• TGP is giving away a Strat, Tele, and Jazzmaster. Click Here for full details.
    Click Here to upgrade your account and enter today!

Can anyone help give a technical explanation of how tonewood effects solid body tone?

CaptNasty

Member
Messages
776
Yeah, wood DOES effect tone... as does all the other facets that comprise a guitar... it's just there's no way to know definitively what the guitar will sound like until it's completed..

Again you cannot walk into a guitar shop and say.. "OK, I want to sample guitars that only have great sounding tone wood..." You simply play 'em, and they reveal who they are as you do so.. then ya pick one.. The tone of the wood mattered only in the context that it was part of the sonic signature of the guitar you were playing..
Absolutely. We can have an idea of what neighborhood the voice is in though. Give me an Alder body, Maple neck guitar with a titanium bridge and nut, stainless frets, and DiMarzio super 2s in the neck and bridge and I can tell you that guitar will be on the brighter side of the spectrum. Don’t know what the exact PRF will be, but if I am looking for a warmer voice I know that is not the guitar for me!

It would also be dependent upon how much someone has educated themselves on the topic. To someone who plays and does not delve deeper into how a guitar works, the ear is all they have.

To someone who has educated themselves to understand how the guitar works, they can have an educated idea of where to start to get where they want to go. They would then need to validate their idea with their ears. Such a musician could also alter components of the instrument to push a guitar in a given direction based on their knowledge. Like replacing the titanium bridge in the previous example with a brass bridge in order to tame the highs.
For me.. unless you can take knowledge of some factor relative to a guitar and use it to purchase a guitar and get the desired sound as a result of that applied knowledge, it's useless, it does not matter... it's simply good for a discussion .. that's where the Wood's potential sonic sculpting falls... I don't care what type lumber you choose, or how it sounds as you bonk it to hear it ring, or listened to it's resonating sounds as it's machined... the eventual sound will ONLY be a composite of what the wood brings, plus everything else.
While every guitarist is admittedly not capable of this, there are some who have developed enough knowledge be it formal or intuitive to understand how to achieve a desired sonic outcome. Hardware can be changed... easily for that matter. Nuts, tuners, frets, pickups, and bridges are easy to swap. Wood on the other hand is a foundational and expensive decision.
Choosing a specific species because it's reputed to produce a certain sound has more to do with your expectations than the reality, and that reality has more to do with you getting the guitar you really want than getting the guitar that makes the sound you think you want.

For instance, you hear Ash produces a more "snappy" sound.. so you go to Guitar Mania, an say ya only want to sample Ash guitars... the sales guy "screws" with ya an throws an Alder one into the mix... you play and determine the one made of alder has the "snappy" sound you want... so who was wrong... You.. for being :close minded" or the Sales guy for screwing with ya..
Yet we have a very long history in which observations have generally reinforced the expectation. The law of large number has held for centuries in the case of acoustics. There are outliers, but a species I believe does have a dominant vocal character.

In the Alder/Ash scenario you present, who is to say that the Alder was the source of the snappiness? Could be the tremolo sustain block, the saddles, the bridge plate, the nut that imparts the “snap” the guitarist is looking for.

It is certainly a complex “dance” that occurs. It is a dance that many people do not take the time to study and understand. It is not a dance that is beyond our capability to understand and manipulate at some level if we invest the time and effort to do so.

We do not need mathematical models or a grand unified guitar theory to affect the “dance”, intuitive models are a tried and proven way of approaching it.
Psycho acoustics can be a bytch..
Ain’t that the truth

Also to be clear Ron, I am not aiming at you with any of this. You have presented reasonable, detailed, and cogent reasoning for what you have contributed. We disagree on some points and there is nothing wrong with that.

It is quite frustrating to deal with participants who simply say “Well, it doesn’t work that way because it doesn’t make sense to me”. Ok, why doesn’t it make sense? How does it work? Can you provide a comprehensive and cohesive model that doesn’t fall apart when delved into? Can you provide more meat than “no” and a stream of consciousness of loosely related pseudo-scientific factoids?
 

moehuh

Member
Messages
319
People were asked to judge if sound file pairs were different, and how strongly.
https://www.gitec-forum-eng.de/listening-experiment-tone-woods-in-solid-body-electric-guitars/
This one is great and everybody in this thread should do the test themselves!

One thing to mention: I'm not sure if perceived difference is a good measure for this. How different is different after all? It's better to take some notes for each sample and compare it to the results afterwards (something like B tighter bass, B more open sounding, B quacky sound, ...).

