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 (not related to researcher Matthew Angove) 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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It's not quite science...

Is electric guitar wood over-hyped? No doubt. Do body materials affect the sound? In my experience --I've owned dozens of electrics and played thousands -- yes, they do. I owned (and sold) a poplar-bodied Washburn Steve Stephens because it was designed to play high gain with tight definition; changes of pickups did nothing to alter the basic sound. Mahogany-bodied guitars sound more resonant to me on the low frequencies. Maybe this is my imagination, sure. Maybe the differences are very, very subtle. But I do notice them. Wood is hardly the only factor. But in my experience it is a factor.

Scientific proof would be a marketer's dream

If a simple double blind test could show that the material used for a solid body guitar made a significant difference in its sound, the marketing departments of guitar manufacturers would be sure to use that result as a selling point. I have seen no such evidence presented in any advertising. Since a double blind test would be fairly easy to do, its likely the expected results will be disappointing for marketing and thus there is no interest for manufacturers to finance such tests.

The way I found myself to this website is because I recently purchased a used Squier Standard Telecaster and found that it was about two pounds heavier than my basswood body Squier 51. I also found that I didn't have to put toothpicks in the standard's body's screw-holes when re-attaching the pickguard - which I always have to do with the 51. The wood the standard's body is made out of is much heavier and harder than the 51's body. I googled "Squier Standard Telecaster wood" and found that it's made of agathis and, according to many if not most online forums, a cheap, poor sounding, light, and soft wood. I expect the wood a Squier is made out of to be inexpensive. I guess poor sounding is debatable but in 40 years of playing solid body guitars I haven't developed the ability to determine by the guitars sound what kind of wood it is made from (I can do pretty well discerning between round-wound and flat-wound string sound or between single coil and humbucker pickup sound though). I had to laugh at the claims that agathis is light and soft. I looked up the characteristics of agathis and found that its considered as an alternative to mahogany and has similar weight and hardness to mahogany. So, there's apparently a lot of misinformation (disinformation?) being circulated about solid body guitar body wood. Thank you for attempting to establish some scientific information on this subject.

Regarding Jimmy Page: He played a Danelectro whose body is not even made out of wood. Before I saw him playing one I always thought of Danelectros as cheap junk.

Hey Chris BC You cannot hear

Hey Chris BC

You cannot hear what kind of Wood a guitar is made of. Put your money where your mouth is. I Will bet $1000 against your Ear. I Will play 5 different guitars, i Will choose the pickups, and settings on the amplifier. If you get Them, I Will pay u. If u dont, I'll pay me. If Any of you woodbelivers Will take this bet, im in. If not- i guess tonewood doesnt matter.

A lot of it depends on the

A lot of it depends on the pickups used. Super high gain pickups will sound pretty much the same in any wood, but vintage and medium gain allow the wood tone through. The shape won't make a lot of difference, but the mass and resonance will.

Many renowned guitarists claim to be able to hear the difference in different woods

REALLY???

Sorry, but with very little empirical evidence, the author is totally unconvincing. My own 50+ years of experience with the electric guitar (as player, consultant, teacher etc) lead me to believe that this fellow has wasted time and money pursuing a flawed argument.

How many guitars tested? Which pickups used? How were the results recorded? Was this DI or amped? Was spectral analysis used? What was the control group?

So many questions. So few answers.

First, sorry for bad

First, sorry for bad english, im Serbian. When i was a kid, i had some russian copy of fender jaguar, heavy as a train, active pups that worked also normal without battery.. well, i played with it like with toy, dismantle it, wire it diferent ways... and used her pups on acoustic guitar. I learned that when i put pup anywere on acoustic guitar body,sides, back, front.. it produces some sound, weak, but nice, and diferent, depending on place where i put pup.even with a nylon strings guitar.. That means somethin, ok? For me, wood is not question.

Newton's third law.

Seems like a lot of scientific people here are forgetting one of the most simple laws of physics. Newton's third law of motion. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. When you play an electric guitar, its pretty evident that the motion and force of the strings is having an effect on the body, because you can feel it vibrating. Just like if you were to lightly tap the body, It will make the strings vibrate. It should be obvious that any frequencies in a guitar that are more active than others will be more easily excited by the strings and show up on a harmonic series sample (provided that the harmonic is the same or in a series with that frequency and vise versa). There may even be a way to measure these particular frequencies by taking an unstrung guitar and tapping it all over the place and taking samples of the harmonic series' themselves from different locations around the body. The body will affect the strings just as much as the strings affect the body. The footprint of the body will exist within the motion of those strings to be interpreted by the pickups and the succeeding electronics. I have a tendency to believe that the design of the body itself has a bit more to do with the spacing of the frequencies, and the material has to do more with how much all of the frequencies are "transposed" on the scale. How much of a difference does it actually make? I don't know, but it will be there, no matter how small. Its a law of physics. You can't escape it.

question to all

Ever you experienced a solid body electric guitar with crappy unplugged sound but superb sound through an amp. Never experienced? Now come to the point! Tone wood does matter.

