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Which Wood for Guitar Bodies?

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  • Which Wood for Guitar Bodies?

    Hi all,



    I was talking to the wood shop teacher at the school where I work and he said he's recently gotten a CNC machine. He was asking about guitar bodies so I figured I'd get some info for him.



    Can anyone help me out on these questions?

    1. What woods are commonly used for guitar bodies and what are the pros/cons to each?

    2. Are there good/reliable CNC files (I assume AutoCAD?) online somewhere?



    Thanks,

    Greg
    "I feel kind of sorry for the guys who know so much about playing. I pick it up, put my finger in the wrong place and - ah, a song!"~ Keith RichardsHow to disagree

  • #2
    Short answer to the 1st question:

    Gibson: mahogany(SGs, Juniors, a few LPs) and mahogany w/maple cap(LPs). Fender: swamp ash(transparent finishes) and alder(painted finishes).

    No idea about #2.

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    • #3
      Thanks for the reminder about swamp ash.
      "I feel kind of sorry for the guys who know so much about playing. I pick it up, put my finger in the wrong place and - ah, a song!"~ Keith RichardsHow to disagree

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      • #4
        I'd refer your teacher to the Warmoth site, plenty of good info there.
        HCGB Trooper #24

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        • #5
          dont forget basswood and maple for the caps.



          John Surh says the holy grail for tone is a basswood body and maple cap. EVH and others swear by basswood as well.
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          • #6
            Mahogany or Padauk for me.
            “One who loves & understands nature will never be alone & will never be afraid.”
            -Rachel Carson-

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            • #7
              Okay, so Warmoth gave me:



              Poplar

              Basswood

              Swamp Ash

              Alder

              Maple

              Mahogany

              Black Korina

              Walnut



              Plus a whole variety of laminates for the top.



              I also know about Agathis and Pawlonia. Are there any others I could tell him about?



              What about the benefits/detriments of each?





              I intend to volunteer to be a guinea pig for him and build a couple of different bodies. I might even try a neck... depends on what CNC files I can find I suppose.
              "I feel kind of sorry for the guys who know so much about playing. I pick it up, put my finger in the wrong place and - ah, a song!"~ Keith RichardsHow to disagree

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              • #8
                Sure to start a war, but I'll give my perspective, however biased and limited.

                Poplar(+)neutral tone, easy to work, light.(-) dings easily but not as bad a basswood, not particularly pretty grain so usually painted.

                I've heard some good sounding mexican strats from poplar, Fender Mexicao went to poplar for a while in painted strats. Not much dif tonally than alder.

                Basswood(+) neutral tone, easy to work, light.(-) dings easily. Better painted, not much grain. I like it. I had a basswood MIM Fretless Jazz Bass that was great.

                Swamp Ash(+) Because thats whats in a blackguard Tele, period.(-) porous grain requires filling for smooth finish. I've never owned a swamp ash guitar. Have a heavy northern ash MIM strat, its twangier than the alder ones I compared it to when I bought it.

                Alder(+) A Fender staple. Neutral & balanced tone, easy to work.(-) grain is unspectacular. Never owned an Alder guitar but I've played many of em.

                Maple(+) Bright (-) Bright, can be heavy. I have an all hard rock maple Carvin I love. Can be great with the right combination of body size, scale, and pickups.

                Mahogany(+) Darker tone. Pretty Grain (-) Darker tone, relatively heavy. Again needs to be combined with the right neck and pickups.

                Black Korina-Dont know much about it. Most say its a snappier tone than mahogany but not as snappy as ash. I do know Korina Explorers and Vs are great sounding axes with a unique tone. If I used it I'd pair it with a gibson scale neck and humbuckers. On acoustics, its bright and snappy yet decent bass, and beautiful and expensive.

                Walnut-dunno. For an acoustic back and sides, its in between mahogany and rosewood. .Dunno how that translates to elec. I think it would be heavy, and is not the easiest wood to work. Beautiful grain tho.



