Guitar tonewoods

tonewoods

Probably the number one question I’m asked is about the different guitar tonewoods.

In discussing tonal differences of woods, I expose myself to a lot of critique and possible criticism. Firstly, because it’s very subjective and secondly, because there are already so many “experts” out there. So let’s be clear, I am no expert. I do however have eighteen years in the business and have heard a lot of woods and thousands of opinions from other players. What I will attempt to offer here is more of a consensus of sound.

What’s the difference between mahogany and rosewood?

The simple answer is that mahogany has more punch and clarity, while rosewood offers warmth and overtones.
But does this make one superior to the other? Absolutely not! Personal preference, as well as knowing how the guitar will be used is what really determines the right one for you. Often times, for recording and live performance, mahogany tends to have more clarity and will cut through the mix better than rosewood. Yet, playing unplugged at home or in a solo gig, rosewood will add another dimension that many prefer.

What about all the exotic woods that are available today?

Honestly all of them are actually just tonal variants of mahogany and rosewood. That’s why rosewood and mahogany have been the backbone of guitar building for over 150 years!
Most often people choose an exotic wood for its looks more than its tone. A prime example would be something like Hawaiian Koa. Highly figured Koa is absolutely breathtaking to look at. And while it is the preferred wood for a high-end ukulele, it truly does not work best on an acoustic guitar. Koa tends to be very mid-rangy and bright, which is perfect for the Uke. But on an acoustic guitar it can be rather thin and brittle sounding. This is why it is often matched with a cedar top to add some warmth.

What about top woods like Spruce and Cedar?

Great question, and thanks for asking!
I’ve been told by some legendary guitar builders that 70-80% of the sound is actually due to the top wood! The back and sides are really meant to compliment the top. I could devote an entire post to top woods but instead, let me offer a brief summation. Spruce is by far most common, and for very good reasons. Spruce produces volume, note separation and great tone. Cedar is a common substitute, and offers a warmer and more broken-in sound. The two caveats I would warn you of is that cedar is softer and dings easier, also cedar tends to sound best when it’s new. The tonal quality seems to decay over time, versus spruce that opens-up and continues sounding better over time.

So this is everything you need to know about guitar woods right?

Absolutely not! I could go on for days talking about guitar woods. Just know that there are a lot of choices and tones, and we all have different ears and tastes. Feel free to call the store anytime if you have more questions, or stop by if you are in the area!

How much does a good guitar cost?

affordable guitar

The cost of a good guitar may seem subjective, but it really isn’t.

Over the years we have been asked this question a thousand times. The thinking behind this, I believe, is that there is a certain price point which moves you from junk to good.

The right question is more about the need of the player.

Of course the players age, skill level, and budget, are all factors that need to be considered. An eight year old child does not need a very expensive guitar, but they do deserve good enough quality that the instrument does not inhibit them from learning to play. And fortunately, in todays guitar world, the Chinese are making some very decent guitars for very little money. One example that we offer is the Hohner 1/2 size Classical guitar. For less than fifty bucks, this little guitar has nice action, decent tuners, and is very easy to play. While this is not a lifetime guitar, it probably is the right choice for a young beginner. An older child would require more of a full size guitar, and the price would be accordingly higher. And if carefully chosen, a decent entry-level full size guitar can be had for under $150.00. And quite honestly, if taken care of properly, it’s a guitar that they can play the rest of their life!

So, is $150.00 all that I need to spend to get a good guitar?

The answer is yes and no. If that’s all that your budget affords you, then don’t feel bad about buying something at that price point. But understand, like anything else, the more you spend the more you get. The caveat to this being that there is a point of diminishing returns. Some big name builders offer models that are well over $3000.00. But in a blind comparison, most of you would likely agree that something like an Eastman Guitar sounds every bit as good if not better. And at half the price! What many people do not realize is that companies like Eastman build exquisite handmade instruments. These are not mass-produced or cheaply made in any way. Built by the finest craftsmen in the country and with painstaking attention to detail. In our humble opinion, they are absolutely worth twice the price!

Does this mean that it’s not worth spending more on an American made guitar?

The answer depends on your finances and taste really. Companies like Larrivee not only hand make their guitars in California, but actually have their own lumber mill to cut the trees into billets. Often selling off wood to many of the other big name American builders. But rest assured that the primo woods are kept for the Larrivee guitars!

Sounds like a lot of choices.

Indeed there are a lot, and so many of them are excellent ones. We’re all so very fortunate to live in this Golden Age of guitar. Those of us that were born in the 50’s or 60’s can certainly relate to this.
But today there is absolutely no reason not to get out there and try some instruments. Hold them, play them, price them. Trust me, when the right one speaks to you, you will know it. There is nothing like seeing someone who picks up a guitar and almost instantly bonds. Just look for that one that you can afford, and that calls your name!

It’s an ukulele world!

Ukulele

The ukulele, let’s begin with a simple bit of trivia. While most of us pronounce the word ukulele as yoo-kuhley-lee, the correct Hawaiian pronunciation is actually oo-kooley-ley. A small thing, but if you’re going to play one of these awesome little instruments, it’s worth knowing how to say it right?

Now that we have that out-of-the-way, let’s talk about the current ukulele fad.

The reality is, it’s far from a fad, and more like an ever-growing phenomenon. Heck, the oldest Ukulele company (Kamaka) in Hawaii just celebrated their 100th Anniversary in 2016. And they actually have an extremely long backorder at this time. Along with Kamaka, there are two other Hawaiian builders who makeup the “trinity” of what are considered to be the finest handmade ukulele from Hawaii. They are referred to as the Three K’s – Kamaka, KoAloha, and Kanile’a. Many also consider the high-end Japanese built Kiwaya brand to make up a Fourth “K”. (Most of these builders are available right here at Dave’s Woodstock Music)

Now while these are considered the premier ukuleles, there are many other small builders who make fine handmade instruments, as do the likes of CF Martin, Collings and others.

Pricing on these higher end instruments can certainly be a stretch for many, but that doesn’t need to sway you from jumping into the ukulele world.

In fact, its companies like Kala, Amahi, Ohana, Ibanez and others that have brought quality Chinese made instruments into the states at extremely affordable prices. But be warned, the ukulele is highly addictive! I know very few people who have started playing and still only own one. I personally already own three, and I’m sure there will be more in my future.

You see the thing about the Uke is not only its affordability, but the ease of learning to play and the undeniable fact that it makes you smile. In fact it will likely make those around you smile too! It truly seems impossible to be angry or sad when you start playing one. And its diminutive size makes it easy to take everywhere with you. The couch, the beach, the park, the plane, the train; your Uke fits right in everywhere you go and will most certainly garner you a few friends along the way.

So if you haven’t yet joined the ukulele world, I highly recommend that you dive right in. And once you do, remember there is no need to thank me. The smile on your face is all the reward I need!

Click here for a History of the ukulele