I woke up with Tonewood

Seriously.
The pickup, reads movement of the strings. The note is fretted on a FRET, there is a nut, Tuners, bridge, finger, string plectrum or slide. I see people mentioning sustain. I've thought about this off and on for several years. I'm going to tell you the one place wood matters, and it is only one. It is how solidly the neck connects to the body. There is no magic earthquake coming up from under your fretboard which you shouldn't be touching with the string in the first place. Every angle that the string touches nut and bridge matters, type of string matters, type of pickup matters, your pick matters and or your slide, the thickness and type of fret and angle of the frets matter. Wood type doesn't matter unless it can't hold the bridge, nut, tuners frets, and neck still. And by the way secondary waveforms don't bounce off wood and get readded to the movement of the strings the pickups are picking up. Unless they are crappy microphonic pickups.

Wood you lie to me baby?

OK simple experiment can call bull shit on this, for me anyway. Go to your practice room mute the strings with your left turn your amp all the way up and shout at your pickups, or knock the body. Simple fact is even the best made pickups are slightly microphonic, they pickup sounds going on around them it may not be much but its enough to color tone so yeah moving pickups from one axe to the next will keep the majority of the sounds the core sounds so to speak but the overtones? That's the pickups listening to the vibrations of the body. Construction quality, neck join type and wood choice also effect sustain. A softer wood more easily absorbs energy pumped in so lower energy notes i.e high frequencies played on the thinner strings are mellowed giving a warmer sound. There's a lot of people claiming to disprove tone woods using basic wave physics out there but they are assuming a closed system ie pickups only pickup direct noise from the vibration of the strings. That just isn't true, there are variables and the devil as always is in the details. 99% isn't an exact match its near as damn it and only a few people can tel the difference in the high mids and harmonic overtones but they are there I think the problem with this argument lies in the fact that most guitar players listen to a lot of music normally quite loud it eats away at your high frequency perception so those subtle changes get lost.

Time to put the

Time to put the wood-makes-all-the-difference theory to rest. Sure, a bit of tone will be represented by the wood of the guitar, but in all seriousness an electric guitar's sound results from electronics and the strings. My point here is that if you compare the sound of a poplar strat to one made of ash you are not going to notice much difference.

Why?

Electronics. An SG made of Mahogany sounds basically the same as one made from Ash. The only real difference one might hear in which wood effects tone is in brightness. A Maple topped LP does sound much brighter than a solid mahogany LP. Maple is, by far, the most effective tone wood in an electric guitar. My example is a Rickenbacker. Most are made from all maple and rics are the brightest sounding electrics out there.

So, yea, there is a bit of difference, but pickups, wiring, pots, etc have much more to do with an electric's tone. Slap a humbucker in a strat or singlecoils on an LP and that will radically alter the tone much more than wood.

Think about the alternatives to wood on an electric. (think Graphite or Arium) http://www.aristidesinstruments.com/ these amazing axes are made from a compound called arium which is highly resonate and exceptionally lightweight, yet they sound distinctly like an LP or a Strat based on design and electronics only.

The notion that wood effects the tone of an electric is as outdated as Imperialist dogma.

try it without plugging it in

I have played thousands of guitars, and the first thing I do when trying out an electric is check out the unamplified sound. I take the condition of the strings into account, and then just run my fingernail over them.
Where is the sound coming from? Touch the body while the strings are ringing. Repeat. Repeat and pick the guitar off the rack. How does it change? Sit down with it and play (if you can, take it into the acoustic room - they love that).
Is it deep, zingy? Dead? Sustain?
Of course, if you're just going to jam active pickups under the strings and wire up an 18 volt circuit, it's going to sound compressed, slightly overdriven, and fairly flat, with plenty of sustain.
Let the guitar tell you what it should sound like (it has sustain, plenty of bass, but could be a touch brighter, etc), and try the same model if another is available. The cooler-looking one could be a dog. And don't let price sway you - I've played $100 el cheapo guitars that had magic, and $5000 boutique pieces that were thoroughly unremarkable tone-wise. If you don't trust your own ears, bring a pro (or as close to one as you can bribe with a 6-pack).
Most players are vain, so they jump at the opportunity to show off.
Listen to how it sounds when they play - do they start getting into it? You?
Literally hundreds of factors shape the guitar's tone - including finish type and thickness (the finest tonewoods can be choked by a polyester shell) and how much of your arm is on the body at any given time.
You owe it to yourself to experiment, but don't ignore inspiration. If you really like playing it, you will probably sound good on it (at least as good as you can).

This test isn't specific enough.

