ProGuitarShop

Guitar Body Weight and Tone

November 9, 2013
By Daniel Brooks
 
The search for truly stellar tone will, sooner or later, lead you to ponder the question of how much the weight of your guitar’s body effects your sound. Among those for whom the question is one of the more serious considerations when buying an instrument, there is some debate over which sounds better, a heavy guitar or a light one? Some guitarists believe a lighter instrument will resonate better in response to the full spectrum of string vibrations to deliver a more musical sound, with a more “open” tone and much brighter highs. Others argue that the full, rich sound of the traditionally heavier guitars is due, in no small part, to the relatively massive amount of wood used to anchor the strings, pickups and the tone itself.

There are good arguments for both heavier and lighter guitars, with excellent examples of each. Prior to the early 1980s, it was not uncommon to find a Gibson Les Paul weighing as much as 12 Lbs. and serving up all of the sonic impact, depth and clarity you heard in the music of Led Zeppelin, The Sex Pistols, Boston and Peter Frampton. On the other hand, the Fender Stratocasters and Telecasters of the 1950s and early 1960s often weighed only 7 or 8 Lbs. and delivered the equally rich palette of sounds heard in the music of Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, and the whole first Led Zeppelin album. Good sounds come from both ends of the light/heavy spectrum.
 
So, “which sounds better, a heavy guitar or a light one?” is something of a trick question. The answer may lie in other, equally important factors. For many, the weight of a 12 Lb. guitar strapped over one’s shoulder for an evening, or even just a set, is prohibitively uncomfortable, regardless of the quality of the sound. A guitar that hurts after an extended period of playing will probably not draw out your most inspired music. A lighter guitar may sound better to you simply because you feel better when you play it.
 
Perhaps the question is not one of weight but of the wood used in the making of the guitar. Mahogany and maple are both heavy woods, the heft of an all maple solid-body electric would probably be crippling, in fact, but the rich, bottom-heavy tone of mahogany wedded to the vibrant treble snap of maple creates a lush spectrum of tone that, despite the weight, inspires some people to be life-long Les Paul lovers. To address the difficulties some have with exceptionally heavy guitars, every American made Gibson Les Paul from 1982 to 2007 was redesigned for weight-relief by removing 2 or 3 Lbs of mahogany from the interior before the maple cap is bound to the body. Since 2007, the Les Paul has been further weight-reduced with a chambered body that can be as much as 5 Lbs lighter. Some argue that the reduced weight effects the tone, others embrace the difference and still achieve that lush articulate sound from their newer, lighter Les Paul.  
 
Ash, alder and basswood, the tonewoods that tend to be lighter, each reflect, reinforce and conduct a different signature pattern of frequencies, with a significant influence on the overall sound of any guitar constructed from them. It is the sonic character of the wood rather than the weight that delivers the tone. Stratocasters and Telecasters rely heavily on the clean transparency of ash or the balanced tone-spectrum of alder for their tone almost as much as they do on the single coil pickups or the body’s design. You may occasionally find a Strat or a Tele that weighs a couple of pounds more than the norm, but it will still sound very much like a Strat or a Tele.
 
The quality of wood creates a much greater diversity of tone than its weight. Wood is an organic material whose character is shaped by the climatic demands in which it grows. No two trees are exactly alike and no two pieces of wood will have exactly the same acoustic properties. Older, lighter, better-seasoned wood will probably make a better instrument, and while the basic quality of wood used by the big guitar makers is not an issue, two otherwise guitars made from the same batch of wood may have noticeable differences in their weight, tone and character. Ultimately, the best way to select an instrument is not by weight, but by picking it up and playing it. It will sing to you if it wants to be your guitar.
 

Comments

  1. joe bloggs says:

    i’m the only one thats commented. nuhhh nuh

    posted on November 9, 2013 at 12:19 pm
  2. Randall Ayers says:

    I have had some very different guitars sing to me from across very broad spectrum of woods, body weight and construction methods (and price). I a big proponent of the right tool for the job. With varying styles of music that call for many different pallets of tone.  I find that pre weight relieved Pauls are much more articulate than newer chambered ones, that a Basswood bolt on Ibanez RG 440 ($220.00 pre owned) is the best guitar I own for legato type fusion playing. Neck wood and construction seems to makes up a huge component of the sound also, a Rosewood Tele with a solid one piece Rosewood neck was quite possibly the sweetest sound guitar I ever played. I am most partial to ebony fret boards for their enhanced articulation, the same for neck thru construction. Most of these differences seem to me to be most easily discerned when playing clean, the more you turn up the gain and clip a guitar signal the more they all sound the same to me.

    posted on November 9, 2013 at 12:59 pm
  3. gypsy says:

    very,very well put!!

    posted on November 9, 2013 at 1:13 pm
  4. ChopItUpBuryIt says:

    I much prefer the wood I get in my pants when I see Kaitlynn walking thru the restaurant on a Friday night shift.  Swiiiinnnnnnng!

    posted on November 9, 2013 at 2:11 pm
  5. William T Branch says:

