While choosing your next electric guitar there are many variables that come into play. Tone woods, pickups and body shapes are all important aspects that should be considered by any discerning buyer.
Woods are the building block of your guitar. Every tone wood has its own special characteristics. Finger boards and necks vary greatly and they are complimentary to the wood used for the body. Different wood combinations will create different sonic qualities. For example: A classic 1960s Fender Stratocaster would have an alder body, a maple neck, and a rosewood fingerboard. The alder and rosewood combination brings together a richer and thicker sound in comparison to an ash body and maple neck, like that found on a 50's Fender Stratocaster. That combination creates a brighter, more focused tone. Other woods, such as mahogany with a maple cap of a Gibson Les Paul, would deliver an even fuller, more round tone and accentuated midrange.
Body shape, while partially influencing tone, is mainly for stylistic and aesthetic purposes. These iconic shapes can spark inspiration in even the most seasoned player.
Acoustic guitars utilize different tone woods, bracing patterns and body types to create unique sonic qualities, response and feel. Each of these aspects should be considered when you are in the market for a new instrument.
There are many different tone woods available today that guitar builders use to help them carefully shape the sound the customer desires. Rosewoods or Ebonies may be used on the back and sides if a robust, harmonically complex tone is desired. Mahogany would be found on a brighter, dryer sounding guitar and is typically well balanced. Maple falls between Rosewood and Mahogany in complexity, but favors the higher end frequencies for brighter response.
Top woods have the most influence over the immediate response and sound of any acoustic guitar. Different species of spruce, cedar and mahogany are commonly used top woods that have greatly varying effects over the guitar's sound. Adirondack spruce is a great choice for a bigger guitar like a Martin D-18, as it is among the stiffer species of spruce, and creates a slightly darker attack. European spruce is a bit softer than Adirondack, thus wielding more articulate nuances and a lighter overall response. Some may prefer the mellow warmth of a cedar top, commonly found on classical guitars for their round tone and impressive projection.
An amazing array of bracing patterns and techniques have been used over the years in an effort to get full potential of the top, back and sides as well as structure them all together. X, double X, fan and lattice patterns can be used for a wide variety of sonic results. Martin's famous X-Bracing pattern has become a standard among acoustic builders today for its combination of strength and unbelievable volume and tone. Different degrees of scalloping are used to let the top vibrate as freely as possible, while stiffening the back and sides.
Body shape and size is another major factor in what you can expect to get out of your acoustic instrument. There are many different shapes and sizes available from manufacturers that all play a huge roll in not only the sound of the instrument, but also the feel and comfort. Large Dreadnaught and Jumbo guitars have made their place as the thumping rhythm in country, bluegrass, pop and rock music for years. This is due to the versatile nature of these shapes, usually utilizing a very wide part of the sonic spectrum. Smaller guitars such as Parlor, 00 and OM bodies tend to be more focused tonally and often lend a better sound and feel for fingerstyle applications. These require less air movement to produce volume, and thus have more clarity and a more articulate feel.