The guitar is one of our most familiar instruments and it’s probably fair to say that rock and pop music would not have developed in the same way without the guitar. Today, the classic guitar which we all love to strum on developed from ancient instruments like the lute and the sitar.
But over time, the way guitars have been made and the types of woods used have changed.
Spruce and pine wood are popular materials for making guitars for a number of reasons. Firstly, especially in Northern Europe, pine trees grow in abundance and are cheap and plentiful. Pine trees also grow quickly, so they can be farmed in a more efficient way than hardwood trees.
Also, pine is a flexible type of wood and this sort of wood can be soaked, shaped and bent into all the different shapes needed to make into a guitar. Different kinds of woods make different sounds when the guitar is played, and spruce produces a good and clear tone. The disadvantage of using pine is that it is a soft wood and requires many layers of varnish or lacquer to make it durable and long lasting.
Basswood, also known as Tilia, is most popular in the USA for guitar making as the trees are plentiful. Basswood has a tight grain, which gives the guitar an attractive finish and it produces a soft tone.
Basswood is light, meaning it is often used in making guitars for children as they are easier to handle and carry. Basswood guitars are a great choice for a beginner or as a basic, all-round guitar for players of all levels and styles.
Maple is a very attractive wood. And it’s quite common for guitar makers to make the majority of their guitars from basswood, spruce or poplar and then make the front in maple as it looks so much better.
Maple guitars are very popular in Asia, especially in South Korea, which has a relatively large guitar making industry. Maple is also used to make the necks for electric guitars as it is very strong.
Well-known guitar types such as Flamenco guitars often use cedar in their instruments. Guitar experts agree that cedar wood gives a warmer sound than many of the other woods and a cedar guitar is most suited to classical playing or in traditional Spanish musical styles.
There are different grades of cedar, and although good quality brands such as Burguet guitars will use a good quality wood, some of the cedar found in cheaper guitars may not be good quality and the sound produced may not be so good.
The way we are making guitars have changed in the recent years as woods have diminished in their availability. Previously, many sides and backs of guitars were made from rosewood from India or Brazil, but this sort of wood is now endangered and manufacturers are sourcing new materials elsewhere. Many of the second hand or vintage guitars on the market will still have components made from rosewood.
Morag Peers is a regular blogger and music enthusiast with an interest in guitars and other stringed instruments.