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How Can Wood Effect Tone?

ourmaninthenorth

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Mar 28, 2009
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I don't know why.

I do know that it does.

I'd make a 20 minute youtube video of my experiences, but two fundamental flaws stand in the way.

I don't know how.

I can't stretch my answer above to over 10 seconds.

What a fool I've been all these years.
 

Tim

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A guitar is 6 springs in parallel (the strings) tied to one big spring being the neck. But the neck is made up of multiple springs, the truss rod, neck wood and fingerboard. When you pick a note all of the springs vibrate together and this causes an adding and subtracting of phases and the result is some harmonics are created and some harmonics are attenuated. Each piece of wood has it's own elastic and dampening characteristics so some guitars emphasize certain harmonics over others. Because wood is flexible it colors how the string vibrates and which harmonics are created. If you change the tension on the neck, like playing in dropped D, each note on the neck will sound different than it did at concert pitch. Then you add to that all of the phasing effects the body adds/subtracts from the sound and each guitar becomes different.
 
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rockabilly69

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Thanks everyone. I found the answer:
So you are going to make your decision from a youtube video? You want to see how wood affects tone. Get two bolt on neck Fender guitars, and swap the necks on the guitar, if you don't hear a tone difference you better go to the ear doctor!
 

LeonC

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The differences are subtle at times...and at other times, they're quite clear. We could argue for years (and in fact the guitar playing community has) re: which one sounds best...but I would think that anyone who has the least bit of sensitivity to tone could hear the difference. And I imagine the differences are much more apparent if you're the guy playing the guitars.
 

Keefoman

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The differences are subtle at times...and at other times, they're quite clear. We could argue for years (and in fact the guitar playing community has) re: which one sounds best...but I would think that anyone who has the least bit of sensitivity to tone could hear the difference. And I imagine the differences are much more apparent if you're the guy playing the guitars.
This is a recording where mikes and other hardware also play a role, and we hear it through youtube... The differences are subtle for sure, but they are there. If wood didn't matter at all, we would hear NO difference whatsoever.
 

latestarter

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So, are you proposing OP, that a guitar made from balsa wood will sound the same as a guitar made from mahogany, all else being equal? He he.
 

gibsonjunkie

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Back in college I was a music major that had to take a science course to graduate. They put together a physics course on Musical Acoustics., The toughest course I took, but I aced it because it was so darn interesting. We learned how sound is made... short version - everything affects harmonics of sound (sometimes subtly) but yes - it matters.
 

Injam

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If you only had one choice to play a concert. A top of the line so called good wood guitar with a cheap piece of crap amp or a fiber glass guitar with a Marshall JCM 800 and a full stack. Which one do you think would sound better?
Nuff said.
 

jrgtr42

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If you only had one choice to play a concert. A top of the line so called good wood guitar with a cheap piece of crap amp or a fiber glass guitar with a Marshall JCM 800 and a full stack. Which one do you think would sound better?
Nuff said.
Not a valid comparison. The sound is an equations between guitar, amp, effects (if any) cables etc etc.
Some players have routinely played shows or tours with what might be considered peice of crap amps.
But what we're talking about is, all else being equal, does the wood of a guitar make a difference. And absolutely it does. How much of a difference may depend on a few other factors, but it's undeniable.
 

WholeLottaTone

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Oct 26, 2021
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The guitars might sound different, but it won’t be the wood.
What else could explain the difference? latestarter wrote in the question you're answering that the woods are different and all else is equal.

If you only had one choice to play a concert. A fiber glass guitar with a Marshall JCM 800 and a full stack or a top of the line so called good wood guitar with a Marshall JCM 800 and a full stack. Which do you think would sound better?
Nuff said.
 
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Shelkonnery

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Jan 28, 2021
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Everything affects tone, wood being a major one.
I understand your premise of pickups and amp being what influences tone the most.

But pickups are like microphones, they will only reproduce what the guitar feeds them.
Same thing with amps. A high end amp would greatly amplify a subpar guitar. But that’s it.

