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FDP Forum / FDP Unplugged - Acoustic Instruments / Study Shows Wood Type Has No Discernable Effect on Sound

Previous 20 Messages  
Contributing Member

Just beyond Mars

there's a world of fools
Jan 22nd, 2019 08:23 AM   Edit   Profile  

In my experience, mahogany and cedar generally are more mellow sounding than spruce for guitar tops.

But sides and backs? You could make 'em out of old underwear and stale donuts and they'd sound the same as walnut or maple :o)

Te 52

Laws of Physics

strictly enforced
Jan 22nd, 2019 10:02 AM   Edit   Profile  

While I heartily approve of basing conclusions on the result of controlled experiments rather than "conventional wisdom," you'd have a hard time convincing me that a Martin D-28 (rosewood back & sides) sounds the same as a mahogany Martin D-18 (mahogany b/s).

As to why that difference exists, I'm not sure, except to say that it has something to do with mass, stiffness, and damping. But that's kind of a non-answer.

(This message was last edited by Te 52 at 12:04 PM, Jan 22nd, 2019)

El Kabong
Contributing Member

NJArmpit of Universe

A-Ahhl do the thinnin' around here!
Jan 22nd, 2019 10:23 AM   Edit   Profile  

"But sides and backs? You could make 'em out of old underwear and stale donuts and they'd sound the same as walnut or maple :o)"

You've tried this?

Contributing Member

USA/Taos, NM

Jan 22nd, 2019 06:08 PM   Edit   Profile  

Are those glazed donuts, or jelly-filled variety?

Contributing Member

Just beyond Mars

there's a world of fools
Jan 22nd, 2019 07:51 PM   Edit   Profile  

No, I haven't tried it.

I've thought about it tho!

reverend mikey
Contributing Member

N of I-90, E of I-29

You're old. Then vintage. Then good!
Jan 23rd, 2019 08:50 AM   Edit   Profile  

I agree (with the assertion in the article) that other woods can be used to make beautiful sounding guitars (I have a Martin dread with Sycamore b/s on order, so I'm looking forward to testing this assertion personally)...

...but I also hear a distinct difference between my two Martin Jumbos - one with b/s of Indian Rosewood, one with b/s of Mahogany. There are a couple other small differences in their materials and build (one has a rosewood bridge, the other an ebony bridge, and one has a large sound hole), but the type of wood DOES impact the tone enough to distinguish them from one another.

In the future, wood guitars will be made with other woods - and sound wonderful. But there will be differences in their tone. Will that matter? Not really. Who listens to any singer songwriter and says, "Yeah, I love the sound of that maple on their guitar..."


michigan usa

Jan 24th, 2019 01:00 AM   Edit   Profile  

"but the type of wood DOES impact the tone enough to distinguish them from one another"

The thing is, your two guitars have different tops, which is where the majority of the sound and tone comes from. Not to mention the other differences you noted. To get the most of what the top can provide you want the back and sides to be as stiff as possible so as to not absorb any of the vibes of the top. Laminated backs and sides are not found solely within the cheap guitar market.

A similar test was done in recent years with nylon string guitars with similar results.

Do the different wood types produce particular tonal characteristics when used for backs and sides? I don't think so. If they do we can't know because each piece of wood is different. As these types of test always prove, we listen with our eyes much of the time.

Just for fun I'd like to see a blind test with only D-18s and D-28s...

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Jan 24th, 2019 06:41 AM   Edit   Profile  

My Gibson AJ with rosewood b/s much more resembles what stereotypically one would expect from an acoustic with mahogany or even maple b/s.

Every string rings out clear when strummed as opposed the blending of the strings which is stereotypically expected of rosewood b/s.

At this point I couldn't care less what wood the b/s are. It's a great sounding acoustic.

Contributing Member

St. Louis

"Thumbpicks don't slide into soundholes"
Jan 24th, 2019 04:53 PM   Edit   Profile  

Every time I've played several examples of the same model guitar there were always subtle differences that you could tell.
That said when I played different guitars entirely there was often a similarity between them.
I think it comes down to the instrument and setup. But the wood does give me a sense of what to expect.
Age makes them vary as well. Even a few weeks playing time can affect the sound.

Contributing Member

North Florida

A Friend of Bill W.
Mar 5th, 2019 10:17 AM   Edit   Profile  

I agree that tone is mostly a function of the top wood and it’s bracing. Mahogany, spruce, cedar will have differences that can be typical of these species.

I also think that the back and sides can sound differently, even when cut from the same tree. I think these differences are subtle, subjective and less typical. Much more difficult to contour the spacific tone in a significantly controlled way.

A laminated soundboard vs a solid is obvious when A/B’ed next to each other, the solid back and sides vs laminated can be less obvious.

