Electric Guitar Wood Myth Busted?
After two months of testing, a La Trobe University researcher finds that electric guitar sound is unaffected by the body of the instrument.
Matthew Angove, a La Trobe University Bachelor of Science honours student, conducted the research by trying out electrics of various shapes and builds.
Being in the field of musical acoustics, Matthew found it unsatisfactory that very little research is done in the field of electric guitar. Compared to classical guitar musicians who tend to tinker with their instruments, it seems that most of the electric guitar research is done by manufacturers.
Guitarists are familiar with the various tonewoods and shapes that are used on electric guitars. Manufacturers and guitar players suggest that using a particular shape, or a specific wood material - be it alder, poplar, ash, basswood etc - will produce significant and specific tone variations.
Matthew was quoted saying: "I’m a player myself and I grew up believing the hype around different sounds and tones that can be created by using different woods such as mahogany or maple. I’m now testing that assumption."
According to Matthew, the idea behind the research is that the "common" knowledge being spread by companies that market guitars go against the physics of how the electric guitar works. He wanted to find out why manufacturers and sellers are charging more for guitars made of "rare" woods. He wants to determine if material used and body shape affects the electric guitar's amplified tone and he wants to find out why and how it affects it.
The test was straightforward, Angove placed identical strings and pickups in guitars of varying shapes and sizes and he then compared the resulting audio signals. A local music shop called J's Music City lent him several guitars and a number of pickups. He recorded every note individually on each guitar with the pickups carefully placed in exactly the same spot with the same distance beneath the strings. Matthew then listened to the recordings and looked at the harmonic content of each note, comparing each guitar shape and material against each other.
Quoting Mr. Angove's verdict: "I've only been looking at the results for two weeks and it really looks like all of them are pretty much identical. I was surprised at just how identical they were because the guitars were very different in shape. As I was listening to them, I showed other guitar players and they were surprised as well, they were convinced they all came from the same guitar … I'm beginning to think we should be making guitars out of something more rigid than wood, such as carbon fibre."
This research validates the opinion that the string setup, pickup type and pickup placement is what causes the various tonal differences that we hear between electric guitar models and brands. This reminds me of a video by Scott Grove that claims the same thing: the pickups, string vibrations and your guitar's bridge and saddles are the parts that really matter.
Check out Scott Grove's video: "Does Wood Type, Finish, Mass Matter On Electric Guitar", right here:
The research is still not complete, but the data, according to Mr. Angove, is pointing to the idea that there is simply no significant difference. The research is expected to be completed by the end of the year, and more data will be available by then.
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There's no denying that pickups play a major role when it comes to electric guitar tone. By simply replacing your pickups, you can substantially change your tone for the better.