Bodywood, Neckwood, Fretboard wood, and others - how much do they really matter? - Jemsite
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post #1 of 12 (permalink) Old 01-29-2005, 01:54 AM Thread Starter
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Bodywood, Neckwood, Fretboard wood, and others - how much do they really matter?

This has been a question i've been thinking about for a LONG time. People say that basswood n alder have decidedly different tone n all that, but I just can't understand how it can affect electric guitar this much. Before I started playing the guitar, I honestly thought it was made out of plastic...In any case, the magnetic pickups in electric guitar is really the only part producing the sound/sound signal. So why would the wood matter in the first place? (I know it matters, but how much?) When speaking of this topic, I'm largely refering to the tone. I can understand why it would affect the sustain. If someone can answer me, it'd really help me understand the instrument better.

actually, as i was writing that, a 2nd question popped in my head. You know how even magnetic pickups are somewhat 'microphonic'? How is that possible? a magetic pickups works pretty differently from a how does the microphonic phenomenon occure?

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post #2 of 12 (permalink) Old 01-29-2005, 10:49 AM
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Re: Bodywood, Neckwood, Fretboard wood, and others - how much do they really matter?

Hey, i'v always wondered the same thing but i think the wood matters SOME in my opinion (then again noones ever told me exactly why the wood is so important and if it really matters that much) but i wood would really matter in some cases. The wood may reverberate and help promote sustain instead of plastic where it wouldnt i suppose. Then again maby the wood is a certain type to help the structure and promote its long lasting. As far as the pickups im not really sure but i do know if you stick an altoids tin (empty of course) over a active pickup, you can talk into it and it picks up your voice =P
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post #3 of 12 (permalink) Old 01-29-2005, 11:31 AM
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Re: Bodywood, Neckwood, Fretboard wood, and others - how much do they really matter?

think of this... imagine a room with concrete walls and nothing in it... now imagine the same room with drywall walls, all insulated etc... which room echo's more? the concrete walls... same idea with woods... a guitar with basswood is going to have totally different characteristics than alder, and not just because i said so, try it for yourself... i've tried basswood, i've tried alder, i've tried mahogony, i've tried maple fretboards i've tried rosewood fretboards, ebony, i've tried bolt on i've tried neck thru, non floyd, floyd, standard trem, floating standard style trem, single coil, humbucker, i know what i like in a guitar, an alder body, neck thru, with humbuckers... rosewood fretboard... don't mind ebony either, but never tried a alder body with ebony board... the difference is there, its not just make believe.... no one would say so if it weren't true... and i know i've heard it myself... in fact, different bodies made of the same wood sound different as well... i recently bought a Dimarzio X2N... the first guitar i put it in was an alder bodied Yamaha RGX620S... it sounded very bland, lacked a lot of body, a lot of punch... then i put it in my Rhoads V, which i had never intended to do when i bought the pickup... it was screamin... the difference was monstrous... my Rhoads V is alder, neck thru, with rosewood board and maple neck, tune-o-matic bridge, string thru body... totally different characteristics than the tremelo equipped alder bodied, bolt on, maple neck, rosewood board yamaha...
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post #4 of 12 (permalink) Old 01-29-2005, 11:36 AM
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Re: Bodywood, Neckwood, Fretboard wood, and others - how much do they really matter?

I've wondered over the same thing myself especially after finding guitar bulletin boards on the internet and reading the accounts of so many gifted people that can discern the sounds of different timbers and even between different models of pickup. However, the one's that I really admire and respect are those supernaturally gifted people that can discern differences in fretboard woods. You know, maple 'vs' pau ferro 'vs' rosewood 'vs' ebony. All these guys certainly have my respect because to me, it makes no freaking difference at all.

Last edited by beyblade; 01-29-2005 at 11:55 AM.
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post #5 of 12 (permalink) Old 01-31-2005, 06:12 AM
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Re: Bodywood, Neckwood, Fretboard wood, and others - how much do they really matter?

I agree with elysian totally.

I too have tried all sorts of different guitars, and own several, with all the major woods and construction techniques represented. I think that the construction method makes a difference to sustain and tone. But wood type definatley makes some difference. Pickups obviously play the most important part.

I have an alder custom strat with a reccessed floyd, and Paf Pro in the bridge, and a bolt on maple neck. I also have a 77fp. So that's pretty much the same, but with a basswood body, rosewood board, and 24 fret neck. Similar trem, same construction, and v.similar routing.

