Wood type has little effect on guitars’ sound, study

Do endangered woods make better guitars?


When it comes to acoustic guitars, however, the wood configuration arguably plays a more crucial role. The wood choices for the body, neck and fretboard form upwards of 90% of the construction of an acoustic guitar as they’re almost entirely responsible for the way an acoustic guitar sounds.

Similarly, wood type plays a crucial role. Musicians believe that acoustic guitar made from a right type of wood provides the best sound. A new study, suggests contradictory to this fact and suggests wood type makes essentially no difference.

For the study, a team from Britain’s Lancaster University contracted luthier Roger Bucknall (of Flyde Guitars) to build six steel-string acoustic guitars.

All of these were identical, apart from the type of wood used for their back and side plates. Varying widely in availability and price, those types consisted of Brazilian rosewood, Indian rosewood, mahogany, maple, sapele, and walnut.

Overall sound quality ratings were then given by 52 guitarists in a dimly lit room who played the different guitars while wearing welder’s goggles to prevent visual identification.

They gave similar ratings to all six guitars, while blinded tests by 31 of the same guitarists indicated that they could not easily distinguish the guitars by their sound or feel.

Professor Christopher Plack of Lancaster University said: “We found that acoustically, the differences between the guitars were minimal. Guitarists gave very similar ratings to the sound quality and playability of the different guitars under blinded conditions. Furthermore, their ability to distinguish the guitars by their sound in a blinded discrimination test was poor.”

“Overall our results suggest that the back wood has a negligible effect on the sound quality and playability of an acoustic guitar and that cheaper and sustainable woods can be used as substitutes of expensive and endangered woods without loss of sound quality.”

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