Chris Greene
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Idaho, USA

Buy your virtue signal here
Mar 5th, 2019 01:32 PM   Edit   Profile  

The problem is, of course, that no two guitars can ever be identical.

reverend mikey
Contributing Member

N of I-90, E of I-29

You're old. Then vintage. Then good!
Mar 5th, 2019 02:21 PM   Edit   Profile  

"but the type of wood DOES impact the tone enough to distinguish them from one another"

The thing is, your two guitars have different tops, which is where the majority of the sound and tone comes from.


They both have Sitka Spruce tops.

Contributing Member

State of Jefferson

Mar 5th, 2019 06:50 PM   Edit   Profile  

Torres (he who established the "modern" classical guitar) once made a guitar with back and sides of paper mache and all who played it reported it sounded and played as well as any solid wood unit.

RE Bob Taylor: he who said when challenged about the tone of his guitars being "sterile" said"tone is subjective".
I agree but tone in quality guitars such as Martin, Gibson, Collings,et al guitars is certainly different than the first decade of Taylor's acoustic appliances masquerading as guitars.

Cedar backs and sides.. say it ain't so Joe.

Cypress maybe but cedar backs and sides.

Tops are wehere it's at babe.

Frederich (sp) of France built his classical guitars with 4 mm laminated sides in an effort to give stiffness and stability to the body. He spent his time on the tops.

Ramirez beginning in the mid late 60s switched from spruce as being the standard for tops ( my 1961 Ramirez built by Contreras the shop foreman was spruce and 650 mm scale) to "Canadian Cedar. My sources (inside stuff) was Ramirez could get 5 cedar tops for what he paid for a single euro spruce top. (my long time friend Carlos Francisco Vega.. luthier and Spanish guitar historian and author RIP 2015) When Ramirez changed to the lesser expensive cedar tops they also changed to catalized finishes (rather than hand applied French polish such as mine) and more importantly extended the scale length from 650mm to 656 and 660+MM to compensate for the tonal changed.
They also switched form Brazilian rosewood as standard to east Indian, Brazilian became special order.. This before embargos and CITES.
They also reduced the staff and their former tiered skill staff system.

This was an economic move according to Carlos.

There is a reason why Martin guitars have a characteristic tone... formulaic. That and vanilla extract sprayed into the cases.

I have long contended that if you took 10 steel string guitars from the same maker (let's say Martin) with differing backs and sides and tops and body size and had them played behind a curtain (blind test) and put 50 people in an audience composed of builders players and so called experts...
and gave them a list of the guitars and had them guess which guitar was what you would get no better than 50% correct from the audience. Same goes for old violins vs new.

With all the rage about Adirondack in the early 2000s as being the desired pre war Martin choice for tops I bought a 2003 D-18 GE..

I later played more plain old spruce topped guitars and preferred.

The reason Marin used Adirondack pre war was it was available cheap and close.

Now the Adirondack (red spruce) is all but unobtanium and commands an upcharge, I still prefer available affordable Sitka spruce.

I have owned around 15 Martins, currently 2.

One is an 00-18V with what Martin calls a #8 Sitka top.. 8 for cosmetics only. Top grade mahogany backs , sides and neck (now they use (hardwood) nice ebony bits etc.. Fine guitar.

I also own a 1997 0000-1 ( one of 370 made between 1997-2000)Very nice mahogany backs neck, laminated mahogany sides, and a 5 to the inch pine box top.
To my ear the 0000-1 which was 20% of the MSRP of the 00-18 VS is a far better sounding guitar.
I keep the 00 hoping it will improve and it has a wider nut and saddle string spacing.

It's all in the top is correct.. but NOT by visual standards.

Hauser I and II and III used the less desirable bear claw tops which were considered rejects by most builders until recently. It is in the stiffness and flexibility ( a tough combination)
where tone is optimized.

Benedetto (before Taylor and his pallet stunt) made an arch top jazz guitar with off the shelf construction lumber and declared it as good as
anything he had made with premium wood.

Case by Case.

Of course all of this is just rumor mongering.

(This message was last edited by jefe46 at 08:38 PM, Mar 6th, 2019)



lets take it apart
Mar 13th, 2019 09:41 AM   Edit   Profile  

just for thought if you want to change the sound try different picks and strings they are the place the sound and tone start from and do make a difference , IMHO

Contributing Member

North Florida

A Friend of Bill W.
Mar 13th, 2019 01:35 PM   Edit   Profile  

I remember Bob Taylor making the guitar out of oak pallets, and Robert call be Bob, Beneditto using the Homedepot wood, I ran into Bob Beneditto at the Newport Guitar Festival in Miami, he signed his book for me, the link below is a picture of him holding a banjo ukulele I made with a gourd. He got a kick out of it.

