Solid bodies: Wood density and sound?

Discussion in 'Other Cool Guitars' started by Rmccamey, Jul 17, 2021.

  1. Rmccamey

    Rmccamey Gretschie

    Aug 28, 2020
    I see discussions on the type of wood used for Strat/Tele bodies, but how about density. Do lighter density woods produce a noticeably different sound/tone than higher density woods?
    Back in Black likes this.
  2. thunder58

    thunder58 Super Moderator Staff Member

    Dec 23, 2010
    tappan ny
    Admin Post
    I have an SG Tribute . It's mass / density of the body is much much less than Les Paul's or Tele's I've owned and played . Very light guitar . It has to be the loudest guitar I've ever owned .
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  3. loudnlousy

    loudnlousy Gretschified

    Oct 18, 2015
    I strongly believe that the type of wood used on an acoustic is crucial to it`s overall tone.

    Whereas two similar constructed solidbody-guitars, one made of heavier wood and one made of lighter wood, might differ in sustain but not so much in overal tone.
    Here it is a matter of electronics used, from my experience.
    The overall weight and stiffness is more a matter of what is your personal preference.

    Usually you can make up lacking sustain on light guitars with a bit more volume from your amp.:)
    doc538, ronbo, NJDevil and 4 others like this.
  4. DennisC

    DennisC Country Gent

    May 11, 2017
    Sustain is frequency-sensitive, too. Density and stiffness influencing this is, by all means, inevitable, but expecting a little influence here also is reasonable at least.

    That said, the spectrum of tone the pickups can pick up is determined by the motion of the strings, which is determined but the string's properties and the anchoring and the attached masses and stiffnesses, of course...

    ... but, in the first place, all these things only answer to a motion the string already is in. Little influence - nice wood is for being nice, mass and stiffness could very well be sonically perfect witch a particle board body and shitty in a pristine, nicely grown whatever rare tree of your liking.

    The mass of the bridge, in hollowbodies, has a massive influence on the sustain. On a solid ... uh, well ... no, there, the entire body is mass attached to the bridge.
    Rmccamey likes this.
  5. Back in Black

    Back in Black Country Gent

    Jun 22, 2020
    Ontario Canada

    The six million dollar question...

    I suppose as far as quality acoustic guitars, the ''experts'' will tell you there is science in the wood which is selected.

    But on the solid electric side of guitars...look at Eddy Vanhalen's Frankenstein. The guitar was built basically from scraps found at Boogie Bodies, on the floor, no consideration given to tone woods/sound or much else.

    And yet, who can argue the sound that came from what was basically $150. worth of scrap and ''spare'' castoffs.

    Beauty being in the ear of the beholder, with the talent of the player having as much to do with it as anything else...the sum of the total.

    Wood/metal/plastic/resin/Masonite/compressed saw dust...who's to say which is best. If you love the sound which comes from a Dano, then you have to be ''thumbs up'' for Masonite and pressed board!

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  6. Henry

    Henry I Bleed Orange

    Apr 9, 2014
    I think the mass equals sustain theory is BS. Imo it's more about the resonance of the body, which imo is more complicated than just one simple mass measurement. I think the different types of wood make a very marginal difference to tone on an electric guitar.
    pmac11 and Rmccamey like this.
  7. englishman

    englishman Gretschified

    Apr 5, 2014
  8. sgarnett

    sgarnett Synchromatic

    Apr 14, 2020
    Two things we know with absolute certainty about electric guitars:
    1) The strings and pickups are all that matter.
    2) A Strat can never sound like a Les Paul can never sound like a Tele can never sound like a Rick can never sound like a Dano can never sound like a 6120 can never sound like a 335 … no matter what pickups you put in them, because everything matters.

    The truth is somewhere in-between. There is no single magical tone lever that you can just order more of. Everything matters, but in many tiny, imperceptible ways. It is only in the gestalt that all those little inconsequential differences interact to sing (or not). You can’t credit any one part for the results of the whole.
  9. sgarnett

    sgarnett Synchromatic

    Apr 14, 2020
    Let’s face it … for electric guitars and amps, it is often the “junk”, the simple designs, pedestrian materials, and hacked mods, and of course the mistakes that have become iconic. The revered 5E3 Tweed Deluxe is fundamentally a very flawed design ….

