Are Electric Guitars Made of Wood?
Are Electric Guitars Made Out of Wood?
Yes, even though they rely on other materials and electronic components to function, electric guitars are made of wood. In fact, they are mostly made of wood. Just like an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar has a wooden body, a wooden neck, and a wooden fingerboard. The woods used to build a guitar are called tonewoods.
Guitar builders choose tonewoods they think will sound good together. Certain woods like alder, basswood, and mahogany are common for electric guitar bodies. Necks are typically maple or mahogany, and fretboards are typically made from maple, rosewood, and, occasionally, ebony.
High-end electric guitars sometimes have one-piece wooden bodies, but many guitars are made from several pieces of the same wood species glued together. The unshaped wooden slab used to make an electric guitar body is called a body blank.
Guitar companies also may combine two types of wood for one component. For example, Gibson Les Pauls have mahogany bodies with maple caps on top. Mahogany is warm and rich, where maple has a crisp sound, and the two woods work very well together.
That’s the answer in a nutshell, and I am a little surprised by how often this question is asked by new and wannabe guitar players. But when I thought about it, it made sense, enough so that I thought it worthy of explanation in this short article. It's just one of those things beginners need to learn when first starting out on guitar.
After all, electric guitars are essentially electronics devices, so how does wood figure into it?
The Wooden Parts of an Electric Guitar
Three main parts of an electric guitar are made from wood: the body, neck and fingerboard. There are a few reasons for this. The easiest explanation is because the electric guitar evolved from the acoustic guitar, obviously a wooden instrument. While the design changed over time, it still retains the hallmarks of its ancestor.
Tradition also explains our sound preferences. Guitar players grow up hearing wooden electric guitars, and having certain expectations. People can and do make guitars from all kinds of different materials, but the sound guitars players know and love comes from wood, and it would be pretty tough for a guitar company to convince them otherwise.
As I'll cover later in this article, the tide is turning on that in some ways, and we may see more and more guitars made from alternative materials in the future.
For now, here are some of the most common wood species used in each part of the guitar, along with a description of their characteristics.
- Mahogany: Deep and rich tone with good resonance and bass.
- Alder: Midrange to bright tone, moderate resonance.
- Basswood: A deep tone like mahogany, more woody and with a looser resonance.
- Ash: Midrange tones like alder but with better resonance.
- Maple: Most often used as a cap over mahogany, adds some crispness and clarity.
- Maple: Bright and open.
- Mahogany: Resonant and deep.
- Rosewood: A warmer, more rounded tone.
- Maple: Brighter and snappier.
- Ebony: Crisp with warm hints, somewhere between rosewood and maple.
Of course, electric guitars are made of other things besides woods as well. They’d have to be or they wouldn’t make any sound.
So, what else is going on inside a guitar body?
Inside an Electric Guitar Body
It is pretty easy to see that acoustic guitars are wooden, and hollow inside. As with many acoustic stringed instruments, the inner chamber is a big part of the mechanism used to create and amplify an acoustic guitar's sound.
But many electric guitars have solid bodies. Unlike an acoustic guitar, if you strum a solid-body electric guitar without plugging it into an amp you will find it doesn’t make a very loud sound. It requires electronics and amplification.
Semi-hollow and hollow-body guitars do have some acoustic properties incorporated into their designs, but in all cases electric guitars rely on pickups to function.
Guitar pickups are magnets wrapped in wire. They register the vibration of the strings when you pluck them, and transmit an electronic signal to an amplifier. On the guitar itself you have the ability to control the volume and tone, and switch between pickups. But, without the guitar amp, an electric guitar is effectively useless, other than for practice.
Electric guitar bodies have cavities routed inside them to house all of the necessary electronics. These electronics include things like wires, potentiometers, capacitors, switches and jacks.
Some electric guitars, such as Stratocasters, have most of the electronics mounted on a plastic pickguard To access the electronics, you must remove the pickguard.
Other types of guitars have their cavities routed from the back of the guitar, where the electronics access is covered by a plastic plate.
In addition to the electronics, tremolo bridges use a set of springs to function, and require a cavity inside the guitar body in order to work correctly.
So, electric guitar bodies aren’t just blocks of wood. They are precision-routed to incorporate all of the electronics and other gadgets needed to make the guitar work.
Alternative Woods and Materials
Electric guitars can be made from things other than wood as well. Recent years have seen an increase in the use of alternative and synthetic woods and materials used for both acoustic and electric guitars. This is partly to control cost and make guitars more affordable, but it is also because of the ecological pressure on certain wood species.
For example, Brazilian rosewood is highly sought for electric guitar fretboards for both its beauty and sound. However, because it has been so heavily harvested over decades it is a vulnerable species, and trade is strictly regulated. Responding to this, guitar companies have used other types of rosewood, or alternative materials such as Richlite or baked maple.
Guitar players have had mixed reactions to these alternative woods. Part of the problem is the perception that certain woods make a guitar more desirable. Many guitars players are drawn to instruments that tick all the boxes when it comes to what is supposed a make a guitar great.
The other issue is sound and performance. Some players feel certain woods are better than others, and there can be no compromise.
As guitar companies continue to present quality instruments with alternative woods, both of these outlooks are likely to diminish over time. In my opinion, this is already starting to happen. Times are changing, conservation is important, and guitarists and guitar companies must roll with the punches.
Does the wood really matter anyway?
Do Woods Matter for an Electric Guitar?
Because of the important role pickups and electronics play in sound of a guitar, there is a fairly lively debate in the guitar community about exactly how much wood really matters in an electric guitar. Some guitarists feel woods don’t matter at all for the sounds of an electric guitar, where others feel they are very important.
Every guitar player eventually forms an opinion on this issue, though some may waffle back and forth. There are compelling points to be made on both sides, but it does get out of control at times.
Whether or not a guitar player comes to believe tonewoods matter for an electric guitar’s sound, it is smart to research the woods and other materials used to build a guitar before purchasing. Knowing what is going on in the guitar industry can help you compare instruments and make a smart decision.
Electric guitars are made of wood and other stuff. Even though we tend to get attached to them, they are really just a combination of materials engineered in a way that guitar companies think we will find appealing.
It’s what we do with them that really matters.