The Guitar Thread

Guitar Tonewood Comparison! - Can You Hear The Difference?

I could hear a slight difference between the guitars, and I correctly identified the guitars in all three of the blind tests, which only has a one-eighth chance of happening by accident. I like the sound of the basswood body with the maple fingerboard better than the sound of the alder body with the rosewood fingerboard.



  • I've been kinda wanting a guitar that I could feel free to tear apart. My guitar is too nice to subject to my rank beginner luthiery. (It's a Michael Kelly Hourglass that I've had for quite a few years now, since my last spasm of wanting to learn the guitar. It looks like this one.) I've also wanted something that's physically lighter and more comfortable for long practice sessions. My guitar looks pretty and sounds OK as far as I can tell through my little practice amplifier, a Peavey Rage 158, but it's a fat slab of mahogany that gets heavy after a while. (Perhaps I will name it Elsie.)

    Lo, after I got interested in basswood because of it's lightness and how it sounded in the above video, I found this thing online. It's under $60 postpaid, and the reviews on YouTube aren't half bad. I couldn't resist and bought one. I certainly won't feel bad if the urge to modify it strikes and I accidentally destroy it. I suspect that I'll at least have to re-do the frets.

  • All of this makes me want to take up guitar myself.

    I do need to get some drums for the kiddo at some point. Plus the wife has a bass. That gives me ideas, but I really don't need to turn into the partridge family up in here. ;-)

  • edited August 23

    I'm still enjoying trying to learn the thing. I still can't switch chords fast enough to play anything correctly, but I'm still improving slowly.

    If you give it a shot, the first couple weeks are the worst as your finger tips toughen up. They keep getting tougher after that for some weeks, but the real pain is only in the first two weeks or so. You also slowly start to figure out how to position your hand better to get less wrist pain.

  • edited August 27

    Well, my less-than-$60-postpaid guitar has arrived. First impressions:

    The finish is pretty good, There are a few scratches in the pick guard. You can see some scuff marks in the sanding. Overall, it looks good. For sixty bucks, I was prepared to accept anything that looked better than a rotten plank.

    The neck appears to be entirely unfinished. I like that, for now at least. Once my hand begins to sweat, it has a tendency to stick to the glossy finish on Elsie's neck. Some of the review's I watched before purchase expressed worry that an unfinished neck might be subject to a greater risk of warpage. I lack the experience to judge.

    The neck is somewhat thicker, as in the distance between the fingerboard and the back of the neck, than Elsie's.

    The hardware is pot metal. For the price, I didn't expect anything else.

    The frets are nicely rounded over. There is nothing sticking up to cut your hand. I checked for high spots with the edge of a credit card, and I found nothing obvious.

    The fingerboard is some kind of engineered "rosewood." It arrived desiccated, and it soaked up a whole bunch of the F-One oil I applied to it. It looks much better now, but it's rougher to the fingers than Elsie's real rosewood.

    Out of the box, the action is set quite a bit higher than Elsie's. I've never adjusted a guitar's action before. It will be an adventure.

    It is noticeably lighter than Elsie, which is one of the things I wanted it for.

    I plugged it in to the Peavey Rage and played a few chords. It sounded OK to me, but I lack educated ears. In any case, it's good enough to practice with, which I mostly do unplugged anyway.

    The biggest problem that I've noticed so far is the tuning keys. They are garbage. They have a tremendous amount of backlash, and they don't at all turn smoothly. Tuning this thing up is a real chore. When I start modifying the guitar, they will have to be the first thing I change.

    In my totally inexpert judgment, the tuning keys are the main thing that keeps it from being a good guitar for a total beginner, as in someone who has never touched a guitar before. Trying to tune it would cause them needless frustration.

    Overall, my early judgment is that the guitar is a tremendous value. I wanted something that is lighter to put in long practice sessions with and that I feel free to take apart and fiddle with. It completely serves both of those functions.

    Heck, for someone looking for a project, the assembled guitar is cheaper than a lot of kit guitars. Spend the money you save on a loaded pick guard, for instance, and a better nut and decent tuners.

  • A few more observations:

    I've now lowered the action on the new guitar. So far, there has been no fret buzz. I think it can go a little lower. It appears that the job the manufacturer did on the frets actually is pretty good.

    The width on the new guitar is one and eleven-sixteenth inches compared to Elsie's one and five-eighth inches. That one-sixteenth of an inch makes a surprising difference. My fingers fit noticeably better.

    I've now done some chord and spider exercises. I don't like the new guitar's extra neck thickness. I'd like to sand it down a little. This isn't a flaw in the guitar, just a personal preference.

    The neck on the new guitar isn't as sticky when wet, but I think it needs something to make it feel smoother. One of the reviewers on YouTube gave his guitar neck a coat of car wax. Does this strike you as reasonable?

    The neck of the new guitar has a big heel where it attaches to the body and about an inch and one-eighth above. It would improve the guitar to remove that inch and one-eighth of heel and blend the wood down to the curve of the neck.

    The intonation of the new guitar is pretty good. It's slightly off, but adjusting intonation is a fussy process, and I don't yet have it zeroed in according to my electronic tuner. Still, it's closeness makes for a pleasant surprise.

