Tone Wood for Electric Guitars

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Edward Rodriguez
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Tone Wood for Electric Guitars

Post by Edward Rodriguez »

Lately I've found myself falling down the You Tube rabbit hole on this. Will's Easy a guitar has some pretty compelling videos supporting his claim that the species of wood plays no role in tone. It's the density of the wood that plays a role, but mostly it's the nut and bridge that influence it more. What do you guys think? There's a lot of strong opinions out there.

Jason Rodgers
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Re: Tone Wood for Electric Guitars

Post by Jason Rodgers »

Dude, ssshhhhhhhh! (Looking over shoulder... :? ) This whole racket is BUILT on people believing in "tonewood." You're gonna ruin it for everyone!

;) :lol:

When you look at what folks are doing with wood selection, body design, and components, and STILL making amazing instruments that people want to play, it's easy to understand that it's not all about a couple recipes written by Leo and Les. Mind you, following those recipes can give you more predictable results, and perhaps results that a wider audience will appreciate/recognize, but it doesn't have to stop there. It all depends on your goals.

You still need a solid neck, solid string termination points, quality electronics, and maybe consideration of comfortable body contact points, but everything else is only limited by your imagination. On the far end of the spectrum from the tried-and-true recipes, take a look at some of the work by Rick Toone (mind :shock: blown). http://www.ricktoone.com/2015/02/old-gr ... uitar.html

But you don't have to go that far to see that great instruments can be built with non-typical tonewoods. Spend some time looking through the library and archives here, especially looking at some of the instruments coming out of the Challenges. Folks have been very resourceful and creative with their materials. It can still look like a Strat or LP, if that's your taste, but it doesn't have to be limited by "tradition."
-Ruining perfectly good wood, one day at a time.

Edward Rodriguez
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Re: Tone Wood for Electric Guitars

Post by Edward Rodriguez »

Here's the video from Will. He constructed 3 "guitars" out of different "tone woods" and swapped out the same guts for each: https://youtu.be/svmOQuNC1Uw

This guy cracks me up. Made a Strat body out of a kitchen counter top and swapped out parts from a Squier for his comparison: https://youtu.be/1mH5hwLkxCI

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Dan Hehnke
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Re: Tone Wood for Electric Guitars

Post by Dan Hehnke »

I'm still working my way through the first video you posted, and I'm going to watch the whole thing just to make sure I see all that he's saying.

An interesting point I see is around minute 18 when he starts talking about timbre.

The flaw I see is that he is making the assumption that the endpoints where the strings connect are totally fixed. That is of course not true at all. The endpoints are vibrating each in their own way, depending on characteristics of the material that is in compression or tension between them. Each material propagates, absorbs, etc. different frequencies in different ways.

Ok, now to watch the rest....

D

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Dan Hehnke
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Re: Tone Wood for Electric Guitars

Post by Dan Hehnke »

Just another thing I noticed.. He says at about 34:40

"The type of material that the string is made out of changes the tone."

Think of the whole guitar as a string suspended between the nut and the bridge. Why wouldn't the properties of this string change the tone?

He also says earlier that the type of wood in the body effects how fast the frequency decays. But he completely oversimplifies, and forgets to remember that there is the fundamental, plus every multiple of it happening in the string, and that the wood may cause certain overtones to decay faster than others. It is the overtones after all that make the "tone", and make it sound interesting.

As you can see, I completely disagree with his thesis so far, based both on physics, and experience :D

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Dan Hehnke
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Re: Tone Wood for Electric Guitars

Post by Dan Hehnke »

Ha! I'm sorry but I'm still trying to make it through the video, and he is making less sense every second!

At 38:40 he draws a wave with more of the complexity of a real wave, and then even draws one that's shaped like Mickey Mouse, and goes on to say "It doesn't matter what the shape is, they are still gonna be expressed the same way, and behave the same way".

And he's trying to talk physics? The pickup senses the shape of the wave in the string...that's it's job! A Mickey Mouse shaped wave would absolutely sound different than a sine wave...

Sorry, but I can't help it once I got sucked in, haha.

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Dan Smith
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Re: Tone Wood for Electric Guitars

Post by Dan Smith »

Tone wood for an electric?
I reckon you could hear some tone variations between different materials if you did not plug it into an amp.
I do believe sustain can be improved using a dense material under the bridge.
Ever-body was kung fu fight-in,
Them kids was fast as light-nin.

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Dan Hehnke
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Re: Tone Wood for Electric Guitars

Post by Dan Hehnke »

I felt justified enough in responding to this, that I posted a comment on Will's youtube video, something I rarely do. See my post there under my name.

Besides the physics, I have built enough electric guitars to know that absolutely you hear differences between guitars built with different materials (woods in my case). Especially when plugged into a fairly transparent amp, for example a deluxe reverb style amp I built, or a tweed deluxe that I built.

