Which Wood Sounds Best?
When it comes to transmitting audio, each wood has its own character and qualities.
For building instruments such as the guitar, the creator will often choose the wood based on the qualities she wants to impart into the instruments’ sound.
For audio equipment, a high density wood composite (found in the i90 and i50) maintains clarity on the trebles, while not absorbing the bass produced by the subwoofer.
Quickly, here is a rundown of terms you will find in this article:
Fundamental tone – the initial sound heard when you pick or pluck.
Overtones – complex harmonic layers that can make the note swell after the fundamental
Pores - airy spaces found in the wood grain which absorb sound
Notes - Lows (Low pitch notes, also referred to as bass), Mids and highs (medium and high pitch notes, also referred to as treble)
Alder is a lightweight wood with soft tight pores which impart a unique character on the tones. Alder features a swirling grain pattern which adds to the wood’s strength and the complexity of the tones produced. Alder retains highs and gives room for the lows to flourish. Alder has a wider scope of tones than many other woods, which leads to the perception of having less mids. In actuality, the mids are there.
An inexpensive, easy to work wood that is soft with tight grains, Basswood dampens and softens sharp highs. Basswood may have a weaker low-end, and deep, breathy sub-lows aren’t resonated as well as in other woods. The reduction of the outer frequencies (high highs and low lows) leaves the mids very pronounced on Basswood.
Mahogany is known for being durable, attractive, easy to work with, and resonant. Its attractiveness and lower price made it a popular choice in the guitar world. Mahogany is not as big sounding, but comes with a distinct twangy character. Mahogany has a solid, punchy tone with a good response on the highs.
Ash has an open grain, which needs to be filled prior to work, requiring a lot of factory prep. Ash comes in two main varieties: Hard (“Northern Ash”) and Soft (“Southern Ash” or “Swamp Ash”).
Hard Ash has a bright tone and long sustaining qualities. Soft Ash has a much warmer feel than Hard Ash.
Walnut has a tone slightly warmer than Maple, with good sustain. Walnut looks great when finished with oil, and is comparably heavy.
This beautiful, richly golden colored wood from Hawaii is in short supply, and therefore will cost a bit more. Koa makes a very balanced sounding guitar with great warmth and brightness. Koa’s highs are very full, and the midrange is highlighted by the character of the wood.
Maple features a bright tone with good sustain and plenty of bite. Maple features bright highs and strong upper mids. Maple is about as dense as hard ash but easier to finish due to its durable tight grain.
One of the most popular woods used to make guitars, Sitka Spruce is very strong, with a balanced and resonant sound and good sustain. Sitka Spruce features a wide dynamic range from lows to highs, and imparts a clear, powerful tone into the audio. Sitka Spruce ages like a fine wine, improving over the years after manufacture.
Rosewood features beautiful brown and purple colors, and has a warm, rich tone with great resonance and volume. Brazillian Rosewood (not available in commercial quality or quantity) has great clarity in the lows and rich and clear in the trebles.
Indian Rosewood is the common substitute for Brazilian Rosewood. Indian is porous, which requires a lot of labor before it can be lacquered. While it is harder than maple, its porous nature gives it a warmer tone. Indian Rosewood features a thicker tonality that is heavy in the midrange.
Ebony has a bright attack and great sustain, with excellent durability.
Wenge features strong midrange tones and warm lows, and is usually played raw and unfinished. Wenge trims some high overtones and resonates more fundamental mids and low mids.
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