Luthier woods: the essential for the guitar

There are many characteristics that can influence the guitar sound: the smallest detail can make the difference and the sum of all the nuances creates a mixture of sound emotions. Among all the aspects to consider, the first and fundamental element to determine the musical alchemy of a guitar is which among the various luthier woods has been used.

In addition, wood is important as it gives unique aesthetic characteristics to each guitar, with its game of veins and streaks that makes each instrument unique.

Luthier woods can also give different tactile sensations to an expert guitarist.


Types of luthier woods

If you have the chance to have a tailored guitar made for you by a luthier, he can help you choose the wood; but this option may have prohibitive costs because a quality seasoned wood costs and even the craftsman is certainly not cheap.

In the case you choose a model of a specific producer or if you want to customize your guitar with some different components, having a good knowledge of the most used luthier woods can be useful to orientate yourself in the choice.

Let’s see in detail the characteristics of the main luthier woods available on the market.

Mahogany is a very robust, fairly heavy wood. Having a large grain has the characteristic to emphasize the low frequencies of the strings vibrations: this gives it a very warm sound and a long sustain especially on the low frequencies.

It has a reddish color that makes it fascinating on an aesthetic level but it is not the best for what concerns the grain. Mahogany is used a lot in the construction of electric guitars, both for the necks and for the case.

Maple, on the other hand, is a wood with a specific weight, with narrow pores and its compactness makes it very heavy and sturdy. It is usually used for the construction of the neck and for the guitar tops, almost never used for the case of the guitar.

Due to its physical characteristics, it is a wood that repeats favorably the medium-high frequencies and has a medium-low sustain on the high frequencies.

Aesthetically it is very appreciated because of the very evident veins and light color, which can be enhanced by painting. In its eyelash and flamed variants, it is very appreciated for guitar tops, but it is difficult to work because of the knots on its surface.

Rosewood is rarely used for building the guitar body due to its high cost and high specific weight. It is mainly used for fretboards because it is very robust and compact, holds the frets well and is difficult to scratch.

It has a very long sustain and emphasizes medium-high harmonics. It has a reddish-brown color with evident veins, often it is not painted as it is already aesthetically pleasing and resistant.

Ebony is a very precious wood with a very high specific weight. Like Rosewood, it is used for fretboards. It has a special consistency that makes it resistant to scratches but easy to chip, it enhances the high frequencies.

Having a black color and almost devoid of grain is much appreciated for fretboards and is often enriched with inlays of nacre, should not be painted.

The linden is instead a very light wood often used in the construction of the guitar body; it is quite robust but less so than mahogany and maple.

It emphasizes the average frequencies; it is not an aesthetically beautiful wood, but it is simple to work for which it is used for the guitar body and is usually painted to make it more pleasant.

The alder is a very light wood, similar to the maple for its sonorous characteristics but less valuable. It has a light color and evident veins for which it is used for sunburst colors.

Being a soft wood it is easy to work but it must be well seasoned as it easily deforms during aging.

The ash is a heavy and robust wood, because of its sound characteristics it is reminiscent of the maple and is very aesthetically beautiful because it has very marked veins.

In general for the construction of the neck, we use types of luthier wood characterized their hardness and compactness, as this part of the guitar is subjected to the constant tension of the strings.

For the guitar base, for the top and for the sidebands, woods we choose are easier to work with and they have a pleasant appearance for color combinations and veins.

From the sound point of view, we evaluate what are the characteristics that you want to give the instrument and the best wood type for the instrument shape.

The guitar nut and bridge can also be made of wood, but synthetic materials or bone are usually preferred.

There are also many other types of luthier wood considered valuable and that is less common because of their cost: but they are not always appreciated for their ability to propagate the sound, often it is simply aesthetic issues, especially for the woods used for the body of the guitar.


[Photo Credits: Stephen Rees, Marco Brigandi]