How different woods affect guitar tones
Published on May 26th, 2013 | by Caesar (ENGAGE)
I spotted this lovely article on www.seymourduncan.com and just had to share it.
Alder is a tree that grows in medium, temperate climates with a lot of moisture. This fast growing wood produces relatively soft timber with long grains. It’s not as soft as mahogany or as hard as maple, which culminates to a tone without a major boost in the tonal spectrum. Generally, the highs are slightly attenuated with lows that aren’t that pronounced and a midrange that might use an extra kick because the mids aren’t that abundantly available.
Ash can come from various sources. You have hard ash, which has a lot of bite, almost like maple, but with more (and chunkier) lows. Hard ash is generally speaking on the heavier side. Swamp ash, on the other hand, is much lighter, with less compression in the tone. You will get an opener sound with lots of highs and upper mids that cut through the mix like a hot knife through butter. The difference between a billet cut from the top or the bottom of the tree makes a huge difference in tone. A high-cut piece of hard ash might be closer to the sound you’re looking for than a lower cut of swamp ash. This goes for all woods, but in my experience this is even stronger the case with ash than other types.
Basswood is a wood that’s being used predominantly on cheaper or ‘metal’ guitars. This is because the tree grows rather fast, the grain doesn’t look particularly interesting or pretty (and therefor not considered to be a shame if finished in an opaque color; the extreme softness of the wood makes a hard finish a necessity, too) but more importantly, because the tone is bland, it doesn’t have the growl of mahogany, it doesn’t have the tightness or bite of maple, it doesn’t have the sweetness of alder or the chunky quality of ash. Instead, it has all of that, although to a lesser degree. It has some bite, some growl, some sweetness, but not much. That makes it a perfect template for your own sound. It doesn’t add anything to your tone but it doesn’t take away anything.