To me, all samples were pretty close (0-2 in difference out of 10). After all, it's always a Strat on the same pickup (IMHO a 9 or 10 would be a semi acoustic with humbuckers vs. a Strat on the bridge pickup...). So, I always took notes on each sound sample and ended up with a pretty conclusive result: the ash/maple Strat has a very open sound with an aggressive quack (hard to describe but pretty much the sound you relate to old 50s Strats). The alder/rosewood Strat was the most mid focused with tighter bass and less open compared to ash (it didn't seem to have more mids, rather just less bass and less top end). Ash/rosewood sounded a bit tamer and mellower than Ash/maple, but still very open/wide. Alder/maple was very close to alder/rosewood but lacked some punch. I redid the whole thing after a while, so I forgot the sequence and ended up with a pretty similar result. The ash/maple Strat was the easiest to distinguish from the rest. Could just be the best guitar of all four, at least I liked it most.
My first electric guitar was a Strat, it's what I love and played all the time. Redo this test with Les Pauls and I probably won't hear a lot of differences...

Side note: one of the samples is the same riff played again on the same guitar, but one sample has less bass and is a bit brighter. Heard the same when relistening to the sample. The guitarist probably played the riff a bit closer to the bridge one time. Shows how much your playing affects the sound. Also really liked the eq'd samples, shows how easy you can color and change your guitar tone.

Conclusion:
- Differences are small (compared to two different guitar types like Fender vs. Gibson, solid body vs. hallow body). It's better to have two different guitar types for versatility rather than two of the same type but with different woods. EQ makes a big difference as well
- It's better to worry about a great guitar in general, rather than wood combinations. What you hear is always the sum of all parts, and there is arguably more impact from other parts (e.g. pickups). That's why I'm not a fan of custom orders, I want to play the guitar and then decide if I like it or not
- If you can't hear any difference at all: Great, just get a guitar that feels nice and looks good. Happy days ahead. Most people will not notice anyways...
- Jeff Beck is 100% right: it's in the fingers!
 

Mark Kerr

Member
Messages
33
Yes, this is what the “wood does not affect tone” camp fails to get. <snip>
None of the “wood does not affect tone camp” has provided a cohesive and compelling counter thesis to explain why the energy removed from the string by the guitar chassis would not affect tone.
"Wood does not affect tone" is a bit of a strawman. The argument is usually, "The species of a wood does not perceptibly affect the tone of solid body guitars." This tonewood issue initially arose as a backlash to claims made by some companies regarding the tonal qualities of their expensive woods types. There are things about wood that definitely can affect tone, we just don't believe that species of the wood is significant.

To the contrary they have failed to show that all materials remove the same amount of energy at the same frequencies... a requisite for different materials to have no variation in tonal impact.
Again, this misrepresents the anti-tonewood argument. We are not denying resonant frequency; we are claiming that ascribing resonant frequencies to a species of tree is impossible. The resonant frequency in different boards cut from the same tree can vary greatly, nevermind boards cut from different trees in different locations. Why do luthiers tap on different boards of spruce if they all resonate and behave identically? And incidentally, the resonant frequency of a solid guitar body is mostly determined by the luthier, and may vary greatly from the RF of the original board of wood.

Peace out!
 

Ron Kirn

Platinum Supporting Member
Vendor
Messages
6,707
who is to say that the Alder was the source of the snappiness?
and therein lies the variable... the "who" will hear what he wants, or depending on his hearing, what he Can hear.... and all any of us can hear is THE GUITAR, not the individual components.

r
 

xmd5a

Member
Messages
2,238
So why then when a person speaks to an auditorium full of people is their name first announced followed by their credentials, relative experience, and accomplishments by the MC, then the speaker ascends the stage to speak to their topic? This is the MC building the ethos (credibility) for the speaker so the speaker can delve directly into their pathos (appeals to emotion) and logos (logic).

Albert Einstein had to establish his ethos within the scientific community before he could get momentum behind Relativity. The pathos and ethos of the scientific community at large effectively forestalled wider adoption of relativity in spite a general lack of logos to support the prevailing theory of the day that “ether” filled space. The scientific community had coalesced around “ether” despite a complete lack of evidence (logos) that “ether” existed, both physically and mathematically. Pathos and ethos with a complete void of logos had entrenched a scientific theory.

When looking for a job, we follow this framework. The resume presents our ethos justifying why one has the credentials and experience (I.e. credibility) that qualify for the job one seeks. If the resume succeeds establishing ethos, the applicant will often move forward to the interview wherein they will have the opportunity to establish their pathos and logos in an attempt to secure a job offer.