Using the same pickup in the same position I definately notice a difference playing through the same amp, with the same settings. It is very pronounced when playing clean; the alder sounds more alive and glassy. The jem is a little more pronounced in the mids, but not quite so resonant.

When you play with distortion/overdrive there is less of a difference, but it is still there. The Jem sounds a little tighter the the strat. I have done this test as an a/b virtually every day for 6 months, so I am pretty sure I am correct.

The difference is enough for me to have setup different patches on my JMP-1 to use different guitars through, to get basically the same sound from the amp.

I don't think that you would necessarily notice this enough to make any fundamental difference to your sound, or to your auduence's ears, but back to back it is there, particularly through headphones.

Remember that guitars are dynamic (and sensual) instruments, with many variables. Just about everything affects your sound a tiny bit, even air temperature and humidity.

Last edited by nickcoumbe; 01-31-2005 at 06:18 AM. Reason: Loads of spelling mistakes
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post #6 of 12 (permalink) Old 01-31-2005, 09:50 AM
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Re: Bodywood, Neckwood, Fretboard wood, and others - how much do they really matter?

How about 2 guitars of the same model, but one uses youger wood source and the other, say from an older tree, from diff. regions. Would they sound similar?

I've heard that mahogany from diff. region tends to sound, well, diff. I wonder if the prestige S sound diff. from the MIK S, even though both r mahogany.... maybe the prestige uses high quality stuff? How about wood like alder, basswood and ash, do they sound diff. from diff. region or age?
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post #7 of 12 (permalink) Old 01-31-2005, 10:54 AM
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Re: Bodywood, Neckwood, Fretboard wood, and others - how much do they really matter?

I've got 3 guitars with a ToneZone in the bridge: RG3120, RG8670 (both mahogany body, maple top) one has ebony fretboard, one has rosewood fretboard. The other's a Jackson RR1. All three sound different from each other.

I also have 2 520QS's, identical, except they have different pickups. One is significantly heavier than the other, denser wood, I guess. I suspect that even with the same pickups they'd sound different.

So, the wood matters, but predicting how these things will affect the sound is something which has eluded me, (and even if you could predict the sound in your mind, communicating what the qualia of this difference to another person is next to impossible.)

So far, the only thing that works for me is to try the guitars out.
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post #8 of 12 (permalink) Old 01-31-2005, 10:56 AM
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Re: Bodywood, Neckwood, Fretboard wood, and others - how much do they really matter?

Even different trees from the same region, even the same forest could sound vastly different. Trees are natural creations, and there's always a fair amount of randomness in nature, so slight differences in density, growth patterns and cellular structure could make an impact on how the wood resonates. After the tree is cut down, how the wood is milled and dried can also potentially have an effect.

Woods that are of the same family but from different regions are usually referred to as entirely different species, because they usually have different characteristics. Eastern rock maple (Acer saccharum) is a different species from western bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum), which is different from Japanese maple (Acer palmatum).

Eastern rock maple (or sugar maple) is much more dense than western bigleaf maple. Most quilted maple comes from bigleaf maple trees, whereas birdseye figuring is more commonly found in rock maple.

Honduran mahogany is prized for its tone and it is less dense than other species of mahogany.

Jeremy at LGM Guitars did an experiment with fretboard woods... he took one guitar, and replaced the fretboard three times. He tried out maple, rosewood and ebony. Same neck, same body, same electronics, same setup. His conclusion? Fretboard wood makes little or no difference to the sound of the instrument. It does have an impact on the feel of the fretboard, so pick the one you like the best. But it is such a small percentage of the overall resonating mass of the instrument that its contribution to the guitar's overall tone is insignificant compared to the neck and body woods, neck attachment method and electronics.

Last edited by darren wilson; 01-31-2005 at 11:02 AM.
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post #9 of 12 (permalink) Old 01-31-2005, 11:41 AM
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Re: Bodywood, Neckwood, Fretboard wood, and others - how much do they really matter?