    I love the discussion about tonewoods when it pertains to Electric Guitars.  Not because of the many varying opinions on which is the best.  But, because so many people fall for the falicy of wood having ANY effect on an electric guitar’s tone.  I could be wrong but I think this myth started a long time ago when all Guitars were acoustic.  While I do believe that wood has a definite impact on acoustic guitars. So the mindset of guitars having “Tonewoods” was carried over to the newly emerging “Electric” Guitars. There is so much proof available on the internet to prove that wood has absolutely NO bearing on a Guitar’s tone.  People will often dismiss this because they have been “Brainwashed” into believing it to be true.  I have even heard people who otherwise seem rational.  Try to argue that a Guitar’s inlays on the Fretboard can effect tone.  I saw a video on Youtube where a guy fretted a note with no inlay and one with an inlay.  He then stated well this one is warm and this one is not.  WRONG, they were just two different notes.  So people please stop it with the BS that wood effects tone.  If you need proof go to Youtube and look for a guy named Groovydjs.  He will show you the Light.

    posted on November 9, 2013 at 3:01 pm
  6. Slick says:

    William, you must be playing a jap strat on a modeling amp if you are being serious. Please explain to me how I get a brighter tone out of my Les Paul with a maple top than the one that’s solid mahogany?

    posted on November 9, 2013 at 4:20 pm
  7. fuzzy-caster says:

    Once the guitar is plugged in, wood barely has any impact in tone whatsoever, except maybe in hollowbody guitars just because of the nature of it. It’s the pickups, the scale length and the way the strings are attached to the body the things that make noticeable differences. Wood may be expensive (for instance, the wood Gibson chooses against the one Epiphone gets) because of its looks or light weight. But wood is wood, and there is no possible reason that a pile of wood produces better tone than other, you corksniffers.
    Then again, IMHO.

    posted on November 9, 2013 at 5:58 pm
  8. William T Branch says:

    Slick: Are you serious, resorting to insults because I speak the TRUTH. If you get a brighter tone from one guitar over another. There are plenty of other factors.  Gibson’s standards are not that good. Look at their standards for their electronics. There pots could be rated 250 .  But that is with a +or - of 15. I bet if you swapped out all the electronics including wiring from one guitar to another you will see the tone change will follow the electronics.  Oh and just so you know my main guitar is an American Strat and I usually play thru my Fender DRRi

    posted on November 9, 2013 at 6:12 pm
  9. Triad999 says:

    William,

    There’s also proof on the Internet that moon-landing never happened, 9/11 was a hoax and Octo-mom did it naturally. Doesn’t mean its true. You play your Strat through your amp and then try a custom Strat with a mahogany body with all the same hardware and tell me you don’t hear a difference. By the way, I’ve done this and I own Strats of different composition and they all get a little different tone By the way scale length has an effect on tone as well. ...but ...an argument for another day!

    posted on November 9, 2013 at 7:51 pm
  10. Roylomm says:

    I always find the solid bodied guitars that actually resonate when strummed always sounds sweet amplified. It’s the pickups job to convey this through the amp, that’s when you really tell the difference between a good pickup and a bad one. This leads me to try all the Squier and Epiphone guitars and then do a pickup change for big savings…

    posted on November 9, 2013 at 8:07 pm
  11. Roger Moss says:

    Lots of raw nerves out there, as usual. :0)
    When it comes to electric solid-bodied guitars experience has taught me that for the style and sound which interests me (which is clean, with maybe a bit of valve compression) production-line instruments which should sound similar actually vary noticeably. I would always go for the one which sounds best acoustically - the best Fenders in particular having some really rich-sounding, long-sustaining qualities. When I was younger and more dazzled by looks I fell for a ‘78 Sunburst Maple-Neck Strat, which looked the full Buddy Holly, but which never, ever sounded anything other than disappointing through an amp, no matter what I did to mod it. It was a heavy, ash-bodied model, and back then I just thought they probably all sounded thin until you plugged in.
    I was wrong. I now have both Teles and Strats which sound alive in my hands even before I plug them in - and when I do they just sing. So I do believe the wood plays a role, but maybe the success of the neck/body combination rather than purely the body timber. Ultimately, forget your brain-baggage and let your ears do the listening…

    posted on November 9, 2013 at 8:25 pm
  12. Tony says:

    @Triad99: what ever helps you sleep at night. If you want to own a bunch of unnecessary guitars simply because you are an enthusiast that’s fine by me, but don’t go claiming “tonal differences” from almost identical guitars(same scale length, bolt on neck, virtually identical electronics, ect.) The pickups are picking up the frequencies of the vibrating strings regardless if its made of of mahogany or maple or anything. “Tone Woods” on solid body electric guitars are a marketing ploy, congratulations you are an idiot.

    posted on November 9, 2013 at 8:28 pm
  13. Ed says:

    Seems to me the only way you could make the assertion that two guitars with different woods sound differently due to the wood composition, would be to use the same electronics in both guitars.  Seems to me that a Gibson Les Paul solid Mahogany / Maple guitar might also have a better grade pickup and components.  I would think that were I making a cheaper copy of the same guitar, I would use cheaper electronics ,possibly 20% parts vs 5% parts.  I won’t get into pickup technology.  I cannot comment on the variation in woods, but it seems to me cheaper begets cheaper and as such a tone difference otherwise we’d all be playing Squiers.

    posted on November 9, 2013 at 8:48 pm
  14. Triad999 says:

    Wow Tony, ...so angry. Must have hit a sore spot, or do you always descend to name calling when you are upset? Look if you can’t hear the difference in the woods an wood combinations then good for you, your sound will always be the same. But there is a reason reputable builders have used different woods and wood combinations for decades to achieve a different sound than their contemporaries. Yes, everything else contributes but there is a reason that a Les Paul will not sound the same as a Strat or an RG with the same electronics. And yes you can put pick ups on a 2X4 (and guys have done it) and get a tone also clear plexiglas as well as a dozen others including aluminum. But just getting a sound and the subtle nuances of good tone are two different animals. So do me a favor dude, if you want to have a discussion lets have one, if you want to call names because you are frustrated, angry or just not experienced enough to disagree with someone pleasantly, then please keep it to yourself.