    My first impression remains. This thing is an excellent value. That they can sell it, shipping included, for under sixty bucks is nigh jaw dropping.

  • Well, I was trying to intonate the new guitar when the tuning machine for the low E string gave up the ghost. They really are total crap.

  • So, does anyone have any recommendations for tuning machines, or more importantly, bad tuning machines that I should avoid?

  • I wasn't aware of machines other than tuning forks or youtube I guess. I learned something new today.

  • Assuming you're not pulling my leg: "Tuning machines," in my totally non-expert opinion, appears to be the now-preferred term for tuning pegs on guitars other than classical guitars. It appears -- and I'm just speculating here -- that they say "tuning machines" to distinguish tuning pegs that are geared from the tuning pegs on classical guitars, which are literally just wooden pegs.

    The UKers actually call tuning machines "machine heads," hence, the name of the Deep Purple album.

  • Heh. See, I usually heard those referred to as tuning keys.

    Machine head makes me think of the Bush song before the Deep Purple album.

  • This is my son's guitar instructor:

    He's big into metal and plays in several bar bands, but the classical gigs pay 2-3 times what a bar gig pays (so he tells me).

  • The order I preferred them was B > C > A. In which order do you prefer them? Come up with your choice before you watch the reveal video.

  • re: tuning heads -- avoid hipshot. they're cool but you're not there yet. grover and schaeller have the older/best reputation, gotoh right behind. kluson is ok. fender and gibson stock are ok. grover/schaller/gotoh have locking tuners, which, if you've got a guitar with a tremolo on it, you definitely want to consider (as opposed to a locking nut, which honestly is a giant pain in the ass.

    if you find yourself in the market for a cheap instrument, facebook marketplace and craigslist are still the old standbys

  • re: chords -- look up the CAGED method of chord theory for guitar (ie, those are the 5 basic shapes, that you can move up and down the neck. most easy/terrible punk is based on the A and E shapes, moved up and down the neck.)

    also, 5 strings isn't necessarily bad -- keith richards plays his open G tuned guitar with 5 strings (tuned -GDGBD). it takes a bit of getting used to, but i've been playing in open G for a few years now and really liking it.

  • edited September 13

    @Dave said:
    re: tuning heads -- avoid hipshot. they're cool but you're not there yet.

    Dang it. Of course, I've already installed Hipshot staggered locking tuners on the thing. By shopping around I did manage to find a set for $55, which is cheaper than what they usually go for.

    I also replaced the nut with a Graph Tech TUSQ XL. I messed up the nut installation -- I made it too short -- so I had to order another one that arrived yesterday. Fortunately, the nuts don't cost all that much, and I bought the guitar in the first place to have one that I could feel free to destroy as I learned.

    I am afraid that I might be coming down with guitar acquisition syndrome. I've already been designing an experimental guitar in my head. It would be impractical for a professional musician, but it would be fun to play with. I'm pretty sure that I can hold off at least until I actually learn how to play. Maybe if I work really hard for a full year I'll reward myself.

    So far, my fantasies include:

    • lightweight, Strat-style body
    • roasted maple neck with an ebony fingerboard
    • stainless steel frets
    • high-gear-ratio locking tuners
    • Graph Tech TUSQ XL nut
    • Graph Tech string trees, if necessary
    • hardtail bridge
    • classic Tron-style pickup near the neck
    • a hotter Tron-style pickup near the bridge
    • maybe a P-90 in the middle position

    Now, it starts to get freaky:

    The Tron pickups would each have a switch that turns on the coils either in series or in parallel and also splits the coils so that either one coil or the other is on. It also would have an off position.

    The P-90 in the middle would have its own on-off switch.

    If I'm doing the math right, that should give a total of fifty different pickup combinations to play with. (Five possibilities for each Tron, two possibilities for the P-90, (5)(5)(2) = 50.) One of those is all off, however.

    But wait, there's more. Each pickup would have its own volume and tone knob, but instead of the tone knob being wired to a single capacitor, it would be wired to a rotary switch that is wired to an entire selection of capacitors, If each rotary switch is wired to six capacitors (or five capacitors and one empty spot), that gives you a total of (6)(6)(6) = 216 capacitor combinations.

    Forty-nine practical pickup combinations times 216 capacitor combinations equals 10,584.

    That's not even taking into consideration the settings on the volume and tone knobs themselves. Because they are usually continuous, they are theoretically infinite, but that is greatly reduced in practical use. I've noticed that it's difficult to hear the differences among some settings of tone and volume.

    If you want to go full mad scientist, I've seen some push-pull rotary switches that have a total of twelve positions. You could wire up a total of twelve capacitors (or 11 plus none) to each tone knob for a total of (12)(12)(12) = 1728 different capacitor combinations. Times 49 equals 84,672. You couldn't practically explore every tonal possibility in a lifetime.

    Now, add in a few pedals. Bwahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

    Anyway, it's just a fantasy that wouldn't cost a fortune to do if you did the labor yourself. If Guitarfetish pickups are any good, the most expensive single piece would be the fancy neck. If you have to go to someone like TV Jones to get good pickups, it would be pricier, but still cheaper than an American made Gibson.

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