The popular answer to this question is “no” and that one electric guitar will never sound the same as another. But it may be too soon to get comfortable with that answer, and here’s why.
Presently, this opinion does hold true, but the design of these instruments is changing and evolving at such a rapid pace that it wouldn’t be surprising to find guitars with identical tones in stores in the near future. But before we discuss that, let’s touch upon some basic concepts about electric guitar sound.
Several terms are used to describe the electric guitar’s sound, but the most frequently used term is “tone.” It refers to the quality of the sound. For instance, in singers, the tone is determined by their physical condition, breath support, technique, etc. Similarly, in guitars, the tone is analyzed in terms of the thickness and the quality of the sound,1 which again depends on several other factors.
Guitars can have the same structural design, adjustments, and settings but still sound different. This could be due to the accessories used to induce electric guitar sound effects, the tuning, the method of construction, the guitar player, etc.
In simple words, tone to a guitar is what personality is to a human being. A guitar’s tone is shaped by everything the instrument has experienced and also changes depending on the things it interacts with. To know why a guitar sounds a certain way, we need to trace the origins and history of every single material that it is made of, including the machines and people who made it, before we explore the reasons for the way it is tuned or how its electronic hardware is set up.
But, we won’t go down that route in this article since there is a possibility that all electric guitars can be made to sound the same. Instead, we will take a completely different direction and look at some varying opinions and research on the subject so that you can arrive at your own conclusion on the matter.
The Ongoing Tonewood Debate
To determine if the difference in the tone of electric guitars will continue to exist, it is necessary to touch upon what experts in the community have to say about how much of it depends on the tonewood. Some experts believe that the type of wood doesn’t have any impact on the tone, while others believe it does, based on their research supporting both points of view.
The naysayers believe that the tone is entirely dependent on the electronic amplification and magnetism of various electronic components, whereas experts believe that tonewood has a significant impact on the tone.
Research has revealed that the tone depends on the pickups and strings. The shape and material of the electric guitar do not have an impact on the guitar’s tone. The study was conducted to observe how the wood and the shape affect the signal generated by the vibrations of strings above a magnetic pickup in an electric guitar. It was tested by comparing the signals from seven different electric guitars that were attached with identical strings and pickups. The pickups were positioned in exactly the same spot on all the guitars.2
The sounds generated by the instruments during this experiment were so identical that even seasoned guitar players couldn’t tell that they all came from different electric guitars.
On the other side, there is scientific evidence to support the impact of tonewood on electric guitar tone as well. According to a study that examined how various wood species change the sound of an electric guitar, the tonewood used for the structure of the instrument can have an impact on the sound. This was tested on four simplified models of electric guitar constructed with Sapele, rosewood, plywood, and pine. The experiment was conducted using the same set of pickups and mounting hardware on each of the guitars, and similar to the study mentioned above, the placements were identical as well.3
Also, it is important to mention that there are experts who have pointed out that these opinions are neither true nor false.
So, Do All Electric Guitars Sound the Same?
Unlike the acoustic guitar, the electric guitar’s design, material, and construction have seen several changes since its inception and are getting progressively more dynamic. Guitar manufacturers, builders, and researchers have constructed guitars from cardboard, plastic, metal, and even concrete blocks! And believe it or not, all of these guitars sound different and amazing regardless of their structural material and design.4
So, at this point, it seems like any electric guitar can sound great and even have the same tone as long as the structure and the electronic hardware are assembled and set up based on the way you want it to sound.
Now, we leave it up to you to decide. What do you think? Does the electric guitar tonewood debate even matter anymore? And do you think we will have electric guitars that sound exactly the same? You can do your own research or even read up about how sound is produced on an electric guitar to understand the instrument better.
We hope that this BYJU’S FutureSchool article has enriched your guitar experience. If you want more guitar resources, you can sign up for a FREE trial class where you can learn live in a 1:1 setting with knowledgeable instructors—or check out some more helpful articles.
- Kivumbi, K. (2010, June 3). Tone and Pitch. Difference Between. Retrieved April 28, 2022, from http://www.differencebetween.net/miscellaneous/difference-between-tone-and-pitch/#ixzz7RjqsqVFa
- Anderson, D. (2012, July 23). Does a $10,000 guitar sound better than a $300 one? The Age. Retrieved April 28, 2022, from https://www.theage.com.au/education/does-a-10-000-guitar-sound-better-than-a-300-one-20120723-22k7b.html
- JASIŃSKI, J., OLEŚ, S., TOKARCZYK, D., & PLUTA, M. (2021). On the Audibility of Electric Guitar Tonewood. Archives of Acoustics, 46(4), 571–578. https://doi.org/10.24425/aoa.2021.138150
- Edgar, E. (2022, January 28). The Great Electric Guitar Tone Wood Debate: Solved! Spinditty. Retrieved April 28, 2022, from https://spinditty.com/instruments-gear/The-Great-Electric-Guitar-Tonewood-Debate-Solved