    posted on November 9, 2013 at 8:49 pm
  15. Roger Moss says:

    That comment aimed at me? If so, you’ve just missed the point completely, which, to spell it out for you amounted to:
    Forget what you think it should be about, and instead go and try several identical-looking instruments acoustically, then plug them into a clean-sounding amp to judge for yourself the differences. If you want to talk about marketing ploys then maybe direct you venom at the lucrative market in pedals. Me, I keep it minimal, and let the tone of the guitar come through.
    And I’m prepared to listened to the reasoned/reasonable thoughts of others.

    posted on November 9, 2013 at 9:02 pm
  16. Roger Moss says:

    My response was directed at Mr Angry, obviously - just got posted after others contributed…

    posted on November 9, 2013 at 9:05 pm
  17. Triad999 says:

    Its addressed to Tony, Roger.

    posted on November 9, 2013 at 9:13 pm
  18. Ricardo Moraes says:

    I’m with William. After playing so many guitars and consulting with more than a dozen luthiers, I’m convinced that guitar woods (body or neck or fingerboard) have nothing to do with the tone one extracts from his instrument. Tone has to do with strings, tune machines, frets, bridge, how all metal parts are built and put together, and the way one plays. A long time ago I started to choose my guitars with that in mind and tried to improve my playing.

    posted on November 9, 2013 at 9:19 pm
  19. ChopItUpBuryIt says:

    Triad999, you suck balls brah.  Quit gaying off in here man, do it somewhere else.

    posted on November 9, 2013 at 11:23 pm
  20. Steve Dallman says:

    I used to buy, play and build heavy guitars and basses. One year, I built a “solid body acoustic” around a Fishman pickup, and wanted a lightweight body that didn’t sustain well, to cop more of an acoustic response. I used Aspen, a type of poplar and made a LP shaped body. I was surprised with this lightweight wood had tremendous sustain. Now, my builds and personal instruments are quite light, but all sustain as well as resonate well. Age and arthritis drove me to lighter instruments, and I’ve learned a lot.

    posted on November 10, 2013 at 12:32 am
  21. Triad999 says:

    @ ChopItUpBuryIt Hah ....you funny

    posted on November 10, 2013 at 1:05 am
  22. Robs says:

    Great topic.  I also think that amp volume and venue size play important roles in the value of the weight of the guitar on the overall tone.  I used to have a 12 pound Les Paul that always sounded dull at bedroom levels, but when plugged into a large cranked tube amp in a decent size room it just screamed.  Conversely, I’ve also noticed how lighter guitars (e.g., single-coil semi-hollow) don’t project out into the audience at large venues as well as a heavier guitar and can get lost in the mix easier, but add lots of space and depth to a small to medium size venue.

    posted on November 10, 2013 at 2:16 am
  23. Harry says:

    Well I’d say all tones are good it depends on what your looking for in the guitar.

    posted on November 10, 2013 at 5:00 am
  24. Bassmonger says:

    We all have opinions and are free to have them. Please, let us not throw them at others. I am a bass player and have restored and modified all my basses. They all have DiMarzio P-Bass pickups and control pots, Badass bridges and the same spool of double insulated wire was used on all my electric basses. My 1974 Gibson EB3L definitely sounds deeper, more resonant and has more sustain than my 1970’s Ibanes Gibson style flying V. My brother can not use the same pickups, to his frustration, in his strats as his Jackson flying V’s. I must admit, that most guitarists use so many effects, they could be playing a uke and it would sound similar to a 50’s Gibson, but it will not sound identical, nor will you have the same sustain etc.

    posted on November 10, 2013 at 6:14 am
  25. Steve Dallman says:

    My Line 6 Variax 5 string is my main bass. It was almost 13 lbs. After it got seriously damaged in a truck accident, I decided to chamber the body as I fixed it. I took almost 4 lbs of wood from it.

    There has been no change in sustain, or resonance. I am thrilled with the result. I did switch to a Slinger Waist strap to deal with the weight and my arthritic neck and shoulders and with the weight reduction, it’s a great bass.

    I plan on chambering my favorite LP next. It is heavy, extremely at the butt end. It now balances poorly on my lap.

    posted on November 10, 2013 at 6:53 am
  26. Steven Sanborn says:

    I play an eleven pound solid mahogany Hagstrom Swede from the seventies. She still sings to me after 39 years ....

    posted on November 10, 2013 at 10:12 am
  27. Gloryblues says:

    Wood makes no difference to the tone of an electric guitar once pluged in.
    The folks who make high end guitars are there to make money.  If they can charge you $5000 for a lump of wood, however pretty, that they paid $50 for and you are happy to pay that then more power to you and the maker. That is your choice.
    High end pots cost about $5 each.  A few turns of copper wire around a magnet costs about $10 including labour.  Wire gauge and ammount of turns make a difference.  Nobody “hand wires” pickups.  You are mostly paying for a name.  All these statements can be proved with a little research.
    I could go on.  I have been a guitarist for over 50 years, but still have a lot to learn.  But I do know this, just because it has a well known name on the headstock is no guarantee of quality.

