Time does not impact the sound qualities of electric guitars. However, the sound of an electric guitar can change depending on how time affects various parts and materials of the instrument.1
Most electric guitars are generally made out of wood and lots of electronic components that help produce sound. Electric guitars derive their basic design from acoustic guitars, but the instruments have a lot more parts compared to their acoustic counterparts.
Both wood and electronics play an equally important role when it comes to sound in electric guitars. However, the aging of wood doesn’t impact the sound as much as worn-out electronic components.
The Impact of Aging on Wood and Sound
Weathering and aging may not change the sound much on an electric guitar, but the type of wood will change the characteristics of the sound on an electric guitar. Heavier woods give a different tone to the guitar compared to lighter woods. Hardwoods such as mahogany, basswood, ash, and alder are used to build guitars. The wood used to construct the bodies of the electric guitars is dense. Aging is also delayed due to this, and also because it is layered with paint and other finishing products to protect it.
Even though the strings do not touch the body of the electric guitar, the frequencies and vibrations produced from strumming the strings are transferred to the body and the neck of the guitar from the bridge and the nut. Some of the frequencies pass through the wood before being detected in the field around the pickups and electronically amplified. So, the aging of wood may not impact the sound of an electric guitar, but the type of wood does.
The body of the electric guitar doesn’t help amplify sound like it does in a classical or acoustic guitar, but it still has an impact on the tone due to the type of wood used.2 The body is solid, and hollow spaces are carved out only to accommodate electrical components. The guitar’s body is fitted with pickups, control knobs, sockets, and switches. The cables and wires of all these components are placed in the electronic cavities carved out in the body, leaving no hollow spaces for the sound to resonate.
Since the body isn’t hollow, the aging of wood doesn’t make electric guitars sound better. Acoustic guitars sound better as the wood ages because of their hollow body design, but this is not the case with electric guitars.
The Impact of Aging on the Electronic Components and Sound
Pickups are the most important parts of the electric guitar when it comes to sound and tone. They are small bar-shaped devices made of magnets and coils. Pickups detect the vibrations of a string, transform the change in the field caused by the vibrations into electric signals and transmit these signals to the amplifier. The signal then travels to the speakers and we finally hear it in the form of audible sound.3
The electromagnetism of the pickups can weaken with time. This can significantly impact the quality and characteristics of the sound on an electric guitar. It can make the guitar tone flat, muffled, or less crisp. However, most pickups can last for years, if not decades, before they start affecting the quality of the sound. Even when the pickups are worn out with age, they can be replaced with new ones and your guitar will go back to sounding the way it did.4
Electric guitars usually sound the same for decades. It is due to the durable electronic hardware and the dense wood that is used to build these instruments. The tone remains the same and is only affected by years of wear and tear of the electronic components, but once they are replaced the guitar continues to sound the same.
BYJU’S FutureSchool’s music curriculum was developed to empower the next generation of guitar players. It introduces children to the wondrous world of music and instills them with a passion that will last a lifetime. Through research-based teaching methods that range from live sessions to one-to-one challenges and interactive projects, kids learn to unleash their musical creativity in a fun and nurturing environment.
- Duffy, M. (n.d.). Is Electric Guitar Tone Affected by Different Body Woods? Fender. Retrieved April 15, 2022, from https://www.fender.com/articles/tech-talk/do-different-woods-affect-your-electric-guitar-tone
- Hoang, D. (2020, May 20). Do Electric Guitars Sound Better With Age? Guitar Advise. Retrieved April 14, 2022, from https://guitaradvise.com/do-electric-guitars-sound-better-with-age/
- Woodford, C. (2022b, March 10). The physics of electric guitars. Explain That Stuff. Retrieved April 15, 2022, from https://www.explainthatstuff.com/electricguitars.html
- Heather, H. (2021, July 28). How Long Guitar Pickups Really Last. Pro Sound HQ. Retrieved April 15, 2022, from https://prosoundhq.com/how-long-guitar-pickups-really-last/#:%7E:text=Most%20single%20coil%20pickups%20take,after%206%20months%20or%20so