Guitar - General/Building a guitar


Pulsetracker wrote at 2010-09-09 01:56:19
There are two, maybe three areas of construction where wood (material) is used. 1) The top  2) sides and back 3) the neck.

Spruce is very common for the top. Some times it is laminated and other times it is solid. This is critical to the sound of acoustics (hollow bodied guitars). The weight, stiffness, and thickness all impact the tone. And of course the strings do to. There is much discussion, given the advancement in glues whether laminated tops are actually better than solid tops. Then the strings used and even the saddle and bridge have an important role in impacting tone. Finding the right mix is sort of an art form. Many musicians swear by bone saddles and nuts, for example. (Versus the ones made out of plastic like materials - which also have made great strides) Then one has to ask how well they age - unless you don't mind changing them when you notice a change. Most bridges are glued to the top so this has to be done properly and with a good glue. It is hard to remove a bridge once glued without damaging finish so replacements tend to be slightly larger than the original which can't affect tone. Ovation makes guitars with turtle like backs/sides - oval - which proves that in reality the sides and back have little impact on tone, especially when amplified - acoustic/electric models. So the key is really to get a quality bracing job and glue used that has a longevity so the construction doesn't seperate where joined which could impact sound. Some acoustics prefer mohagany tops (not to be confusted with sides and backs - linden wood, etc. (Some of these terms refer to a class of wood/trees based on their chacteristics). The selection of it is key - if you aren't there how would you know unless someone you trust selected it and informed you. The tint of the wood - yellowed, lighter, etc. are all important when wood is selected.

The neck is typically a very hard wood as a truss rod is installed to adjust against the string tension. It has to be attached to the guitar body very carefully so later the string height over the fingerboard toward the sound hole is correct (a player's preferred height/action) and near the guitar head where most chords are played. A guitar can have a great tone, but if you can't get the action, etc. correct it won't be enjoyable to play. Setup is very important - an inexpensive guitar that is setup correctly is a much better value than an expensive guitar which is not set-up or can't be set-up properly. In building a guitar for a hobby - recreation activity keep this in mind. A visit to a Luthier can give you some more insights into the importance of set-up and a Truss-rod that adjusts properly with neck material and string tension. Because the nut has to be filed to hold the strings to your preferred action - even a minor change in guitar string guage can throw-off set-up and require a new nut be filed.

Having said all that - an electric guitar is not hollowbodied and the vibration of the top does not generate its sound quality. So a wood that gives you 1) weight you once 2) holds up with weather (dry/humid) 3) resist cracking, and is plyable enough to shape and be bolted to, etc. then finished beofre being painted is important. electronics and pickups, etc. are the important aspects on electrics along with the weight. But to keep the strings at the proper tension between sets/songs besides good tuners, etc. the neck as on an acoustic is critical. Maples are the preferred woods due to balance between cost and strength. Most necks are painted so asthetics is not an issue unless you want a natural neck. Rosewood is popular because of its color and since your fingers have oil it hides finger oil well and absorbs it - although your finger board should be cleaned properly. Strings should be to. The wood used on the top of an acoustic guitar is critical - along with bridge, saddle, and set-up, then strings. it is not as critical on an electric, except that it shouldn't crack when screwed into, etc. and its weight in conjunction of the weight of the elctronics added is very important!

lundy wrote at 2013-11-08 16:28:52
Willow is a hardwood with a janka scale hardness rating between that of alder and basswood.  Similarly, willow is light weight, glues and finishes well.  There are no known hazards to working with willow either.  On the down side, willow is reported to be difficult to control in drying.  It's also said to be weak, subject to tear-out, and subject to fraying or "fuzzying" when machined.  These cons would likely explain willow's absence in commercial guitar building.  Still, I think willow could be an interesting tonal choice because of it's light, open, hollow grain structure.  If it's warmth you're after, use a short scale mahogany neck.  If it's twang you're seeking, go with full-scale maple neck.  

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Dave Dixon


Guitar player since 1987. Studied at Musicians` Institute. Worked as guitar/music teacher since 1991.


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