    posted on November 11, 2013 at 12:38 am
  28. William T Branch says:

    Gloryblues,  you are spot on.  The myth that wood has an effect on tone with respect to Electric Guitars is a lie that has been told to so many guitar players by the “Big Guitar Manufacturers”  The people who buy these “Overpriced Guitars’ Have to find a way to justify spending so much for so little.  In my experience the Les Paul owners are the worst. I own several Electric Guitars.  1 Squier Telecaster,  4 Fender Stratocasters and 1 Gibson Les Paul.  To be honest I have no clue why I own the LP.  When I bought it I thought it would be cool to own an LP.  But to be painfully honest, I vary seldom play it.  The tone SUCKS it is a pain in the ass to play.  But above all the more I play it the more I realize it is built very shabbily. The quality to which they are built, to say the least is questionable.  If you were to compare a 1959 Les Paul to a 1959 Strat you will see the Strat is noticeably in better condition than the LP.  I think this in large part to Gibson’s low standards in production.  They have always tried to justify the value of their guitars by using “Exotic Woods” to which I say BS. Any wood you use on an electric is going to sound the same.  Your chain is first your fingers, strings, pickups, cables, effects (if used) and last your amp.  Where is wood in that equation? Nowhere, it DOES NOT MATTER!

    posted on November 11, 2013 at 8:29 am
  29. Smokey in MN says:

    For me, unless I can play seated, lighter is better. My back is out-of-whack, it’s purely a physical thing, in my case.
    As far as tone goes, I think that any guitar is the sum of all it’s attributes; wood species, density, finish, strings, frets, weight, pickups, build quality…. on and on,  if only infinitesimally, each attribute contributes to the sound that comes out of the instrument. The player contributes to the sonic product, by way of technique and personal audio preferences, also. The appreciation of any instrument’s good (or bad), tone is a very subjective thing.
    Light, medium or heavy weight; I’ve played good, bad and mediocre examples of each. Unless the setup is horribly bad, I’ve had little trouble getting engaging sounds out of most any of the rigs that I’ve ever played. Some better or worse than others… for sure. I’m still looking for my “Holy Grail” guitar. I hope that it is light-weight, when, and if I ever find it. Tempis fugit.

    posted on November 11, 2013 at 1:45 pm
  30. bob says:

    I laugh when people say that nothing makes a difference….wood, pickups, weight etc etc. Maybe you have tin ears. Play your $100 Cort while the rest of us appreciate the finer things.

    posted on November 11, 2013 at 2:25 pm
  31. William T Branch says:

    Some people are just dense.  Everything about a guitar has an effect on tone.  With the exception to WOOD.  So if wood has no effect than the weight of the wood has no effect.  Someone prove me wrong.  I will prove I am right.

    posted on November 11, 2013 at 3:20 pm
  32. William T Branch says:

    I am not the only one!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rtnx-gnMrTQ

    posted on November 11, 2013 at 4:12 pm
  33. Gloryblues says:

    Yes William,  Scott does go on a bit.  However, what he says is true and as he says, has been proven many times over.  Still the faithful believe thr crap they are fed.  I myself used to be one of the faithful who worshiped at the altar of Gibson.  I have been playing gigs since 1962.  I always wanted a 335 but could never come up with the cash.  Anyway, I have now retired from “proper” work and took £2500 off around the music shops looking for a ES335.  Finally came home with an Epiphone Dot in Natural finish and still had £2300 in my pocket.  I have to put a little time into the Dot and maybe about £100, but I will then have a guitar that is actually better, but not much, than any of the Gibsons I tried.  Here’s another thought, all collectors talk in terms of re-sale value.  Scott Grove openly and unashamedly talks in terms of how much he can buy a guitar for and then re-sell it at a profit.  This means that there are lots of rich folks out there who are willing to buy an average guitar for hugh ammounts of cash.  That’s their choice, and their right.  Me, I like my cash in a tin under the bed where I gan keep it warm and count it every day…

    posted on November 11, 2013 at 9:28 pm
  34. Gloryblues says:

    Note to self…

    Learn to type.

    posted on November 11, 2013 at 9:30 pm
  35. Roger Moss says:

    The odd rant aside, this as turned out to be a very interesting dialogue, with some great input.
    Could I just add the a comment that awhile back I picked up a cheap (as in Ebay-cheap) Squier CV50s BB Tele - hardly a snob-value instrument. Normally I’d never buy any guitar without sitting down and playing it first, but I needed a back-up guitar fast, and I’d never seen a less than glowing review from those who had got one of these. Yep; pine body, not classy swamp-ash - but then so were Fender’s first Broadcasters - but it had a quarter-sawn maple neck. The luck of the draw, obviously.
    It just rings like a bell acoustically, and does the same when amplified clean, the way I play most of the time.
    My point? Given that PUs can be microphonic to a degree, the sustain, etc., must surely be affected by the resonance of the wood (even humble pine) on something plank-like, which I think we’d agree a non-thinline Tele certainly is. Not being preachy about this - just a thought I toss into the discussion, for others’ thoughts. Oh, and I first picked up a guitar in 1959…

    posted on November 11, 2013 at 10:15 pm
  36. Joe Kess says:

    I am so glad to read that a good number of people here agree with me wood makes an insignificant difference. Does it make any difference? Sure, it might a little bit of difference. But does that mean lighter woods or tonewoods (which, to me, only means something on acoustic guitars) sound better? Heck no! Two differently constructed guitars (with the same electronics and strings) might sound a little different from each other. But I think there is a 50/50 chance the $200 guitar will sound better that a $2000 guitar (again, with the same electronics).