    In the early 90s, pawn shops were full of exotic sustain monster guitars made with all the “best” materials.
    drmilktruck and Rmccamey like this.
  10. hcsterg

    hcsterg Friend of Fred

    Feb 13, 2012
    Usually, and all things being equal otherwise :
    - A more dense and stiff material will show higher resonant frequency.
    And conversely :
    - A less dense and more soft material will show lower resonant frequency.
    This is a general trend, and of course, there's exceptions !;)

    Funny, @sgarnett ! I did not knew this expression... :cool: The French translation gives matériaux pour piétons... :D. Does it mean something like "rudimentary, rustic or basic materials" ? o_O

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  11. stevo

    stevo Friend of Fred

    May 1, 2012
    Proving the point is very difficult - almost impossible to isolate all the variables. I do know that my guitar shop wonder told me that Collings used to select solid body guitar woods based on some acoustic tests for resonance etc. I also know that not all solid body guitars resonate well and have a restrained feeling. That probably has less to do with the species of wood and more to do with variations even within a species.
    Rmccamey likes this.
  12. Rmccamey

    Rmccamey Gretschie

    Aug 28, 2020
    Thanks, all. I'm considering a solid body Tele build and hoping for a light guitar when completed rather than a boat anchor :) without getting into the hollow or semi-hollow space. My old '62 Tennessean fills that niche for me just fine. From your posts, it appears a lightweight (less dense) wood body should make a good starting point.
    Archtops and GlenP like this.
  13. sgarnett

    sgarnett Synchromatic

    Apr 14, 2020
    Yes, that’s correct. Basic or common.
    hcsterg likes this.
  14. NJDevil

    NJDevil Synchromatic

    Jul 9, 2014
    Commack, NY
    A friend of mine showed me the theory, and then proved it with 2 different formals that 2 guitars of equal build and pickups but differences in wood densities that the guitar with the body of greater density will be more resonant. The strings movement creates the resonance. Lighter density wood will absorb some of that energy and the ability of the strings is compromised.

    This is for a solid body unplugged. There are way too many variables though to even measure resonance through an amp with a solid body electric. Differences between 2 guitars might be heard but is that; 1) due to resonance and/or 2) resonance because of the density of the wood.

    Or, as englishman posted above...... No.
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  15. G5422T

    G5422T Country Gent

    May 24, 2012
    IDK, I suppose density factors in, but how much, and of what species of wood.

    Some folks say that "big" neck Teles sound better. More wood?

    Shoot, so many variables, they all add up to the final tone/sound/feel.

    When I planned out the body for my Partscaster, I wanted swamp ash, a nice grain pattern, 1 or 2 piece.

    Worked with Warmoth and got all of that, plus a lighter weight, and a non tinted Butterscotch Blonde finish.

    I'm happy. All the parts together sound like a great Tele should.

    Sum of all the parts.

    20200429_155207.jpg 20200405_164548.jpg 20200503_143709.jpg
  16. audept

    audept Senior Gretsch-Talker

    Dec 1, 2010
    Sydney, Australia
    When I use the words "solid body" Mrs Audept just smirks and questions my weight. :(
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  17. Ricochet

    Ricochet Senior Gretsch-Talker

    Nov 13, 2009
    Monkey Island
    Guitar forum lore often attributes a material having a a certain cumulative effect, like stuff is added, but more often a certain material acts like a filter, it absorbs and dampens.
    The observation is a steel bridge saddle has longer sustain than a stock zinc saddle, steel just dampens less of the resonance, and keeps more of the high frequencies intact compared to say zinc or brass.

    A well resonating guitar will still resonate well when amplified. Nothing any booteek pickup will change about it. :)
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2021
  18. hcsterg

    hcsterg Friend of Fred

    Feb 13, 2012
    Thanks ! I'll note it. :)

    Yes, @Ricochet : I had one example of this with my Squier Std Strat 2005 modded vs. my Fender Std Strat 2021 FAT50. Both were :
    - loaded with the same electronics and pickups.
    - fitted with the same vibrato, with steel laminated block, steel saddles, number of springs.
    - striclty adjusted with the same setup : strings, relief, action, fret size and height.

    Simply said : one was intended to be the spare of the other, and conversely.


    Verdict :
    - unplugged, the Squier was more resonant, louder and showed a better tone than the Fender.
    - when plugged, the tonal qualities of the Squier were preserved and the difference was neat with the Fender.

    In one word : the tone of the Squier was "fuller", while the tone of the Fender was "thinner". The Squier stayed, the Fender went onto sale.

    I swapped the two loaded pickguards to check the possible influence of the reputedly identical electronics, and no way : the "good tone" stayed in the Squier.

    The wood of the Squier was Agathis for the body and Maple for the neck, while the Strat was all Maple. Their respective weight were at least equal, or with a 100 grams difference, not more, AFAIR (I have the values measured somewhere, but not on hand). Something like 3.6-3.7kg, traducing no huge density difference, finally... o_O

    Then I draw the conclusion that the wood had a influence to be considered in the tone of a solidbody guitar, and at least was responsible in my personal case of the better sounding of the Squier vs. the Fender.

  19. Ricochet

    Ricochet Senior Gretsch-Talker

    Nov 13, 2009
    Monkey Island
    Duke Ellington said there are 2 kinds of music. Good music, and bad music. I think the same can be said about wood. You can find a nice well resonating piece in any budget. Chances increase exponentially if the budget is upped, but it's never a guarantee.
  20. hcsterg

    hcsterg Friend of Fred

    Feb 13, 2012
    Yes, I agree.

    Ricochet likes this.
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