Do tonewoods really matter in building a guitar?

fenderbaum, your comment doesn't make sense.
If the pickups are doing all the work, why on earth does body resonance matter?
If you're saying transducers pick up string vibration only, then why on earth would any activity involving the body matter?
You know transducers are designed to pickup the string vibration only right ? ( they also pick the wood tone up through microphonics..sshhhh)
If the body resonates then so what?
Let's put it this way. I'll make 10 guitars using lightweight swamp ash, mahogany, hard rock maple and Brazilian rosewood, and someone else can make 10 from plywood and concrete, both sets using the same hardware and pickups. Wanna make a wager as to which ones would be selected as sounding better when judged by pro musicians (or by anyone, for that matter)?

I'll take that bet any day.
I would take that bet and, by probability, I would win most of the times. I would go with: it would be an even distribution, akin to random, and it would change every time you make the test.
No way around it.
It doesn't matter.
Now, now: every material DOES sound different, but it doesn't matter, because not one person here would be able to pinpoint a 59LP made from swietenia mahogini from a 59LP made from ash and birch, or a 59LP made from alder and maple with a maple neck and board, or one made of aluminum.
In that regard there are no "tonewoods". Just materials that you might want to use for different results. And, even then, you wouldn't be able to tell your own guitar from another one in a blind test.
Tl;dr: everything sounds different on instruments. Get what you like, even if you can't tell the difference in a blind test (no, you cant). It doesn't matter, just enjoy.

Ed DeGenaro

Silver Supporting Member
The only "scientist/guitarist" I am aware of is Brian May. He made his guitar out of an ancient beam from a fireplace mantle, and I would be willing to wager that he and everyone that knows that particular guitar would be in agreement that the timber used in that guitar makes that guitar special.

You did say that "everything matters", and I can certainly agree with that.
Well there are a few....
You might need to google translate this unless you understand German...but it's certainly not agreeing with how much effect "tone woods" have...



If you're referring to bridge and string vibration, if you haven't yet felt your strings sympathetically vibrating the entire body of the guitar including hardware, tuners pickguard etc, then I suggest you try feeling for that.
If you are about to tell me that the bridge permits none of the string vibration from entering the body of the guitar, then fantastic, so what? if the string vibrations are coming into the body via the neck pocket then that's what they're doing. They're coming from somewhere, you know. Do I care where the vibrations are passed onto the body? - No, I couldn't care less.
i've messed around changing bodies, necks , pickups and I know exactly what I'm talking about. I play multiple instruments and can hear a butterfly drop to the ground for a sip of water in Venezuela.
Having spat all this out, I would recommend to anyone that anything I say be taken with a grain of salt, test it out for yourselves using your ears. I'm not going to argue this out with people who can't hear what I hear, or can't hear any differences in anything.
You may want to have a little read of my thread titled ' an interesting afternoon'..the sequel will end the argument of importance of wood/body material once and for all as it will provide the precious visual evidence they crave.
There appear to be several common misconceptions in your interpretation of your experiences in your posts so far:

(1) that vibrations in the body are substantial. All of the measurements from real guitars show this is not true. Vibrations in the neck are usually substantial; those in the body are not. That does not mean you can't feel them (our proprioceptors are highly sensitive to particular frequencies); just that they are very small in magnitude.

(2) that what applies to neck wood also applies to body wood. The physics are different. Both wood, but very different structures - one relatively flexible, one not. Just like acoustic guitar (or violin) physics are different to solid body guitar physics. Conflating neck and body wood/physics shows a failure to understand that. Neck wood is relevant sonically because significant string vibrations reach (are lost to) the neck. Significant string vibrations do not reach the body. You can predict important sonic characteristics from the neck's resonant modal frequencies and the string properties. You cannot do that for the body's properties.

(3) that vibrations in the neck and/or body are an intrinsically 'good' thing - that solid bodies 'should' vibrate (see Les Paul's opinion at the foot of my post). If vibrations are in the body (or the neck), they have been lost from the strings. So no longer seen by the pickups. Any notion that they can make their way back to the strings, or that the pickups are significantly vibrated by these tiny string-sourced vibrations, is not consistent with any of the measurements that have been made on real guitars. Microphony is a pickup fault; most pickups do not exhibit it even if you literally shout into them (ie much greater sound wave energy in the air than that coming from the strings). Of course we cannot say that a particular guitar's frequency losses (mostly to the neck and bridge) are always a "bad" thing - that is subjective. Just as preferring your tone control on 10 or 5 is a subjective thing, even though the latter means that you have lost a lot of your available tone. But allowing vibrations into the neck and/or body is a crap shoot - you might like it or you might not.

(4) that a highly "resonant" guitar is due to body vibrations. Of course guitars that seem to be highly resonant do exist, and that is generally a good thing. But that is because the vibrations remain almost entirely in the strings. Where that false impression that the body is resonating significantly comes from hearing the acoustic sound of a solid body electric, note that the pickguard and guitar top surface have been measured as contributing significantly to that acoustic sound (both reflecting and attenuating sound wave frequencies). So that acoustic element in "resonance" is misleading (adding to the reasons why the acoustic sound is a largely irrelevant characteristic in relation to the amplified sound).

