luthiers continue to look for alternates that do not hamper quality, the varieties of woods that are used and are possible is quite numerous.
We have covered many of the “main stream” tonewoods without getting to detailed into the subtleties of subspecies to give a solid overview or starting block to continue to understand what creates the acoustic sound you are truly searching for in your next (or first) acoustic guitar purchase.