Bustin out a big 'ol can o'worms, so this is a warning up front...we won't solve this one.

 

I was in the hardware store getting some "chair lock" and I ran into an old friend who used to own a guitar shop. He still repairs and builds them. Then it occurred to me that he has some experience with this issue, so I asked him, "Do you think the body wood contributes to the sound? Is one kind brighter than another?" He said, "Sure, but I see the neck contribute more often." A long fun conversation ensued. Neck material affects tone, body wood affects tone. He tried swapping out necks and noticed a difference from neck to neck. General rules seemed to be true, but the rules aren't hard and fast. Ash bodies were usually brighter, but sometimes rosewood will be bright if it's a really dense chunk. Maple necks are usually more articulate and overall bright. The bottom line for him is that almost anything can affect the tone, not just the pickups. Some things contribute more than others.

 

Now this is the first person I've talked to who has tested it to any scientific degree and he seems to think the type of wood makes a difference. Do I have an opinion? Not really. I just buy what sounds and looks good. I don't have enough skill to care about anything other than playability and good tone. If those two things are achieved, I'm happy.

 

So here's what I'm asking for: evidence. I can tell you how the theory would work, but I've not played enough guitars against each other to really know. I know my acoustics have distinct tones and I can give you the general rules for rosewood vs. mahogany - I know these two very well. Sitka vs. Engleman is another one I'm very used to. But electric guitar tones? Don't know. 

 

Anyone out there played enough to get a general feel for the differences? Maybe we can solve this...

 

 

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I'm more inclined to believe that wood varies enormously in tonal properties, even within the same species, and that as your friend says, EVERYTHING makes a difference.

 

What experience do I have - nothing like your friend, certainly, however I have some interesting comparisons. 

 

Take my 2 carefully crafted Les Pauls here: a Heritage H150 and a Tokai 'Japanese Market only' '59 replica. Both Mahogany body and neck, maple cap etc. Slightly different hardware, but I've swapped the hardware about on the Heritage enough to know it's not making the difference. But one guitar is tele-bright while the other has the full-on, girthy Les Paul voice. I've had a number of pickups in the Heritage, but nothing mellows it out.

 

OK, that's a small sample - any more?

 

When I bought my first strat in '89 I went to a shop that was huge for the time (Rockbottom in Croydon for UKers). They had acquired a huge consignment of MIJ strats and were doing them at a great price, so I spent best part of a day there and worked my way through their 'strat wall'. I probably played 25 instruments, all apparently similar (about half and half electric blue + rosewood or red + maple) and found the 'best' of that group. Some were OK, some were good and the one I got was great, at least for my hands and ears, even though I preferred the look of the electric blue finish.

 

The thing is that guitar tonality is really complex, and is affected by a huge number of things, including timber used, finish, hardware, pickups, strings and how we actually play the things. And that's before you even plug in (pickups can affect unplugged tone too - magnetic field effects on string excursion). On strats, the trem also makes a very noticeable difference - I've done some trem and saddle swapping on one of mine: pressed steel saddles and a big steel block brings a lot of snap and sharp overtones, while the thinner zinc blocks and pot metal saddles smooth tone out a lot. Stainless cast saddles give a little more edge and a bit more sustain, but without the harsh edge of the pressed steel saddles.

 

As is so often the case, we're looking at minutiae here - no-one is going to listen to a recorded guitar and say "wow, hear those pressed steel saddles and heavy steel trem block make that guitar stand out"

I agree with Toni here. Yes *everything* matters and wood is so organic.

 

I remember reading a thread where a buy cut 10 blanks from the same origin, and ended up with 2x very similar guitars (just different blanks). He built and sold most, but kept  2 or 3, but built 2x almost identical. Turns out one was crazy heavy, well over 7.5lbs for a Strat and the other 6.8 or something like that. His conclusion was that he'll never make a Strat over 7.5 lbs again because for him the major difference was the heavier played like a dog and the mere usability of it killed it for him. No tone noticeable difference.

 

So a check-mark on a spec sheet won't correlate 100% to sound.

 

Maybe what Toni you were saying before, you don't like custom build because you can't compare it on the shelf to 9 others like it and select the best one? I think I get that. For sure in my mind there is great variability even in the same model, same colour of guitars. For MIM Tele, in 10, there may be 3x dogs, 5x decent, 1x good and 1x great guitar. That one great guitar might even be better than 4 or 5 MIA Teles in the same store...

I guess I'm leery about paying for a guitar than, not only can I not play before buying, but no-one else can try it and describe it to me either.

Yeah, this is probably why we're totally different beasts here. I'll buy an American Standard and keep it stock so I can re-sell or invest in Special Ed. Lite Ash Telecaster, which I have a good feeling will rise in price.

