Challenge the Norm and Form Your Own Opinion

Tuesday, April 1, 2008| by Will Chen

I remember logging on to the internet for the first time. In the early 90’s, it was still innocent and full of potential. I felt the internet would be the world’s interactive encyclopedia; a bastion of free information for all who sought it breaking down the elite protectionist walls between the social classes. I was so naïve.

Contrary to my idealistic predictions, the internet seems to have spawned a generation of armchair experts whose knowledge is learned in an afternoon rather than a lifetime. They virally spread this misinterpreted information, propaganda, and rumor as if it were the absolute truth. Such is the case with the art of luthiery.

There are a seemingly infinite amount of threads on all the popular guitar bulletin boards claiming superiority of American guitars above all. There are just as many claiming the opposite. As with all things, the truth lies somewhere in-between. I will bet that in a blind test, almost no guitarist would not be able to pick by tone a high end production line American guitar versus an equally speced foreign guitar.

I recently read a thread making a distinction between “African” and “Asian” mahogany with the later being junk. The initial poster (and several responders) stated that the Asian variety wasn’t even mahogany and therefore not a good tone wood. The point people with this thought process neglect to mention is wood is organic and as such is almost infinitely variable. Any luthier will tell you that there is variation in density, hardness, and grain within a single tree much less an entire forest or species of wood. There are clear and well documented tonal characteristics of different types of wood. But these are very general guidelines and do not make any one species of wood absolutely superior to any other wood in a given application; especially when referring to an electric guitar played though a medium to high gain amp.

Dean is now using Paulownia as it is a fast growing tree plentiful in Asia. I'm sure many who are blinded by tradition will raise their noses at such tonal blasphemy. However, the Chinese have been using this as a tone wood for centuries. When Basswood was initially introduced, it was panned by many as a cheap wood. Ibanez has challenged that concept by making some very nice (and rather expensive) guitars from it proving the myth untrue. Body wood does affect the tonal qualities of an instrument as well as its resonance. However, if wood had such a dramatic effect on tone, then changing pickups and adjusting the eq on your amp would be a waste of time.

To read Bruce Bennet's of opinion of my knowledge of, or lack thereof, tone woods, please click here.

For another opinion on alternative tonewoods, check out The Heretic's Guide to Alternative Lutherie Woods, by John Calkin

More controversy over at the Home Recording BBS!

Couple more good links:
New Woods on the Block: Exploring Alternative Tonewoods

Filed Under: Editorial & Misc