Michael Fuson





Here's an excerpt from my upcoming book, “Secrets Backstage: Getting the Most From Your Equipment.” Check back soon for availability.

The Instruments

“It cost how much!? It's just a piece of wood with some metal things on it!”
My Mother

We will focus on the electric guitar here but most of these facts and techniques can be applied to the acoustic guitar as well. We start with the instrument itself.

Assuming all other things are equal (craftsmanship, quality of materials, hardware, etc.) the type of materials (and not necessarily wood) used to construct an instrument is the most important factor in determining itís playability, tone, sustain, and durability.

I know many of you will sight Antonio de Torres' who constructed a playable, good sounding guitar with back and sides made from paper mache just to make his point that the soundboard is the most important in tone production, or Bob Taylor who built an acoustic using the wood from an old oak shipping pallet, but the statement is true for our purposes.

As far as electric guitar is concerned, the electronics, and in particular the pickups, will determine the sound of the instrument to a far greater degree than the type of wood from which it is built. However, the instrument will derive it's basic tone and 'personality' from the materials used in it's construction.. As far as that elusive 'tone' that we are all searching for, that is in the hands of the player - literally. We will discuss that later in the book.

For the body, the most popular are the tone woods, Alder, Ash, Basswood, Cocobolo, Koa, Korina, Mahogany, Maple, Poplar, and Rosewood.

Other woods used include Birch, Blackwood, Bocote, Boxwood, Bubinga, Canarywood, Cedar, Chechen, Cherry, Cocuswood, Dogwood, Ebony, Granadillo, Goncalvo, Kingwood, Lacewood, Limba, Mesquite, Morado, Oak, Padouk, Pau Ferro, Purpleheart, Redwood, Satinwood, Spruce, Tulipwood, Walnut, Wenge, and Zebrawood.

As you can see, just about every type of hardwood has been used in the construction of guitar bodies.



Alder is full and rich, with fat low-end, nice cutting mids, and good overall warmth and sustain. Alder is generally considered to be one of the "traditional" Stratocaster body woods. Alder is commonly used for bodies made of one kind of wood. Strat type bodies may weigh 4.0-4.3 lbs. The wood is medium weight and weighs 36.0 to 42.0 lbs/cb. ft. Being close grained, it can be finished very easily.

Ash exhibits a snappier or quicker tone with a bright edge, but with a warm bass and long sustain. It is often considered as the other "traditional" Stratocaster body wood.

Southern Soft (Swamp Ash)
Swamp Ash is a prized wood for many reasons. This is the wood many 50's Fenders were made of. It is easily distinguishable from Northern Ash by weight. A Strat body will be under 5 lbs. This is a very musical wood offering a very nice balance of brightness and warmth with lots of "pop". The grain is open and makes a nice choice for clear finishes.

Northern Hard Ash
Very hard and heavy. A Strat body will weigh from 5 lbs. and up. With
it's density, the tone is very bright with a long sustain. Its color is creamy, but also tends to have pink to brown tints. The grain is open and takes
lots of finish to fill up. Hard Ash is popular for its bright, long sustain.

Comments, suggestions or questions, email Michael directly at michaelfuson@michaelfuson.com.

©Copyright 2001 Michael Fuson, All Rights Reserved, unauthorized use of content contained herein is prohibited.