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What Are Weight Relief Guitars?

Sometimes you just need to shed some weight ...



by Chris Loeffler



Guitars and basses are often played standing upright for player mobility and showmanship, which means strapping 6-12 pounds (or even more for a double-neck) over your shoulder for the duration of a practice or performance. As such, certain type of players encounter or develop issues that make extended guitar playing in a standing position untenable; smaller-framed players, people with extreme posture or back issues, and people who just don’t want to build the resilience needed to carry that much weight on their shoulders. Guitar companies, such as Gibson or the recently announced Michael Kelly Enlightened, have found several ways to lessen the weight of guitars in various ways without negatively impacting the tone of the body. Here’s a brief exploration of weight management in guitars and basses.


Wood Selection

The type of wood selected for the body will of course impact the guitar's sound and weight, and while wood, like any natural commodity, has a general range of tolerances within a species, it’s safe to assume the type of wood used is a good clue as to how heavy a guitar will be. Common examples of lighter woods to choose from include Swamp Ash and Alder as well as more exotic woods like Black Limba (Korina), Paolina, and Spanish cedar. Heavy woods commonly used, like Maple, Walnut, and Mahogany, tend to be denser and brighter in conjunction with their extra weight.



Chambered Bodies

Chambering a guitar body means routing out much of the material that isn’t required to bind the guitar or hold the neck and hardware. This frame is then sealed with a solid wood top so it looks visually identical to a non-chambered guitar. The material removed in chambering can be as little as 15% and as much as 50%, resulting in a significantly lighter instrument. Although some claim this can sound a little thinner at lower volumes than a non-chambered solid body, this is highly subjective.


Traditional Weight Relief Bodies

Similar to chambering, what many companies refer to as “weight relief” is holes drilled either front-to back of the guitar (also called “honeycombing”) or from the side of the guitar body inward (also called “ports”). These typically result in less material removal than chambering and a more concentrated area of weight relief.


Gibson “Modern” Weight Relief

Gibson released a new weight relief philosophy that walks the line between chambered and traditional weight relief by removing material from the edges of the guitar body inward for more balance and the same amount of weight relief of a traditional weight relief routing, but without the “only what matters shall remain” ethos of true chambering.


Other Considerations

Hardware is typically made of steel, but some manufacturers, like Michael Kelly, use aluminum hardware where applicable to further shave off ounces. Gibson's HP (high-performance) electric guitars use titanium hardware, known for light weight and strength. And don't forget that a big ol’ Bigsby vibrato system will likely add ½ to ¾ pound of weight, and even active electronics with batteries will add up to ¼ pound.


If weight is an important variable in choosing your instrument, you’ll need to be ready to invest a bit more time into finding the right instrument…usually by visiting a brick-and-mortar retailer to determine how light you need to go. Once you know that, you can then consider shopping online if a dealer is willing to weigh the instruments you are considering (this is common with higher-end guitars, but likely available only on request).


Whatever your road to get there, you deserve to be comfortable playing your instrument, and we live in lucky times when so many manufacturers are addressing specialty markets. -HC-






Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer. 



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Afrodrum  |  May 19, 2017 at 8:31 am
Very interesting, thanks. I have recently bought  2011 Les Paul studio, with p90s, rather excellent guitar. It is also incredibly light, same as my Ibanez very thin S series guitar. Do you have an idea which of the three "chamber patterns" might have been used?
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