                In my opinion, the wood is just one bit of the equation in the overall sound of an electric solid body guitar. Scale length, body size & shape, fretboard, type bridge, and most importantly pickups also contribute to the tone. Its all the componets in the right combination that makes it special. I have teles with bodies made from plywood, pine, and pawlonia and they all sound different but good. As with all my guitars, they all have different necks and pickups, so its hard to say what the wood contributes. Many would argue it makes no diff.

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                • #9






                  Quote Originally Posted by gergbee
                  View Post

                  Okay, so Warmoth gave me:



                  Poplar

                  Basswood

                  Swamp Ash

                  Alder

                  Maple

                  Mahogany

                  Black Korina

                  Walnut



                  Plus a whole variety of laminates for the top.



                  I also know about Agathis and Pawlonia. Are there any others I could tell him about?



                  What about the benefits/detriments of each?





                  I intend to volunteer to be a guinea pig for him and build a couple of different bodies. I might even try a neck... depends on what CNC files I can find I suppose.




                  The benefits and detriments are going to depend on what you are after. Alder is a detriment in a les paul and you won't get that growl or lower mids that mahogany gives. Conversely, mahogany is a detriment, IMO, in a strat because you will lose some sparkle and upper range.
                  One MIA Fender Strat, one Gibson Les Paul, one Martin Acoustic, what more do you need?

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                  • #10
                    Extending the list...



                    northern ash, bright and dense

                    Paulownia, very lightweight and resonant. Tonally somewhere between mahogany and swamp ash, but soft and easily dented

                    Pine (sugar pine, white pine)
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                    • #11






                      Quote Originally Posted by Meowy
                      View Post

                      Extending the list...



                      northern ash, bright and dense

                      Paulownia, very lightweight and resonant. Totally somewhere between mahogany and swamp ash, but soft and easily dented

                      Pine (sugar pine, white pine)




                      I have a white pine tele, very light, tonally its hard to describe but its pretty resonant. I consider it to be similar overall to lightweight swamp ash.

                      I just recently did a pawlonia one, extremely light. Tonally it's very resonant, has an almost acoustic quality to me, similar to a tele with an f hole.

                      Regardless what the body is, the tonal quality of the wood can be either enhanced or offset by everything else.

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                      • #12
                        I have heard that swamp ash can be a little unpredictable - meaning a seemingly fine specimen can produce a sonic dud. True for all woods to a degree. I've had a few disappointing outcomes when using it. Alder is my favorite. I've had some good experiences with poplar too, although it is much maligned on some forums. Fender once did a blind test with some identical looking strats using a variety of woods. Pros who came to the factory were asked to try and the guitars with poplar bodies scored well. I'm looking forward to trying pine on my next build.
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                        • #13
                          Pine can vary tremendously from species to species.

                          Some folks claim success from plain old SYP, tho its generally heavy.

                          Theres been some really good guitars built with plywood, or even cutting boards from Ikea.

                          Really old reclaimed pine lumber can work very well but it can be sappy and hard on tools.

                          Most folks prefer eastern white pine of some type or western sugar pine.

                          Its generally light and easy to work, and it has good tonal qualities(in a tele at least).

                          If you can't find white or sugar pine locally, then some type of spruce, fir, or even cedar would be very similar I'd bet.

                          Another often overlooked common wood is Sycamore.

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                          • #14
                            Thanks for all the input! I really do appreciate it.



                            I found a few files floating around online but I have no idea if they are the right ones or not. Anyone have any suggestions there? He just unpacked the machine before the Christmas break so he hasn't really had a chance to use it and he didn't really know what kind of computer stuff it used (yet).

                            Greg
                            "I feel kind of sorry for the guys who know so much about playing. I pick it up, put my finger in the wrong place and - ah, a song!"~ Keith RichardsHow to disagree

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                            • #15






                              Quote Originally Posted by caveman
                              View Post

                              I'd refer your teacher to the Warmoth site, plenty of good info there.




                              Here is where you will find your answer very nicely spelled out.
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