Before we dive into it: Does wood make a difference in an electric guitar?
Let’s put it this way, If you take a Lamborghini engine and put it inside (let’s say) a Ford Fiesta, it will not be a Lambo, right?! The guitar body and neck is the chassis for the pickups, yes, each pickup has it’s own tonal characteristics, but that chassis will make the pickups behave in a certain way. It’s a “closed circuit”, each string has its own amplitude frequency and the guitar components must react to that amplitude, for instance, if the neck is too strong and has no flexibility, you’ll end up with wrong overtones or non at all.
It has nothing to do with the pickups yet, that is just pure physics. Each wood has its way of picking up the vibrations from the strings and transmitting it back to them and then back to the rest of the components.
The end result is what the pickups will pick from those vibrations, therefore, if the vibrations are incorrect or intersect with each other, you’ll get a shitty sounding instrument.
A good instrument is one that once you strum it, you’ll feel the vibrations going from one side all the way through to your hands and back.
What is tone wood?
Tonewood is black magic…Just kidding, It’s a name for wood that holds certain tonal qualities which make it a proper choice for use in a string instrument.
Every wood has some tonal characteristics, some are rubbish and some are pure gold for a musical instrument, but the most important and relevant thing for every piece of wood that is intended to be used for a musical instrument is the percentage of resin in it.
We won’t use wood which is not dry at least to a point of 7% resin, which if we translated into time, it’s about 4-5 years after it was cut.
Kiln dry: you can dry wood in a kiln and get it to 8-9% which is nice, but it’s not the best way, stressing the wood to dry in a period of a couple of days or even a month is not the natural way of doing it, which can cause the wood to wrap and bend in the future.
Mahogany and Sapele is not exactly the same wood, but it has almost the same characteristics and looks, very similar in color, the difference is in the grain.
Uses: Body, necks
Sound: Low overtone, punchy, good for humbucker style guitars and work better for 6 strings guitars
Color: Reddish brown (mostly)
Types: Flame, Quilt, Birdseye, Burl, Spalted
Strong, stable but not too stiff
Uses: Fretboards, Necks and tops (Quilt, Burl and Spalted maple are too soft for
Fretboards or necks and usually used only as tops for esthetic reasons.)
Sound: Bright and round
Color: off-white cream color. sometimes totally white.
Havier then Swamp ash (but not a lot)
Uses: Body (mostly 7 or more strings)
Sound: A good nice attack on the bottom end, pronounced with nice strong
mids which make it good for those extended range guitars with 7 strings or more.
Color: Ocher (although it’s called white Ash)
Gaboon Ebony/African Ebony:
Very strong and very dense wood which makes it really smooth and nice to touch
Uses: Fretboards and sometimes tops
Sound: Snappy, Very bright and more trebly than maple
Color: Black, sometimes with nice brown strips.
Very nice wood, maybe my favorite in looks, very strong and smooth.
Could be pricey most of the time and hard to get.
Uses: Tops and Fretboards
Sound: Nice rich bass and highs.
Color: Dark with black and sometimes white swirls and strips.
Google it, you’ll fall in love probably
Pale moon Ebony:
F**ing beautiful 🙂 very special
Uses: Fretboard and if I’m lucky enough, tops as well
Sound: Very resonance, similar to Gaboon Ebony but a little bit more versatile
Color: Black and white(brownish)
Very heavy and strong tends to move and wrap, I wouldn’t recommend building a whole neck from it, strips are good tho.
Uses: Fretboard and neck strips
Sound: Very resonance, nice mids
Color: Brown chocolate like
Softwood, nice grain with color variations (not really black tho)
Uses: Body and tops
Sound: Similar to Sapele with a little bit more mids.
Color: Brown, Ocher with dark strips
Hardwood, nice figure and you can have it clean or with burl
Sound: Nice mids and dark sound
Color: Dark brown
Forbidden for use since early 2017 by CITES