Imagine yourself in a music store, faced with the challenge of buying an acoustic guitar. You try some guitars out, and one thing you notice is that there are more woods listed on the label than just mahogany or spruce. For example, Martin guitars list their top woods as Sitka spruce, Brazilian rosewood , East Indian rosewood and mahogany. What’s the difference? Is one better than another and why?
As the name suggests, the Sitka spruce top has a bright and full sound with strong highs and lows. Because of this, it would be good for strumming chords. Brazilian rosewood is dark and mellow sounding , so it would be good for finger style (a way of playing the guitar using fingers instead of a pick).
East Indian rosewood is bright and full like Sitka spruce, without as much high end. It has more midrange than either Sitka or Brazilian rosewood. Mahogany tends to be warm sounding with an emphasis on low mids, so it would be good for strumming chords, but not as much finger picking.
The different top woods affect the sound of the guitar in two main ways. One is coloration of tone , which means that they each have a unique sound that would be pleasing to some ears and not others. Another effect wood choice has on sound is projection. The volume and clarity of the guitar increases as you go up the ladder from mahogany to spruce, and then decreases as you go back down.
How does this affect your decision to buy a certain guitar? Well, if you’re buying for projection, then it’s best to stick with spruce or Sitka spruce. For mellower sounds and warmer tones, mahogany and other rosewood based guitars would be ideal.
One more thing: it should be said that these are not the only options and each guitar is different from one another. While you may or may not agree with me on generalities for top wood types, you should still consider your own preferences when making a purchase. For brand new guitars, shopping directly from brands such as Martin or Gibson are advisable. For vintage guitars, check out Gruhn Guitars or Carter Vintage Guitars.
Thank you for reading, I hope you learned something new!