Guitar Back Selection

Guitar Back Plate

Backs/Side toned sets offer the luthier even more option than do the top tonewood selections. The reason for this is not only are instruments are built from domestic hardwoods, even more often they are built from exotic hardwoods.

Since it is hard for the beginning luthier to understand everything there is to know about wood species we will give you information about color, expected tone, workability, dangers involved with dust, hardness and more. This is not a comprehensive list at this time, but we will build it into one as time permits.

Sustain is listed on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being minimum.
Volume is listed on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being soft and 10 loud.

We have divided the list into two different areas. One for domestic hardwoods and one for exotics. Please understand that the comments we provide are based on personal experiences and since wood is a natural material there are a lot of variables from one set of woods to another. The only way you know for sure is by actually building an instrument from a particular wood species.

Domestic Hardwoods:
Curly Maple

Species:Maple
Sub-Species: Hard Maple,Rock Maple or Red Maple
Coloration: Light tan with light brown streaking. Is often stained with sunburst finish.
Grain Variations: Curly, Pleated, Birds’ Eye
Tone: Bright Treble, Medium Bass
Sustain: 5 to 6
Volume: 6
Music Style: Great Rhythm Guitar
Workability: Difficult – very hard wood – hard on machinery.
Side Bending: Easy to Moderate
Finishing: Easy – closed pore wood, needs no grain filled.
GLS Comments: This is very difficult wood to work with. I’m not a rhythm player so my personal preference tends toward flatpick and fingerstyle guitars. I love the curly and pleated woods though – these make some of the most beautiful guitars you will ever see.

walnut

Species:Walnut
Sub-Species: Black
Grain Variations: Burled, Quarter-Sawn
Coloration: medium to dark chocolate brown with some cream colored streaking. Hardly ever stained.
Tone: Very Warm, Even Tones
Sustain: 7
Volume: 6
Music Style: Great Flatpick Guitar, Excellent Fingerstyle Guitar
Workability: Moderate – medium hard wood – burled can be hard to work with.
Side Bending: Easy to Moderate
Finishing: Moderate – open pore wood, needs grain filled.
GLS Comments: Black walnut is my favorite fingerpicking guitar wood. It is warm and responsive has good sustain and a very balanced tone – not overpowering in bass or treble

Exotic Hardwoods:
Honduras Mahogany

Species:Mahogany
Sub-Species: Honduras or Genuine
Grain Variations: Curly, Pleated
Coloration: Light reddish brown – is often stained.
Tone: Warm Treble and Bass
Sustain: 6
Volume: 6
Music Style: Great Flatpicking Guitar, Good Fingerstyle
Workability: Easy – medium hardness – easy to chisel and sand.
Side Bending: Easy
Finishing: Moderate – very open pore wood, needs grain filled.
GLS Comments: If there is one wood that you should consider for a first building project, it is Honduras Mahogany. It is inexpensive, easy to work and finish and give you a great product.

East Indian Rosewood

Species:East Indian Rosewood (Dalbergia latifolia)
Grain Variations:Quarter-Sawn
Coloration: Medium reddish brown to dark burgandy.
Tone: Bright Treble and Medium Heavy Bass
Sustain: 8
Volume: 9
Music Style: Great Flatpicking Guitar, Great Fingerstyle Guitar
Workability: Moderate – medium hardness – easy to chisel and sand. Wood resins pose health risks and gluing problems.
Side Bending: Moderate. Watch closely for splitting problems, especially at the waist of a classical guitar.
Finishing: Moderate – very open pore wood, needs grain filled. Resins need removal before you attempt finishing operations.
GLS Comments: Indian Rosewood is one of my favorite woods for higher end guitars, both acoustic and classical. It give great volume for both fingerstyle and platpick styles. Some fingerpickers feel that it does not possess a warm enough tone though.

cocobolo

Species:Cocobolo Rosewood (Dalbergia retusa)
Grain Variations:Quarter-Sawn
Coloration: Bright Yellow to Red-Orange with Black Streaking.
Tone: Bright Treble and Bright Bass
Sustain: 8
Volume: 9
Music Style: Great Flatpicking Guitar, Great Fingerstyle Guitar
Workability: Moderate to Hard – Quite a hard wood – hard to chisel and sand. Expect extreme wood resins that pose gluing problems unless removed.
Side Bending: Moderate to Hard. Watch closely for splitting problems, especially at the waist of a classical guitar.
Finishing: Moderate to Hard – very open pore wood, needs grain filled. Resins need removal before you attempt finishing operations.
GLS Comments: This is about as close to Brazilian Rosewood as you are going to get for tone quality, volume and appearance. This is truly one of the most beautiful woods you will find.

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