When a charity for starving children seeks donations they show us pictures of starving children and describe their plight (establishing pathos), the charity then says something like “<insert charity here> has been helping needy children for xx year” (establishing their ethos), followed by “for just $0.25 a day you too can help a starving child” (a brilliant if not manipulative appeal to logos as it also contains a reinforcing appeal to the pathos).

There are samples all around us in the world of the importance of establishing ones credibility in order to set the foundation for one to be able to influence and mobilize people to action and/or ideas.

What you seek to do is discount pathos and ethos, presumably because you have failed to establish your own. You are trying to invalidate that which you cannot bring to the table in an attempt to set the playing field in your own favor. It is a perfectly rational thing to do, but not a particularly effective strategy.

Your analogy of a murder trial was way off. The very first thing that attorneys do pre-trial and during trial is tear down the credibility of the witnesses (were you drinking?, were you wearing your glasses?, Isn’t it true that you have lied in the past, why should we believe you now? Do you have some agenda?, etc, etc, etc). So many trials have seen compelling witness testimony neutralized by witness credibility issues. Conversely, so many trials have seen uninspiring witness testimony bolstered by the unassailable credibility of a witness. You are making my point, thank you.

Extend that to politics. Why mud sling? To erode your opponents credibility. Why erode your opponents credibility? Because once their credibility is compromised, you have decreased their ability to defend their logos... they are less credible, less believable. You don’t believe that political campaigns are really about ideas and logic do you? They are first and foremost about establishing the credibility to govern.
You're not picking up what I'm putting down. All we need with respect to "influence" in this time and place is facts. The Theory of Relativity is (was?) just that, a theory, credibility matters when you're asking people to entertain an idea that, for whatever reason, cannot be proven. The "tone wood" can be proven, rather than have to fall back on the credibility of someone's guesswork, we can reserve judgement until we have the facts on hand. A lot of people with physics degrees would love to pull out their paper and hit people over the head with it, but it's primary use is to have given you knowledge, not to be a proverbial baseball bat to settle disputes.

The YouTube video with the planks of wood came very close, there were just a few short comings, such as 1) wrong size of wood 2) no blind testing 3) only one example of each wood 4) only one person performing. I did heat what seemed to be a difference in those videos, unfortunately, for the reasons enumerated, I can't transfer that observation unto the tone wood debate. Another YouTuber might come along soon and get a few more of these things right, and we will be one step closer to knowing for sure.
 
Last edited:

Husky

Member
Messages
11,749
Basswood is very light in color and is typically a very warm midrange. I agree the response doesn’t know how to spell the species of wood just as lacquer or urethane has nothing to do with it. It’s about the properties of the wood and how it vibrates. However, the characteristics of certain species falls in a range of response just the same as not all apples taste the same but you would have the best chance of finding an apple on an apple tree. Not all manufacturers charge more for choosing a certain piece of wood unless it actually costs them more. Koa costs the customer more not because of it’s tone but because of its costs. When building a jazz box or a top and using tap tone we are listening for the right thickness of the top and sometimes to see if it is a dud or wet. Dud sounding pieces of wood many times do follow the species. Some truss rods make necks sound dead and the neck might be more of an influence than the body in my experience. Like Jelutong, sounds dead with tap tone and dead when used for a guitar. So it would be better I avoid that species I’d think. There is a reason we have a wood database for species properties and yes there is a range but it is a range and the properties of the species gets us close.
"Wood does not affect tone" is a bit of a strawman. The argument is usually, "The species of a wood does not perceptibly affect the tone of solid body guitars." This tonewood issue initially arose as a backlash to claims made by some companies regarding the tonal qualities of their expensive woods types. There are things about wood that definitely can affect tone, we just don't believe that species of the wood is significant. We also tap t



Again, this misrepresents the anti-tonewood argument. We are not denying resonant frequency; we are claiming that ascribing resonant frequencies to a species of tree is impossible. The resonant frequency in different boards cut from the same tree can vary greatly, nevermind boards cut from different trees in different locations. Why do luthiers tap on different boards of spruce if they all resonate and behave identically? And incidentally, the resonant frequency of a solid guitar body is mostly determined by the luthier, and may vary greatly from the RF of the original board of wood.

Peace out!
 
