Single piece vs. two piece bodied guitars: Effects on tone?

Hey all,

I may have incorrectly posted this in the Guitar & Bass technical info section but wanted to get as many opinions as possible (so mods you can delete whichever one doesn't belong). Anyway, I was visiting a highly regarded luthier last week to buy some miscellaneous parts but also had the privilege of checking out some of his amazing guitars. Anyway, I'm not the most educated when it comes to luthiery but as he was giving me a tour of his shop and his methodologies in terms of constructing guitars he made a few interesting arguments. The most sensible one was that he only made guitar bodies out of a single piece of wood. He argued that a Strat or Tele, for instance, that was made by 2 pieces of wood glued together would lack the vibrational resonance and sustain of a guitar made from a single piece. He also believed single piece maple necks have more tonal advantages (in terms of uniform resonance and sustain) as opposed to a maple neck with a glued rosewood freboard. I'm not so sure I would completely agree with that assessment (as I am partial to rosewood fretboards) but it actually made a lot of sense to me. He handed me one of his Tele style axes and it sounded so heavenly unplugged and plugged into a tweed amp. I have been thinking about what he said since then and has me questioning the methods of most production guitars. For the record, I have 4 guitars: a Gibson R0, 62 RI SG, Fender Am Dlx Ash Strat, and a Martin HD-2LSV--all with rosewood fretboards, and all of whom I love. But of my electrics, my single piece mahogany bodied SG has the loudest, most impressive acoustic resonance when played unplugged.

I know the construction methods of today's biggest guitar makers are dictated primarily by economics, i.e. bookmatching tops on maple capped LPs, 335s, etc, and joining 2 pieces of ash/alder for Strats and Teles. But from a tonal standpoint doesn't it seem reasonable that a guitar made out of as few pieces of wood as possible would translate sound better than otherwise? What are your thoughts on this matter?
 

daddyo

Guest
. . .
But from a tonal standpoint doesn't it seem reasonable that a guitar made out of as few pieces of wood as possible would translate sound better than otherwise? What are your thoughts on this matter?
All things being equal, YES. But all things are never equal. So two nice pieces of alder will sound better than one average piece of alder. And an average neck on that really nice one piece body may not sound as good as a good neck on an average two piece body. And even if you compared a good two piece body to a good one piece body, the tonal differences may not be noticeable.
 
The majority of Fender guitar bodies from the beginning have been made with two or more pieces of wood. The '50s Les Pauls lusted after by so many have two piece maple tops. A lot of the pro basses in the last 30 years have been neck through designs. And on and on. So I think the idea that one piece bodies are the best is quite simply wrong. A good sounding instrument is what's best, whether its made of one piece of wood or plywood.
 

Tone_Terrific

Supporting Member
If the pro builders or large builders have this figured out they are not sayin' 'cept if you want 1-piece it costs you more;)
 
I was told the opposite by Jeff Senn, wish I could remember exactly what he said :messedup(it as a few years back) but he made a compelling argument for 2 and 3 piece bodies.

Basically I think your chances of finding a good guitar made of one piece, two pieces and even three is equal but what do I know.
 

Luke

Senior Member
But from a tonal standpoint doesn't it seem reasonable that a guitar made out of as few pieces of wood as possible would translate sound better than otherwise? What are your thoughts on this matter?
Hysteria. Tone is the end result of thousands of interactions of parts. Would Hendrix be more of a guitar hero today had he only used ......? It's stupidity. Write songs that have a strong emotional content people can relate to, play the songs in a unique way, in time and well rehearsed and stop obsessing over every last wire, capacitor or string type. No one cares, it's just a fetish to avoid the aforementioned issues people do care about.
 

Rosewood

Member
Weight, density, and looks are the ingredients that matter. 3 to 5 piece bodies (or necks) glued correctly should sound as good as a one piece if both bodies are the same weight and density, and I would add same wood (mahogany,maple, etc). I like the looks of one piece but it's a visual thing.
 

uvacom

Member
I don't think there is any tonal advantage to having a one-piece body or neck - and my main guitar happens to be both! The only advantage is cosmetic, a one piece body can look better, especially with ash or any other wood with a strong grain pattern.

In fact, it might even be argued that mismatching wood densities could enhance a guitar's tonality, depending on what you're looking for. It would probably sound more complex than a single piece of wood, since it would have some strange and perhaps asymmetrical vibrational modes.
 

digthosetubes

Senior Member
More pieces means more stability, for one thing. One piece is more prone to warping. Ash, for example, is not very uniform. It can be hard as a rock in one place and then as soft as balsa. So using multiple pieces means that the concerned maker may have more of a chance of getting a really nice body if he or she uses more than one piece.

Don't forget. These instruments are made in a factory on an assembly line.

That's part of what makes them what they are. Teles, for example, were intended to be mass produced.

Even guitars that are made painstakingly by hand aren't always going to be winners. There's a lot of pure chance involved. And the guitar you think is a dog, just may be someone else's prize. You just never know. Worth going out and playing a wall of guitars. But not in one day. Quite an education.
 

Mrgearguy

Member
Hysteria. Tone is the end result of thousands of interactions of parts. Would Hendrix be more of a guitar hero today had he only used ......? It's stupidity. Write songs that have a strong emotional content people can relate to, play the songs in a unique way, in time and well rehearsed and stop obsessing over every last wire, capacitor or string type. No one cares, it's just a fetish to avoid the aforementioned issues people do care about.

True. A great lesson too.

But, this is the Gear Page. We're all Waaaaaaay past those basics. Right?
 
I have a 3-piece Ash Tele with maple neck and board that kicks major butt, no doubt about it. It has the best acoustics/resonance unplugged I have ever heard or held for that matter.
 

JPF

Member
Hysteria. Tone is the end result of thousands of interactions of parts. Would Hendrix be more of a guitar hero today had he only used ......? It's stupidity. Write songs that have a strong emotional content people can relate to, play the songs in a unique way, in time and well rehearsed and stop obsessing over every last wire, capacitor or string type. No one cares, it's just a fetish to avoid the aforementioned issues people do care about.
This post may well have cured me. Stop making sense. :D
 

hogy

Supporting Member
This "one piece is better" thing is unfortunately just a myth. I've handled enough Strats to know better.

Have a listen to the soundclips of Strats I posted here:

https://www.thegearpage.net/board/index.php?threads/350482

The best sounding one of the bunch (to me, anyway) is a '56 that has a three piece body and is also the heaviest of them all. The one I like the least (again, IMO) is a '54RI that is one piece and light.

Other one piece guitars in the bunch were the '54 and '55.

In the old days Fender would use their crappiest pieces of wood for custom colors where you couldn't see it. I used to own a particularly great sounding '66 Strat that was originally olympic white. When I got it it had been amateurishly refinished several times, so I stripped it down to start over. Guess what, it was a seven piece body that looked like a butcher block. Best sounding big head Strat I've heard nonetheless.
 

DanielT2

Member
Hey great thread guys. Didn't know that multiple-piece bodies are as good, or better than, single piece ones. I guess separating the marketing myths from reality is getting harder and harder.
 


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