The Guitar Material Characterization Project


Guitar enthusiasts have long maintained that the material from which a guitar is made significantly influences the color and tone of the sound that the guitar outputs. In this project, we decided to attempt a more quantitative analysis based on the qualitative "traditional wisdom" used in guitar material selection.

We believe that the majority of "color and tone" added to the sound of a guitar by the wood is a function of what frequencies the wood passes and attenuates. We acquired samples of three representative hardwoods: Ash, maple, and Hawaiian koa. We then devised an experimental setup to permit measurement of the frequency response of each kind of wood when a standard string was plucked across it. In order to control the number of variables we dealt with, we simplified the guitar to its basics, and modeled it with the guitar string and pluck acting as the input and the hardwood acting as the system.

Our experimental results were then analyzed in Matlab in both the time and frequency domain. After some conditioning to magnify the relevant differences, we found that there is in fact a significant difference between the frequency responses of the various hardwoods. This leads us to conclude that wood choice in guitar construction is, in fact, a significant consideration.

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Traditional Wisdom


Ash is known for being a good all-around guitar hardwood. Somewhat less dense than maple, ash doesn't overly color the sound.


Thought to have a light sound that reproduces treble well, this dense wood is known for its twang. Maple is used to build "blues funk" guitars.


A heavy, exotic hardwood, koa is used extensively in bass guitars both because of its excellent reverb and because it tends to damp out delicate high notes.


Definitely not an appropriate material out of which to build a guitar. But, hey, we're nothing if not intrepid!