 

While on the side I'll bargain hunt for parts for "workshop" guitars that I'm constantly changing the parts. I do all the work, so I'm only out the cost of parts, which I buy/salvage used on Craigslist or Kijiji so when I like something, I keep, if not I move on. I can build some pretty famous clones at a fraction of the price of the Fender Custom Shop or Suhr, etc.

 

I don't get to try before I buy with those "workshop" guitars, but usually I'm not out that much cash. Since I don't care how frankenstein those guitars are, when I don't like something about it, I try to address it. I don't always dump the whole guitar, I'll upgrade or switch a part or two.

 

Don't know if I sit in real music shop and try & buy too many guitars any more... Haven't seen that many good deals on the wall (as shops need to pay for overhead, etc), compared to my new strategies...

Oh yes!!! Wood plays the biggest part over the overall tune of the guitar... that is why each guitar sounds different even if within the same manufacturer, same range and same model. Wood is a live material and it can make the whole difference of the tone and what you are looking for. For example, I recently bought an acoustic guitar, I was after the usual big names , with huge price tags... I ended up paying a fraction for their rrp and bought a great sounding Washburn with Sitka spruce on top and ash back and sides, rosewood for neck.....excellent tone, at least for me. It is not the guitar that I was looking after but met what I was looking for in terms of tone, loudness... I believe that the acoustics are more of an intimate companion in terms of tone. With Electrics I would go for a tighter, resonant sound as then all the effects will eventually shape the tone!

 

However, you have to consider that what sounds good to me is completely different from what your ear can settle on.

All these matter actually for all string and wind instruments made of wood, where sometimes the older woods can give a clearer, brighter and distinct tone as versus other newer instruments. As wood gets older, all the grains, water, humidity etc slowly starts to leave the wood and it  becomes a "purer" wood, hence a purer tone if I may, ... and this what inflates or deflates the price tag of the product, at the end of the day!

 

God Bless and a prosperous New Year

 

 

Another example from my friend - he had a strat neck that he really liked. The radius was just right, the frets were perfect, it played like a dream. He would bolt it to a guitar and it would sound terrible. He would take an otherwise bright and glassy strat and it would make it dull. Tried different necks against it - it was definitely a dead neck.

I can see how this works theoretically - there is more string over the neck than the body. There is less material between the string and the neck, so it has the ability to excite the neck more than anything else. I can see how a one piece maple neck would be different sounding - it has one piece of wood and no others that can dampen vibration.

 

But it's just my theory. 

 

When I took my antennas class in engineering school, our teacher said this: These designs weren't made from theory. Some guy like Yagi and Uda dreamed up a design and made it. Then they tweaked different parts to see what made a difference and what didn't. After it became functional, they explained it with the theory. Of course some general idea of how the antenna would work was in the front of their minds.

If the question was changed to "Does the Wood Matter to the sound for me?" I would say it's not on my top 10. Given unlimited resources and time I'd like some rare almost extinct exotic wood that look amazing and hopefully sings like a Stradivarius. There are so many things that if I have a limited budget I attack first. (Although I almost pulled the trigger on a Splattered Maple body once! It looked just too cool.)

 

So much of a body "sound" is from not just the species of wood used. Body shape/style/size, Hard Tail vs. Trem, Neck & Body fit, chambered, Single/Two/Laminiate, Decorative Cap, Weight/Density, Bolt vs. Glue, etc.

 

Not sure that many people do this, but if I'm buying a guitar I try to play it first unlugged. I do this in hopes that I can get a feel for the acoustic quaities of the guitar first, before colouring it with Pick-ups, etc.

 

>> Some things contribute more than others

 

For me wood type is on the list, just not at the top. We're talking electric guitars here. I remember some group had a granite guitar on a stand in the 80's, played on a stand because it was so damn heavy. At NAMM 2005 they had Stone Tone guitars who put a stone cap on their guitars. Probably in the quest for infinite sustain Fernandes Sustainer.

 

Stone Tone Guitars

 

 

 

I'll throw in my 2 cents here.  I have been playing music for 27 years, mixing sound for 20 years, including running a recording studio for about 6 years where my job was to pay extreme attention to every tiny nuance of sound.  Over the years I have run across people who have touted the importance of even the most insignificant of things in the overall sound.  Me personally, I am a realist.

 

Though it may be true that certain things can be heard to make a difference, many can only be heard in certain circumstances.  Example:  Does a high quality guitar cable really make a difference in the sound of your guitar?  It can.  But if you make a recording that someone listens to on a cheap portable radio, all of the sonic difference is lost in the inability of the radio to reproduce it.  That's just one example, but let me get to the point,

 

Some years ago I was unhappy with the sounds I was getting with my electric guitar and convinced myself that what I really needed was a new/better guitar.  But just to be on the safe side, I wanted to do a little testing to be sure I was getting the right one.  So I took my 16 track digital recorder, my Sony MDR7506 headphones and a quality guitar cable down to the local music store.  I took 3 guitars off the rack.  I took a $200 D'armond, a $600 Peavey and a $1750 PRS.  I plugged each one into the same input on my board, used the same cable and the same exact settings, and recorded each guitar playing the same riff with no effect, then with a clean effect, and then a distorted effect. 