We're not arguing about whether you can hear things that others can't. We're arguing about two guitars that we all agree sound different. We just arguing what that is due to. There are plenty of good reasons for those sonic differences that have been measured from real guitars. The pickups are only one of many. The body wood isn't one of them.

But of course if only you and a small group of those with 'golden ears' can hear certain things, then by definition those things would be irrelevant to the majority of players, correct ? ;) Perhaps you audiology friend can tell us if your ears are truly exceptional, or more likely subject to the same physiology as all ears, particularly accelerated by high volume exposure ..

I looked at your other thread. From your description, it is unclear what physical guitar phenomena you measured with the audiometry equipment, which is mainly used to produce sound at particular pure frequencies - basically a sine wave/signal generator. Some acoustic guitar makers use one with a speaker driver to generate 'Chladni' patterns that characterize top plate vibration. It is not clear if you are doing something along those lines, or not. A picture of your setup might help, as might the name/model of the equipment. But graphs alone will be meaningless without that information.


No. Your amp, speaker, enclosure type and pickups are responsible for what you're hearing coming out of the cabinet.


I had a late 80s Aria Pro 2, killer sounding rock guitar. Sanded it down a few years ago and found out it was some type of plywood body. Still sounds killer.

I think it matters but not always in the way we want or expect it too.

Ron Kirn

There most definitely is such a thing as "tonewood". Certifiably. Demonstrably. Empirically.
Well then, let's certify tone wood. Go ahead, I'll wait... Let's demonstrate it, I'm still waiting, . . . Empirically. this is gonna be good, let me get a lawn chair and a cooler of beer.. I'll wait for this too..

For a commodity to be "Classified" Certified, etc., there has to be an accredited organization, recognized by the relative industry to establish a baseline against which whatever is being certified can be measured. For wood, relative to its ability to contribute to the tone of an instrument, there exists none. That's a big Goose Egg, none, zip, zero.. However for Gem Stones. when you go to Hoity, Toity, and Price, you know a certified Diamond is what it’s categorized as. There exists a certified organization that rates such.

The only people claiming a specific piece of lumber is a piece of Tone Wood, are those that have a vested interest in your believing that it is. A guy selling you lumber can sell it as raw lumber at say, 8 bux a board foot, or they can list it as “Tone Wood” and double that price.. think about it…

There is NO EMPIRICAL WAY to know if wood is “tone wood” until the guitar is plugged in.. unless you’re building acoustic instruments..

"Tone Wood" is as much a marketing ploy as "For those that think young", "Just Do It". "The King of Beers", “Built Ford tough", “The ultimate Driving Machine", etc., etc. All infer a promise, all tell you nothing Empirical.

there IS an internationally accredited organization that rates lumber... it is the National Hardwood Lumber Association the NHLA. They grade lumber ranging from FAS (this is as good as it gets) to 3B, that's the stuff that the termites leave behind... at no time are the sonic qualities ever assessed.

Thus when the NHLA grades a piece of Alder as FAS… everyone knows what to expect.. unlike say 5A Flame Maple.. there is no accredited organization that rates the optics of figured lumber. You have to count on the honesty of the one selling it.. So a 5A piece could in reality be a 4A piece to a seasoned, and honest wood worker.

Interestingly a section of lumber can yield both FAS and 3B and everything in between... When a log is sliced into rough planks.. those rough sawn boards are rated... perhaps a 16 foot plank may yield an 8 footer that’s perfect, FAS, then a few feet that's somewhat less, and may be graded for secondary lumber, such as that used to create a frame for an upholstered piece of furniture, where strength is required, but it will never be seen, then there's 3B, junk that's only suitable for shipping pallets or other purely utilitarian stuff. All out of the same rough-sawn plank.

So it's entirely possible the piece or Ash that your guitar is made from also was used to make the pallets that were used to ship the sod that your lawn was done with. No tonal consideration was ever made for either, except when the guitar was being created.

Yeah, when the guitar was being created... that requires someone with some familiarity with the sonic properties of the lumber to pay attention... but since there is NO accredited rating system for those propertied, the person making that determination could be some guy that was hired last week, and told to go separate the wood into what ya think is good wood and not so good... Or it may be someone that has spent a lifetime working wood that has developed an inherent awareness of what will work, and what will not.

You have no way of knowing, other than by reputation... There are a number of us here that frequent this forum, as well as other that live by that reputation...

But Tone Wood.. there exists none… when someone says “I used the finest tone Wood”. Well that says far more about their knowledge of wood than it does about any potential sonic qualities from the piece of lumber being promoted.



