Many things affect the tone of the guitar but is the body shape really one of them? I have been wondering this question many times during my guitar-playing journey...
So, I started to dig, read a couple of my guitar books, watched videos, and searched other corners of the world wide web. And I found the answers. I will reveal a quick answer for you first and after that, we’ll dive deeper.
Quick answer first:
Does guitar body shape affect tone?
From a 2-D view, the body shape doesn’t affect the tone of the solid-body electric guitar. The most important factor for electric guitar are the pickups. The shape has an effect on the tone of the hollow-bodied guitars and acoustic guitars because sound waves bounce inside the body of the guitar.
Cool! But, now it’s time to dive deeper…this post answers these questions:
- Why the body shape of the electric guitar doesn’t affect the tone?
- Why different shape electric guitars sometimes sound different?
- How the body shape of the acoustic guitar affects the tone?
- Does electric guitar body wood affect tone?
- Does acoustic guitar body wood affect tone?
- What effect weight has on the tone?
We’ll look at both, electric-, and acoustic guitars, and find out how these sound and what factors affect the tone.
I included plenty of videos from Youtube in this article, so you don’t just have to take my word.
Author: Teemu Suomala
I first grabbed the guitar in 2009. I started this website in January 2020 because I couldn’t do window installation anymore due to my health problems. I also noticed that most guitar websites don’t do a really good job, so I decided to just go for it! I got lucky and managed to get awesome people to help me with my website. I also got lucky because I have you visiting my website right now. Thank you. I do all this for you guys. If you have any recommendations, tips, or feedback, just leave a comment, I would love to chat with you. I have been fortunate to produce content for several large guitar websites, such as Songsterr, Musicnotes, GuitarGuitar, and Ultimate Guitar. I spend my spare time exercising and hanging out with my wife and crazy dog(I guess that went the right way…).
Why The Body Shape of The Electric Guitar Doesn’t Affect The Tone?
If you have a hollow-body electric guitar(to find out why, check the section about acoustic guitars out), the shape affects the tone especially when unplugged. But let’s now talk about solid-body electric guitars.
When you play electric guitar, strings vibrate and pickups pick up that vibration. Pickups register vibration mainly directly from the strings, not from the body.
The type of wood used can have some super minor impact on the tone because of the mechanical impedance. Mechanical impedance measures how much certain material resists motion, in this case, how much the wood resists the vibration generated by strings. This video reveals that body woods don’t make much difference since pickups provide the same tone even without them:
- Mechanical impedance stays almost the same no matter what is the shape of the guitar.
- Pickups pick up mainly the vibration of the strings, not the bodys vibration.
So, the body shape has no impact on the sound of solid-body electric guitar.
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Why some might argue that different shaped electric guitars sound different?
Real reasons are these:
- ‘’We hear through our eyes’’ is a big thing here. In our brain, we connect different body shapes to different sounds. We might think that if the guitar looks heavy metal, it sounds heavy metal too.
- We hold different shaped guitars differently, and our picking angle and power varies. The way we use our fret hand changes too. These things change the tone.
- Different neck, bridge, and overall playability of the guitar changes how we play, that can change the tone too-
Before we look at why and how different body materials and weights affect the sound. Let’s find how the body shape of the acoustic guitar affects the tone.
How The Body Shape of The Acoustic Guitar Effects The Tone?
When you play an acoustic guitar, strings vibrate and make sound waves. Vibration and sound go through the soundhole, resonate through the instrument, and bounce inside the guitar’s body. Here the body shape makes a real difference, because sound waves bounce differently inside differently shaped guitars.
Making the body shape different, you can get a really great variety of acoustic guitars with unique tones.
Body material plays a big role too. If the body material is harder the waves will bounce strongly out of the soundboard. That makes the sound brighter and tighter. If softer wood is used, you get the opposite effect. The tone is softer and more open. If the wood is really soft, the sound will be dull.
In this video tones of the different acoustic guitar body-shapes are compared:
Of course, we must remember that in the video, guitars had different body materials. This affects the tone too, but we got some idea about how the shape affects the tone.
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How Does The Guitars Body Woods Affect The Tone?
Electric guitar body wood material can affect the tone through the mechanical impedance. How much the wood resistances the vibration made by the strings. These things affect the impedance:
- How dense the wood is
- How hard the wood is
- How much wood there is(very small effect in my opinion)
Yes, the strings are not directly connected to the wood. But, vibration made by strings transfers to the body through the bridge and the nut, and because of this, body wood can affect the tone, especially when played unplugged.
But, because pickups mostly register vibration directly from the strings, the wood type doesn’t make that much difference.
But hey… Now it is time to hear how different body woods sound!