For a while, I thought that this one particular neck pickup I had was just magical....it sounded so good through pretty much any amp I played it through. Then a few years later I finally put this pickup in a different guitar. Pretty much the same hardware, same gauge strings, same pots and capacitor value, things like that, but totally different body and neck woods, and different guitar. It then sounded just "OK", and was nothing like in the other guitar.

It was not a subtle difference in this case, though I know it usually is...

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Randolph Rhett
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Re: Tone Wood for Electric Guitars

Post by Randolph Rhett »

I saw the second video and was quite surprised to see the results. Then I heard his conclusions. My response: "what?"

In the second video his conclusion is that the waveforms show no significant variation. I watched the video believing that wood made little difference in a solid electric guitar, but he has convinced me to the contrary. To my eye there are clear and consistent differences between the waveforms. The purple one seems to have more in the lower frequencies. It's a "rounder" curve. The difference is relatively slight, but there. I suspect you could see similar differences in the higher frequencies if the scale were drawn out to show them better.

Our ears are very sensitive, and I can completely understand how a slight difference in frequency response is interpreted as different "tone". I have to say, I'm surprised to see a noticeable difference, and even more surprised by his conclusion.

Am I alone in this? If anything he convinced a skeptic that perhaps wood choices do matter for a solid body electric guitar.

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Re: Tone Wood for Electric Guitars

Post by Edward Rodriguez »

Randolph Rhett wrote:I saw the second video and was quite surprised to see the results. Then I heard his conclusions. My response: "what?"

In the second video his conclusion is that the waveforms show no significant variation. I watched the video believing that wood made little difference in a solid electric guitar, but he has convinced me to the contrary. To my eye there are clear and consistent differences between the waveforms. The purple one seems to have more in the lower frequencies. It's a "rounder" curve. The difference is relatively slight, but there. I suspect you could see similar differences in the higher frequencies if the scale were drawn out to show them better.

Our ears are very sensitive, and I can completely understand how a slight difference in frequency response is interpreted as different "tone". I have to say, I'm surprised to see a noticeable difference, and even more surprised by his conclusion.

Am I alone in this? If anything he convinced a skeptic that perhaps wood choices do matter for a solid body electric guitar.
This debate has got me thinking that perhaps species of wood does not matter, but the density of it factors in as much as any other component in the system. I had posted this question in two other forums (Les Paul and Telecaster) and am surprised that this is the one that was most open to even consider it.

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Dan Smith
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Re: Tone Wood for Electric Guitars

Post by Dan Smith »

Contrary to what Fender advertises as the sound nuances of their different tone woods, i think they chose material based on availability, cost, and how easy it was to cover in plastic.
I seriously doubt that Swamp Ash has some miracle sound qualities.
But, I guess if a fellow were to make a custom Fender copy to sell, the materials should be traditional.
I'm not 100% convinced either way on this topic, but the video was convincing.
Ever-body was kung fu fight-in,
Them kids was fast as light-nin.

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Dave Weir
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Re: Tone Wood for Electric Guitars

Post by Dave Weir »

In the last couple years I've built about 50 guitars, all pretty much identical except I've used a few different pickups, and many kinds of wood for the neck and body. The design is very simple, with a minimum of parts.

If any two were brought back to me, and played through the same amplifier, I am fairly certain I could not tell you what wood they were made of. If the same test were done with one of my guitars and something from another maker, I'm pretty sure I would know which one I had made.

I usually tell my customers to pick the neck wood based on the look and the feel, and the body wood based on the look and the weight.
In general, the heavier bodies like Walnut and Sapele sustain a little more, and the lighter bodies like ash or alder sound a little brighter, The stiffer necks seem to be a little brighter, but in general the stiffer necks, like Ipe, are heavier, and they have a little richer sound.

One of the key factors for me is certainly availability. If it's not available, I don't buy it. Other than that, I'll try most anything. My preference is for very hard wood for the neck (no separate fretboard), and body wood that will bring the whole guitar in between 7 and 9 pounds. Lately I take my bathroom scale and calculator to the lumber yard.

I have to admit I do try to play up the positive aspects of different timber. The lush sustain of Walnut, the pop of Ash, the richness of Ipe. It's a bit marketing and bit of just trying to be helpful.

