Welcome to the Wired Guitarist Ultimate Guide to Tonewoods! There’s been a lot of debate over the years about how wood species affects your guitar’s natural tone – if at all.

After much research and deliberation, we’ve put together a fantastic and in-depth guide to the most common guitar tone woods!

One thing I would like to point out is that wood’s tone is 90% dependent on its density. So when choosing wood, keep in mind you’re choosing a wood that will exist within a certain range of densities (and hence, tones) as governed by its species. This is why individual cuts of wood from the same species of tree sound different, sometimes dramatically so. Wood is organic, and no two cuts are identical!

This is also why you shouldn’t judge a wood based on your experience with a cheaper guitar that doesn’t use well dried woods.

Before we dive into the nitty gritty, here’s a chart that shows you how each wood compares tonally.

Wired Guitarist Tonewood Guide


Alder is a lightweight wood used in many modern and classic guitars alike. It’s considered a go-to wood by many world-renowned guitarists such as Joe Satriani, as well as being commonplace in many solid mid-range guitars.

Alder is a lightweight wood which has little grain that benefits from solid finishes! This wood is on the brighter side, making it brighter than basswood, for example. Despite being generally bright, the very high frequencies are a little tame, which prevents it from icepicking. This is why it’s one of the primary woods of choice for Strats.

Alder is also a choice wood favored by high end luthier like Ulrich Teuffel of Teuffel Guitars.

Swamp Ash

Swamp ash is the preferred wood of guitarists such as Jeff Loomis, and is extremely commonplace in metal guitars, especially extended range.

Ash has a lot of open and porous grains that allow it to give off an almost “popping” sound when played. This intense attack and clarity makes it extremely well suited for down-tuning and extended range guitars. The highs are almost airy, which makes it appeal to shredders as well.

A major quality of ash is that it has very extended highs and lows, which gives it a scooped tone. So ash’s brightness compared to alder is largely a function of less mids, and how our brain processes sound.

Lastly, the very light weight of swamp ash obviously has ergonomic benefits.

Swamp ash is a cut of ash that is submerged below the water line, and what you’ll frequently see referenced as “hard ash” is wood taken from above the water line. It’s less popular, and generally heavier and slightly more midsy.

We reviewed a Schecter Banshee Elite 7, which is a great example of a swamp ash guitar.


Basswood is one of the most widely used woods on guitars! You can find basswood being used from budget guitars all the way to some of the most sought after guitars in the world (such as those Ibanez JEMs we did an article on!).

Modern guitarists such as Tosin Abasi (Animals as Leaders) and Misha Mansoor (Periphery) tend to prefer basswood on their guitars.  It was also widely favored by many shredders during the 80s because it cuts through a mix very well.  In fact, it’s also one of John Suhr’s favorite woods to use because of how great it sounds with a maple top and maple neck.

Basswood is lightweight and has a very neutral tone. It can most aptly described as having a slightly pronounced midrange, which is great for maintaining sustain when routing a guitar for a floating trem (hence its popularity with Ibanez). This makes it a solid blank slate for building your tone. 

Basswood gets a bit of a bad rap, due to the extremely poor cuts of basswood used on cheap guitars, but the quality cuts are just as good as any other wood, and can be seen on $3,000+ guitars. It also has poor figuring and a greenish hue, which makes solid colors basically a requirement.

To learn more, check out our piece on whether or not basswood sucks.


Koa is a very exclusive wood. It comes from Hawaii and is has beautiful figuring. Hell, if you’re lucky, some custom shops even offer flamed koa! You can use koa as a neck wood, a top, or even a whole body wood.

Koa’s tonal quality is similar to mahogany, but koa has a unique tonality to it that can be difficult to describe, but is definitely centered around the top end. Basically, koa has very pleasant highs and a solid mid range. This is definitely one of the rarest, most expensive, and highly-regarded woods to use for acoustics.

Worth noting is that koa has become increasingly difficult to source.  Even just a few years ago it was significantly easier to find high quality figured koa.

Korina (Black & White Limba)

The “true” name for korina is limba. Korina comes from Africa and is roughly similar to ash in weight. It has this weird waxy feel to it as well, but you won’t be able to tell with a gloss or satin finish on it!

I should mention that white and black korina come from the same tree, and have the same tonal qualities. The only difference between white and black korina is that white korina comes from the sap of the tree, while black korina is the heart.

Korina is has a very warm tone to it; think mahogany but with a clearer mid range! This wood is popular for semi hollows, often used in exotic boutique metal-oriented guitars (such as this multiscale Mayones Regius we reviewed), and first came to popularity on some classic Gibson Explorers.


Mahogany can be found on a lot of vintage instruments and is very popular among old school metal legends! It’s a nice heavy wood which has been used for ages. Mahogany is loved by guitarists such as James Hetfield, Paul Gilbert, and Jake Bowen (Periphery)!

Mahogany is arguably the warmest tone wood. It produces a fat tone with the sweet spot being low-midrange. As I previously mentioned, it’s pretty heavy, which leads to some serious sustain.  Something a lot of people do not mention is that is that lighter, less dense pieces sound notably different from ultra heavy and dense pieces.

The downside of this thick, rounded, sustaining tone is that the extremely pronounced lower-mids can sometimes result in a flubby bass response, so pickup choice is crucial in mahogany guitars.

This PRS S2 Singlecut Semi-Hollow review details the tone of a mahogany guitar rather well.


Maple is commonly found on classic strat shapes! Along with Mahogany, it’s been used for ages in the construction of electric guitars (and is much more common as necks and tops than bodies). It’s a fairly heavy and very dense wood and it’s widely used by all kinds of guitarists.

Super bright, dense, and resonant, it’s easy to see why maple has been a favorite for years. Maple gives a bite when played and really loves the high and mid range!  Maple necks are extremely common due to their punch and durability.

When used as a body wood, the tone is surprisingly thick, but you should definitely be careful as it can lead to icepicky tones.

Check out this guide to PRS guitars, because it touches on the CE, which is famous for having a maple neck instead of mahogany.

This guide was written by Mike Azernov, our editor located in New York

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