Knowledge of the woods used to make starter acoustic guitars is important when choosing the right instrument for the style of music you want to play. Understanding how different types of woods affect a guitar’s sound will help you make an educated purchase when shopping for your first guitar. Luthiers (craftsmen who make guitars) choose combinations of woods in order to obtain a desired tone. Different types of wood affect the weight, sound and appearance of the guitar.
Types of Guitar Top Wood
A guitar’s top wood (the front of the guitar’s body) is usually a softer wood that amplifies the sound of the guitar. Listed below are a few common types of top wood and their sound properties:
Spruce — This is a very common top wood choice, and is generally taken from the Sitka Spruce. This is a semi-hard material that amplifies the guitar’s sound and creates a well-rounded tone. It is lightweight, yet durable and provides good sustain and clarity. Yamaha nylon string guitars frequently feature a spruce top.
Cedar — This 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.
Mahogany — This wood 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 adds boost to the guitar’s the 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.
Types of Guitar Body Wood
The body wood compliments and amplifies the tones of the top wood. This is generally a denser variety of wood. Listed are a few of the most common types of woods used for starter acoustic guitar bodies:
Maple — 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.
Mahogany — When used as the body wood, mahogany accentuates the higher-end frequencies while producing a fairly even tone. The Epiphone DR100 Acoustic Guitar is a great starter guitar that uses mahogany as the body wood.
Rosewood — Two main types of rosewood are used for a guitar’s body: Brazilian and Indian. Brazilian rosewood has 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.
Types of Guitar Neck Wood
A guitar’s neck wood needs to be a durable material that resists warping. Some types body wood 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.
Maple — 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.
Nato — When used as a neck wood, nato provides a warm, smooth tone, similar to mahogany (leading to its nickname “eastern mahogany”). The Yamaha F325 Acoustic Guitar features a durable nato neck that provides a warm, full tone.
Rosewood — Brazilian Rosewood helps strengthen a guitar’s mid-range sounds and is great for clarity and articulation in tone. Indian Rosewood 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.
There are many combinations of neck, body and top woods, 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 different woods’ sound properties will help you decide which combination is best for you.