One... I'm not hearing it, seeing it, or believing it. Besides most of the time it's not about the body. It's about the neck. The body helps with the weight, comfort, feels and durability. The neck is what is pulling the strings and making them ring. It might not effect the acoustics but it effects the length of a note and the depth of the vibration. It's about frequencies. I love vintage Strats because they feel amazing. Something about a vintage Strat makes me happy. The body has something to do with that. the way it wears down, the way it absorbs heat and the smell (it might sound weird), it just puts me in a zone/zen. I can't be sad when holding an old '67 Strat. However Yamahas silent guitar and Gibsons heavy lacquered guitars and all of these guitars, they lack somewhere. The wood matters. It makes the feel of a guitar.

Electric Guitar Tonewoods

I have been vastly entertained by several of Scott Grove's videos. Certainly enough for me to determine that he knows a LOT less than he thinks he does. I've been playing, repairing and making guitars for about twice as he has been alive, and have played music with clean tones for over 50 years, while he appears to play totally distorted music, which makes it difficult to compare tonal difference, as the music he plays is not primarily from the wood but rather from heavily saturated tube distortion along with several electronic stomp boxes, almost always with solid body guitars. He said in one of his videos "How stupid that they make archtop guitars" obviously having no knowledge of any other genre besides Rock!
A very simple way to understand something like the tone wood question is to exaggerate it. If we were to make a solid body guitar out of Balsa wood, and another out of hard Rock Maple, we can easily see without trying them that the maple guitar would have an enormous amount more sustain and tonal color, while the Balsa guitar would basically produce a very muffled and short duration monotone sound. So, although the differences of most tonewoods are not as intense as the Balsa/Maple comparison, the different woods DEFINITELY have influence on the sound of a solid body (and much more on an acoustic) guitar. Kind of difficult to argue when it's presented in this fashion?
Another thing is that I can hear almost any guitar and easily tell whether it's got Nitro/Lacquer or a thick Urethane finish found on cheaper guitars.

I can still hear a

I can still hear a difference between tonal woods, to me the wood in a electric guitar isn't as big as a deal in a acoustic guitar, most the tone and sound comes from the wood in a acoustic, and many people forget, the guitar amp is part of the instrument of the electric guitar- it doesn't just make the guitar louder, most of the tone is actually from the amp and the pickups, but i bet if you really tried with recording the electric guitar with NO amp at all basically straight into an audio interface, you probably could hear a difference between different woods, i can still tell a difference between a sweet les paul made of mahogany and shredding a Ibanez made of basswood by ear and both have the same EMG pickups, and you cannot get the same results from a microphone as the human ear or even tell the difference in guitar tone by looking at the wavelengths, it doesn't work, just take a big survey with experienced guitarist would be my way of doing it. there is not much of a scientific way of saying that guitar tones are the same just by looking at little wavelengths on a screen, sound is much more complex then that. here's a quick experiment, get a new 2014 Gibson les paul and put EMGs in it, and get a guitar off ebay for $40 and Put the same EMGs in it, plug it straight into a PA speaker or audio interface, even use the same guitar pick, and actually listen to the guitar and see which sounds better, simple?

Hi I disagree with Matthew.

Hi

I disagree with Matthew. I have three identical strats here and they have the same hardware, pickups, strings and electronics. I built them. They all sound distinctly different. Yes, the sound is similar depending on pickup placement. But the tone, frequency response, sustain and overall character of individual vary. For example, on my green strat, I get a brighter and cleaner response than I get from my sunburst strat. The low E string is flabby and has less character than the higher strings - despite being equipped with the same hardware, strings and pickups.

I don't know whether the shape would make a huge difference, but wood density and other factors does effect the sound. How? I don't know. I guess it's how air bubbles trapped in the wood direct the vibrations. But I don't really care why as long as I find guitars where I like the sound. I also have Ibanez and custom made guitars made from mahogany. They have all had the same DiMarzio pickups in them and, again, they all sounded different. Even my RG550BK and RG550WH sounded different. The one that weighed more had less treble and whopping bass compared the the lighter one that had a more even sound. I did't imagine this. If you can't hear the differences, perhaps you are tone deaf and should give up music (no offence).

If the wood is part of the

If the wood is part of the structure, how can it not affect the tone? You can feel the vibration of the strings in the guitar body, therefore, wouldn't the wood affect the vibration? If the foundation material affects vibrations in every other structure, why doesn't if affect the guitar?

I agree completely. The type

I agree completely. The type of wood used would affect the sound/tone of the electric guitar. The more precise question to ask oneself or test is how noticeable/audible would the sounds differ? You also have to keep in mind the electric guitar sound/tone can be altered by so many factors such as brand, type and placement of pickups, strings, tone pots, peddles, cords, amps...on and on...
I firmly believe different woods can elicit different sounds. It's just to what degree of difference is detected by each individual human ear? Some humans can distinguish the slightest differences in sounds, as others cannot.You be the judge! After all we are all different!

