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Acoustic Guitars: Mahogany v. Rosewood


Yeah, well. Much has been written. For the uninitiated we’re talkin’ guitar tonewoods here.

I have two guitars (well, two that are being regularly played) which are identical apart from some cosmetics and the woods comprising the backs and sides; to whit: one has mahogany back and sides, the other rosewood. Do they sound very different? Well…

To my – and most keen guitar players’ – ears, they sound very different. To a lay person, if a difference is detected at all it will be something very subtle and maybe inconsequential. Certainly the difference would be hard to describe. However, in an effort to articulate the difference between these woods, guitar players and guitar makers have spawned a vocabulary lifted directly from that used by wine buffs the world over. Below is a summary of the terms I’ve seen used for each tonewood, in turn:

Mahogany: a dry and crisp sounding tonewood which emphasises the fundementals of the note. It provides a ping in the trebles, a snap in the mids and a growl in the bass. Its overall sonic palette has a definite underpinning of wheat (honest – I’ve seen this written!).

Rosewood: a dark and complex tonewood whose sound is overlaced with rich harmonics. It has a deep and almost reverberant quality. It provides a zing in the trebles, a bark in the mids and a grumble in the bass.

To extend the association with wine, I would equate the mahogany with a crisp Chablis and the Rosewood with a full bodied Claret.

So there we are. Very fanciful and probably gobbledegook to a non-guitar player. I only feel slightly foolish due to agreeing with these descriptions, by and large.

Oh, and another thing in passing: I was recently relieved to read that jazz players generally don’t take to rosewood guitars because of the very richness of the harmonics that rosewood emphasises insofar as these harmonics render the already complex chord forms used in jazz to a confused mush. Hitherto, I thought it might just be my imagination.

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