The Wood That Make Guitars

We’re in the business of cutting down trees.  There are all kinds of reasons people call us for tree service, from removing dead wood to storm damage repair. But instead of information about how or why you may need some tree service, we thought we’d explore some of the beauty that wood provides long after it is cut.

You see, when a tree is cut down it doesn’t always signify the end of its life. The precious wood is often transformed into timeless pieces of beauty, form and function. There is no better example of this than in the guitar. Let’s take a look at some of the wood species that help guitars come alive with music.

Brazilian Rosewood on the Back of a Martin D-28

Brazillian Rosewood – This is the holy grail of acoustic guitar tone woods. Used on the back and sides of acoustics, it produces a warm, rich sound. Many of the vintage acoustics by Martin used Brazillian Rosewood. “Pre-war” Martins refer to those guitars made after the switch to steel strings – the early-mid 1920’s – but before the start of World War II, when resources were scarce. While it can still be found on guitars, legal limits placed on harvesting have these instruments very expensive, often well over $10,000.00.

East Indian Rosewood – This took the place of Brazillian when the rainforests of south America were put under too much pressure. Since it is so abundant and tonally similar to the Brazillian variety it makes a great wood for guitars. Typically, Rosewood will produce a warmer, more low end sound than other choices. It makes a great wood for guitars used for rhythm and singer-songwriter situations. Here is a great example from Huss & Dalton – a boutique guitar maker from right here in Virginia.

Mahogany
Mahogany

Mahogany – this is a fantastic tone wood and is used for many applications. On an acoustic guitar it is used primarily on the back and sides of a guitar. Mahogany produces a brighter, crisp sound. It can produce the low end needed for rhythm, but the high end can cut through other instruments making it a great choice for a string band or bluegrass.

Mahogany is also used for other parts of the guitar. Gibson, one of the world’s most recognizable guitar manufacturer, uses mahogany for guitar necks as well as the bodies for many of the electric guitars.

Maple – You’ll find some fantastic guitars featuring maple wood. Most notably, The venerable Fender Stratocaster is offered with a maple neck. The clean, light color of the maple makes a striking appearance. Though you’ll find a good split between guitarists who favor the rosewood fingerboard, many prefer the clean look and feel of the maple neck and fret board.

You’ll find many acoustic guitars with maple used as the primary tone woods. These guitars produce a sparkling, bright tone which can sound wonderful for finger style performances. It also produces some stunning finishes when the maple is quilted or in birds-eye. Quilting is a wavy pattern that can emerge in the grain. Birds-eye is another pattern in the grain that features tiny circular swirls all throughout the grain.

Sapele – Pronounced “Sah-pee-lee” or “Sah-pay-lay” This wood is from an african tree and it very closely resembles mahogany. In recent years it has become more and more popular for guitars as mahogany becomes more scarce.

 

Koa
Koa

Koa – what a beautiful wood! Hawaiian Koa can produce incredibly beautiful guitars (and ukeleles!). It is sometimes used for the body construction, but more often, it is the accent trim including rosette, headstock trim, and binding that can be made from Koa. Waverly – a company known for their high end tuners – makes tuning knobs that feature flamed loa buttons.

Sitka Spruce – this is the defacto standard for the tops of most acoustic guitars produced these days. Taylor Guitars says that near 90% of its guitars have Sitka tops. The wood has enough flexibility to produce the vibrations needed to make a guitar sound great, but it is also strong enough to withstand the tensions placed on a guitar top.

Adirondack Spruce – sometimes called “Red Spruce” this is the be-all-end-all for bluegrass pickers. Many players like that the “Addie” top will produce a bigger sound without getting muffled or thuddy. Because of the big top end and the ability for a player to drive a lot of sound, this wood is used almost exclusively on larger bodied guitars used for rhythm or for aggressive flat picking.

There are scores of other woods used on guitars. Taylor Guitars has a wood selection feature on their website that provides pictures and even more details on a variety of woods.

Most guitar manufacturers are wonderful stewards of the environment. Check out this story about how the guys at Huss & Dalton, a Virginia guitar maker, rescued some Mahogany logs from the bottom of a river, where they had been for some 100 years! Â Of course all the major manufacturers have declared a deep commitment to the environment.

Sure, we cut down trees for a living, but that doesn’t mean we don’t fully appreciate the beauty that this natural resource brings to our lives through music.