Neck wood choice makes a big tonal difference.

cmjohnson

Senior Member
Joined
Dec 12, 2012
Messages
2,573
Reaction score
2,135
For years I've had a favorite bridge pickup. A Seymour Duncan JB. SH-4. I have them installed in three of my guitars.

All three guitars are ones I've built over the years.

I'm going to resist the attempt to deliver a dissertation on each guitar and focus on what I found regarding how neck wood apparently is a HUGE affector of tone.

I built all three of these guitars.
A: Les Paul Standard replica, more or less. Made in 2002. Mahogany body and neck, flamed maple top, rosewood board.
Pickups are a JB in the bridge and a 59 in the neck. Has a thick, solid, Les Paul classic tone.

B: Pretty much a PRS Custom 22 with LP style control layout. Pernambuco neck and fingerboard, mahogany back, flame maple top.
Pickups are a JB in the bridge and a 59 in the neck. No trem. A bit shy on bass response, but very clear with super even response across the fretboard. Notably, it has no wolf tones. (Dead spots on the fingerboard where a note just doesn't want to ring and sustain.)

C: Another more or less PRS Custom 22 type, and on this one I went all out on neck woods. African mahogany back, European flamed maple top (super tight flame), Cocobolo neck, African Blackwood fingerboard. No trem.
Pickups are a JB in the bridge and a Jazz in the neck. By fare the prettiest neck I've ever made or even seen. My best looking guitar, hands down. Plays exceptionally well.

So we have three guitars with generally similar bodies. Mahogany back, maple top.

The necks are all different. Mahogany and rosewood for one, Pernambuco/Pernambuco for another, Cocobolo (a true rosewood) and African Blackwood for the third.


Guitar C is the one that's attracted my attention for how it's so tonally different from the others.

I'm referring ONLY to the bridge pickup.

Picking my reference amp, which is my 1978 (build date) Marshall 2203 100 watt master volume head, plugged into my reference cabinet, a 4x12 angled front loaded with Celestion Greenbacks, I play all three guitars with the gain cranked and the master about half way up. (Translation: lT'S LOUD."

Guitar A (the LP) sounds fat and ballsy. A classic rock and roll tone if ever there was one. Sounds just like the album! AC/DC or even a touch of Van Halen. Switch to a 4x12 loaded with G12T75s and this sounds like Kiss from the 1970s.

Guitar B is similar but has a lighter tighter bass response. Great singing midrange, clear treble, great sustain, it's ideal for a soloist with its super even response and lack of dead notes on the fingerboard. Clearly the neck wood choice has limited the bass response.

Guitar C is the weird one. You FEEL the neck vibrating strongly in the bass register. But this one has a distinct harshness to its tone, that frankly I find that I don't like when I compare it to A or B. There's something about that rosewood neck (more likely, I don't think it's the blackwood fingerboard) that's causing a suckout in the upper bass frequencies, giving it a harshness (when played with a lot of drive, at least) that's kind of hard to like. Midrange and treble are fine. But the bass is just completely different. I should note that this guitar has excellent sustain across the full range.

What I think it is is that the Cocobolo neck is hard, heavy, dense, and rings like a gong. It conducts a wide range of frequency vibrations throuigh it very efficiently. Whether its bass notes or a high note, it doesn't absorb and filter out frequencies that apparently you DO want to be more filtered. The neck of the guitar plays an important role in shaping the tone of the instrument.

And I don't think it's a variation between two pickups of the same type. Because I had too much time on my hands and pulled the bridge pickup out of guitar C and temporarily put it into guitar A. It didn't affect A's tone to any noticeable degree. I then put it back in its original guitar.

So, my advice to you is this: Use caution when thinking about using rosewoods for neck woods. My experiences with it (Twice so far, I also made a guitar with a BRW neck and board a few years back) is that it's pretty but isn't necessarily the best tonal choice.

While the cocobolo neck is gorgeous beyond belief, the truth is that I don't plan to use it for a neck again. I don't like what it does to the tone.

I've also made guitars with maple necks. I don't have one here now to compare for the same attributes.

