different tonewoods and their effect on sound? + why is brazilian so hyped up?


today i wonder about the role of tonewood in guitars- specifically those preferred in the gypsy jazz domain- and their subsequent effect on sound.

can anyone perhaps give a brief rundown on what the different woods (and combinations) will yield, sonically?

spruce top, walnut neck, ebony or rosewood board, rosewood back + sides... but why this? why is that the classic recipe?

and why is brazilian rosewood so universally beloved? can anyone actually perceive any quantifiable difference between it and indian, or cocobolo, or whatever else? is it an aesthetic thing mostly or is there really something 'extra' to this wood? and is anything 'extra' really even discernible if/when dealing with laminate construction?

and on that note... what is the general consensus re: laminate vs. solid construction? is solid always preferred but more expensive, or does each have its sonic niche? i feel lam was practiced for economy. can you hear "old spruce" vs new spruce?! rosewood vs ebony board?!

many many questions. i research some threads on this forum from previous, and have some answers. today more.

thanks you, friendos- happy sunday to you, may you grill whatever you like today.



  • TwangTwang New
    Posts: 317

    I think you raise a great point when you mention laminated guitars. Most gypsy guitars are laminated so I may get this wrong but you are looking at 3 laminates. The outer wood, a middle wood of something like poplar cos its good for glueing and an inner wood which is often mahogany. I dunno how much difference the outer laminate can make to the sound.

    Brazilian rosewood can be spectacularly beautiful. But there is a saying amongst classical players "it's not if it will crack but when it will crack". For this reason players are wary of some of the most figured wood. However it makes no difference to the sound and I know plenty of players whose brazilian rosewood guitars are full of cracks and they couldn't care less.

    One good thing about laminate guitars perhaps is you don't have to worry so much about these issues.

    I saw a guy once tap a block of brazilian rosewood and it rang like a bell. Don't they use it for marimbas?

  • Russell LetsonRussell Letson Prodigy
    Posts: 288

    This is another of those "it depends" questions. Wood matters, but it's just one of the elements in a build formula. I repeat this story often: A builder friend had developed a design that he thought would give him the particular combination of playability and voice he wanted for his own fingerstyle playing, and he made three guitars as close to identical as he could, changing only the back/sides material: Indian rosewood, mahogany, and walnut. The results were three guitars with similar but distinct voices. We both played all three, and since I wanted one of his instruments, I was listening for a sound I could live with. I settled on the rosewood, and I still have it 26 years later. The walnut was a close second (I had it as a loaner for a few weeks while a pickup was being installed on the rosewood). A few years later I picked up another of his guitars from a later batch with a similar build formula but mahogany back/sides, and its voice is distinctly different from those of its cousins. (Perhaps due to differences in body volume and bridge design.)

    My conclusion from this and from many conversations with builders is that while the wood is a major factor (especially the top wood), the overall voice is the result of how all the major factors are combined and balanced--that builders are using their ears as much as their hands when they work toward a voice. And that they also are trying to bring out the possibilities that they hear in the materials.

    It's not unlike the situation with builder-to-builder or body style--there's a range of possibilities available, a distribution of results across a given build formula, which is why I will occasionally find a Gibson archtop I like as well as most of the Epis I've played, or why there have been Guilds I haven't kept. Or why I sent back to our host a Dunn I'd had hopes for.

    BTW, there is something sonically significant about Brazilian rosewood, as signalled by its use for marimba keys. But BR is not the only way to get a great guitar sound--and there are mediocre-sounding BR guitars. (There was a time when that wood was very affordable and used in mid-priced guitars.)

  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    edited June 2020 Posts: 5,930

    There’s no doubt Brazilian is more than gorgeous looking wood. Time and time again I’ve seen the same exact model with both Indian and Brazilian rosewood and universally the Brazilian model has crisper, yet more rounded highs, a rich and complex midrange, and a “presence” that the Indian model lacks. This is most clearly noticeable in the Dupont MD50 and the MD50B. Pretty much anyone who comes here and tries the two in person will walk away with the MD50B.

    With that said, this is only true when comparing the same model side by side. There’s no doubt a vintage Selmer with Indian back and sides will sound better than an MD50B. Or, if you just prefer a different sound (like a Favino or a Busato) then it doesn’t matter how great a Selmer copy with Brazilian sounds, you’ll still prefer one of the alternative designs made of Indian or some other wood.

    Even though the back and sides of Gypsy guitars are usually made of laminate, the outer layer still makes a difference sonically.

    Mehran sBill Da Costa WilliamsPassacaglia
  • pdgpdg ✭✭
    Posts: 211

    Regardless of whether the different acoustic dampening properties of each outer veneer wood make a difference in the glued-up sandwich, another factor -- the weight of each kinf of wood -- may be important. Brazilian rosewood and ebony are the most dense, so unless the veneer is correspondingly thinner, the back and sides of these guitars will be heavier.

  • TwangTwang New
    Posts: 317

    I have heard that African Blackwood is the new Brazilian. Guitars in blackwood are still expensive, namely high end lowdens and hand made classicals. Its well named, its the colour of a dark roast coffee bean.

  • TwangTwang New
    Posts: 317

    Someone help me hear but aren't a lot of high end classicals being laminated now? Greg Smallmans are laminated (although he tunes his tops with blu tack and uses a lot of balsa wood). They use the term double sided, is this not a posh way of saying laminated?

    Laminated guitars are tough which is a good thing when you are stumbling around in the dark, looking for a jam at Samarou campsite, with half a bottle cognac inside you.

  • TwangTwang New
    Posts: 317

    I love this thread btw. I could bore for England talking about guitars and wood!

  • Posts: 91

    Michael, so given the chance to play them side by side, most people choose the MD-50B over the MD-50? Is this also the case for the MD-50E? Have you noticed that given the choice of all of the MD-50's, people most often gravitate to the B? I'm crazy, but I am already considering my next Dupont. The E impressed me with its rich highs, but I have not heard it in person. Thank you for your input.

  • Posts: 3,245

    My guitar had a fretboard replaced. The replacement fretboard is rosewood, it was ebony originally. After that the guitar sounded significantly warmer. I used to use silk and steel strings and favored a very rounded tip picks because I wanted to make it less bright. But with rosewood fretboard there was no need, actually silk and steel strings made the sound too dark and I never used them any more.

    Every note wants to go somewhere-Kurt Rosenwinkel
  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    Posts: 5,930

    The MD50E has more of a niche appeal. The French guitarist Romane played a maple model Dupont for many years, and many people coming from the archtop world like the brighter maple sound and/or the look. No doubt, they're gorgeous and in many cases they have exceptional tonal characteristics. The 2009 MDC50E I have here right now (just sold) is off the charts!

    Mehran s
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