    What do you get with a more expensive guitar? Higher quality parts, a better paint job, maybe a prettier piece of wood, possibly a more stable neck and better fret work. You get a nicer looking, more unique and more playable instrument.That’s GREAT. But does the piece of wood make a difference? I think not.

    Don’t get me started on Poly Vs Nitro Vs thin skin and rosewood vs maple fretboards. I don’t think they effect the sound either.

    posted on November 12, 2013 at 6:07 am
  37. Ricardo Moraes says:

    I think that Joe Kess has a point here—by paying more one would probably get a better instrument. That is precisely where the buying skills (if any) would come handy: how to pay less for a good guitar. And those skills would include not paying any attention to “tone woods” and other similar “used cars salesman” stories.

    posted on November 12, 2013 at 6:38 am
  38. Slick says:

    Take three pieces of wood, the same size, lets say oak, maple and walnut. Those are all something everyone can get I think. Now hit each one with a drumstick. You will get a different sound out of each one because of different densities.
    Now can you honestly say that with a good set of pickups and a clear tube amp that difference is not going to show up?

    It’s a lot of the reason why a strat sounds like a strat, a tele sounds like a tele and a lp sounds like a lp..
    If you can’t tell the difference between them just by sound, you need to fine tune your ear.

    posted on November 12, 2013 at 2:00 pm
  39. Tony says:

    @SLick, I don’t think anyone here is denying different woods have different sounds, but you don’t play an electric guitar by hitting it with a drumstick. The metal strings vibrate, the pickups pickup the frequencies, the amplifier amplifies them. That is an extremely simplified example, but none the less wood plays no role in it. Sure if there were 3 identical acoustic guitars; 1 oak, 1 maple, 1 walnut they would have tonal differences, but that’s a different story. Maybe if you spent less time “fine tuning” your ear and more time looking at things from a logical perspective you would understand this.

    posted on November 12, 2013 at 9:15 pm
  40. Roger says:

    I agree that exotic timbers might look fancy but I don’t buy into ‘tonewood’ marketing claims for solids. That said, if the timber (and ) can affect the impression of ‘liveliness’ - meaning at least the sustain of the strings - then logically those livelier string movements will be reproduced by the purely-electronic chain of PU+amp. I have a pine-bodied Tele and an alder-bodied one; the first feels much more responsive and sustains better, whether the amp’s on or off. Both are maple-necks, have brass-saddle ashtray bridges and the same string sets. Nice titght neck/body fits, too.
    Intrigued by this.

    posted on November 12, 2013 at 9:53 pm
  41. Slick says:

    @Tony- Your pickups don’t just catch the vibrations of the strings they pick up the vibrations of the guitar also. When you play one unplugged and you can hear the wood resonate, that is amplified too when it is plugged in.

    I asked earlier and no one has answered yet. If wood has no bearing on sound why does my LP with a solid mahogany body have a much darker tone than the one with a maple top? Same strings, same pickups, same amp.

    posted on November 14, 2013 at 7:47 am
  42. William T Branch says:

    Slick, It is impossible for a Guitar’s pickup to catch the vibrations of the Wood.  A guitar pickup just does not work that way.  A pickup is a magnet that reacts to the metal strings vibrating above it.  As far as your LP having a darker tone because of it’s mahogany body.  It’s like the scientist with a preconceived notion on how an experiment will work out and than going about to prove it.  If you have it already in your head that the tone is darker than that is what you hear. I have seen videos on the net where someone will try to prove this theory.  He’ll say that his tone is darker and then play something on 2 guitars and say ‘Did you hear that,guitar X is Darker”  and to someone listening there is NO difference.  Just open your ears to the possibility that wood is not involved in tone as it relates to Electric Guitars

    posted on November 14, 2013 at 9:27 am
  43. Steve Dallman says:

    All the materials used in a guitar have an effect on the vibrations of a string. The woods used, the mass of the tuners, the mass of the truss rod, the type of bridge, and it’s mass and construction, the way the strings are anchored…it all affects the attack, sustain and decay of a note. Some woods are resonant and in it’s passing of sustain, enhances some notes, and absorbs others. Very hard woods enhance sustain. Softer woods absorb more. Oily woods can mute sustain.

    My 68 Tele used very light ash. It had a thick, thick, very hard poly finish that was coming off in quarter sized chunks. I removed the finish with a router, as stripper and sandpaper didn’t touch it, and heat guns were not yet available. The sustain went from very good, to sustaining like a banjo…just a sort of dead, plunk, plunk.

    I routed out the back of the guitar to inlay a 1/4” thick, 3” wide piece of brass. The neck bolted through one end and the strings anchored in the other. It added 2.5 lbs to the light guitar.

    Sustain after adding the brass piece exceeded my Les Paul Custom, with bell like qualities to the tone.

    Most of my basses are quite heavy with lots of sustain. I have a fairly lightweight basswood bass, with a hard poly finish that resonates so much I can feel the vibrations on my belly when playing. While it doesn’t sustain like the others, I love it’s qualities.

    Wood does make a difference. If it didn’t we might as well mold guitars out of plastic, like kayaks and call it a day.

    posted on November 14, 2013 at 10:27 am
  44. Slick says:

    William, Actually when I got the one with a maple top I didn’t realize they had a different construction (the solid mahogany is painted). I wondered why one was a couple pounds heavier and sounded darker so I did some research.

