Backs and Sides
There are a huge range of tone woods available for building stringed instruments, way too many to list them all here, each having their own qualities in terms of sound, figure, workability, strength, density, the list goes on.
There are however a few which are used on a regular basis because of their availability, tonal qualities and aesthetic properties which I’ll cover here. If you wish to find information on some of the less common or more exotic species follow the link below to Allied Luthiers website where you will find a fantastic range of tone woods on offer.
Mahogany is probably the most popular choice of tone wood for guitar backs and sides, though it’s also occasionally used as a top material, too. Mahogany is a dense wood, with a dark finish, and close grain. Tonally, it has far warmer, darker tone than both Cedar and Spruce.
As a material for back and sides, mahogany’s density can add great ‘punch’ and projection, adding warmth, but with definition, and a ‘woody’ character.
The combination of spruce and mahogany and spruce is one of the most popular, because it offers a tone that very balanced, but versatile, lending itself very well to most musical styles.
As one of the most expensive tone wood varieties, Rosewood has a lot to live up to. However, with its smooth, warm tone, with complex harmonic overtones. Visually, Rosewood is typically a dark, chocolate brown in colour, with a widely banded dark grain, and is generally used as a material for the back and sides of a guitar body.
Combined with a Spruce top, Rosewood provides an incredibly balanced and versatile palette of tones.
Indian Rosewood is one of the most desirable (and expensive) tonewoods, with warm, but singing harmonics. Brazilian Rosewood has a slightly brighter, less complex tone, with a defined low-end but is very difficult to source now and only old stock material being used for instrument making.
Brazilian Rosewood is a protected species listed on CITES Appendix 1 which controls the movement and monitors the source strictly. As of January 2017 all Rosewoods have been placed on Appendix 2 of the CITES bill caused primarily by an increase in demand from the Chinese market for furniture making.
Though far less common as a tone wood, Maple nonetheless features on some of the most popular acoustic guitars ever made (the Gibson J-200, for example). One of the hardest and most dense tone wood varieties, maple is famed for its bright tone, and great projection, with excellent note definition.
All maple acoustic guitars, and maple tops are not common, but maple back and sides are more so, often adding greater power and mid-range to a more typical top material.
The dramatic figuring can also add a stunning aesthetic touch to a guitar, too.
Sometimes called Australian Blackwood it is a member of the Acer family and closely related to Koa which is a much sought after tone wood. Falling somewhere between Mahogany and Rosewood in terms of tonal qualities this is an excellent wood both in terms of workability and aesthetic qualities. The best sets have a very distinct “Tiger Stripe” and a warm honey brown hue with black streaks. This timber grows in great quantities in both Australia and Tasmania and is readily available from sustainable sources.