For bodies I have used
Meranti
Mahogany
Ash
Alder
Sapele
Walnut

For necks
Ipe
Merbau
Kayu Kuku
Lyptus
Maple
Wenge
Locust
Sapele
Goncalo Alves
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Dan Hehnke
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Re: Tone Wood for Electric Guitars

Post by Dan Hehnke »

Dan Smith wrote:Contrary to what Fender advertises as the sound nuances of their different tone woods, i think they chose material based on availability, cost, and how easy it was to cover in plastic.
I seriously doubt that Swamp Ash has some miracle sound qualities.
But, I guess if a fellow were to make a custom Fender copy to sell, the materials should be traditional.
I'm not 100% convinced either way on this topic, but the video was convincing.
Definitely true about how Fender and most big companies do things. But they also did chose wood, and at least covered that in plastic, instead of just making a body out of plastic. Wood in general turns out to be a good material for an electric guitar. And no, swamp ash doesn't have any miracle sound qualities, nor does any other wood, but it does have different sound qualities than alder, maple, mahogany, or even another piece of swamp ash. Two of the factors that go into this are the wood's density, and it's bulk modulus, which is basically a measure of it's compressibility. These two things cause it to act like a spring and a damper, or like a filter system in electronics. Different frequencies get damped or reflected in different amounts. Since there are so many harmonics besides the fundamental note going on in a string, some of them get damped more than others, depending on the properties and dimensions of the material they are attached to. The result is a unique envelope and spectrum to the waves in the string, which the pickups have to sense.

It will definitely be subtle, and the truth is most woods are close enough in properties that most people won't hear a large difference, but I've definitely played with wood combos that act and sound totally different than others. The guitars I love are the ones where you can really feel the body vibrating as you play, and where they seem to pulse, you can tell the vibrations are moving around the thing in really complex ways.

I've also found that by chambering and tuning the weight to around that 7-9 lbs. mark that Dave mentioned usually results in a pretty well balanced electric guitar sound.

Eric Baack
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Re: Tone Wood for Electric Guitars

Post by Eric Baack »

I too love a guitar that you can feel the notes reverberate through the entire instrument.

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Re: Tone Wood for Electric Guitars

Post by Edward Rodriguez »

Eric Baack wrote:I too love a guitar that you can feel the notes reverberate through the entire instrument.
One of the things that is fueling my desire to build electric guitars is that feeling. A couple of my favorite memories of playing shows is when the neck of my Les Paul reacted to my hitting a chord a certain way that caused me to think it had splinted. It was as if all the molecules had briefly separated. :lol:

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Dan Smith
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Re: Tone Wood for Electric Guitars

Post by Dan Smith »

I know that feeling:
I made an explorer out of very resonant Chinaberry.
Most of the body is 1" thick.
When I play it, it really vibrates the leg.
It seems to sustain forever which seems odd.
Ever-body was kung fu fight-in,
Them kids was fast as light-nin.

Eric Baack
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Re: Tone Wood for Electric Guitars

Post by Eric Baack »

The baritone explorer did that for me.

Art Davila
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Re: Tone Wood for Electric Guitars

Post by Art Davila »

I believe that the different species make a difference.
I have my own experience putting together parts casters over the years swapping out loaded pick guards with the same neck ( all my necks use threaded inserts and machine screws, so I can even torq them up the same, but I will be honest I never did think before to torq them I just made them tight.
Having used alder and ash bodies as well as mahogany, and the same loaded pick guard, I was able to show customers the difference in tone.
Now I just have them look at this video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OLxE8iDWD_w

The problem with science, is we don't know what we don't yet know.
So maybe in 10 years somebody will be working on an algorithm to make subs even more silent to sonar,
and some luthier will take that algorithm and prove that tone woods (or rather the different characteristics ie porosity elasticity vs rigidity instead of just density.) which may turn the belief back toward the "tone wood does make a difference" way of thinking.

When science tells me one thing and my ears tell me something else I tend to believe my ears.
Scientist argue over theories all the time.
What happens when "Bill with the Phd" tells you he is right, and Ted with the Phd tells you Bill is wrong?
Global Warming? Remember when in science class they taught you Pluto was a planet? The science guys get it wrong sometimes just like everybody else.
I have a lot of experience on how "not" to do things.

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Dan Hehnke
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Re: Tone Wood for Electric Guitars

Post by Dan Hehnke »

I hate to be blunt but:

Science is the reason we DO know things, and don't speculate on them.

And we don't need an "algorithm" to know that every different material will react different to complex things like frequencies, damping, and all kinds of other complex parameters that govern vibrations. It's well within simple physics that exists now. My question is, how could different woods POSSIBLY result in a same sounding instrument, electric or not.

I know I am falling into this common trap;

https://xkcd.com/386/

But, as the weird dude who made those videos said, you can't argue with physics. Unfortunately, he ignored most of the physics he wanted to teach.

Art Davila
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Re: Tone Wood for Electric Guitars

Post by Art Davila »

I do not refute what we now believe is science fact, I just hold an open mind that maybe we don't know it all. And if we don't know it all then the math that the guy was using maybe improperly applied. I was a sound man and went to school in chicago At Columbia college (not the University) and we had algorithms to calculate the reflectance of a room based on the materials in the room and its size and even the shape, The better we could input the data the more reliable it was but if we didn't know the reflectance value of a certain material we made an educated guess. So my point is the math may work, but there maybe a missing variable or the math may just be faulty. I do hear a difference in the different body woods, with the same loaded pickguard and neck strings and bridge.
I have a lot of experience on how "not" to do things.

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