    To you guys that say wood has no bearing, I’m curious to know what you are playing, what style you are playing and what you are playing through.

    posted on November 15, 2013 at 8:12 am
  45. Abbacus says:

    Tin-eared guitar buyers are good for our economy, and America; as are people who think the food at those all-you-can-eat joints is just as good as regular restaurants: they provide jobs for the makers and sellers of crap. Some people also really like trailer court living and we should all defend their right to trash talk! Stradivarius probably had nay-sayers in his day.

    posted on November 15, 2013 at 12:34 pm
  46. Joe K says:

    >> Wood does make a difference. If it didn’t we might as well mold guitars out of plastic, like kayaks and call it a day.

    A Dan Armstrong is made of plastic and sounds just fine. Yesterday, I looked online (tdpri.com) at reviews of the older aluminum bodied Stratocasters. Owners said they sound ... like Stratocasters. Maybe the body makes little difference.

    Also, Strats have a giant piece of plastic on the bodies and under the strings. If materials made a difference (like rosewood vs maple fretboards), you would see wooden pickguards. The plastic, i propose, doesn’t change the tone.

    >> (Wood) It’s a lot of the reason why a strat sounds like a strat, a tele sounds like a tele and a lp sounds like a lp..

    Actually, I think the biggest reasons are 1) scale length and 2) pickups.

    posted on November 15, 2013 at 2:31 pm
  47. Tom 'ketchfish' Inglis says:

    The density and shape of the instrument design have a significant effect on the resonance and sustain of an electric played clean at lower volume.  When you crank it up and start altering the signal, the overtones become less discernable and eventually disappear.  That said, it’s the sum of the design features that provide each instrument with it’s unique voice.  That includes pickups, scale length, nut material, etc.

    posted on November 19, 2013 at 9:04 am
  48. Gloryblues says:

    The shape!!!  the SHAPE??? Sorry Tom but no, shape has absoutely no effect on the tone.
    I would suggest that you are correct with pick-ups and certainly scale length, nut material? maybe, strummed open strings and not pluged in.  Add to that the shape and size of the venue makes a huge difference, also the size of the crowd, quality of the PA (if miked up).  So many variables come into play but really, what an ELECTRIC guitar is made of and the shape it is made in have not much to do with what it sounds like plugged in.

    posted on November 19, 2013 at 7:23 pm
  49. William T Branch says:

    I have heard some wild crap about guitars, but the SHAPE?  Are you F’ing kidding me.  I am not going to make another post about this subject, but.  An Electric guitar’s tone is effected by the strings, string length, wiring, pots and pickups. That is it case closed. Wood, it’s density, it’s weight or SHAPE mean NOTHING, I read somewhere that the people at Gibson who design guitars have stated this also.

    posted on November 19, 2013 at 7:35 pm
  50. Alf Persson says:

    Much is said about this subject; my point is that everything matters. One of the first things you should do when you’re about to buy a new guitar is to try how it sounds unplugged. If the acoustic sound is nice there’s a good chance that the instrument sounds great when plugged in. There’s nothing magical about wood and with the right physical characteristics other material also would work just as well. But still, the properties of the material that’s used will affect the sound, wood or not. And since different wood has different properties it will make a change.
    Why for example there aren’t guitars made of birch (I haven’t heard about anyone anyway)? Still birch is a tone wood sometimes used in drums. Birch is said to give a faster attack on drums than maple. Maple on the other hand I supposed to give a hard and fast attack on a solid guitar and beside its heavy weight that’s the reason why you rarely find whole guitar bodies entirely is made of maple. So far I know there’s more usual with basses made of solid maple, to take advantage of its clear sound. How would a guitar made of birch sound? Probably like a banjo. A last comparison to drums; some drummers prefer acrylic, so wood in itself isn’t necessary.
    Birch plywood is sometimes said to be the best material for guitar cabinets. A common speaker both in expensive brand cabinets and in rather inexpensive cabinets is for example Celestion Vintage 30. So for those who don’t think that material and build method matters there is a lot of money to save when buying a cabinet, just look for the speaker that you want.
    How many ways is there to pick a guitar string? There are endless examples when a guitar sounds completely different when one guitarist hands it over to another guitarist, and I bet that you can hear difference from a guitarist to another just on the sound when they pick open strings. So why shouldn’t the wood matter, when the subtle circumstance makes difference; how the string accelerates when picked? In the end all come together, the hardware, the pickups, the strings, the material of the instrument (what kind of wood or no wood at all) and the guitarist. Everything together is forming the sound, sweet or bad. At the end of the day you should buy the guitar that sounds best in your hands and that’s serves your purpose, so in that perspective you just can forget what wood the guitar is made of. But still; the kind of wood that’s used will have an influence on the guitars tone!

    posted on November 24, 2013 at 1:57 am
  51. Ketch says:

    William T Branch says, “Slick, It is impossible for a Guitar’s pickup to catch the vibrations of the Wood.  A guitar pickup just does not work that way.  A pickup is a magnet that reacts to the metal strings vibrating above it.”

    The wood affects HOW the strings vibrate.  If I had a tail piece and bridge and I installed them in a slab of concrete 1 11/16 wide and 24 3/4 long, using an ivory nut with a humbucker at a normal location, neck or bridge, it will sound sound horrible.

    Funny your claims of a guitar maker stating something so utterly outrageous, but are “mysteriously” unable to produce said material.