 

Here's what I discovered:  All three guitars (made of different combinations of woods and having different electronics) sounded indistinguishable with the distorted effect, and also with the clean effect.  Only the PRS sounded slightly different and only when played with no effect whatsoever.  The slight difference in the sound of the PRS could easily be created on the others with a little EQ change. 

 

Bottom line?  No one plays an electric guitar totally dry with NO effects.  The effects you use and the amp or PA system you play through contribute much more to the overall sound than the type of wood does.  The wood may change the sustain characteristics, as does the design (i.e. neck through vs. bolt on) but any real tonal differences will be completely masked by the effects and the amp/PA you use. 

 

If this were a discussion on acoustic guitars the answer would be much different as the wood makes a huge difference in acoustics, but with electrics the difference will not be noticeable in most applications.  The real difference with electrics is in the design, the feel and the pickups etc. 

 

When I went to buy an electric guitar, I went to every store I could and played dozens of electrics.  I was looking for the feel in my hands, the way it fretted, if the pickups could deliver the sound I wanted, and the trim (looks).  After playing many many guitars, I ended up buying a Schecter C-1 Classic.  It had everything I was looking for.  Never been unhappy with it. 

 

The truth is, it's hard to separate in our minds the difference of a guitar's sound alone from the feel and the playability of the guitar while we are actually playing it.  This is why I used a recorder, so that I could listen back to each one and concentrate solely on the sound.  I challenge anyone who doubts this, to go do your own experimenting.  Take your own recorder and record different guitars using the same effects processor.  Now obviously I'm not saying there's no difference between a guitar with a single-coil PU near the neck, and one with a double humbucker back by the bridge, I mean I am talking apples to apples comparisons here.  But try it for yourself.  I bet you'll find that the real differences in the guitar's sound won't come from the wood, and any that do will be effectively eliminated by your effects and amplification.

 

Blessings, 

Mike

I'm looking at your test and something jumps out at me - all of my conversation with my friend the guitar builder/fixer were around single coil stratocasters and telecasters. Perhaps humbucker equipped, set neck guitars are more homogeneous in sound? Just a thought. If I go to buy a new telecaster, I'll only have Fenders to test where I live.

 

But ultimately - you said the same thing as me. I'm looking for feel in my hands, tone and quality of build/appointments. 

Every hear about the Pinecaster movement? Basically guys building bodies from Ikea pine slabs for <$15, etc. I think Zachary Guitars has a Pinecaster here. Whole group on telecaster.com. I've got a custom build someone else made that i from some garbage wood too. You can listen to the clips and discern for yourself...

 

Ikea Pine Tele

The Squier CV Tele is also pine (as I believe were some of the originals) and reckoned to be excellent. Why would pine not be good - it's light, fairly hard and resonant.

Hm.. technically I think some of what these home-brew guys call Pine could be in fact Spruce, Pine or Fir. Supposedly a lot of hardware chains have it labeled as SPF interchangeably. Even Pine itself has so many variety and differing compositions.White, Sugar, Deal, Southern/Yellow, etc.

 

The point I think that some of those guys were getting across is that some tele bodies go for >$1K, whereas some of these guys bought Ikea shelf or table for <$15. Other guys also have theories on how the laminating process affects sound resonance.

 

RE: Pine...Needless to say there isn't a Fender Limited Edition US Pine Telecaster. The most expensive Telecaster on Fender.com is a James Burton Signature with Basswood. GE Smith & '52 Hot Rod has Premium Ash. Next on the list is Vintage '62 with Alder. The cheapest Fender Tele is the Standard Mex, and it's still Alder. (This doesn't include exotics like Bubinga, Koa, or Zebrawood.)

 

Only the 50's Classic Vibe Tele is Pine. I think the Classic Vibe Custom is Alder and Classic Vibe Thinline is Mahogany. My Vintage Modified Customs I & II are Agathis. The standard Affinity is Alder.

 

Traditionally Pine is not commonly used in production and only available on very few cheap models. Stories abound that Leo had some prototypes of Broadcaster in Pine, but they dented or splintered too easily, so he went to Ash. Other stories were about pine sap problems in production.  You also hear about early Fender Esquires too that were laminated pine stock like cabinetry.

 

However Arlo West loves Pine. You can check his site here: pinecaster.com

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