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Guitar Tonewoods Guide: Which Tone Wood is Best for Acoustic & Electric Guitars

Tonewoods are used to create guitars because they determine what type of tone the guitar will produce when played. Tonewoods are less important for other types of stringed instruments like violins or cellos, but not so much for guitars!

Tonewoods primarily affect three things about an instrument: how it looks, how it sounds, and how it feels.

Things to consider before Choosing Tonewoods for Acoustic Guitar:

How do you want your guitar to look?

Decide whether you want your guitar to have a bright or dark appearance to it. If you want it to be light in colour with a shine finish then Maple, Mahogany or Spruce are good choices. If you want to see little or no reflection at all then choose Rosewood, Cedar or Alder.

How do you want your guitar to feel?

For a soft and flexible tone that will give your fingers some rest when playing, choose woods such as Mahogany, Maple, Rosewood and Spruce. If you want a warm but still very firm sound that will also keep the tone of the strings clear, then choose Woods such as Cedar, Ebony or Alder.

How much do you want to spend?

The most expensive woods for guitar making are Mahogany, Rosewood, and Ebony. They can be used as both fingerboards and as tops. The next most expensive woods are Cedar, Alder, and Oak.

They can be used as fingerboards or tops depending on the kind of guitar being made. The least expensive woods are Maple and Spruce, which can only be used as fingerboards or tops depending on the kind of guitar being made.

Tone Woods for Acoustic (& Acoustic-Electric) Guitars:

1. Spruce

Spruce is a wood that almost everyone has heard but not very many people know what it is or how it can be used in raising the overall sound level of an acoustic guitar. The best way I can describe Spruce is to think of it as sounding like a better tone wood than Maple, but not quite as good as Mahogany.

Pros:

  • Spruce is easy to work with because it has a straight grain.
  • It’s also smoother than most other tone woods so it does not need any sanding when it’s being worked on.
  • Spruce will give your guitar great tone for a great price because Spruce is very inexpensive.

Cons:

  • A very limited selection of woods are available that are able to be used as tonewoods. This means that if you’re looking for something different it could be difficult to find the wood that will best fit your needs.

2. Alder

Alder is a very hardwood that is best known for being the main material in making bass guitars. Despite this most people don’t know that it can be used to make beautiful soundboards for guitars as well. The tone of Alder is great for use on guitar tops because it has a bright, crisp sound.

Pros:

  • It has a straight grain like Spruce but its not as smooth so it’s easier to work with. It’s also much less expensive than Spruce or Maple.
  • The body of your guitar will be very light (weight = half the wood weight). It will be very comfortable to hold up.

Cons:

  • It’s not as easy to work with as some other tone woods because it can be damaged by bugs easily if it’s not kept in a controlled environment. This may make the price go up more than you’d like.

3. Cedar

Cedar is a tone wood that has been used for centuries, starting with the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest, who used it for their totem poles and lodge construction. The cedar wood they use is often referred to as Western Red Cedar which are some of the most durable woods out there.

Pros:

  • It’s very light on the body of your guitar so it will be comfortable to hold up. If you want to build a guitar that is easy to hold up on stage then Cedar could be the way to go.
  • It has a straight grain like Spruce so it can be used as both fingerboards and tops. A larger selection of wood species are available than Spruce, so if you’re looking for something different than cedar could be one of the best choice for you.
  • Cedar is a very inexpensive yet beautiful sounding wood.

Cons:

  • It can be a little difficult to work with because it needs to be kept extremely dry, but if the soundboard is not kept on a constant moisture level then it may break apart.

4. Mahogany

Mahogany is the most commonly used wood among guitar builders for its sound quality and its high quality appearance. Tone wise it’s somewhere between Cedar and Spruce so it’s not as bright, but it’s still not as warm as Spruce or Cedar either.

Pros:

  • It’s very easy to work with because it has a straight grain that doesn’t have any knots in it.
  • It’s very smooth so you don’t have to sand it down very much.
  • Mahogany is a beautiful looking wood, which gives your guitar a nice look that stands out from other guitars. This can be very useful if you’re trying to get your guitar noticed by someone.

Cons:

  • It’s a little more expensive than Spruce or Alder so you’ll have to spend a little more money. If this isn’t going to be an issue for you then Mahogany is a great choice for your guitar!

5. Maple

Maple is one of the most common tone woods used in making guitars. It has a warm, full sound that everyone wants to play around with during the day. It’s not quite as full sounding as Spruce or Cedar, but it’s definitely not lacking in quality or brightness either.

Pros:

  • It’s very easy to work with because it has straight grain like Alder and Cedar (although it isn’t quite as hardy). It’s also very smooth so cleaning up your tone board will be much easier than with other wood types.
  • The full sound that maple brings will be a nice addition to your tone!

Cons:

  • It is a little more expensive than Spruce or Alder so it can add some extra money to the final price of your guitar.  If the extra money is not an issue for you then this is a great alternative to Spruce or Alder.

Conclusion:

Hopefully you found out about some of the options of tone wood so that you can make the type of guitar you want to play. Keep in mind that tone woods are just one part of deciding what sound your guitar will have, so be sure to take into consideration everything else about your guitar when you’re picking out the tone wood for it.

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