The fact that you pointed me

The fact that you pointed me to a Scott Grove video really puts me off. The man has threatened to kill people who don't agree with him.

I'm not saying he is nice...

But he does have a point (to some extent), which coincidentally agrees with the research. His character is not the one being discussed in the article.

Tone Wood

I've been hearing the 'whole what your guitar is made of shapes your tone' thing for a long time. I know it's not true. It's the 'Nut', the 'Fret's, the 'Saddles' and your pickups that create the sound and tone of your guitar. People will sit and argue with me and I just tell them...believe what you want...I hope that someday you find the truth.

But here is a question... On semi-hollow guitars, does the pickups matter? What I mean is...if you have a non-potted pickup like a Seth Lover, does it pickup a little of the cavity of the body? I know that they have a board that goes down the middle...just wondering. Let's say it's a thin bodied guitar that completely hollow...like the Casino? The non-potted pickups act a little like a microphone...so, I'm just wondering. I would think it does. I welcome a correction if not.

Thanks

Experiment

I much preferred an experiment done in Europe by guitaer marker's son. He used identically sized slabs of different wood species with a simple, transferrable single string, HW & PU as the sound source. He not only captured the results in an FFT but recorded them. The difference was audible to the human easrs and the FFT as well to anyone who can read one. See Stranberg workshop for the info.

The Emperor's New Clothes

I have been building guitars for over 40 years and just like my friend Robert Benedetto the world famous archtop guitar builder I know for a fact wood makes a very insignificant difference in the sound of a guitar. As far as acoustic guitars I know it is construction method that creates great tone and with electric guitars that is true compounded by the quality of the electronics. Case and point is the Gittler guitar ( http://gittlerinstruments.com/gittler-guitar ) I had the opportunity to play at Summer NAMM a couple of years ago has an incredible tone/sound and has literally no wood.

In our business we always give the customer what they want but I always have a little chuckle when a customer request a certain wood because of tone. The days of me trying to educate the guitar world are over, but its kind of like the old fable of "The Emperor's New Clothes." Let people believe what makes them happy ,,, I just build what they want.

wooden electric guitar bodies

Does the type of TIMBER (not RE) and the shape of the guitar make a difference to the sound of the instrument?

YES

Here is why.

I am not a good guitar player, in fact I am 'pants' but I am a MASTER Carpenter and I know how wood works, stresses strains, density etc.

1st

Trees are a natural living things, as we are, and as we are all different so are trees. Even trees of the same species are drastically different.
Have a look at conifer plantation.

The wild forest would be cut down. These trees would have grown naturally for hundreds of years spacing themselves at a certain distance apart to grow big and strong.

They would grow slowly as they have the space around them to spread their canopy out in the forest thus when cut down the annular rings will be very close together and the wood will be dense and heavy.

Once the forest floor has been cleared then the foresters will replant with the same species a lot closer together. This will give them more wood per acre.

The trees will then have very little space to grow sideways so they must fight to get the most light to grow strong and in doing so will shoot up at a fast rate. This will mean that the annular rings will be wider apart and the timber will be a lot lighter than its wild cousin.

Same timber, different weight.

Any timber that has knots or faults in it alter the strength and density of it. live knots or dead knots make a big difference.

2.
lets try a trearetical experement.

Get a piece a balsa wood, 1sq foot and a piece of rosewood same size

get two 3"nails and a drill the same diameter as the nails.
get two guitar strings.

Drill one hole in the rosewood 3/8" deep and one hole in the balsawood 3/8" deep.

now place the nail in the hole, this might need some force.

connect a wire to the top of one nail on the rosewood and the other end to a set of scales ( the type found in fishing shops)

pull the scales to a certain tention e.g. 3lbs
Does the nail move in the wood?

NO

Then connect the wire to the other nail and pull the wire to the same tention.
Does the nail move in the Balsawood?

YES

Can you see now that if you had a guitar body made of balsa and tuned to the same note as a rosewood guitar then the action would be more sloppy than that of the rosewood guitar. This would give you less sustain but allow you to bend the notes better. The soft material will also absorb more sound waves (electro magnetic radiation) than the harder material which will reflect the sound waves, which the pick up will react to, thus making a different sound.

3
Guitar shape

everyone is a different shape and size and will hold the guitar differently.
Take for example Sid Vicous of the Sex Pistols and Bill Wyman of the Rolling stones.
Though they had different guitars they both held them in a different way and would get a different sound from them as they are striking the instrument at a different angle and from a different position.

Remember that these differences could be so slight that you might not notice it. I wouldn't, I have tinitus.
Have fun
David

One last thing.

If you don't get on with your mother-in-law then wire your guitar strings up to the mains, show her Hendrix at Woodstock and bet her she can't play it with her teeth.

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