While there are many variables in play when it comes to overall tone, the body of a solid electric guitar acts as a sounding board. Body material is critical to the clarity and definition of the acoustic guitar voice. Different woods determine how the body “hears” the vibrations of the strings.
Electric guitar bodies come in a wide variety of woods, each with their own unique tonal qualities. Density and weight variations can cause bodies cut from the same board to have noticeably different tonal colors.
Nevertheless, we can make some general assumptions.
Maple (see above) provides a crisp pick attack and rapid decay, and generates a strong fundamental response without major harmonic coloration. Varieties include curly, flamed, bird’s eye, and soft.
Mahogany is preferred by players looking for a warm, round tone. A soft attack and rich, singing sustain characterize the sound of this light to moderately heavy wood. When mahogany is extremely heavy, it loses the warm, round attributes that make it a desirable tonewood.
Gibson Les Paul Standard (opens in a new tab)with its maple-topped mahogany body, is a classic example of how tonewoods can be combined to achieve the best of both worlds – tolerable weight and good high-end reproduction.
Swamp Ash, a lightweight American wood, has a distinct ringtone. Swamp Ash bodies work well with spring tremolo systems and single-coil pickups, producing transparent timbres with bell-like overtones.
Mid-weight swamp ash bodies tend to have the best tonal balance and sustain. Extremely lightweight swamp ash bodies can have a weak bottom end and thin tone.
Alder is a common body wood. Its sound, characterized by a moderate attack and a smooth decay, gives the guitar an even and balanced tone with well-defined lows and clear highs.
Alder’s tonal balance makes it a good choice for guitarists who need an instrument that can cover a wide range of musical styles.
Guitars designed for loud, high-gain playing often feature basswood bodies. The basswood tone is smooth, without a lot of sharp edges. The attack is moderate, while the sustain is round and regular.
Alternative woods are becoming increasingly popular. You can easily find custom and production instruments featuring koa, poplar, and walnut bodies.
Exotic woods (such as bubinga, padouk and zebrawood) and synthetic materials are also available.