Solid Body Electric Guitars and What Makes Them Sound Different
Many players believe that the man element in the guitar’s sound (not counting the player) are the guitar’s pickups. The pickups rest underneath the vibrating strings. They are essentially a unit that houses a microphone for each individual guitar string. Without pickups your electric guitar would have no sound when plugged into an amplifier. But there are many more parts of an electric guitar that influence the sound.
Now you may not think that the type of the wood in an electric guitar makes much of a difference but it makes a BIG difference. Their are MANY different types of woods used. In this article, we’ll discuss the most popular woods used in the most popular solid body electric guitars. Some of them make a dramatic difference in the sound and some of them make subtle differences. Let’s discuss the types of woods electric guitars are made from and what kind of effect they have on the guitar’s sound.
Different types of wood have different weights and have a dramatic effect on the sound of the guitar. Heavier woods sustain well and have a bright and articulate sound making it ideal for electric bass guitars. A heavier wood can also make a decent regular, 6 string electric guitar if the player desires a sound that has a lot of bass and sustain. Some woods used in electric guitars are extra light. This can make a difference on how the player’s back feels at the end of a 4 hour gig but these instruments may have a very muddy sound or a sound that doesn’t really stand out among the rest of the band when the player needs it. A medium weight wood is VERY popular as it gives you a decent sound complete with sustain and the bite that is found in lighter weight woods.
Types Of Wood
The types of woods make a big difference in the solid body guitar’s sound. In some guitars, the body may be made primarily of one type of wood but have a different type of wood layered on top of the instrument giving it sound characteristics of both woods.
Alder is very popular for solid body guitar bodies because of its lighter weight and its full sound. Alder has been the mainstay for the Fender guitar and amplifier company solid guitar bodies for many years. A Fender Stratocaster alder body weighs about 4 pounds.
Ash wood comes in two types. Northern Hard Ash and Swamp Ash. Northern Hard Ash is very hard, heavy and dense. It’s density contributes to a bright tone and a long sustain which makes it very popular.
This is a lighter weight wood that produces a nice warm tone. This wood goes well with the Stratocaster type guitars.
There are two types of maple. Hard and Soft Maple. Hard Maple is a very hard, heavy and dense wood. The tone is very bright with long sustain and a lot of bite. It is usually much lighter weight than Hard Maple. It has bright tone with good bite and attack. Some guitars may have a maple top which will influence the sound but provide a visual addition if the maple is flamed or quilted and has a clear or transparent finish on the surface of the guitar.
Poplar wood is very popular as well. It is similar to Alder in tone and is often used in some of the more economical guitars.
Rosewood is warmer than maple, but the highs seem to be dampened somewhat by the oily nature of the wood. One plus of a rosewood solid body electric guitar is the beauty.
The pickups come in 3 types. Single coil, Humbucking, and Soap Bar Humbucking. A single coil provides more highs and more bite but many of them have a hum associated with them. A humbucking pickup is essentially two single coil pickups next to each other wired in a way to “buck” the hum thus eliminating the unwanted hum. Humbucking pickups have a sound that has more presence and bass. They are generally louder than single coil pickups as well. Soap bar Humbucking pickups (or P-90s) give you a wide single coil pickups thus creating a sound that combines the sound of the single coil with the sound of the Humbucker.
The “nut” is the small part on the neck at the top of the fretboard closest to the tuning keys. It provides a fulcrum for the string. Any string you pluck that is above the neck will sound very high like a violin. The material in which the nut is made of plays a strong role in the sound of the instrument. We’ll discuss some of the materials that the nut is made of and how it influences the sound.
Bone is bright and clear, with a detailed sound and is most popular.
Graphite provides a warm and even-sound for your instrument.
Brass nuts provide bright sounds with very good sustain.
Nickel gives a very bright with excellent sound with articulation and sustain.
Tusq is made of a synthetic material that gives a warm and even sound similar to that of graphite
Corian is a hard synthetic material that has a balanced, clear, and even sound.
The bridge influences the sound as well. A Graphite bride can give you more sustain and Brass or Nickel have a similar effect as they do as a nut material.
The bottom line is that all the hardware parts above in the right combination can produce a killer sounding solid body electric guitar. But there ARE differences and you obviously can’t just throw any of these together and have a great sound. But KNOWING what elements make a great sounding guitar or what elements will give you the sound that you desire will enable you to achieve YOUR sound. Good luck.