My opinion: Mahogany for a neck sounds best. I recommend it for a guitar that's generally in the two humbuckers/Gibson/PRS school of guitar design.
For fingerboard woods, since a fingerboard is a relatively small part, is that it'll make a lesser impact on tone than neck wood selection. I favor African Blackwood, Ebony, and Indian Rosewood as my three favorite fingerboard woods.
 

ARandall

Senior Member
Joined
Apr 16, 2012
Messages
15,343
Reaction score
12,109
If you have 2 PRS style compared to a Gibson LP, then they differ more than just neck wood. Scale length, body thickness and cutaway (double vs single) make them significantly different.
Compare the 2 PRS guitars.....the LP is too different to make mere wood species comparisons.

I've had bad sounding guitars made from typical woods......and awesome guitars made from non typical choices.
From my experience you really can never tell what the outcome will be until you string it up.

I've also had 'meh' sounding guitars suddenly become much more tonally balanced (or something along those lines) a few years after they were made. The count is now up to about 6 or 7 of these over the similar number of years I've been building. So its not an aberration/isolated thing.
 

mdubya

Senior Member
Joined
Jan 24, 2010
Messages
21,595
Reaction score
37,138
The single cut 16th fret neck joint is the biggest contributor to the "Les Paul" sound, imho.

Sure, everything else contributes, but the neck joint on an LP is the biggest factor to "sounding like a Les Paul."

And Duncan JB pickups are about as unremarkable sounding as any I have ever tried. Good for a single high volume/high gain tone, but not much going on, character-wise.

My reference amp was always my 1976 JMP 2204 with Pulsonic G12M greybacks. So we are not miles off on test beds.
 

Zacknorton

Banned
Joined
Nov 21, 2014
Messages
158
Reaction score
166
Neck shaft material is a huge factor in the voice of a guitar. Play a maple neck and a mahogany neck lp. Unplugged or plugged in the difference is obvious.

Don’t take it from me, Take it from roger sadowski. He’s built thousands of guitars repaired even more. Anecdotal? Maybe. But with that kind of reference library of anecdotes the conclusions are hard to dismiss.
 

archey

Senior Member
Joined
Nov 27, 2010
Messages
1,563
Reaction score
2,252
I had a fender lead ii. I had two necks for it. The original maple/rosewood fretboard, and a solid rosewood neck. The sold rosewood was more of a baseball bat shape, while the original was your typical c shape fender neck.

The differences in thickness could have imparted some tonal change. But it was a real eye opener for me. The two different necks imparted what I would consider a noticeable difference in tone. It's kind of hard to judge when you're the one playing the instrument, at least for me.
 

cmjohnson

Senior Member
Joined
Dec 12, 2012
Messages
2,573
Reaction score
2,135
One thing I'm considering as a possible cause of the difference in tone is also the electronics setup. I'm analyzing the schematic and don't see that this should cause a big tonal balance shift, but the guitar that has the harshness in the bass is the only one that has a 1V1T control setup. The others are 2V2T.

I'm pretty sure that when just the bridge pickup is selected on each guitar, the pot and cap values in circuit are the same, but I do need to check on that.

The difference in scale lengths is NOT the cause. I completely throw that notion out the window. A difference in scale length of 3/4 inch isn't going to cause this big a change when another guitar also having the same scale doesn't show the same tonal effect. The LP is your standard Gibson 24.75" scale, the other two are 25".

The neck profiles are all different but the amount of mass in the neck wood isn't that different so I'd be very surprised if that was a major factor. The difference in neck wood properties would be more important.
 

mdubya

Senior Member
Joined
Jan 24, 2010
Messages
21,595
Reaction score
37,138
A former band mate and I both had 1991 SGs; his a Standard, mine a Special. As far as I know, his had 498T/490R pickups and mine had 500T/496R ceramic pickups. Mine also had no pickguard and a maple neck with an ebony board. Set up similarly, they sounded very, very much alike. They felt very different to play, though.

I DO think it is possible the maple neck and ebony board on mine made/makes it sound and feel a little bit snappier and more focused. I have always favored darker warmer tones. And while that is what I went for with my SG Special, that guitar does have a way of cutting through, even with dark and warm tones.
 

ricky1918

Senior Member
Joined
Jun 25, 2014
Messages
420
Reaction score
202
in my limited experience, more as a player than a builder, is that the fretboard is influent as that it is the direct feel you have with the guitar.
I've always found that rosewood fretboards are mellower to play, and it translates (at least for me) in a more gentle touch.
I can get that in an ebony/maple fretboard, minding my pick technique, but I can't get the attack and "snap" of a maple/ebony board in a rosewood guitar.


otherwise I 100% agree that neck wood is more relevant as for the sound structure, rather than the body itself.



