Updated: Sep 4
A lot of people have been talking about the video I'm linking here, so I had to give my point of view even though no one is asking for it.
Tonewood, a painful conversation that perhaps should be listed within the topics to never talk over dinner or at parties, you know like religion, politics, covid masks just to name a few. Those are the topics that people often take personally, and is quite hard to give a point of view without butt-hurting someone. Yes, Tonewood is just like that, a conversation topic full of “facts and truths”.
So let’s talk about the video. In this Youtube video, a musician decides to take action on investigating the Truth behind Tonewood, his approach is just to compare back and forth “The Tone” from a Tom-Anderson Telecaster type guitar, and a Telecaster project-kit guitar. From there he goes to set up the guitar as close as possible using the same pickups, type of bridge, strings, tuning, settings, etc. The results are just as expected, if you are picky you’ll find the difference, but if you just play the guitar, the difference shouldn't be a hindrance to your playing, because you are not missing that much. Go on and watch the video, I think is a cool video, and I do agree with it 100%.
I will insert my point of view here, is Tonewood BS? Nope, it’s not, it is a real thing and it does affect the sound, but it mostly applies to very specific cases, for example, acoustic instruments or electrified instruments with a sensitive resonant box (jazz guitars, archtop guitars, etc).
What about solid body electric guitars? Well sure tonewood will affect the sound of your guitar, but not in a way you might think, as in not to a specific quantifiable amount, that you can easily discern in a song what type of wood is the guitar made of. Neither it will affect your playing nor performance.
As a Guitar Builder, I suggest to my clients the wood they like by the color, the type of grain, the way is going to look with a specific finish, the weight, design, etc., but I don’t go down into the rabbit-hole of Tonewood because when you want to listen to something you are going to hear it every day, so the right wood is the one that which my clients want the guitar to be made out of. My restrictions are that I only get wood from Tonewood suppliers, this way I know I’m buying material from a source that has dried the wood for musical instruments building, and that the wood complies with all rules regarding endangered species.
Would it be the same to build every electric guitar out of an abundant material such as Pine for example? Absolutely not, you should buy the guitar that speaks to you, that inspires you, motivates you, excite you, so if for this your dream guitar is Curly Maple Top with Baked Ash Body then you should by any means get that guitar because even if the “Pine” option guitar would get you 95% there in terms of sound, is perhaps the remaining 5% what could inspire you to take the guitar and create art with it. Bottom line, Tonewood is not that important in terms of “Tonality” for electric guitars, but It might be about everything in terms of inspiration, that 5% we might just call it the “Je Ne Sais Quoi” that makes you love that Guitar, or simple The Mojo!
On the other hand, people who can’t afford a guitar made out of “exotic” materials, or those who cannot stretch their wallet to get a musical instrument with an AAAA Flame Maple top, shouldn't feel discriminated against, because the lack of those materials are not an obstacle or a handicap, is just you as a player who can hindrance yourself against music, because in my book a cheap guitar that gets used every day to make music is more worth it, than an exotic guitar hanging on the wall just to look at.
As a builder I would recommend you when buying your next guitar: Buy the guitar you like by the looks, the guitar that feels right on your hands, the instruments that make you play more. Save the money from Top quality Exotic Woods and get good parts instead, such as hardware and pickups. Play more every day, and if you decided to go down the Tonewood Rabbit-Hole, please understand that if want to be a nerd about this topic, separate yourself from the players and just make opinions from the Nerd point of view, we can all be happier if we just understand that we are all just wrong about everything, all the time :)