I think yer playing games with us, actually. The person building the "booteek" guitar might give me a tone monster; I'm pretty sure all the other components, in and of themselves in isolation, guarantee nothing although old wood can sound good. And I love a cheap guitar that sounds great even if it needs TLC before it plays all that silky.
Play the hell out of it?!? Serious though - especially if it is an acoustic. The more you play it, the “better” it will get – that of course is pretty subjective. Had a rosewood acoustic build for me – and after a couple of years constant playing it is a nice sounding one. Huge bass, nice mid and tremble if needed – love that thing! But would it ever have become what it is now without all that playing/wood movement/temperature chances/ ect ect ect?
I don´t think so.
And I don´t really care :-D
I´m one of those who think that a guitars sound is the sum of all parts. Because you never would find 2 pieces of wood that are the same, you would never get the “same” guitar.
Forced to choose between the items in the list, I'd have to go with old wood. But of course it's always going to come down to the individual instrument, never specifically just one factor. Actually, the player is always the most important factor in the tone recipe. Beyond that, it's the way a combination of factors come together that produces a great guitar.
As to the "playing it" thing. I really believed that until VG magazine was able to find sequential DM41s? from the 40s, one of which was heavily played and one a case queen. They apparently both sounded heavenly!
The most important factors to sound good in my mind are: decent technique, decent guitar, great amp, decent cables, decent effects...
I think you're really on the right track, BB. Buy the highest priced, reliced, nitro finished, oil conditioned, old-growth boutique built guitar you can find, and you too will be rewarded with tone for days! I know I was. Matter of fact, I sucked until I had one like that!
Excluding technique, lessons, and amps for the sake of argument, and starting with a baseline non-hobbled USA guitar (any shiny US fender or gibson) string gauge and material, pick type and weight, and setup are the most important. Then pickups.
Most mods are performed to raise a non-US guitar to US standards. If you already have a USA guitar your moneys better spent on a tube amp or speakers. Got one than already rocks? Get a better stereo and stock up on CD's of your favorite players.
If your listening to mp3's on computer speakers you, have NO baseline to evaluate tone, and are most likely severely limiting your sex life as well. Most questions on music and tone are answered on the recordings of the masters. And with that knowledge you will be able to rationalize all forms of boutique consumer frenzy.
Just make sure the guitar is the color you really want.