When I visited the online luthier supply shop, who sells wood (e.g. for acoustic guitars), they have wood grades like:

  • German Spruce AAA
  • German Spruce AA
  • German Spruce A
  • German Spruce Master

How would these different wood grades affect the tone?

  • 6
    With all do respect, I think you guys are making a huge mistake here by shutting down this question. Here's why: if tone graded wood is as misleading as you suggest then here is an opportunity to smack it down with some real data, if not, then why not allow our guests to explain why AAA is better than AA tone wise. Ignoring this is simply saying materials for instruments don't matter, which for those of us who have studied musical instruments for music production know is not true otherwise Steinway would sound just as great made out of cardboard.
    – filzilla
    Commented May 30, 2014 at 16:51
  • 5
    I have re-opened the question. It is not about wood, it is about how sound is affected by different grades of wood - an important consideration in building an instrument, which directly affects the practice of musical performance. Not to mention that this question also applies to the musical practice of instrument construction. Commented May 30, 2014 at 20:49
  • These points where addressed in my original comments! Why were they deleted? Here it is again: Tonewood grading is based on aesthetic criteria which has no bearing on the physical properties that determine 'tone'. So the answer to the question is that they don't. There is already enough snake oil salesmen in the luthier industry, lets not perpetuate myths here..
    – Fergus
    Commented May 30, 2014 at 23:46
  • @filzilla It's a shame my previous comments are gone... I never said the material an instrument is made of does not affect it's tone, simply that the grading system for sound boards is not based on 'tone'.
    – Fergus
    Commented May 31, 2014 at 23:12
  • @NReilingh I am a little confused as to why my comments were "cleaned up"? The acceptance and up-votes of my answer clearly vindicates the deleted comments. I think things should be left to play out a little longer before prematurely jumping to false conclusions and deleting valid comments.
    – Fergus
    Commented Jun 1, 2014 at 1:36

2 Answers 2


This answer is specifically about acoustic guitar sound board grading as as that's what your question refers to, there are other grading systems for other instrument building woods.

Different wood grades do not affect the tone.

Soundboards are graded on aesthetic properties: straightness of grain, grain spacing, angle of quartering, degree of figuring, imperfections, grain run out etc etc Theses criteria may have a positive or negative or no effect at all on the physical properties that determine 'tone'.

This grading criteria varies from wood to wood as different species are naturally different eg the tightness of grain on a AAA Sitka spruce will be different to the tightness of grain of a AAA Engelmann because these two species naturally have different tightness of grain, there is no consistent grading method across the board.

Tight, consistent grain may be graded high but it is often very plain looking and many prefer timber where the grain is more apparent and unique.

What is considered desirable in one top can be considered undesirable in others. eg poor grain spacing will be ignored if nice bear claw figuring is present (even though figuring has a negative effect on physical properties that affect tone! Like i said, grading is only about aesthetics).

Even if tops could be tested on 'tone' by some empirical means a grading system would still be useless. Good 'tone' for a classical guitar is totally different to good 'tone' for a Dreadnought. They have different goals and different tops will achieve those goals. An experienced luthier will know how to select the right top for their goal.

Of course, the construction quality is what matters most, a great piece of timber can make a terrible guitar by poor construction. The Taylor pallet guitars shows the reverse is true also.

In your average music shop the highest grade top will be AA, found on Gibsons, Martins Taylors etc You'll find many of these guitars are very fine indeed, and also some duds..

In conclusion, no ones first guitar is amazing, don't waste expensive wood on it. Your skill as a luthier will determine the quality of the guitar, not how many letters the seller attached to a piece of wood.


My name is Bruce Rubin of Rubinsguitars.com The soundboard grading system is based on cosmetic appearance and closeness of the grain. When a well-crafted soundboard is produced by a skilled maker, He will balance that specific top to resonate based on the characteristics of that specific piece of wood. My experience has shown me cosmetic appearance has little bearing on musical quality in terms of grain closeness and bleed.I have not seen any soundboards with knots tuned by a skilled maker but it is a good question. I have seen master's grade soundboards turned into guitars suited as boat paddles(LATELY QUITE OFTEN)) and A/B grade tops produce concert grade instruments. I have played handmade guitars from third world countries with soundboards that look like they were made from 2X4's from home depot that were delightfully resonant and significantly more resonant than factory produced guitar using AAA-masters grade tops.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.