    Attention seeking behaviour went out of vogue in the 80s….

    posted on November 29, 2013 at 9:23 am
  52. William T Branch says:

    Ketch there is no mystery behind my assertion of the lack of any effect on a guitar’s tone.  In regards to the woods used.  The internet is loaded with sites that have scientifically proven this statement to be true.  Most of the people who believe the myth of toe woods are people who have been duped into spending way too much money.  Think about this, if my statement is true you could buy the cheapest Epiphone Les Paul (about $200)  change the pickups and have a Les Paul that sounds like a $5000 guitar.  Most people will then have to admit they were robbed.  I think that most people (mainly because of pride) will have a hard time admitting this.  After all who wants to say they were conned. I once saw a guitar on youtube made of Concrete.  Tell me why this guitar sounded good.

    posted on November 29, 2013 at 1:29 pm
  53. Ketch says:

    Do you honestly believe your gibberish? I have owned both, complete with rewiring and upgraded electronics/ hardware that their indisputably a difference in tone.

    Regardless, enjoy your bedroom playing…

    posted on November 29, 2013 at 8:00 pm
  54. Tony says:

    Lol, Ketch is totally butt hurt. I agree with William, its a pride thing. Anyone who spends $5000 on a guitar made of exotic wood is obviously going to promote the idea that it has some special magical tone to it that cant be explained through logic and reason.

    Regardless, enjoy being raped in the ass by marketing schemes…

    posted on November 30, 2013 at 8:54 am
  55. William T Branch says:

    Yeah Tony I believe you are right about Ketch, I bet he only plays LP’s.  It seems to me that people who play Gibsons especially Les Pauls are the ones who get the angriest.  So let me make sure I got this right.  You just changed the electronics and that is the proof you need.  Forget the fact that Gibson’s tolerances for their electronics are big enough to drive a semi through.  A pot can be listed as 250 k, but the tolerances allow 230-270.  Well if you start with 230 and change to a 270 I bet it will sound different.  Not to mention the pickups. If you ignore preconceived ideology and think linear.  The truth is all there.  I never had any preconceived ideas about tone and wood in regards to Solid Bodies.  So when I read about the Myth of Tonewoods I had nothing to fight.  In other words I did not have a dog in the fight. But someone who paid 5000 for a 500 guitar is quick to believe the myths.  I must have struck a nerve, why else would someone have the need to insult me and my ideas.  Seems to me the LP boys are the quickest to insults.  Strat MEN just let it go.

    posted on November 30, 2013 at 9:15 am
  56. Steve Dallman says:

    Ketch is right. The wood used does affect all aspects of a string’s characteristics. The wood used affects the attack, sustain, envelope and decay of the strings, and all this is sensed by the pickup.

    I owned a plexiglass Dan Armstrong Ampeg, and it was a great guitar. It did have a conventional wood neck, maple with a rosewood fingerboard. I replace the wood saddle with a brass one I fashioned and the improvement in attack and sustain was great.

    I do disagree with Ketch on one item. A guitar made of concrete might sound great. I can’t imagine the neck would be very friendly to the installation of frets, and would be too easy to break.

    I played an Ibanez Artist (double cutaway Les Paul type guitar) at the ‘83 NAMM show. It was made of solid brass….neck and body. It weighed 75lbs. It was made as a joke responding to the brass craze of that era. It was a one off, made and displayed as a joke, but people tried to order them, unsuccessfully. BTW it sounded glorious but cut off the circulation to my right leg after a minute of playing it on my lap.

    I have a Washburn 5 string I converted to a fretless. I replaced the fingerboard with a bubinga board, and changed the scale from 34” to 35”. The body was plywood.

    Years later, I made a mahogony body for it. The scale, shape, size and all the electronics and hardware stayed the same (EMG Jazz pickups, two preamps) 

    The improvement over the plywood body was subtle but definite. Former dead spots on the neck were far less. The notes had a beautiful bloom the plywood body didn’t produce.

    I have a set neck Epi Flying V that is a fine guitar and it also has a plywood body. I have played Korina (an African type of mahogony) Epiphone V’s that were lighter, livelier and brighter than my plywood one. But I love mine. I may someday replace the body with mahogony if I can find some lighter wood. I’ll bleach the mahogony to match the Korina look.

    Wood matters. I have a set neck, mahogony body, maple top LP knockoff…a Mako from the 80’s. I also have a 1986 Les Paul Standard. With the same pickups in each guitar, the Mako is great, but it ain’t a Les Paul. There are things I do like about it over the Gibson though.

    posted on December 1, 2013 at 8:59 am
  57. Joe K says:

    Why do you think wood matters? I mean why scientifically as opposed to what we’ve been led to believe over the years?

    I, based on common thinking, was wondering if wood could make any kind of notable contribution to overtones in the way a string vibrates or on its sustain. So I tri3ed a few simple experiments. I laid my hand gently across the strings above the nut and (on guitars where possible) below the bridge. If the wood made a difference, touching the strings like this and in these positions seems like it would make more of a difference than any vibrations coming from the wood. So would pressing or squeezing the guitar body (to reduce vibrations) which I tried too. In no case dis this effect the tone.
    Thus I think a concrete guitar would sound just fine (obviously though, guitar and neck materials make some difference in that they need to structurally preserve the string length when the strings is plucked. A balsa wood guitar might loose sustain this way.

