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 will 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 Tonewood?
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, 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 warp and bend in the future.
Lightweight, open pure wood with good tonal characteristics, fairly soft.
My personal body choice
Use: Body (mostly 7 strings 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.
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.
Use: Body, Necks
Sound: Low overtone, punchy, good for humbucker style guitars and work better for 6 strings guitars
Color: Reddish brown (mostly)
Softwood, nice grain with color variations (not really black though)
Use: Body and Tops
Sound: Similar to Sapele with a little bit more mids.
Color: Brown, Ocher with dark stripes
Very strong and very dense wood, which makes it really smooth and nice to touch
Use: Fretboards and sometimes Tops
Sound: Snappy, Very bright and more trebly than maple
Color: Black, sometimes with nice brown stripes.
F**ing beautiful 🙂 very special
Use: Fretboards and if I’m lucky enough, Tops as well
Sound: Very resonance, similar to Gabon Ebony but a little bit more versatile
Color: Black and white (brownish)
Very nice wood, maybe my favorite in looks, very strong and smooth.
Could be pricey and sometimes hard to get.
You will fall in love, probably
Use: Tops and Fretboards
Sound: Nice rich bass and highs.
Color: Dark with black and sometimes white swirls and strips.
Strong, stable but not too stiff
Use: Fretboards, Necks and Tops
(Quilt, Burl and Splattered 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 very white.
Softwood, full of knots and holes, very beautiful to use only as Tops, nothing else would fit it’s qualities, so the main goal is to get Tops with as many holes and shapes as possible.
Sound: Not a Tonewood per se, just a beauty
Color: White to Ochre
Beautiful wood, hard to get and not cheap, very soft which let it act as tops only, I wouldn’t risk using it in anything with a structure needs.
Sound: Not a Tonewood per se, just a beauty
Color: color moves between yellow to dark grey, so it’s better to leave it natural, or tint it with a bit of black to darken it.
Hardwood, nice figure and you can have it clean or with burl
Sound: Nice mids and dark sound
Color: Dark brown
Very heavy and strong tends to move and wrap, I wouldn’t recommend building a whole neck from it, strips are good though.
Use: Fretboards and Neck strips
Sound: Very resonance, nice mids
Color: Brown chocolate like
Very dense wood with a natural purple color, it has some musical qualities but not the best since it contains some oil in it therefor I wouldn’t use it as Body or Necks
Use: Neck stripes, Inlays, and Tops.
Sound: Takes the highs a bit down and muffles them.
Excluding Guitars, Forbidden for use since early 2017 by CITES.
Use: Fretboards and Tops
Sound: Hard and dense wood that resonant beautifully with good acoustic
characteristics. However, I don’t really like it for electric guitars that are aimed toward heavy metal playing, it generates too many highs that won’t decay nicely with distortion.
Color and grain: many variations of brown and usually straight grain.