August 28, 2012
Both acoustic and electric guitars have been the work horse of music for years. They are the main instruments of choice in many different genres of music such as country, rock, jazz, and pop! Guitars come in many sizes, body styles, colors, and wood combinations. They can be priced anywhere from one hundred dollars to over 15 thousand dollars!
One of the details that I love most about the acoustic guitar lies in its construction. Higher end acoustic guitars are constructed in such a way as to produce a certain type of sound. Those specific body styles play a huge role in the type of sound produced. A large body style will produce a bolder, louder sound, and a smaller body style will produce a smaller, more intimate sound.
Body style is only one aspect that determines a guitar’s sound, though. Even if two guitars are built in the same body style, one can still get a completely different sound from the other based on the type of wood that is used in its construction. The woods used in the construction of guitars are called tonewoods. Some of the most popular tonewoods include: Brazilian and East Indian Rosewood, Maple, Mahogany, Koa, Ovangkol, Cedar, Redwood, Walnut, and Spruce, which is broken up into the following three types: Sitka, Adirondack, and Engelmann.
Spruce tonewoods are typically used to build acoustics. Spruce is a very strong, dense, bold, projecting type of wood, and is favored by most. Cedar and redwood are less dense than spruce, and are also preferred as top woods for their warmer sound. Koa wood is highly prized, but a much rarer tonewood because it’s grown in Hawaii and, due to over harvesting in the early 20th century, is not as widely available as it once was. This wood tends to produce a very bright sound with shimmering highs and a punchy midrange tonality.
That said, the backs of guitars can be made from a variety of other woods. Rosewood tends to dominate most others, though. Rosewood, both Brazilian and East Indian, produces a very strong "bassy" sound. Most Rosewood backs will be paired with any type of Spruce for the top. Some will choose Ovangkol wood, which is very similar sounding to Rosewood and can be found on many backs of guitars as well. Mahogany as a back will produce a very balanced sound tonally, and it is predominately known for its "mid-range." Finally, Maple backs have a brighter sound, and they are preferred by many for live music as their sound does not sustain long but quickly "decays."
The different combinations of all the woods listed above are only a sampling, as the combinations are endless. The beauty of these different tonewoods is that no guitar looks or sounds exactly the same. Every piece of tonewood is beautiful in its own right, as each tree grew differently. My personal acoustic guitar is a Taylor GS8, which features a Sitka Spruce top and an East Indian Rosewood back and sides. The sound is heavenly.
MCPL has a great range of books on picking and playing acoustic guitars, so go ahead and “strum” through one of our many guitar books that are available!
Colbern Road Branch