I'm pretty sure that when just the bridge pickup is selected on each guitar, the pot and cap values in circuit are the same, but I do need to check on that.
electronically speaking, when you play open volume and open tone (10/10 in both), the signal is not affected by the circuitry.
This obviously is in an ideal scenario, you will have some loss but I'm positive that loss will not be relevant.
It becomes relevant when you start playing with the knobs, hence the difference between 250k and 500k audio or linear pots
number of pots per pickup is irrelevant for the same concept as before

electricity follows the path of less resistance, so an open pot can be imagined as no pot at all. no current will flow thru the higher resistance path (i.e. the resistive element of the pot)
 
Last edited:

DFI9

Junior Member
Joined
Feb 7, 2020
Messages
19
Reaction score
17
I got in deep with partcasters for a bit. Able to switch out necks & bodies left and right.
It’s deeper than different woods sounding different, woods of the same type sound different too.
I believe finding the right body & neck “match” is the key to a great sounding guitar. Just picking the right wood combination doesn’t always get you there.
 

4symbols

Junior Member
Joined
Aug 10, 2017
Messages
18
Reaction score
9
Have a 1993 Epiphone Samick Les Paul with same Seymour Duncans Hot Rodded pickups fitted, great guitar and tone. The original Pick ups for this Les Paul are still in the Matching case...
 

Attachments

edouglaspratt

Member
Joined
Dec 19, 2011
Messages
43
Reaction score
30
For years I've had a favorite bridge pickup. A Seymour Duncan JB. SH-4. I have them installed in three of my guitars.

All three guitars are ones I've built over the years.

I'm going to resist the attempt to deliver a dissertation on each guitar and focus on what I found regarding how neck wood apparently is a HUGE affector of tone.

I built all three of these guitars.
A: Les Paul Standard replica, more or less. Made in 2002. Mahogany body and neck, flamed maple top, rosewood board.
Pickups are a JB in the bridge and a 59 in the neck. Has a thick, solid, Les Paul classic tone.

B: Pretty much a PRS Custom 22 with LP style control layout. Pernambuco neck and fingerboard, mahogany back, flame maple top.
Pickups are a JB in the bridge and a 59 in the neck. No trem. A bit shy on bass response, but very clear with super even response across the fretboard. Notably, it has no wolf tones. (Dead spots on the fingerboard where a note just doesn't want to ring and sustain.)

C: Another more or less PRS Custom 22 type, and on this one I went all out on neck woods. African mahogany back, European flamed maple top (super tight flame), Cocobolo neck, African Blackwood fingerboard. No trem.
Pickups are a JB in the bridge and a Jazz in the neck. By fare the prettiest neck I've ever made or even seen. My best looking guitar, hands down. Plays exceptionally well.

So we have three guitars with generally similar bodies. Mahogany back, maple top.

The necks are all different. Mahogany and rosewood for one, Pernambuco/Pernambuco for another, Cocobolo (a true rosewood) and African Blackwood for the third.


Guitar C is the one that's attracted my attention for how it's so tonally different from the others.

I'm referring ONLY to the bridge pickup.

Picking my reference amp, which is my 1978 (build date) Marshall 2203 100 watt master volume head, plugged into my reference cabinet, a 4x12 angled front loaded with Celestion Greenbacks, I play all three guitars with the gain cranked and the master about half way up. (Translation: lT'S LOUD."

Guitar A (the LP) sounds fat and ballsy. A classic rock and roll tone if ever there was one. Sounds just like the album! AC/DC or even a touch of Van Halen. Switch to a 4x12 loaded with G12T75s and this sounds like Kiss from the 1970s.

Guitar B is similar but has a lighter tighter bass response. Great singing midrange, clear treble, great sustain, it's ideal for a soloist with its super even response and lack of dead notes on the fingerboard. Clearly the neck wood choice has limited the bass response.