    A poster said it is important to play a new electric guitar unplugged before before buying. I think that is old thinking that this thread, in a very small way, may help to change. Trying one unplugged, I suggest, only tells you how it will sound unplugged. I like the test though since I often play unplugged. (My ES335 and ES125T both sound lousy unplugged but are damn nice amplified.)

    So why make (or why were the earliest) electric guitars constructed with wood bodies? Perhaps to look like traditional instruments. Also they are nice looking, hold paint colors, are relatively inexpensive to make (supplies and forming) and they are light weight. Why alder or ash (in the case of Fenders) and not birch? Alder and ash were cheaper and more readily available at the Fender factory. I propose that if other wood stocks took a finish well, were inexpensive to buy and shape, that the would sound the same as any other guitar.

    Unless some one can make a factual case, I don’t believe that what happens behind the nut or past the bridge makes any difference in an otherwise reasonably constructed guitar.


    I

    posted on December 1, 2013 at 10:53 am
  58. Joe K says:

    >> I don’t believe that what happens behind the nut or past the bridge makes any difference in an otherwise reasonably constructed guitar.

    I am referring to the neck and body. Electronics obviously contribute greatly!

    posted on December 1, 2013 at 10:56 am
  59. Steve Dallman says:

    ” I don’t believe that what happens behind the nut or past the bridge makes any difference in an otherwise reasonably constructed guitar.”

    Not true. The mass of the tuning pegs and the mass and material the bridge is made of AND how the strings are anchored all make a difference. One can simply change the mass of the headstock with something like Aspen Pittman’s “Fat Finger” or a small C clamp and the tone and sustain will be affected. I tried our worship leader’s Fat Finger on one of my builds and was pleased at the change.

    Even the material the bridge and saddles are made of make a difference. Ask any Tele owner who has experimented with brass, aluminum, titanium, steel or Graphtech saddles.

    No offense, but some of you folks need your hearing checked.

    posted on December 1, 2013 at 11:19 am
  60. Tony says:

    Offence intended…you are an idiot’-’

    posted on December 1, 2013 at 12:03 pm
  61. William T Branch says:

    Wow!  The Flat Earth society would be proud of some of these comments.  The mythology of Tonewood in regards to Solid Body Guitars is astonishing.  But what really takes the cake is the level of insults aimed at anyone whose mind is in the 21st century.  So all here who believe wood makes a difference, I have one more thing to say.  The World is indeed ROUND,  Bleeding will cure no disease, Witches do not exist, and Man did indeed land on the moon in 1969.  Just thought I would clear that up for those who are still living in the 19th century.

    posted on December 1, 2013 at 2:04 pm
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  63. Joe K says:

    >> ...Aspen Pittman’s “Fat Finger” or a small C clamp and the tone and sustain will be affected.

    Hmmm. If I heard that, and I am willing to try this, it would change my thinking a bit. On the other hand, this may be more snake oil.

    Fender sell a version and says it will “it will enhance the overall tone and note-to-note response of any electric or acoustic guitar.”  If that were true, wouldn’t pro’s use these? I have yet to see one. If it were true, wouldn’t Fender and other guitar companies include a Fat Finger (or added mass in another way) with their high end models? If they added sustain REALLY and enhanced tone, I think at least one Master Builder would surely include them from the factory.

    The first reviewer on their site says: “It helps a little with my taylor for sustain but my tele sounds the same with or without this on it so i wasted my money on this thing”

    I think we all agree that everything makes a difference on acoustic guitars. We are debating whether magnetic pickups can detect tone changes from different woods.

    posted on December 4, 2013 at 1:27 am
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  66. Joakim says:

    Well, since the pickups picks up the vibrations of the strings, and the strings vaibrations travle to the rest of the guitar, depending on wich materials the guitar is made of the vibrations to travle from the rest of the guitar back to the strings and in to the pickups would be different. Then again, if a human ear can hear it is an other subjuect, but it physicly does affect the vibrations.
    I have never tried this for real but now im tempted to buy two different cheap guitars and put the exact same (cheap) mecanics in it just to try!

    posted on June 12, 2014 at 12:48 pm
  67. Richard says:

    In my opinion, and i’m no expert, I believe that hardware makes the most difference to a solid body’s tone.  I have had a number of strats including my favorite, 1989 strat plus, that has a metal wilkinson nut and good solid bridge.  Loads of chime and sustain before even turning the amp on.  Others I have modded with brass nuts with similar results.  I agree with others, if it sounds good acoustically then it should sound good through an amp.  Pickups also make a huge difference obviously.

    posted on September 27, 2014 at 3:34 pm
  68. WJH says:

    I wanted to add into the discussion a discovery I made at the guitar shop one day. On the counter was a “Goerge L” cable dispenser and box of 1/4” plugs. You cut the cord the length you needed, then connected the plug ins. My SG needed a right angle, which was available. Goerge L buyers claimed “These cables will make it seem like a blanket was lifted off of your amplifier.” Very true, there was a very noticeable change in clarity and improved tone with those cables. (Another variable) I know the discussion is about the wood in the body and I will share from my experience building 5 guitars. The greater mass in the body increased sustain and depth in the tone. That is comparing a light slim Mahogany body with a thick large Black Korina body. The loss in mass made it “less than” the greater mass body. What I noticed makes the biggest difference is joints connecting parts (no gap) and well filed string grooves (nut & bridge) and the alloy the parts were made of. (steel vs pot metal). example: Wilkinson stop bar tail piece vs easily corroding cheap plated part.

    posted on October 17, 2014 at 1:40 pm

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