Every time this topic comes up I say the same thing: materials matter. Whether it’s wood or metal, it matters. You can make a guitar out of many man made materials just fine. My Flaxwood is made of injection moulded spruce fiber and resin and sounds just as good as any of my traditional guitars. I have also heard guitars made of plastic that sounded awful. There’s a lot of these "I made a guitar out of concrete" etc videos on YouTube and the end result is that sure, you got a working guitar but it doesn’t sound like we want a great guitar to sound. Not all materials work as well.

Wood is primarily chosen for many other reasons. Cost, availability, ease of shaping and painting are the primary factors. Tone is pretty low on the scale. There are also plenty of alternative woods that are more sustainable. Tradition drives the wood choices for guitars more than anything. It becomes "tonewood" the moment you start marketing it as such.

Ron Kirn

I say the same thing: materials matter. Whether it’s wood or metal, it matters.

that's true... ever try to make a guitar from Nothing? Can't be done, you MUST use something.. that something is ultimately responsible.

The issue is, there are those that suggest that preemptively, one can make choices that will determine what the final "voice" will be... Not gonna happen, the best one can do is predetermine what sonic arena the sound may fall within and "move" toward that goal...


I dont like the term tonewood, it doesn't mean anything to me. I also don't think there are "good" and bad woods as an overall species., just individual pieces. Go try out 10 Les Pauls. Same model, same pickups, etc. They'll sound different. One might be my favorite, but also be a friends least favorite. And that's from one piece of mahogany to another.

What I dont know, is if a particularly bright piece of mahogany can cross over a particularly dark piece of alder, for example.

My point is, even within a single species, there can be a lot of variation. Some universally good or bad traits (sustain), some subjective traits (amount of high-mids?).

Using the term tone wood means nothing to me though, and I think makes someone an easy target when they use the term.


I say it does, but not in an alder/mahogany/maple way.

It's all about weight/density and resonance. If you hit the weight/density and resonance just right you get a good guitar.
If you dont, you are more likely, but not always going to get a dud.

This is why the same pickup sounds different in 5 or 10 of the same type of guitars (specs matching of course).


As I said earlier, it matters a little.

What would be good is to have a number of bodies of different wood and then put the same hardware on them and do a test of the sound in an anechoic chamber and record the clean sound. Undoubtedly there would be some difference showing up albeit very slight in the tone but more in the sustain or lack thereof.

This discussion happens a bit in the acoustic world as well because people are looking for pickups that deliver the same tone as the guitar. Many pickup systems have a huge difference in tone than what the acoustic guitar sounds like unplugged. This should tell us that in an electric guitar, the wood may affect the tone but it is a very small amount compared to the strings, scale, tuning, pickups, amp and its settings, bridge and overall design on the guitar,

Once the clean sound of an electric guitar is coloured by gain, reverb, fuzz, etc., etc. any nuances caused by the wood in the guitar are pretty much lost.

Here is an interesting conversation I had with a Sony rep years ago at a sound booth. We were talking speakers as I was in the market for a good set of stereo speakers for my home stereo system. The Sony rep told me of an account that made the Sony factory move their factory. Why? They had made one of their speakers with clear spring water. The present factory used city water. One of the engineers said he noticed the difference in the sound of the speaker paper made with the clear spring water compared to those made with city water. A few agreed; most did not. So, into the anechoic chamber they went. Their was a difference. Thus, the factory was moved to a location at the bottom of a mountain where clear spring water could be obtained.

So small nuances of sound differences can be heard by some people but speakers are at the end of the chain where most of them are heard. Wood in an electric guitar is way up the chain. It is affected by the many things mentioned in this thread before it gets to the speaker. I doubt if any can truly hear the difference once all those things are added to it.

That said, I would buy some guitars based on the wood if I wanted my guitar to have a certain look like a the one below. But if it's a solid colour the only reason I would want one wood over the other would be the hardness of the wood so it would not get dented as easily.


Ron Kirn

OK. . . show -n- Tell... that's a beautiful guitar.. but sometimes what makes one desirable is completely lost on the next...

Here's one made from a piece of NOT tone wood... the lumber was part of a building protecting whatever it was erected to protect at some Comstock Lode mine, at the same time Wyatt, Virgil, Morgan and Doc, were drawing down on the Clantons a few hundred miles SE of Virginia City.. and there it remained for over a 150 years, being attacked by the elements and bugs, until someone demolished the building and harvested useable lumber... also some apparently not useable wood, at least that would be the initial impression... but. . .

the interesting thing is all that dark lumber was riddled with fungus. . . don't panic, Fungus is what makes Spalted Maple Spalted .... I did my thing to make it structural.. thus the lumber and the methodology applied to get it to a useable state would never be found in anything telling ya how to find/make ToneWood...

but... she sounded wonderful and is still out there singing away today, devoid of anything that could be accused of being Tone Wood, except as it happens to be wood, creating remarkable tone... dead fungus and all...



I can't say because of all the certified lumber grading authorities I've checked out the consensus is that although they do grade wood by cosmetic appearance beingunquantifiable the concept of tone wood doesn't exist in their world.
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