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, 2018 at 6:52
  • What does the "(!)" mean?
    – user45266
    Sep 20, 2018 at 23:43
  • Pickups pick up the sound.
    – Chase
    Sep 22, 2018 at 0:04

2 Answers 2


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.

  • @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, 2018 at 23:47
  • 1
    @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.
    – user39614
    Sep 21, 2018 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, 2018 at 1:10
  • @user45266 -- yes, a study that I can't read. That is why I can't assess. It looks like there are some test audio files, but this is a silly way to establish anything about the tone of a guitar. I am not interested in what a guitar sounds like on my laptop; I am interested what it sounds like when I am plugged into an amp. More to the point, I am interested in the way the guitar responds when I play it. Different woods seem to have to do with the responsiveness of an instrument (electric or otherwise). My thoughts about this are always shifting as I continue to play and listen....
    – user39614
    Sep 21, 2018 at 1:25
  • @user45266 -- and this is the bottom line for me: I have to listen and form opinions based on that. People who have been playing for a long time, in a sustained and serious way, have opinions that are worth something. It is not bad to listen to what such people have to say; platitudes about anecdotes and data are too facile here, in my opinion. What I don't need is a study to tell me about tone. I would much rather talk with actual musicians, as messy at that is, to arrive at something more meaningful for a musician.
    – user39614
    Sep 21, 2018 at 1:30

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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