The Guitar Tonewood Guide
If you hang around a guitar shop, it won’t be long before someone starts talking about tone woods or expressing a preference for one kind of fretboard over another. There are a dizzying array of woods used in all of the different parts of a guitar and it can be hard to keep them all straight. In order to help, we’ve put together a guide that gives a run-down on what parts of a guitar are made of what, and how you can expect the choice of wood to affect your sound.
Mahogany/Ebony – This is one of the most sought after pairings for neck and fretboard on both acoustic and electric guitars, especially for high-end instruments. A mahogany neck provides warmth while the ebony provides clarity with a fast attack. Higher grades of ebony will be purer black, which many people find to be attractive.
Mahogany/Rosewood – This is also an extremely popular pairing for both acoustics and electrics, in part because rosewood is much cheaper than ebony. The Mahogany neck again has warmth and resonance in the lower-mid range. The rosewood contributes pleasant highs and an appealing mid range that isn’t too punchy.
Maple – A one-piece solid maple neck and fretboard is a very bright sound with a strong attack, because of how dense the wood is. This is the classic Fender neck. In addition, maple can be highly figured in many different ways, which can make for some stunning fretboards.
Maple/Pau Ferro – A much less common combination, Pau Ferro adds a stronger balance in the lows and mid-lower range, and a little less attack than a one-piece maple neck and fretboard.
Maple/Rosewood – Adding rosewood to a maple neck adds some depth and warmth to the sharpness of the maple attack, helping to balance it out. This is a very common combination on Fender guitars.
What Does This Mean to Me?
Though all guitars have their own, unique character, this guide is meant to give you a rough idea of what to expect when you pick up a guitar made of mahogany versus one made of maple. If you find yourself wanting a different sound or can’t quite figure out why a certain guitar is sounding a certain way, take a look at the wood. It’s perfectly natural for different players to gravitate towards different woods that suite their own style, be it the snap of maple or the depth of rosewood. The most important thing is to play, experiment, and let your ears be your guide. We’ve put together a few examples to help illustrate these tonal differences and which genres they’re preferred.
If you enjoyed this article, check out our ultimate guitar buying guide here!
– Although it comes in various wood makes the traditional is an Alder wood body, with a maple neck and a rosewood fretboard. These combinations were intentional for a very bright and crisp tone that became very popular with country musicians and many rock musicians who valued clarity between notes over having a rich full sound.
Gibson Les Paul
– Again, multiple version with various woods have been produced. But the original featured a mahogany body and a maple top, a mahogany neck with a rosewood fretboard. The goal was to create a guitar that was as rich and full in tone as the acoustics. The combination of mahogany for the body provided a strong resonance with strong low note resonance, but the maple top allowed for a good attack for clarity and sharpness for the high notes with really balanced out the Les Paul. This made it very popular for classic rock guitarists who needed a full sound for rhythm but clarity when they went into a solo. It also became very popular with blues musicians because of the warmth in tone was a great sound for the style of music.
Gretsch White Falcon
– Features a solid spruce top and maple back/sides, a maple neck and ebony fretboard it is considered one of the best hollow bodies out there. Played by guitarists like Neil Young and Brian Setzer, the White Falcon has an incredible playing range. The spruce and maple wood means it has a very clean and sharp tone but the hollow body allows for resonance and warmth.
– A great example of a solid mahogany guitar is the D15M by Martin. Using a mahogany body and sides, with a mahogany neck and east indian rosewood for the fretboard. Most guitars use multiples to bring out the best qualities of each type, but the D15M is a great example of how sticking to one type of wood can really bring out the best qualities of a single wood. The tone is incredibly balanced and full while still allowing the guitarist to have clarity in the high notes. It has become very popular with indie style and country music.
– The CPX is a Jumbo bodied 12-string guitar with a solid spruce top, with mahogany back, neck and sides, plus a rosewood fretboard. The mahogany tonewood helps bring out the resonance and complex depth of a 12 string, while the spruce top helps keep a clarity that the tones don’t get muddled and lost with the volume of a jumbo body.