Answering the Question, “Do Tonewoods Affect Electric Guitars?”

Jon Clemence
5 min readJan 5
Three electric guitars on a rack.
Photo by Yurii Stupen on Unsplash

To (mis)quote Ron Burgundy, “It’s kind of a big deal.” If you haven’t come across this, yet, don’t worry — you will. And if you have, you probably have the scars to prove it.

It’s perhaps the biggest, most heated debate of them all when it comes to electric guitars. If dueling were still a thing, many guitarists would be wielding revolvers and dodging lead on a regular basis.

I’m speaking, of course, about the tonewood debate.

If you’re ever in need of an argument, tonewood is a great choice. There are two camps, and if the internet has any bearing on reality, they are willing to fight to the death — maybe even “to the pain” a la The Princess Bride.

But what are the facts? Why is there such hoopla in the electric guitar community around the role wood plays in an instrument’s tone?

Today I want to wade into the deep end and give you my thoughts on tonewood. Although I have no pretenses that a single blog post will end this debate once and for all, hopefully it will help at least a few of us understand the actual role tonewood plays in an electric guitar’s sound.

Use this information at your own discretion, by the way, and if you happen to find yourself on a discussion board, proceed with extreme care.

Tonewood and Acoustic Guitars

First off, let’s get one thing clear. When it comes to acoustic guitars, tonewood absolutely matters. There is total, complete agreement about this in the guitar world. This is due to how an acoustic guitar produces sound. It’s essentially a natural system that takes the vibration of the strings and, via the materials and shape of the body, amplifies the sound so we can hear it. Given that it’s a completely physical process, the materials involved dramatically affect the end result. A spruce-top guitar tends to have a brighter sound, while a cedar-top has a warmer sound, for example. The material used for the top, the bridge, the back and sides, and the neck all work together to create a unique vibration pattern that results in a particular sound.

This doesn’t mean that any wood is better than any other wood when constructing or choosing an acoustic guitar — just that…

Jon Clemence

Medium needs more guitar-related content. I. Am. That. Hero!