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Understanding Wood
Designing Your Guitar

Understanding Wood

Every piece of the guitar affects the sound of the instrument to varying degrees.  With an understanding of wood properties, you can make a better selection of materials to achieve the best combination of sound and visual beauty.

Acoustic Woods

The top of the acoustic guitar has the most effect on the sound.  The traditional choice for the top of an acoustic guitar is spruce.  Spruce is most widely used because of its high strength to weight ratio.  Spruce's light weigh provides quick, true response to the vibration of the strings while the strength helps prevent deformation under the tension of the strings. Mahogany and western red cedar are both popular alternatives to spruce and have gained popularity in recent years.  Both of these woods provide a warmer, more mellow sound than the bright sound of spruce. Other woods may be used for guitar tops, but each must be evaluated individually to determine the effect on the guitar sound.

Although the top is the most critical choice for the sound of the guitar, each piece of wood will have minor effects on the sound.  Traditionally, sides, backs and necks are often made form rosewood or mahogany.  Both these woods are strong and easily workable.  Just about any other wood can be used for the sides and back of the guitar with only minor differences in the sound.  Lighter woods will provide warmer overtones to the main sound produced by the top.  Denser woods will provide brighter overtones.

Electric Woods

Wood choices will affect the sound of an electric guitar, but not as dramatic as the effect on acoustic guitars.  Regardless, it is still important to understand the properties and choices.  Traditionally, the bodies of electric guitars are made from alder or swamp ash.  Both alder and swamp ash provide strength and good tone without being too heavy.  Lighter, less dense woods will provide warmer overtones while more dense woods will provide brighter overtones.