Tone wood on hollows and semi hollows.

Discussion in 'Technical Side of Things' started by dlew919, Oct 1, 2021.

  1. dlew919

    dlew919 Country Gent

    Jul 18, 2016
    Sydney, Australia
    Without wanting to start a fight, and if I do, please accept my apologies, how important is the wood on semihollows and hollow bodies? The pickups are a major source of tone no doubt, but does it matter if it's mahogany, maple or craft wood?

    Just curious... I know it's vital on acoustic instruments, and a controversial topic on solids.

    What happens at halfway?

    Thanks in advance.
  2. Highroller

    Highroller Country Gent

    Jun 11, 2015
    Portland, OR
    I think it can matter ... less than on an acoustic, but more than with a solid body.

    for example ... I bought a Guild Starfire III many years ago, a blonde maple one. A buddy of mine bought the exact same guitar, but in a wine red mahogany. Same full hollow design, same pups, even put 'em thru the same amps. There was absolutely no mistaking that the two guitars had different tones. The mahogany was fairly mellow, the maple much brighter.

    Anecdotal evidence for sure, but it's what I got. YMMV.
  3. wabash slim

    wabash slim I Bleed Orange

    Feb 10, 2010
    lafayette in
    To me, tone wood matters on an acoustic, but not on an electric.
  4. hcsterg

    hcsterg Friend of Fred

    Feb 13, 2012
    I know little about this... :oops:

    - solid top = one or two (matching) carved pieces of wood.
    The most sensitive, the most resonant, but also the most fragile so in need of attention.

    - laminated top = 2 or 3 (usually) layers of wood ply glued to shape on a mold, the wood plies having the same fiber sense
    Less sensitive than the solid top, but much more resistant to weather variations.

    - plywood top = classic 90° crossed fiber plies of wood.
    Very resistant, but the less resonant due to crossed-fiber plies.

    Which guitar have what ? Well... That's difficult to tell, in reality !

    - my Gretsch G100 and G400 have a 2 or 3-ply laminated top, for sure (Gretsch specs).
    - my 1980 Gibson ES-335, I guess so, but unsure...
    - my G6119, G5420, G5622T, I guess so, but unsure too...
    - my vintage Japanese low-cost 60s rebuilt derelicts have probably plywood, I think...

  5. Duo Slinger

    Duo Slinger Synchromatic

    Sep 11, 2020
    California, USA
    Yeah, I agree, I think the "type" of wood, i.e. solid v laminate, is more important than the tonewood.
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  6. BuddyHollywood

    BuddyHollywood Gretschie

    Sep 11, 2009
    Venice, CA
    I've built my own designed solid body guitars and basses, many partscasters, own a chambered Duo Jet and a hollow Casino. Everything matters in every guitar. Guitars are instruments made up of ingredients that all contribute to the final sound. One of the parts Strats I built sounded lifeless and dead until I switched out the basswood body for an alder body. Everything else was the same. An alder Telecaster I used to own came alive once I stripped the thick plastic finish off of it and refinished it with a ReRanch thin nitro finish. There is a reason my Gretsch Duo Jet is made from chambered mahogany but with a maple cap. Gibson and Gretsch didn't just stumble on this recipe. There is a reason my Casino has a maple / poplar / maple body but a mahogany neck. Why doesn't Epiphone use a maple neck? I'm almost positive that when they were designing these guitars they tried many different woods and then found the balance they were searching for. The body wood matters and so does the neck wood. There is even a very small difference between the tone of a maple fretboard compared to a rosewood fretboard. It's not enough to be a deal maker or breaker for me but it's there. Scale length affects the overall tone of a guitar but is hardly ever mentioned. Everything matters.

    The woods of the body and the neck are the foundation of what the strings are rooted to and vibrating against. The pickups take this vibration and turn it into electric signals. If the guitar is sounding great unplugged you can pretty much install whatever pickups you want in it. Other guitars may be bright and need darker pickups to balance them out. Other guitars may be more dull and need brighter pickups to balance them out. If it is only pickups that matter you could install whatever pickups you love on any guitar and achieve the same tones. This isn't the case.
  7. Archtops

    Archtops Country Gent

    Mar 4, 2021
    Everything adds to the resonance of an instrument. IMHO
  8. drmilktruck

    drmilktruck I Bleed Orange

    May 17, 2009
    Plymouth, MN
    It matters, like everything that goes into making and playing a guitar. How much is the debate. The strongest case for the importance of tone wood is the top of an acoustic guitar. The weakest is the wood of a solid body electric guitar. Everything else is in between. The important thing though is that there is no such thing as "the best," especially when applied to a specific guitar. Brazilian Rosewood has the reputation of being the best sounding acoustic tone wood, but I'm sure there are plenty of bad sounding poorly made BR guitars. Or, you might just not like it. So a cheap laminate guitar may be the one you think sounds best to your ears. (The gold standard is the blind listening test, which is really hard to do and control all variables. Those that have been done suggest most people can't tell the difference, but some people with highly developed ears can. I heard a podcast where Laurence Juber was said to be able to accurately identify the woods in several acoustic guitars.)