Last edited:

hunter

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
6,491
The whole “human hearing can not differentiate things below 1db” guy’s argument is not comprehensive, compelling, nor persuasive. The fact that an electric guitar played acoustically causes the wood to vibrate, that we can hear the vibration emanating from the wood, and that the volume of the vibrating wood is greater than 1db (a whisper is roughly 20 dB and the vibration of the wood on an unplugged electric guitar is louder than a whisper), leaves me with the thesis that the energy removed from the string is greater than 1dB. For the “below 1dB” argument to have any chance of holding up, the sound energy of the vibrating guitar would have to be below 1dB.
This discussion is based on the difference in db, not the absolute magnitude. The total energy removed may be greater than 1db but the difference in energy removed by different density woods is going to be much less. And happening at different frequencies, some more or less audible to human ears. While the conclusion that the energy of the vibrating body is greater than 1 db is sound, the conclusion that the sound energy of the vibrating guitar would have to be below 1dB to support the below 1db argument doesn't work.

It is the magnitude and frequency of the *difference* that matters.

hunter
 

Ripthorn

Member
Messages
538
I have purposely stayed out of this discussion up until now because it seems like whenever this topic comes up, it creates a lot of contention. I feel I have quite a bit of background here, being an acoustic physicist both by schooling and professionally, but that doesn't matter to some. However, if I could use an analogy, it might help.

The way the strings interact with the hardware and, in turn, the wood, is quantified by the use of the acoustic impedance. This is a frequency dependent quantity that describes how energy gets transferred back and forth between the different components. Now consider an electronic circuit. It is made up of different components as well. What effect does a particular component or the construction of a typical component make? It's a very hard question to quantify and predict, but it's relatively straightforward to show that the mechanism is through analysis of the impedance characteristics of the circuit.

So in our example, the wood is a component in the circuit (actually, it is 3 lumped element components for each end of the string: the compliance, mass loading, and acoustic resistance). Now, can we completely predict the result? Nope, not without a ton more information. But can we see the mechanism of how it comes in to play? Absolutely. It presents a total of 6 component parts just in the effect it has on the string boundary conditions. The OP mentioned pickups and relatively vibrations. Well, now you have 3 more components in the pickup/body interface. How about the transfer efficiency from neck to body? There's another 3 lumped element components. So we can see the technical reasons for why the effects are there, but we aren't predicting the end result.

I'm not going to address predicting the end result, because that was not the question. If we strip away the emotion and beliefs and look at the actual science, it's clear there is an effect and that, given proper time and effort, could be used for prediction, but it would only be valid for one configuration. Change something (the bridge, how it's mounted, the truss rod, whatever) and you would have to create a new model for predictive analysis. It is simply a system of incredible number of variables, and as good old algebra tells us, for every number of variables, you need an equivalent number of equations to solve it. That's why this gets hard, but it's not impossible (theoretically speaking :)).
 

Janus Alfador

Member
Messages
666
In the first few examples I found with a quick search, ebony was described as sounding warm like rosewood but with subtle differences.

The typical mahogany as used in guitars is darker looking than the woods people tend to describe as sounding bright, like maple or swamp ash. Mahogany seems to be the first wood that people usually describe as warm, and interestingly enough, sometimes as having a strong mid-range, possibly because it's near the middle of the wood color range.
Ebony is fully at the bright end of the spectrum. Mahogany is warmer in tone despite being on the bright-side of wood colour.

Warmoth classifies all ebony variants as brighter-sounding than maple, and ebony is Warmoth's brightest-sounding tonewood. You can see Warmoth's tone-grading for woods here, by clicking on the "More Info" button where you select the neck shaft and fretboard wood:

https://www.warmoth.com/pages/CustomNeck.aspx?style=1









 
Last edited:

Mark Kerr

Member
Messages
33
There is a reason we have a wood database for species properties and yes there is a range but it is a range and the properties of the species gets us close.
Thank you very much for the insights, John. Is the wood database you use publicly available or is it proprietary?
 

xmd5a

Member
Messages
2,238
I'm not going to address predicting the end result, because that was not the question.
The end result is at the heart of the matter though. A lot of people here are trying to assert "because there is any difference, we must be able to hear that difference", and that's wildly illogical, wishful thinking, but so too is the claim that, for whatever reason, we must not be able to hear any difference.

There is supposedly data from Manfred Zollner showing the admittance of the bridge and body is very low compared to the nut and neck, but there again, as far as I can tell, no computation that says the body wood contribution is necessarily inaudible.

The 1dB rule can serve as a stand in, but a double blind A/B test is the most compelling evidence to be had. Some say "the pickups and electronics might be different!", so as to say that the only valid test involves laboriously swapping all the hardware, but if you have an LCR meter on hand, you could verify that the electronics are identical.
 
