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Best Acoustic Guitar Wood Types

January 12, 2021  
Posted by Sam Ash Music
Best Acoustic Guitar Wood Types

Since different types of acoustic guitars use different wood types, it's important to understand how each wood affects sound, tone, weight, density and appearance so you can make an educated guitar purchase. As you get more experienced, you’ll naturally begin to pick up on the variations each wood provides, but for now, you can learn more about every nuance and subtlety in our guide. We'll discuss Body - The body wood compliments and amplifies the tones of the top wood. This is generally a denser variety of wood. We'll look at Tops - A guitar’s top wood (the front of the guitar’s body) is usually a softer wood that amplifies the sound of the guitar. And we'll talk Necks - A guitar’s neck wood needs to be a durable material that resists warping. Some body wood types are also used for the neck, but usually you will find combinations of three different types of wood to tailor the guitar for a specific tone.

Taylor Guitars Sitka Spruce

Sitka Spruce

Sitka Spruce comes from Alaska and is used as the top or "soundboard" for the vast majority of acoustic guitars being built today. It is considered to be a strong, even textured, and straight grained wood. It has the highest strength to weight ratio of any wood that is available, and is very tough to the point that it tends to resist minor dings and scratches. There are other types of spruce that are used for the soundboards of acoustic guitars. However, Sitka spruce has a more mellow tone. It is light, strong and flexible. The perfect qualities for the soundboard of an acoustic guitar.

This is a semi-hard material that amplifies the guitar’s sound and creates a well-rounded tone. It's lightweight, durable, and provides great sustain and clarity. Yamaha nylon string guitars frequently feature a spruce top.

Big Leaf Maple courtesy of Taylor Guitars

Maple

Maple is sometimes used to make the back and sides of an acoustic guitar. It grows throughout most of North America, and produces slightly less bass response than either Mahogany or Rosewood (the other two most popular tone woods that are used to make the back and sides of an acoustic guitar). The properties of Mahogany and Rosewood will be discussed below. However, they must be briefly mentioned here in order to discuss the sound properties of Maple. Maple produces slightly less bass response and volume than either Mahogany or Rosewood, but it adds a greater punch and bite to the notes produced from the guitar. It is considered a bright sounding wood and will cut through, especially in a band setting. Maple is a strong, heavy and dense wood, which is the reason is produces it's brighter sound. The grain pattern of Maple is often figured, and can be found quilted, with "bird's eye" or other patterns that make it very visually stunning when finished.

Top and Body

Maple strongly emphasizes the tonal characteristics of the top wood used while adding little sound coloration from the rest of the body. The dry tone of maple can sometimes emphasize the upper end of the tonal spectrum.

Neck

Maple is one of the most common neck woods used today. It is a durable material that can withstand warping better than most other hard woods. Maple necks generally amplify the tone of the body wood as opposed to adding their own tonal qualities.

Tropical Mahogany courtesy of Taylor Guitars

Mahogany

Mahogany is also very often used to make the back and sides of an acoustic guitar, and is sometimes used to make the top as well. It can be found growing from the southern portion of Mexico down to Columbia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru and Brazil. It is more porous and less dense than Maple and varies in color from light to a dark reddish brown. Due to these properties, Mahogany produces a great clarity of tone and tends to feature more of the midrange of the sound frequencies than either Maple or Rosewood. For these reasons, Mahogany is often preferred by guitarists for playing lead lines and solos. However the properties of Mahogany, with it's clarity of tone and midrange frequency response tends to result in a loss of bass response. Mahogany, like Maple, can sometimes be found to be highly figured, but this is a very rare occurrence.

Body

Mahogany It accentuates the higher-end frequencies as a body wood while producing a fairly even tone. The Epiphone DR100 Acoustic Guitar is a great starter guitar that uses mahogany as the body wood.

Top

Mahogany is usually reserved for the body and sides of an acoustic guitar, but it can on occasion be used as the top wood as well. A mahogany top boosts the guitar’s mid-range tones and reduces the “booming” that is sometimes heard in dreadnought-style guitars. Mahogany produces strong, solid sounds for country and blues musicians.

Indian Rosewood courtesy of Taylor Guitars

Rosewood

Rosewood can mainly be found growing in Brazil and India. In addition to being used to make the back and sides of an acoustic guitar, it is very often used to make the fingerboard as well. Due to it being over used and exploited, Brazilian Rosewood has become very scarce and has become protected by laws and international treaties. It is difficult to get and is not used today as much as it had been before for these reasons. In fact, an embargo was placed on it's importation into the United States in the late 1960's. Due to this, wood that had been determined to have been unusable prior to the embargo is now considered to be of a high grade quality. Brazilian Rosewood's balance, clarity of tone and quick response produces a rich, full, warm tone due to it's porosity and density.

It's slightly harder than today's more commonly used Indian Rosewood, but it is approximately the same density and weight as Indian Rosewood. The use of Brazilian Rosewood can add considerably to the price of an acoustic guitar due to it's scarcity. The color of Brazilian Rosewood can run from a deep reddish to a dark chocolate brown and provides an attractive grain pattern. Indian Rosewood, on the other hand, can be found growing through the entire Indian sub-continent. It has color variations from a golden brown to a dark purplish brown, with darker streaking in the grain pattern. This not only gives it an attractive look, but also a grain pattern that is narrowly interlocked. Rosewood, due to it's properties produces a very warm tone favoring the bass end of the frequency spectrum. Because of this, it is preferred for rhythm playing and is the choice of may Bluegrass and Country Music players. Due to the above mentioned embargo of Brazilian Rosewood, Indian Rosewood has become the tone wood of choice for the majority of the manufacturers' top level, high end guitars.

Body

Brazilian rosewood provides excellent clarity that results in strong high and low tones. Indian rosewood is virtually identical tonally, but is more likely to be used on a starter acoustic guitar because of its low cost.

Neck

Rosewood, specifically Brazilian rosewood, helps strengthen a guitar’s mid-range sound and is great for clarity and tone articulation. There’s also Indian rosewood, which is one of the most popular fingerboard woods because of its ability to sustain notes. Indian rosewood is occasionally used as the full neck wood of an acoustic guitar.

2 Bonus Woods

Cedar

As a top wood, you may find Cedar as an option. Cedar is a soft wood that emphasizes the sparkle of a guitar’s upper registers. It is an ideal top wood for classical or finger-style acoustic guitars and is best when used in smaller style bodies. Red cedar is commonly used for classical guitars because of its warm, mellow tone.

Nato

You may also see Nato pop up. It can often be utilized as a neck wood. Nato provides a warm, smooth tone that’s very similar to mahogany. The Yamaha F325D Acoustic Guitar features a durable nato neck that provides a warm, full tone.

Conclusion

There are many combinations of neck, body and top guitar wood types, and each will produce a different sound. If you have a style of music you’re most interested in playing, it’s best to test guitars made with different wood combinations to hear how they work together. For your starter acoustic guitar, having an understanding of the different sound properties each wood provides will help you decide which combination is best for you.

Categories: Expert Advice
Tags: Guitar

About the Author

Sam Ash Music

Sam Ash Music has been serving musicians since 1924 when they opened their first store in Brooklyn, NY. Still family owned and operated, Sam Ash Music is dedicated to preserving the goals set by their founder - offering musicians of all levels the best possible selection, service and price.