In the guitar community, this simple question is a gigantic debate complicated by many opinions from experts, guitar builders, and manufacturers that sound equally reasonable and some of these opinions are also backed by research and experiments.
Based on our research, here are the most popular answers you will immediately read or hear on the matter:
- Wood in electric guitars is as important as it is in acoustic guitars1
- Both wood and electronic devices play an important role in shaping and producing the sound of the electric guitar2
- Wood is not at all important since the sound is entirely produced and shaped by the electronic devices the guitar is fitted with and connected to3
Along with these well-established answers, you will also frequently come across these two perspectives in the discussions. In most cases, even a minor change made to a guitar will be reflected in its tone regardless of the material used to build it, and the material a guitar is made of does have an impact on its eventual tone.4
However, these distinguishing characteristics and changes are barely noticeable on an electric guitar, especially when the sound is manipulated by adjustments made to internal and external electronic devices and equipment that are either a primary part of the electric guitar or commonly used to add effects to its sound.
Electronic hardware diminishes this difference to the point that various experiments conducted using different methodologies have proved longstanding beliefs about the importance of tonewood in an electric guitar incorrect.5 It has been widely believed for decades that no two guitars, whether electric or acoustic, can ever sound the same because of several factors that affect the sound, tonewood being one of the main among them.
While there’s no doubt that this opinion is more like a fact when it comes to acoustic guitars, it doesn’t seem to hold true for electric guitars. Research and experiments on the matter have proved that electric guitars can sound exactly the same.6 This is achieved by installing identical electronic hardware and strings with the same exact adjustments. However, a similar experiment has also shown that tonewoods do impact the tone of an electric guitar,7 which takes us back to square one.
How important really is the wood in an electric guitar?
Most researchers and experts have explored how important wood is in an electric guitar, but there is no evidence so far to show if two guitars made out of different materials can sound the same. Is it time to shift the focus to exploring the impact of two different materials on the tone of an electric guitar using the same methodology as the research mentioned above to test how far electronics influence the sound? For example, can an electric guitar made of wood sound the same as an electric guitar made of metal?
Electric guitars are not just limited to wood as the raw material for their structure. Guitars can be made out of glass, plastic, carbon fiber, metal, fiberglass, recycled materials, and an endless list of other materials. Each of these materials might have an impact on the tone depending on its core properties such as thickness, composition (hard/soft), quality, weight, etc., and the same things matter in the case of wood as well. So, raw materials may play a vital role in shaping the fundamental tone of the instrument.
Furthermore, some experts have also pointed out that the difference in tones in an electric guitar made out of wood is quite noticeable when it is played unplugged. This hints at the fact that, similar to acoustic guitars, the fundamental tone of the instrument may be unique in electric guitars as well. If this is true, in an electric guitar, wood is primarily used in constructing the body, neck, and fretboard. Similar to the acoustic guitar, the type of wood used to build these parts will have an impact on the tone of the electric guitar.
However, based on the existing opinions and research, it is safe to say that wood does not matter when it comes to constructing the structure of the electric guitar, as there are several other alternatives that can easily replace it. Even so, if an electric guitar is made of wood, it may play an important role in its tone, as any other material does, which might make it an important characteristic of an electric guitar.
- Ruokangas, J. (2019, April 15). Let’s define the elements that sculpt the electric guitar tone. Ruokangas Guitars. Retrieved May 24, 2022, from https://ruokangas.com/specifications/tone-talk/
2. Duffy, M. (n.d.). Is Electric Guitar Tone Affected by Different Body Woods? Fender. Retrieved May 24, 2022, from https://www.fender.com/articles/tech-talk/do-different-woods-affect-your-electric-guitar-tone
3. Eric Schaefer. (2018, November 16). Why tonewoods do not impact tone on electric guitars [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V76yWZ3-OuM
4. Kris Barocsi. (2022, February 3). Reacting To THAT Tonewood Video | What Does The Air Guitar Test Prove?! [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_T4u6I4Udk
5. Jim Lill. (2022, January 24). Tested: Where Does The Tone Come From In An Electric Guitar? [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n02tImce3AE&t=0s
6. 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
7. 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