Guitar C is the weird one. You FEEL the neck vibrating strongly in the bass register. But this one has a distinct harshness to its tone, that frankly I find that I don't like when I compare it to A or B. There's something about that rosewood neck (more likely, I don't think it's the blackwood fingerboard) that's causing a suckout in the upper bass frequencies, giving it a harshness (when played with a lot of drive, at least) that's kind of hard to like. Midrange and treble are fine. But the bass is just completely different. I should note that this guitar has excellent sustain across the full range.

What I think it is is that the Cocobolo neck is hard, heavy, dense, and rings like a gong. It conducts a wide range of frequency vibrations throuigh it very efficiently. Whether its bass notes or a high note, it doesn't absorb and filter out frequencies that apparently you DO want to be more filtered. The neck of the guitar plays an important role in shaping the tone of the instrument.

And I don't think it's a variation between two pickups of the same type. Because I had too much time on my hands and pulled the bridge pickup out of guitar C and temporarily put it into guitar A. It didn't affect A's tone to any noticeable degree. I then put it back in its original guitar.

So, my advice to you is this: Use caution when thinking about using rosewoods for neck woods. My experiences with it (Twice so far, I also made a guitar with a BRW neck and board a few years back) is that it's pretty but isn't necessarily the best tonal choice.

While the cocobolo neck is gorgeous beyond belief, the truth is that I don't plan to use it for a neck again. I don't like what it does to the tone.

I've also made guitars with maple necks. I don't have one here now to compare for the same attributes.

My opinion: Mahogany for a neck sounds best. I recommend it for a guitar that's generally in the two humbuckers/Gibson/PRS school of guitar design.
For fingerboard woods, since a fingerboard is a relatively small part, is that it'll make a lesser impact on tone than neck wood selection. I favor African Blackwood, Ebony, and Indian Rosewood as my three favorite fingerboard woods.
The type of wood is not going to make a scientifically measurable difference, much less a difference within the range of human hearing. There are too many other more influential variables in the sound. I'm not aware of any research that can separate the effect of pickups, pots, neck wood, body wood, age of the wood, strings, cable, amp, cab & speakers, acoustics of the test site. Not to mention the type of pick which some manufacturers claim will enhance tone.

Another way to look at wood tones is: acoustics research demonstrates time and again that the variation within one type of wood is greater than variations between different types of wood. The geographic location of a tree affects the resonance & tone of its wood...humidity, air quality, sunlight, soil quality, disease & injury, all produce differences within a species.

Bottom line for musicians I believe is "Your tone's your own:"...go with what sounds best to you.

Doug Pratt, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
 
Last edited:

cmjohnson

Senior Member
Joined
Dec 12, 2012
Messages
2,573
Reaction score
2,135
Sorry, you are absolutely wrong on that. The evidence before me, the evidence presented by Paul Reed Smith and every Private Stock guitar ever made in the program, the evidence of literally four hundred years of luthiers making all manner of instruments from violins to pianos, says you are wrong.

I'm very scientifically minded and the problem is that there aren't many scientists who are also luthiers. To really have a clear idea of what's going on, you pretty much have to be both.

You can not provide any evidence that the local variances between two pieces of hard dense Rosewood are greater than the differences between any given piece of that species of Rosewood and any given piece of lightweight African mahogany. They are dramatically different.

Go to a violin maker with those assertions and he'll laugh at you. Go to a bow maker who's enjoying a reputation as a top maker with those assertions and he'll laugh at you and throw you out on your ear.
 

cmjohnson

Senior Member
Joined
Dec 12, 2012
Messages
2,573
Reaction score
2,135
The point of this topic is not to debate whether or not tonewood is a thing. As far as experienced luthiers like myself are concerned, that is a settled matter.

The point here is to discuss the tonal differences that DO exist and how they matter.

Any further assertions that tonewood isn't a thing are simply not welcome in this thread. Go make your own if you want to rant about whether or not tonewood is a thing. (Hint: It most definitely is, or many of the most highly regarded builders are all conspiring to lie to all their past, present, and future customers. A highly unlikely prospect.)
 

mistermikev

Senior Member
Joined
Jun 27, 2015
Messages
308
Reaction score
275
just my own observations... you mentioned nothing about frets.

