Tone Woods of Today's Guitars

p24-trem The PRS P24 Trem 24-Fret Solidbody features a Mahogany back along with a beautiful carved figure Maple top.

It’s not just the inside form of the guitar that affects tone as far as the body goes. The choice in wood plays a huge role too. A popular title given to woods commonly used to make instruments is “tone woods,” naturally. But remember, just like anything else on an instrument, whether or not the choice of wood contributes to a player’s sought after tone is up to the interaction with the rest of the guitar’s components. Here are some of the most popular tone woods around along with some of their sound characteristics.

Mahogany – This type of wood is a very pretty, dark to light golden-brown wood used for bodies and, less often, necks. There are many different types of mahogany, but they all have a uniform density, open grain and large pores. It accentuates bass and low-mid frequencies, and cuts high-mids a bit resulting in what some call a "nasal" sound. Also, this wood is known to produce a fat sound with nice harmonic overtones. Gibson Les Pauls are often made of mahogany.

Swamp Ash – This is the classic Stratocaster tone wood. It has inconsistent density between its rings with soft pockets scattered throughout, giving it an even frequency response with scattered drops in the mid frequencies. Different cuts of Swamp Ash are likely to sound different from each other due to the varying abundance of soft spots. Cuts that are from further up on the tree have a more uniform density and generally get the same mid frequency dips. This creates the perception of less exciting harmonics and bass. Usually, heavier pieces of swamp ash sound dull, and lighter pieces sound more alive.

Basswood – This wood is soft and has tight pores, which make it more economical to build guitars with. It has a very pronounced mid range, which is good for cutting through a mix. If you want a complex timbre, however, basswood might not be your choice. It has muted highs and less bass than some higher end wood choices.

Alder – Similar to basswood but has a bit more highs and lows so its sound is a little more complex.

Maple – This is a very hard wood and makes for pronounced upper-mids and highs. The low end isn't left behind, though. Using other components that accentuate the bass frequencies produces a very tight bass sound.


Don't forget, there's a lot more than wood that goes into a guitar's tone, especially if its an electric guitar. If you need a little help finding the perfect acoustic or electric guitar that's right for you, don't be afraid to chat with one of our professionals, drop us a message at or call us toll free at 1-877-671-2200!

6 thoughts on “Tone Woods of Today's Guitars”

  • Bill Burk

    You underestimate both Basswood and Alder. There are many fine electric guitars that use both woods for the body, most noticeably the Fender strats, teles, and other guitars made from Alder. If you don't know what you're talking about, you shouldn't be writing articles online. This article makes your website look bad.

    • admin

      Bill you're totally right! I think Mareo's stance was a bit too disparaging of basswood and would agree that there are many examples of good guitars made from both basswood and alder. Thanks for calling us on it. It is always our goal to offer solid info. Sincerely PAL Editor.

  • kevyn cotton

    Good info on wood types I would like to go more in depth

  • Kirk Bolas

    One of my favorite guitars in my stable is my Ibanez JS2400. It has a basswood body. I would not characterize this guitar as lacking complexity in tone when I strum or play a lead line. It's there and I can hear it. It sounds even more rich in its complexity when I plug it into an amp.

  • Chuck Magnus

    I think what is misleading are the graphics that go with this article. It's showing acoustics and the article really doesn't discuss common woods associated with acoustics (spruce, rosewood, koa, etc...). And yes, mahogany is used in necks, especially by Gibson electrics, almost exclusively.

    • admin

      The acoustic pictured (We replaced it with a sweet PRS) was a Guild F130 with solid mahogany back and sides, but your right an electric guitar is more fitting for the woods we are discussing in this article. Sincerely PAL Editor.

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