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Tone Woods

The influence of the woods used in your guitar upon its sound

The woods used in the construction of musical instruments are called tone woods. The guitar’s value and quality are strongly influenced by the manufacturer’s choice of tone woods.


The soundboard is the most vital component because it vibrates to create the guitar’s sonic personality. Soundboards in better guitars are made from solid spruce or cedar, soft woods that vibrate easily. As a solid wood soundboard is played over months, even years, it grows in beauty of tone and volume. Veneer soundboards are less resonant than solid wood and don’t break in. However, veneer is considerably stronger than solid wood and thus makes a good choice for children or outdoor use. Moreover, a quality veneer top will sound better than a poorly made solid top. Nevertheless, design and construction quality being equal, solid wood sounds better than veneer.

Back & Sides

The back and sides, constructed of hardwood, provide structural support for the soundboard and neck. They also form a resonating chamber; that is, they amplify the sounds from the strings and soundboard. Rosewood is traditionally used for backs and sides. Softer hardwoods such as nato, mahogany, walnut, koa and maple are excellent and less expensive alternatives to rosewood. Hardwood veneers are used in the back and sides of most guitars costing under £2000. Hardwood veneers have 95% of the musical properties of solid hardwood but are stronger, less prone to cracking and relatively inexpensive. Nevertheless, if you can afford it, a well designed and constructed solid wood guitar offers the ultimate tone.

Necks & Fingerboards

Necks are primarily constructed of mahogany, but other hardwoods such as maple or nato may be used. Fingerboards take a beating and thus are made from dense hardwoods such as ebony or rosewood. Ebony is preferred due to its durability and stiffness but is normally found in guitars costing over £1000. Rosewood fingerboards are the norm in mid-priced instruments, veneer or soft woods are used in fingerboards of budget guitars.

Wood Choice & Quality Influence Sound

The choice of tone woods exert a substantial influence on timbre (tone colour). Cedar soundboards take several months to break in and sound relatively dark and robust. Moreover, they are more forgiving of sloppy right-hand technique than spruce. Spruce soundboards take several years to break in and offer more clarity than cedar, but less warmth.

The density of the hardwood used in the back and sides also influences timbre. Dense hardwoods, e.g., rosewood, produce the darkest timbre. Softer hardwoods, e.g., maple, koa, walnut or mahogany, have a brighter timbre.

The combination of tone woods also influences timbre. Spruce and cedar sound boards are traditionally coupled with rosewood back and sides, yielding a balanced timbre. A spruce soundboard and soft hardwood back and sides, e.g. maple or mahogany, yields the brightest sound. A cedar top and soft hardwood back and sides, e.g. koa or walnut, yields a full-bodied voice with a touch of crispiness.

Source of article

Guitar at UHL