Last edited:

xmd5a

Member
Messages
2,238
Ebony is fully at the bright end of the spectrum. Mahogany is warmer in tone despite being on the bright-side of wood colour.

Warmoth classifies all ebony variants as brighter-sounding than maple, and ebony is Warmoth's brightest-sounding tonewood. You can see Warmoth's tone-grading for woods here, by clicking on the "More Info" button where you select the neck shaft and fretboard wood:

https://www.warmoth.com/pages/CustomNeck.aspx?style=1









I agree that people are not judging warm or bright based on color, but this sort of data is exactly the type of thing that instructs bias. A person sees this charts, remembers it's suggestions, and then confirmation bias takes over from there.
 

Ripthorn

Member
Messages
538
The end result is at the heart of the matter though. A lot of people here are trying to assert "because there is any difference, we must be able to hear that difference", and that's wildly illogical, wishful thinking, but so too is the claim that, for whatever reason, we must not be able to hear any difference.

There is supposedly data from Manfred Zollner showing the admittance of the bridge and body is very low compared to the nut and neck, but there again, as far as I can tell, no computation that says the body wood contribution is necessarily inaudible.

The 1dB rule can serve as a stand in, but a double blind A/B test is the most compelling evidence to be had. Some say "the pickups and electronics might be different!", so as to say that the only valid test involves laboriously swapping all the hardware, but if you have an LCR meter on hand, you could verify that the electronics are identical.
The reason I didn't try to address the end result is because that is fed through a whole host of variables, including the amp, room, individual, their experience/preferences/etc. Additionally, the "end result" is not well-defined. If you define it as the electrical signal on the output terminals, you need to factor in pickups, pick type, picking strength/technique/etc. and a bunch of other stuff.

In the end, the science of it fascinates me, but I don't understand why people get so hung up on needing a statement that "this and only this is correct" on way or the other. We should acknowledge the wood as a component, but that, in the end, the sum effect of all the variables is what we are looking for, and overemphasizing any one variable risks not seeing the forest for the trees.
 

Mark Kerr

Member
Messages
33
Ebony is fully at the bright end of the spectrum. Mahogany is warmer in tone despite being on the bright-side of wood colour.

Warmoth classifies all ebony variants as brighter-sounding than maple, and ebony is Warmoth's brightest-sounding tonewood. You can see Warmoth's tone-grading for woods here, by clicking on the "More Info" button where you select the neck shaft and fretboard wood:

https://www.warmoth.com/pages/CustomNeck.aspx?style=1
Thanks but I am one of the anti-tonewood people. I also do not believe that wood colour is of any significance, except possibly psychologicaly.
 

xmd5a

Member
Messages
2,238
The reason I didn't try to address the end result is because that is fed through a whole host of variables, including the amp, room, individual, their experience/preferences/etc. Additionally, the "end result" is not well-defined. If you define it as the electrical signal on the output terminals, you need to factor in pickups, pick type, picking strength/technique/etc. and a bunch of other stuff.
In the wooden plank demo, the German(?) guy was running through a dirty Marshall. It could be said that the distortion was covering up otherwise audible differences, or maybe even emphasizing them, or that the limited response of the Marshall is hiding differences that would be exposed through clean acoustic amp, but nevertheless, the outcome would be valid for that set of circumstances. The only thing that invalidated that experiment was the lack of rigor.

In the end, the science of it fascinates me, but I don't understand why people get so hung up on needing a statement that "this and only this is correct" on way or the other. We should acknowledge the wood as a component, but that, in the end, the sum effect of all the variables is what we are looking for, and overemphasizing any one variable risks not seeing the forest for the trees.
The Internet has served as a crazy myth propagation machine, people don't like seeing bad science proliferate. It seems that the guitar community has become collectively dumber since the dawn of the Internet. People used to get info from published works, but now they get it from speculation on the Internet, a lot of which comes from the manufactures themselves.
 

Janus Alfador

Member
Messages
666
Thanks but I am one of the anti-tonewood people. I also do not believe that wood colour is of any significance, except possibly psychologicaly.
I know you think that. The reason I posted those examples is because in your previous post to me you said your research suggested ebony (dark-looking) is warmer-sounding and that Mahogany (towards the bright-side, but with some darkness) is somewhere in the middle in the spectrum, supporting your theory of psychological association. Your comment about there being a psychological association doesn't seem likely to be accurate, though, because looking at the woods which are brighter in appearance and looking at their reputed tone properties shows that the data doesn't conform to the theory:

The darkest-looking wood, ebony, is reputed to be the brightest in sound. And there are multiple bright-looking woods which have dark tones.
 




Trending Topics

Top