I think you’re wrong to assume there’s more variation within the same pickups line than with the same wood types. Wood is organic, no piece is ever identical. Pickups and pots can literally be measured, they’ll only change sound if the manufacturers change something in them from one batch to the next.

Music is all about frequencies and subtleties, which we capture, equalize, mix and master before we can adequately hear it. Just because you might not hear a difference, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

This really shows the musical properties of some kinds of wood and this is a nice amped comparison. I mean, the difference in tone is there and is not so subtle.

There are no huge scientific articles or essays about it, but empirical evidence is just as valid and scientific.
 

gibsonjunkie

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When I sold audio equipment there was a similar argument made about how different lots of wood might make high end speakers sound subtly different from each other. The holy grail was to get speakers with sequential serial numbers.
 
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Keefoman

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If you only had one choice to play a concert. A top of the line so called good wood guitar with a cheap piece of crap amp or a fiber glass guitar with a Marshall JCM 800 and a full stack. Which one do you think would sound better?
Nuff said.
How is this relevant to your initial question? Even though wood definietly affects the sound or tone of a guitar, it doesn’t mean that a fiber glass guitar automatically will sound crap. Keith Richards did many shows on a plexi glass guitar in the early ‘70s.
 

K_L

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Sep 11, 2014
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Is this correct:
'How Can Wood EFFECT Tone'?
Or is this correct:
'How Can Wood AFFECT Tone'?
Or is there a difference in the 2 questions? :unsure:
 

Injam

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Oct 15, 2021
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Windings on modern pickups are almost exactly the same. There might be very slight variations, but those variations don't account for the variations in tone that are usually attributed to tonewoods.

The usual argument is that pots and caps make the differences between two guitars of the same model because the values of pots and caps vary much more than those of pickups. This still fails to explain why one wiring harness and one pickup still sound different when put in different pieces of wood and why people have noticed consistent differences in tone from different kinds of wood.

As for how the wood affects the string vibration even though they don't touch each other: The vibrations are transferred from the strings to the wood by the nut, bridge, and other points of contact. It's the reason you can feel the guitar vibrate when you strum it, and it's the reason acoustic guitars produce more sound than unplugged electric guitars (the strings vibrate the bridge which vibrates the top, which produces most of the sound you hear when playing an acoustic). The wood then dampens some of these vibrations and transfers some of them back to the bridge and then on to the strings, affecting their vibrations and the signal picked up by the pickups and sent out to the amp. The different structural properties of different woods cause differences in resonance, and those differences in resonance cause the different "sounds" of different tonewoods.

The acoustic guitar example is a demonstration that this is true. If it weren't true, then the top of an acoustic guitar wouldn't vibrate when it is played. Another demonstration is the clear difference in sustain between a guitar made out of a metal girder and one made out of balsa wood. I think Johan Segeborn has a video where he mounts strings and a pickup to an I beam in his house, and it sustains for a very, very long time.

The specific differences (and whether they are audible to a person) that wood makes to electric guitar tone might be up for debate, but whether or not wood vibrates isn't.
Almost exactly? You just killed your argument. Let me tell you exactly. The pickup winding are different.
 

Injam

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Oct 15, 2021
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I was playing my telecaster the other day and was getting some great sounds out my Rectoverb. Then I plugged my Singlecut in and it sounded a little different. Then I saw these knobs on the front of my amp. I started adjusting them and was able to recreate the beautiful sounds that my tele was making. Does anyone else know that you can do this? It was like all the amp needed was an AC electric current created by the vibrating steel strings above the magnets wrapped with copper wire.
 
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Keefoman

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I was playing my telecaster the other day and was getting some great sounds out my Rectoverb. Then I plugged my Singlecut in and it sounded a little different. Then I saw these knobs on the front of my amp. I started adjusting them and was able to recreate the beautiful sounds that my tele was making. Does anyone else know that you can do this? It was like all the amp needed was an AC electric current created by the vibrating steel strings above the magnets wrapped with copper wire.
When playing live, you don’t want to adjust eq on your amp each time you use a different guitar. You want the sound to be different as to what guitar you are playing. Not due to amp settings.
 
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