I could definitely hear some difference in tone, but nothing big. I believe that those tone changes were made by these factors,
- different playing positions
- different strumming force used
Here’s an image that reveals how electric guitar tonewoods can affect the tone of your guitar:
I didn’t find a lot of info about this, but when you think about it, this statement makes sense: ‘’Wood type might have some effect on how the strings vibrate.’’ So this might be another way how the body material affects the tone. But this is just a really small aspect of the whole picture. Almost nothing.
With acoustic guitars, body woods affect the tone more. Most of the time pickups are not used and sound waves can bounce naturally. And when acoustic guitar pickups are used, there’s usually no magnetic field involved, so that changes the game. In acoustic guitars:
- Sound is generated by strings.
- Strings make sound waves and vibration.
- Sound waves and vibration bounce inside the body and resonate through the body. This amplifies the sound.
How dense and hard the wood is has a big impact on tone.
Watch this video to see and hear how different woods affect the tone of the guitar:
I heard some differences, did you? Maple was my favorite, it provides really nice bright and clear tone.
Here’s an image that reveals how acoustic guitar tonewoods can affect the tone of your guitar:
Even the soundhole type of an acoustic guitar can affect the sound, check comparison from this article: Acoustic Guitars With F-Holes – Tone Changer?
What Effect Weight Has On The Tone of The Guitar?
Electric Guitar Body Mass
In electric guitar, the weight can have a tiny impact on tone, especially when played unplugged. Because vibration has more mass to go through.
And here’s a video that shows you how the tone changes, when some parts of the guitars are sawed off.
Note: when I first watched this video, I was like ‘’yes there is a clear difference’’. But when I closed my eyes, it was harder to spot differences. Why? Because we hear through our eyes.
I think that the ‘’guitar’’ sounded the most different when there was only 30% of it left. But the player has to hold it differently because it was so small, so that changes the tone more than the actual body mass.
Acoustic Guitar Body Mass
Again, weight matters more with acoustics guitars. Usually, acoustic guitars are light, this way the guitar provides a better sound. How?
If the acoustic guitar would be super-heavy and the wood was really thick, it would kill the sound. The body wouldn’t resonate so well.
If you knock on an acoustic guitar soundboard and after that, you knock on your thick kitchen table, you can hear the difference. The soundboard resonates better. So, this is why acoustic guitars are pretty light and wood is not super thick.
When you are shopping for an acoustic, test different sizes, shapes, and weights out. Choose what works best for you.
So many things affect the sound of the guitar. Pickups, body woods, weight, amp, cable, etc…But the most important thing is this: what sounds best for you. No matter how dense the wood is, what wood is it, and what the body shape is. Pick the guitar which sounds good in your opinion.
If you are looking for an electric guitar, the most important things to look for tone-wise are these:
- Pickups(are the pickups single-coils, humbuckers, or mix of both. Active or passive, etc.)
- Strings(material and how thick the strings are. You can replace the strings easily and test what works best for you).
If you are looking for an acoustic guitar, these affect the sound the most.
- Body materials
- Body shape
- Is the guitar laminate or solid top?
But as I said. Try guitars out, listen to sound demos from Youtube, and after that, choose the best one for you.
That’s it! I hope that you got the answers. Feel free to share your opinions about the” guitar tone-things” in the comments below. Also, if you think that I missed something, or some things are not true in your opinion, leave a comment below. I want to always make my posts as accurate as possible.
I wish you all the best and keep rocking!
Teemu ’’the not-your-sound-guru’’ Suomala
Here’s Our Favorite Gear Right Now!
Our Favorite Guitars:
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Our favorite Electric guitar of 2021 was the PRS SE Custom 24-08. It gives so much versatility, comfort, and good tones that it’s impossible to ignore.
For beginners, Yamaha FG800 is our go-to guitar. It offers more than any other guitar in the same price range.
For intermediate and beginners with bigger wallets, Gretsch G5024E Rancher offers so clear and detailed tones, plus easy playability that I had to include it here.
Seagull S6 Original is the best acoustic around the $500 mark. It has the construction, sound, and feel that many more expensive guitars don’t achieve.
Our Favorite Amps:
For beginners, Fender Mustang LT25 offers the most. It’s versatile, sounds good, and is simple to use.
For most home players, Boss Katana 50MKii is the amp that serves you in any situation. From country to metal.
If you are searching for a tube amp for home use, Blackstar HT-5R MKii is my go-to option because it sounds so good, and you can adjust the wattage(power).
When it comes to acoustic guitar amps, Fender Acoustasonic 40 will serve most people really well. But our favorite is Fishman Loudbox Mini BT. It offers a professional level tone and volume with a price most people can afford.