When many people go to buy a new guitar they go off of look and feel. However, tone-wood is a characteristic that is just as important as the look and feel of the instrument. This article serves as a guide to take some of the mystery out of the different tone-woods. So when you go to buy your next guitar, you will have this cheat sheet which should make your choice that much easier. In this guide, we are going to cover a number of different tone-woods: Koa, Mahogany, Rosewood, and Maple, Australian Blackwood, Bunya, and California Redwood.
Found only in its native land of Hawaii, Koa is a wood that is revered for its universal tonality. Initially prized for canoe carving, but now more than ever we see it in finely crafted guitars. This is due to its ability to be an amazing tone-wood. There are a few main things that builders look for when selecting tone-wood: Appearance, Tone, and Resonance. Koa brings all three of these to the table. Tonally, Koa has a bright crispness and clarity that would be likened to rosewood. It also offers the thick richness of mahogany. Lastly, Koa has the unique ability to take on the role of back and sides or a soundboard. Which would lead to a magnificent looking and sounding instrument!
Mahogany is a wood that is mainly used as back and sides in acoustic guitars. There are several key features that make it attractive for luthiers. Including. its easiness to work with, its resonance and its durability. It is also a cheaper alternative to rosewood, which offers more of a twangy tone. That being said it lacks some of the rosewood’s brilliance. Mahogany does hold its own and has a distinct voice, but is not as big and booming sounding. It’s internal dampening create a crisp tonal equilibrium. Lastly, it is prized for its volume and articulation and has a great mid-range. This would be a great all around tone-wood for many different styles of music and playing alike.
Rosewood has a rich and warm tone with great resonance and loud volume projection. It offers clarity in the bottom end and resonant chiming treble in the high end. It is a very hard wood and is even harder than maple. However, it is porous which helps to warm up the overall tone of the wood. Rosewood can be characterized as having a highly resonant sound, with full, booming basses and brilliant clarity. Most rosewood has a quick sound transmission which offers almost no internal dampening. This creates a rich and almost saturated sound. This feature helps to give rosewood its own tonal identity with a high-end attack and a sustaining ring.
Maple is a wood that is hugely popular in the world of guitar building. Not only for backs and sides, but also for necks and fretboards. Maple is often easily identifiable against other woods thanks to its bright tones and stunning grain patterns. Tonally, maple offers up great sustain with plenty of attack and bite. Powerful and even harmonics give it a clear and present tone making maple great for standing out against other instruments. It has a tight grain that is easy to finish and is very durable. This is a great wood for strumming and is often seen on a big-bodied guitar. Since it is such a hard wood, it is generally used on slimmer bodied guitars.
This is the stiffest timber we make tops out of. It has a character all of its own, quite like Koa as it is a very close cousin. So it will have a similarly bright crispness and clarity. It is normally dark brown and grainy but can vary. It is native to Australia and sourced from Tasmania or Victoria. This is a tonewood that is almost exclusively used by Cole Clark guitars.
Another exotic option is Bunya. This native sustainable Australian tonewood sourced from Queensland is responsible for over half of Cole Clark’s guitars. It is a well-rounded tonewood, suited for many styles of playing. One could say Bunya is Australian for Spruce. Though it is not a member of the spruce family, it shares many tonal characteristics. a well-rounded tonewood, one suited for many styles of playing.
Californian Redwood Sequoia
Slightly stiffer than western red cedar. Much like red cedar Californian Redwood has a dark and lush tone and is known for being generally less bass-y and projective than spruce. Still a great top for softer players but gives great resonance for strummers as well as finger pickers. This is a stunning timber which is sourced from Australia from trees planted 150 years ago.
So these are a good chunk of the different tonewoods available. Ranging from maple to rosewood to bunya and Australian Blackwood. All of these woods offer unique tonal characteristics. All of these woods are available in most guitars, with the exception of some of the more exotic woods. Different tone-woods can make a world of difference in both the look and sound of a guitar. So let this guide help you make the right choice for your next purchase!