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How does the tone of a guitar body, neck and fretboard combine to contribute to the final tone?

Many guitar manufactures go on about how each part has a certain tone. Like a maple neck having a bright tone, but a mahogany neck has a warm tone. However they never mention how these different tones contribute to the final tone of the guitar.

I realize this is ignoring many factors that also contribute (generally far more considerably) to tone. But for the purposes of this question if it is important please assume it refers are using quality wood in a electronic stratocaster guitar with a bolt on neck and all other equipment being equal.

More specifically how does the tone of say a body contribute. What if you have a bright toned body and a warm neck, a all warm tonewoods for all of these, all bright, or does it not really matter that much in the end?

  • This may be more important for acoustic than electric guitars. The pups on electrics tend to pick up (!) the vibrations from the strings, which are probably less influenced by particular woods, although it has been said that sustain is a factor due to certain woods. However, sustain is not tone. – Tim Sep 20 '18 at 6:52
  • What does the "(!)" mean? – user45266 Sep 20 '18 at 23:43
  • Pickups pick up the sound. – Chase Sep 22 '18 at 0:04
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I assume you are talking about electric guitars. If not, ignore my answer.

For electric guitars, the answer is, "they don't, in any noticeable way". "Tonewood" for electric guitars is, to the best available scientific knowledge, marketing hype. Tests indicate that listeners cannot reliably tell the difference between the sound of two guitars with body or necks made of different woods, if the other parameters of the guitar are kept constant (If you happen to read German, you can have a look here; it's quite funny - many listeners even think that the same guitar played twice, by the same player, sounds different). So if you cannot even tell the difference each component makes, asking how they combine their influences is pure speculation.

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    This is just false. Even the relatively minor difference between an ash and alder body on a strat or tele is detectable. I can hear the difference between different thicknesses of maple caps on Les Pauls and lack or presence of weight relief in the mahogany body. – Todd Wilcox Sep 20 '18 at 20:57
  • @ToddWilcox That said, he has a study to back up his claim, whereas you have an anecdote. Perhaps you can find some research to back up your claim so as to lend credibility to your argument. – user45266 Sep 20 '18 at 23:47
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    @user45266 -- what study? A link to a German site was provided. How are we to assess such a study and verify the claims that were made? We could take the poster at his word; we could also take Todd Wilcox at his word, and the many musicians who concur. There is never agreement on this issue, and every time somebody points to a study it seem to be lacking in some way. This is not engineering, and it is difficult to see how you can even form a scientific question that squares with claims about tone. If you can't hear something, fine. But don't tell others what they can or can't hear. – David Bowling Sep 21 '18 at 0:55
  • @DavidBowling True, but the German site does have a study, does it not? I looked at it and saw that it had conducted what appeared to me to be, if not a study, then at least an experiment of sorts. Go ahead and assess the site, it lists the exact instructions they gave participants. What exactly is unable to be assessed? That said, I didn't mean to imply that Todd Wilcox could not hear or could hear the difference, I just mean that it's hard to really say that his anecdote has much authority compared with Richard Metzler's post. – user45266 Sep 21 '18 at 1:10
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    @user45266 Many people have swapped out pickups on terrible sounding guitars for pickups from great sounding guitars. Such a swap often makes the terrible sounding guitar sound better, but it does not make the terrible guitar sound identical to the great sounding guitar. Electric guitar tone does not only come from the pickups. Many other aspects affect the sound of an electric guitar, including the woods used. You can easily conduct a pickup swap at home to verify, as can the asker. – Todd Wilcox Sep 21 '18 at 1:23
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Depending on how the strings are attached to the guitar (how much string to body contact there is), different densities of body wood can give you slight tonal differences. How the neck is attached also factors in: neck through body will transfer more sound than a bolt on.

For example, a guitar with an in-body tailpiece, floating bridge, and neck through body can have some tone difference comparing a soft wood or plywood body to something like a hard maple neck and body. The softer woods have some frequency absorption/dampening.

While this tonal difference shows up on a spectrogram, as stated in Richard's answer it is unlikely in a performing situation that a listener would notice a difference.

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