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It makes sense to me based on having some knowledge of physics that on an acoustic guitar the body (and neck, bridge, etc) materials and design has a huge effect on what the guitar sounds like.

But on an electric, as I understand it, the strings don't resonate much with the body (and neck, bridge, etc); they're just there to oscillate a magnetic field on the pickups, and besides the body (and neck, bridge, etc) is usually pretty solid anyway so not much change for the small force of fingers on strings to resonate such a dense object.

Is that correct? Do different electric guitars have significantly different sound purely as an effect of their bodies (and neck, bridge, etc)?

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Related questions that might interest you: music.stackexchange.com/questions/11556/… music.stackexchange.com/questions/2224/… –  Ulf Åkerstedt Dec 6 '13 at 22:32
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3 Answers 3

On a solid body guitar the body shape and wood don't matter much. The most important thing about a guitar is the mechanical impedance as seen by the string. The string start vibrating and the rest of the guitar sucks out energy at different rates at different frequencies. This is determined by the mechanical losses in the overall force chain: bridge, body, neck joint, neck, & saddle. The body itself is rigid and hard and so the mechanically impedance of the body is small as compared to the other contributors.While a slab of mahogany as a lower impedance than a chunk of Alder, both are small as compared to the impedance of the other parts of the mechanical chain, so the differences don't matter much.

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Thank you; I guess I should have asked about "the whole guitar" which I thought was called the "body". It appears that you are talking as if the "body" doesn't include the bridge, neck, saddle, etc. Care to revise your answer? –  themirror Dec 6 '13 at 21:55
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It depends on who you ask. Some musicians swear up and down that one tonewood is far above the rest. While the woods and materials involved do affect the sound, its so slight that most people could never tell the difference.

The pickups and strings are what really control your sound on the electrics, as does other factors such as pickup height, string gauge/type, etc...

As far as playability, thats purely on the build of the guitar, as a poorly built guitar will feel and play like a poorly built guitar. It may sound just as good as that $4000 custom built top-of-the-line premium guitar, but it will NEVER feel like it.

The only thing that the 'Body' consists of, is a shaped slab of wood with no hardware in it. Hilmar was correct to list each part separately because they're all unique parts of the guitar(making a special case for neck-thru guitars, where the body includes the entire neck), and as such, fulfill unique tasks. Your question is somewhat broad, but not unreasonably so.

You won't notice so much difference in tone between woods, only your sustain (Although, string age and bridge construction both factor in as well) will really be affected, but its hard to pinpoint it as just the tonewood or just the bridge, or just the strings, as they all weigh in on the equation.

Basically, with the right parts and enough patience, you can make a piece of plywood sound close to a $4000 guitar, but your hands will absolutely notice the difference, where a listener won't hear it, especially not one who hasn't trained their ear.

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There is a lot of misinformation in this post. The body material has an impact on the tone of a solid body guitar. Put simply, the body material adsorbs vibrational energy, this attenuation is non linear, different materials will absorb different frequencies by different amounts. –  Fergus Jan 19 at 2:57
    
Whether joe blogg can identify these differences is something that needs rigorous proof, your anecdotal speculation does not suffice. As for the ply wood guitar example, the 'feel' of a guitar is obviously made up of it's physical dimensions and characteristics: The nut width, the neck profile, the balance, the body contours, the neck radius, the string height, scale length, fret material etc etc all of which are measurable and reproducible on another guitar, regardless of it's cost. They aren't exclusive, magical attributes that are only available on $4k guitars. –  Fergus Jan 19 at 2:58
    
@Fergus, I wouldn't call it misinformation as I never explicitly said that it doesn't, merely that I've found that electronics and build quality are what affect the tone the most. It does affect it, anyone who says that it flat out doesn't is a fool, however the differences are minute between most wood used in guitars. If you wish to nitpick, even the paint or laquer will affect the tone in an minor way, but no one's ears are going to hear it. –  WeRelic Jan 19 at 6:31
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Some electric guitars are "lively" and sustain forever while others "die like dogs" (even with brand new strings)?

I used to wonder about all of this too until I was offered an explanation by a wise old bass technician.

He told me that what makes all of the difference is not the type of wood used but rather the relationship between the "notes" produced when you turn the guitar over and tap the neck and the body of the guitar (with the tip of a finger - On a guitar that's made of more than one piece of wood then the section that has the bridge is the crucial part)

If the difference makes what you tap sound like a set of bongos then the chances are that you've got a "live" one? He went on to explain that it was about "sympathetic" wave forms and strong intervals like octaves and fifths versus an unsympathetic combination of notes that would fight each other and cause the picked notes and chords to die sooner.

He also said that this explained why so many old fender necks from the early days ended up attached to a different body to the one that they left the factory with. Simply by swapping necks it is possible to turn two "dogs" into guitars that will sustain for ages.

This works for me and explains why when playing without an amp some guitars are "putter downers" while others long to be played?

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