I would say they EVERY part of the guitar plays a role in how it sounds. Body wood being the biggest factor. because there is lots of it. The body makes up a large percentage of the guitar's mass. Maybe just replacing a fretboard won't make a noticeable difference to most peoples ear, maybe bolt on verses set neck alone won't make a big differrence, but it's all these things together that shape the sound of a guitar. When that string vibrates the vibrations travel throughout the entire guitar. Not just between the nut and bridge. Just play your guitar unplugged and rest the corner of the body on something solid like a desk. You will hear the volume of the guitar increase big time. It's the vibrations from the guitar being transferd into the desk. Kind of like a tuning fork. Anyway I'm no expert, I'm just speaking from personal experience.
And yes different samples of the same species of wood will sound a little different but the same basic qualities of that type of wood will still exist. Just play some acoustic guitars. Two identical acoustics with the same spruce top will sound totaly different if one has maple back and sides and one has rosewood. I could easily tell the difference in a blind test. Anyone could. Now if you have the same guitar in ten different models, all with different types of rosewood. They will all sound a little different but they will still have all of the properties of a rosewood back and sides acoustic guitar.
Thats the magic of a really nice guitar. The total guitar seems to be more than the sum of it's parts. Thats why it is so hard to re-create some of the classic guitars made in the 50's 60's. You can come very very close but it's hard to duplicate every single nuance of the guitar and how it was built. Thats why you might have a favorite guitar that just has that certain something... hard to explain but nothing else you play is quite like your old favorite. Subtle differences can mean a lot in guitar playing.
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post #10 of 12 (permalink) Old 02-01-2005, 12:25 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Bodywood, Neckwood, Fretboard wood, and others - how much do they really matter?

Hey guys, thank you for the inputs. Very good insights. However, my question is still more or less unanswered. Darren talked about Jeremy's experiment with the fingerboard wood and that's very interesting. The conclusion is interesting as well, maybe shocking to some extent. However, I still don't understand how the body wood of an electric guitar can affect the timbre of the sound of the electric guitar, which is picked up by a magnetic pickup only. The string on a guitar is the primary/active resonance source, the bodywood is the secondary/passive resonance source. Primary/active resonance triggers secondary/passive resonance. In the case with acoustic guitars, secondary/passive resonance is what we hear because that is how primary/active resonance in an acoustic guitar is amplified. However, the magnetic pickup, in theory, takes the secondary/passive resonance of the body out from the loop almost entirely. I say almost because I understand that pickups are microphonic (i never understood why that is too) but does secondary/passive resonance actually affect the primary resonance as well?

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post #11 of 12 (permalink) Old 02-01-2005, 02:34 AM
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Re: Bodywood, Neckwood, Fretboard wood, and others - how much do they really matter?

I've stated this elsewhere, but it bears repeating here.

You are correct in that the string is the primary source of vibration. Pickups merely turn that vibration into electrical impulses, with some tonal colouration introduced due to the strength and type of magnet, the number of windings, etc. But it does all come down to the string.

Anything that affects how the string vibrates will have an effect on the final sound it produces. We may not be able to discern every minute difference, but any absorption of energy from the string's vibration will change how we perceive its "tone."

The guitar's structure – the neck, body and various pieces of hardware, plus scale length, string gauge, string composition, etc. – all play a factor in ultimately determining how that string vibrates. As the body and neck sympathetically vibrate with the string's motion, certain overtones will be dampened, others will be allowed to pass unhindered. This is what gives each piece of wood (or other material) its own unique sonic signature, or "tone" as guitarists like to call it. It's that unique combination of selective frequency absorption that makes each instrument relatively unique and special.

You can further shape the string's vibration with the pickups, EQ, preamp tone shaping and other electronic trickery, but it all comes back to the string.

More dense materials will absorb fewer overtones, because their resonant frequency is very high... you get a much more "pure" sound of the string vibrating. But not everybody likes the sound of a pure sine wave. Less dense materials resonate more, resulting in more overtones being cancelled out – not necessarily a bad thing – which can result in a more complex sonic signature with more "character."

It is a complex equation, one which instrument builders have been struggling with for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Some instruments just have that "magic" resonance that makes them stand out from others that were built by the same hands, from the same raw materials.

There are a few well-known "recipes" that give fairly consistent results for specific kinds of tones people are seeking, but you can still come across an occasional dud or an occasional gem.
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post #12 of 12 (permalink) Old 02-01-2005, 07:28 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Bodywood, Neckwood, Fretboard wood, and others - how much do they really matter?

Thank you so much, darren, for you wonderful input. Very insightful. I really appreciate it. Its great to learn about your instrument to the very minute detail. All adds to the understanding.

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acoustic guitar , alder bodied , alder body , amp tone , basswood body , ebony board , ebony fretboard , electric guitar , fingerboard wood , fret neck , fretboard wood , guitar playing , lgm guitars , magnetic pickups , mahogany body , maple fret , maple fretboard , maple neck , matic bridge , neck thru , paf pro , quilted maple , rosewood board , rosewood fretboard , rosewood fretboards , string thru body , yamaha rgx

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