I built two strats - both semi hollow, both mahog with maple cap, both with very similar pickups, both with maple necks - one birdseye and one flamed... one 25"sl one 25.5". one rosewood board, one ebony. one set neck w angled stock, one bolt. they do sound quite different as expected.
the biggest difference I hear is in the frets.
one has evo frets and one has std nickel. there is something happening in the highs that is very different and it seems like the difference I hear emanates from the frets.


so many variables...
 

cmjohnson

Senior Member
Joined
Dec 12, 2012
Messages
2,573
Reaction score
2,135
Maybe, but all my guitars have fretwire made of the same alloy from the same vendor and all the ones under comparison here share the same fretwire part number and design. So that's a consistent factor in the case of the ones I'm comparing.

I would imagine that fretwire could have an impact on sound. Imagine rubber frets on one instrument and hard steel frets on another and lead frets on a third. I don't think they COULD sound the same.
 

Blackstar1099

Member
Joined
Feb 7, 2018
Messages
34
Reaction score
56
I don't think anyone will argue that different wood species will sound different on an acoustic instrument. Electric is another matter altogether.

I'll share my experience:
I built 2 tele's concurrently trying to keep things like neck thickness the same and using the same brand Klein pickups. The only difference was the wood. One was Swamp Ash/1 piece maple neck, the other all rosewood body and neck with separate glued on rosewood fretboard. So vastly different timber and weights. When I strung it up for the first time before applying a finish, I attached the pickups direct to a jack to see if I could hear a difference (I always do the electronics after applying finish). Yes, I heard a difference. As expected the all rosewood sounded a little darker/warmer. I thought to myself "I think I've just proven there is a difference in woods." So I took it all apart and applied the finishes and put it back together again. Now I couldn't tell a difference. They sound the same to me now.

3 things that I thought about after this experience.
1. I honestly couldn't remember if I set the pickup height the same on both when I first strung them up. So that could been a factor in the tonal difference. But I do remember the volume through a clean amp was virtually the same so they should have been set similar.
2. The pickups now go through the volume/tone circuit where as they didn't before the finish was applied.
3. Some say that a finish can dampen the wood from vibrating freely, so maybe that has muted any differences I originally heard. I never subscribed to the finish theory though. Although there's a Rob Chapman video where he does a blindfold test with poly vs nitro finished guitars and he picked them. He has a great ear and gets 99% of his blindfold tests right.

Take this with a grain of salt.
 

fatdaddypreacher

V.I.P. Member
Joined
Feb 5, 2011
Messages
6,728
Reaction score
4,893
when these discussions occur, they seem to inevitably come back around to a thread that was posted several years ago by a forum member in europe. as always, i can never remember his name or locate the thread, but he build as identical guitars as he could, using same fretboard stock, frets, hardware, electronics etc, but substitute the back and neck woods on one to spanish cedar. the other, obviously being mahogany, but can't remember which species. He had them tested by the same player, playing the same riff through the same amp and settings, and although not purely scientific, was an interesting study. Many seemed to detect a bit of a britghtness to the overall sound of the cedar over the hog. I build all mine from cedar and when a gibby familiar player plays one, they almost always remark the same thing. they say it doens't seem to get muddy in some areas that some mahogany models do. wish i could resurrect that video hear, as others may be interested in it. i think ops last name was probst, probbs, something like that.
 

cmjohnson

Senior Member
Joined
Dec 12, 2012
Messages
2,573
Reaction score
2,135
Once again, I am not inviting the "is tonewood real or a myth?" discussion into this topic.

Yes, a finish can reduce the vibrational characteristics of wood. We know this. The best finish is as thin as possible and only provides element protection to the wood.

I usually shoot urethane finishes but they're as thin as I can apply them without getting four sand-throughs in a five inch diameter area. I really push for finish thinness and I get it. The wood grain prints through like a wet-T-shirt on your favorite model. :naughty:

If you think all pieces of wood sound alike or it doesn't matter, go speak to a maker of concert marimbas about that. :laugh2:

He'll set you straight, pronto. Oh yes he will.

I'm not going to say that I have the kind of golden ears required to listen to a guitar and say "That one's neck is Cuban mahogany, and that other one there, that's Honduran mahogany" but yes, there IS a difference between different wood
species and individual pieces within the same species.
 


Latest Threads



Top