    I'll point people to this book, the best one that breaks down everything in an electric guitar and discusses its overall relative importance to what ultimately hits your ears.

    Last edited: Oct 1, 2021
  9. Bertotti

    Bertotti Friend of Fred

    Jul 20, 2017
    South Dakota
    And type of wood isn’t always an indicator. My Basswood Aerodyne is a very resonant Strat sounds great. And I have seen maple that barely functioned in its role. So type of wood how good that pieces is and the way the luthier worked it are just small parts of the magic. But in an electric or hollow body I do not thinking is nearly as critical as an acoustic. And what I mean is the density and quality can be sacrificed a bit because the way the semi-hollows and hollows are built do not depend as much on the tone wood as an acoustic does.
  10. BatmansGretsch

    BatmansGretsch Gretschie

    Dec 3, 2019
    It is one of those things that doesn't matter as much as you think it would but also isn't as insignificant as you think it might be.

    The people suggesting everything matters about how a guitar sounds are pretty much on the right track. Just like amp and cab housing design matters. They shouldn't really, in terms of the general physics theory behind all these things, but they do when the applied physics in engineering has to come to terms with subtle influences like resonance. If anyone doesn't think resonance makes any difference then just take two different cabs with the same speaker configurations inside and listen to the differences. Open back, closed-back is probably the most noticeable design difference when it comes to sounds with hollows versus closed and what stuff is made from. It's the same with guitars and woods.

    However, and here is the catch, all gear sounds different on some level even if it's the same model. It's the nature of analog systems. Two amps off the same line, need dialing differently to sound the same. Two cabs off the same line, subtle variation. Two guitars off the same line. Subtle variations. When it comes to custom gear it's another world of differences entirely. Four Fender Tweed Custom Deluxe Combos in the shop. Each one sounds a little different to the other.

    Moral of the story: You got to pick the one you dig the most. Same with guitars. You put all preconceived notions aside and use your ears.
  11. jvin248

    jvin248 Electromatic

    May 16, 2017
    Near Detroit

    Pickups, Pots 'n Caps, pickup position relative to the bridge (check out a Strat SSS sometime, position matters), player's picking location (Strat players avoid picking around the volume knob and miss out on the twang of a Tele), player's fingers and ears for amp and signal chain setup -- those are the key elements.

    The wood is there to look pretty.


    Most players 'instinctively' know what using a 250k vs 500kohm volume pot will do to guitar tone. Then when you find out that a simple volume pot has a 20% factory tolerance range max to min you realize why that rack of guitars can sound so different. Pickups have a further range of variation.

    Most 'wood' comparisons are two guitars that 'are identical in every way except for this wood' and players make interpretations ... but I've had an order of as few as six pots cover 90% of the tolerance range. A too-clever builder will put the pot that makes a guitar sound darker with the darker wood guitar so it sounds 'warmer' while the higher kohm pot goes on the 'brighter' maple guitar...

    Everyone 'knows' how poor the tone is from plywood guitars.
    Gibson ES-335s are built with laminated 'plywood' tops and backs.
    BB King never seemed to be inhibited by that plywood tone problem.

    Laminate sheet inventory at 4:25min

    Last edited: Oct 4, 2021
  12. drmilktruck

    drmilktruck I Bleed Orange

    May 17, 2009
    Plymouth, MN
    The reason laminate started getting used on high end electric guitars like Gibson and Gretsch was that it made no sense to use an expensive piece of solid wood when you were going to cut holes into it and mount pickups. You didn’t need that nice sounding solid piece like you did for an acoustic.
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  13. Archtops

    Archtops Country Gent

    Mar 4, 2021
    I thought it was a feedback issue why they started using laminates.
  14. sgarnett

    sgarnett Synchromatic

    Apr 14, 2020
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2021
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  15. drmilktruck

    drmilktruck I Bleed Orange

    May 17, 2009
    Plymouth, MN
    dlew919 likes this.
  16. rockinstephen

    rockinstephen Electromatic

    I tend to agree. That is to say, I can't tell the difference on an electric, but maybe your ears are better or hear differently than mine...
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  17. wabash slim

    wabash slim I Bleed Orange

    Feb 10, 2010
    lafayette in
    I wouldn't say my ears are better. My wife says that I need hearing aids....

    ....or something like that. Can't tell. She mumbles a lot.
  18. petecarlton

    petecarlton Electromatic

    Feb 10, 2021
    Nottingham, UK
    "little" or "a little"?
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  19. petecarlton

    petecarlton Electromatic

    Feb 10, 2021
    Nottingham, UK
    I'm not sure about the implied dissing of basswood here. Basswood is simply another name for lime or linden - not some ply or veneer alternative to a natural product - and therefore more uncommon than maple, ash or some of the other regular options.
    dlew919 likes this.
  20. petecarlton

    petecarlton Electromatic

    Feb 10, 2021
    Nottingham, UK
    That is an extreme view!
    KreepyTeach likes this.
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