Wood & Tonal Qualities
When a Warr Guitar is ordered there are many choices to be made about the woods used in construction. This means that one can essentially sculpt the tone that will be produced in the final guitar, and the possibilities are virtually endless, considering all the choices Warr Guitars provides, most of which are at no extra cost.
All woods are stored in our shop under controlled conditions for at least several months, so that they are properly dried, and will not flex or shrink after construction. For this reason, some woods are not always available. This also means that if the customer wants a special wood, that we need to acquire before construction, the build-time may be greatly lengthened, as we will want to make sure it is properly dried.
It never hurts to ask us for advice about woods when you are ordering a guitar and you will find us helpful, as we want you to be happy with the final product.
Another important note: Tapping to produce a vibration in the string creates a brighter tone than plucking, so we generally advise that woods with ‘darker’ tones be chosen.
Here are the categories:
Body Woods: Usually mahogany, ash, maple are available. Sometimes we have walnut and padauk (extra charge). Poplar has a wonderful tone, and is readily available, but the appearance is not so nice, so you may see guitars made with this wood painted to hide the pale gray-green wood.
Body Top woods: zebrawood, maple, walnut, bubinga, sedua and wenge are commonly available. Sometimes we use purpleheart, blood wood (extra charge), and naturally we have high-grade wood choices for an extra charge, similar to what you might find at custom guitar shops. Woods like burl maple and buckeye, cocobolo, and possibly koa, though it is quite rare and expensive these days.
Neck laminate woods: usually the ‘mains’ or largest outer pieces are made from either mahogany or maple. Thinner laminate woods can be wenge, pau Amarillo, purpleheart, bubinga, walnut,
Fingerboard woods: Wenge is most common, and takes the place of ebony, which is very hard to find in pieces large enough for our fingerboards. Once it’s oiled, it is virtually black, and most of the guitars made by Warr have this wood on the fingerboard. Also available are pau ferro (ironwood) and goncolo alves. Pau ferro is very dense, and we use it when someone wants a fretless fingerboard. It has a nice wood grain to it. Goncolo alves is almost orange, and has a very nice tone.
TONE QUALITIES OF WOODS
Generally, woods that are light in color will have a ‘brighter’ sound than darker woods, meaning that the tones produced have more high frequency response. Maple (bright) is one extreme and padauk (dark) is another.
For example, on a bolt-on neck guitar, a maple body will produce a more ‘Fender-ish’ tone than a mahogany body, similar to the difference in tone of a Telecaster (usually an ash, alder, or maple body) and a Les Paul (usually a mahogany body).
We generally consider mahogany to be an excellent all-around choice for a bolt-on body, as it is light in weight, has a very nice, warm tone, and is readily available. A wide variety of tones can be produced, especially when one considers the varying choices available for tops. If you want a darker sound from a guitar, use a dark top like walnut or wenge, if you want to brighten the sound, maple or zebrawood will do the trick. Zebrawood has a bit of a ‘twang’ to it, as does ash. This gives a very ‘country’ attack to notes played on an instrument using these woods.
If you want a ‘Tele’ sound, get an ash body. Ash has great bottom, and a scooped midrange, its sound is unique as a body wood.
Neck-through guitars require a close look at the ‘mains’ or outer laminates used in the neck. These are the largest pieces of wood in the neck, and they will have the greatest effect on the overall tone of the guitar.
Choices are usually mahogany or maple, though we have used wenge mains, and bubinga. Be careful; as dense woods like bubinga can greatly increase the weight of the guitar (see About Padauk, below).
Once again, mahogany provides a very warm and even tone, and maple is a bit brighter, and creates a stronger attack to each note. Start from there, and use the other, smaller pieces in the neck to skew the tone in the direction you want.
All Warr guitars have seven laminates in the neck, except for 8-string guitars, which have five. Neck laminates greatly increase the strength of the neck, and keep it from vibrating and wobbling during playing, which means more sustain, and better tone.
Even on a bolt-on guitar, the choice of neck woods will have some affect on the overall tone, but on a neck-through guitar, choice of neck woods is crucial as they produce the bulk of the guitars’ tone.
Fingerboard woods will also play a role on the finished product, especially with the wider fingerboards found on touch-guitars. The overall affect on tone is small, but noticeable. Wenge is a bit of an exception to the dark/light rule, and has some nice high-end to it. We consider it well balanced, and that is why it is used so much for our fingerboards. Purpleheart is pretty neutral, and while it looks nice, we don’t have a great fondness for its tone. Pau ferro has an excellent tone, but is not always available. Goncolo-alves also sounds very good, and has a unique look due to its grain and bright colors.
We get a lot of requests for padauk due to the almost exclusive use of this wood (with wenge) in Trey Gunns’ instruments. It has a striking orange /red color when first cut, which slowly fades over time and UV exposure to a nice rich, brown. However, padauk is extremely dense, and can make even a small guitar quite heavy. Padauk should not be used if weight is an issue. We have an extra charge for padauk, as it is quite difficult to work with and can be difficult to find. For this reason, the build-time on padauk guitars is a bit longer.
The tone is very dark, and we usually suggest a small amount of lighter-toned wood in some part of the guitar to bring out the high end.