Guitar Making Tip No. 45

Guitar Making Tip No. 45 is about tonewood. There is an entire industry dedicated to selling wood that is somehow different because it’s called tonewood. While buying wood from a place that serves instrument makers is not a bad thing, there are some things you really need to know about tonewood.

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You Can Make a Great Guitar With Inexpensive Wood

guitar making tip number 45The first thing about wood that you need to know is that you do not need to buy expensive wood to make a good guitar. You absolutely do not.

In fact, for the first several builds, you will not even notice the difference between very high end wood and middle of the road wood. For that reason alone, you can skip the really expensive stuff.

There are many great guitars that are made with middle of the road wood. There are also many that are made with bottom grade.

The difference is the hands of the maker. If you really pay attention and learn from your builds, you can take any piece of wood in the same species/condition and make it into a perfectly usable guitar part.

Next are the two biggest myths when it comes to tonewood…

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Wood Prices Are Not Based On What You Think

It’s normal to think you are buying and paying for wood at a wood store. In reality, you are only paying for rarity. The rare pieces of wood, no matter how they look, are always more expensive than common pieces. This is simple supply and demand.

For example, Kauri wood is not particularly flashy. It is not without it’s beauty, but there are a dozen species I can name off the top of my head that are more fun to look at. Even so, the wood has a much higher price tag than any of the better looking pieces I was thinking of.

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The reason? Rarity. Kauri is from a 50,000 year old peat bog in New Zealand. Scientists think a tsunami hit the Kauri forest long ago and buried the trees, preserving them. There are only so many pieces of 50,000 year old wood in this world. So…it commands a high price.

If Kauri wood grew like Pine trees in America, we would use it for houses and firewood.

Wood Is Not Graded On How It Sounds

There is absolutely no way to grade wood on how it will sound. While it can be guessed at, there is no way of determining if one piece will sound better than another until it is made into an instrument.

That being said, there is no reason to believe that a $100 top will sound better than a $20 top of similar characteristics. In fact, the real difference between those two tops is the person making the guitar.

You can give a poor guitar maker $10,000 worth of tone wood and they will produce a poor guitar. On the other hand, a good guitar maker, or a patient new guitar maker can turn a couple hundred dollars of materials into a fine instrument. It’s not about the expensive wood sounding better, it’s about the wood being treated well in the build.

A Last Word on Tonewood Prices

For your first guitar, shoot for the high-bottom to middle for your wood. Don’t buy wood from a home improvement store, but don’t think you need a $100 top in order to make a nice guitar. You don’t, and your guitar will still be just fine.

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If you really like the look of a more expensive piece, feel free to buy it. Sometimes, the more expensive wood just looks nicer. (Again, nicer looking boards are rare, so they cost more.) If you fall in love with a certain top and it costs more money, just get it and make yourself happy.

Also, many times the lower grades of wood have more interesting looks. Lots of makers like really straight grain. This forces the pieces into a higher price point. The lower priced pieces have more interesting grain patterns, and will actually be nicer to look at for less money. The biggest example would be East Indian Rosewood.

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