Does Guitar Body Shape Affect Tone? – Tone Secrets Revealed

Different guitars with different body shapes and different sounds

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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

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 shape has an effect on the tone of the hollow-bodied guitars because sound waves bounce inside the body of the guitar.  Weight has some minor effect on the sound. The most important factors are body material, strings, and pickups.

Cool! But, now it’s time to dive deeper…this post answers to 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?
  • How electric guitar body wood affect tone?
  • How acoustic guitar body wood affect tone?
  • What effect weight has on the tone?

We 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 on this article, so you don’t just have to take my word.

Use the table of content to jump to the section you want: 

Why The Body Shape of The Electric Guitar Doesn’t Affect The Tone? 

Electric guitar on the floor

First, we are now talking about solid-body electric guitars. If you have a hollow-body electric guitar, the shape affects the tone.

When you play electric guitar, strings vibrate and pickups pick up that vibration. Pickups register vibration mostly from the strings. 

The type of wood used has some effects on the tone because of the mechanical impedance. Mechanical impedance measures how much certain material resists motion, in this case, how much the wood resist the vibration generated by strings. 

Mechanical impedance stays almost the same no matter what is the shape of the guitar.

So, from the 2D view, body shape has almost no effect on the sound. 

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 shaped guitars use different body materials and have different weights. These affect the tone way more than a shape.

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?

Body of the acoustic guitar

When you play an acoustic guitar, strings vibrate and make sound waves. Vibration and sound go trough the soundhole, resonate thought the instrument, and bounce inside the guitar’s body. Here the body shape makes a real difference.

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: 


I spotted plenty of differences. I especially liked the sound of the auditorium-shape.

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.

 

How The Guitars Body Wood Affects The Tone?

Electric guitar body wood material affects 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.

But, because pickups mostly register vibration directly from the strings, the wood type is not the most important factor tone-wise.

But hey… Now it is time to hear how different body woods sound!

I could definitely hear some difference in tone, but nothing really big, and the mahogany was my favorite! 

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.

 

Acoustic guitar body wood

Body wood affects the tone more in the case of acoustic guitar. There are no pickups. 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.

 

What Effect Weight Has On The Tone of The Guitar?

In electric guitar, the weight has a tiny impact in tone. 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 trough our eyes. 

I think that the ‘’guitar’’ sounded the most different when there was only 30% of it left. But on the other hand, the player has to hold it differently, because it was so small, so that might change the tone too. So this was a tough one.

After a couple of times listening, I would say that there was a tiny change in tone, but definitely not much. 

 

Acoustic guitar

Again, weight matters more in acoustics guitars. Usually, acoustic guitars are light, this way the guitar provides a better sound. Why?

If the acoustic guitar would be super-heavy and the wood was really thick, it would kill too much sound. The body wouldn’t resonate so well. 

If you knock an acoustic guitar soundboard and after that, you knock 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.

There are some variations to choose from but not much when it comes to the thickness of the wood and the weight. You should test what works best for you when buying acoustic guitar.

 

Conclusion

So many things affect the sound of the guitar. Pickups, materials, weight, amp, cable, etc…

But the most important thing is this: what sounds best for you.

No matter how dense the wood, what the 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.)
  • Body materials
  • 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 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

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