I didn’t expect to see him that early in the morning, I was working with the photographer cleaning and posing guitars for the photo shoot. I walked in and Bob said goodmorning Mike, what’s in the bag. I felt pretty strange showing “the” Robert Beneditto my funky homemade gourd uke but he really got a kick out of it. He said when he wrote the book he didn’t think it would inspire budding luthiers to make instruments from back yard vegetables.

I really like mahogany, all three of my Martins are solid mahogany, I chose it for it’s stability. The old Martin 1917 uke is a cannon of tone and the wood is in great shape, not a crack or opening seam. It did have a bracing problem when I first got it but this thing was stored in a south FLorida attic for who knows how long. The woman I got it from said is was her grandmothers who purchased it at a Southern California Fair around 1917-18 the uke itself has no serial number, the two CFMartin branding iron stamps are the only clue to it’s age 1917-1924.

My Guild B-50 has mahogany sides and back.

My newest Parlor guitar is spruce over laminated mahogany, I really like the little Yamaha.

Lousy photo but itâs Robert Beneditto and my gourd uke.



Mar 13th, 2019 04:09 PM   Edit   Profile  

Supposedly, notes decay quicker with hog b&s while rosewood's notes are rich in overtones and bassier. However, I have a Martin D16 hog/adirondak that sounds as full "tonewise" as my sitka/rosewood Martin OM28V. Both sound stellar.

Contributing Member

The older the violin

the sweeter the music.
Mar 13th, 2019 04:52 PM   Edit   Profile  

My old Guild D-46 has swamp ash back/sides.

People mistake if for maple, but it "out-roses" rosewood. A very powerful, big tone.

It certainly ain't maple.

Crappy photo

Contributing Member

North of Philly

Solid state = solid sound+light weight
Apr 16th, 2019 02:56 AM   Edit   Profile  

A few years back, SLM acquired the Sigma name for acoustic guitars. My friendly local purveyor bought some, and I purchased the second SF18CE he got in. I asked him about the SF28CE, and he got a couple of those in.

The 18 has cedar top and mahogany sides, the 28 is spruce/rosewood.

I thought I would prefer the 28, but ended up liking the sound of the 18 better, not as harsh sounding to my ears.

Contributing Member

North Florida

A Friend of Bill W.
Apr 17th, 2019 07:59 AM   Edit   Profile  

I can appreciate the rosewood back and sides, they are powerful but for many years now I’ve preferred Mahogany. The three I mentioned above are all mahogany including the tops. I loved a few spruce topped hogs too. Particularly in the parlor sized guitars. That size guitar even sounds pretty good with rosewood.

The big dreads and jumbos with rosewood sound overwhelmed with overly complex overtones, to me. More like a piano, They have a great sound but chords seem just a bit to homogenized for my tastes, where as the chords of a hog reveal the individual notes. This is a generalization, I’ve heard some rosewood Dreads that were unbelievably amazing.

If I could ever afford a customized guitar it would be a 12 fret slot-head parlor, spruce top with aged or repurposed Brazilian Rosewood back and sides, Ebony or rosewood fingerboard. The only way that will ever happen is if I build it myself.

I have enough Brazilian rosewood for a few fingerboards. Just typing this out loud gets me excited about the project.

For a bass player I get, kind of, too excited about guitars, I can’t do them justice but I really like good sound easy playing six strings.

As for the blank statement of this threads title I think we can all agree it’s BS, it may be that it can’t be totally quantified but I have no doubt that a master luthier can pretty much build an instrument that will live up to his expectations even if it only generally meets his intended tone and performance.

Like baking a pie, if everything is done correctly it will taste wonderful even if not exactly like the last one.

I’ve got to inventory my tops, back and side sets. See what I’ve got.

(This message was last edited by hushnel at 10:11 AM, Apr 17th, 2019)

Contributing Member

East Tennessee

Apr 21st, 2019 11:17 AM   Edit   Profile  

My critique of the study is that the guitarists playing the instrument were the end point and it compared back/side wood, which obviously has much less effect than topwood.

The reason to spend thousands of dollars on a master-built guitar with AAA grade topwood is not so it sounds good to you (although it should..) it is for its projection in a concert hall.

Those guitars were all hand made by a respected luthier and probably all played similarly.

A better study would be to take AAA grade spruce top vs a pine top, have the same guitarist play well known pieces for a blindfolded audience of music critics. Very likely they would all pick the nicer wood.

I remember as a 20 year old comparing my nice classical to my older Yamaha classical after purchasing it and being slightly disappointed in the difference in my bedroom. The luthier instrument was louder and played nicer, but I still was drawn to the tone of the Yamaha.

Took both instruments to the concert hall at my University and played the same piece back to back. The difference was enormous and this is really where the value in high-end instruments is found imo.

Previous 20 Messages  

FDP Forum / FDP Unplugged - Acoustic Instruments / Study Shows Wood Type Has No Discernable Effect on Sound

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