Best Woods for making an Acoustic Guitar

One of the most frequently asked questions I get from people looking to make a guitar (and others generally) is:  What is the best wood for making an acoustic guitar?  Or alternatively, What difference does the species of wood used in the back and sides make to the sound?   
These questions are not unexpected because I offer my students an excellent range of high quality Australian woods from which to make their guitars.  My usual answer is that it is very subjective and difficult to answer because so many things influence the sound of the guitar and the wood selected for the back and sides is probably one of the less influential.  What I can say is that by choosing a good wood for the soundboard and paying careful attention to how it is thicknessed and braced will result in a great sounding instrument.  This inevitably leads to students selecting the woods that appeals most from a visual perspective and they always finish up with a great sounding guitar that they are delighted with.   
 
But the question still lurks and so I was interested to read about the Leonardo Guitar Research Project in the Winter 2015 edition of the Journal of the Guild of American Luthiers (Garston & Walraet p23).   Initiated by a debate at the Belgian Guitar Show a few years ago, a host of Europe’s best luthiers and lutherie students set out to determine if non-traditional (non-tropical) woods can make guitars that match their traditional wood counterparts for sound quality.  They made large a well matched set of classical guitars to a standard Torres style design from a wide variety of tropical and non-tropical woods.  The non-traditional woods include Alder, oak Walnut, Beech, Ash, Birch, Chestnut, Plane, Boxwood and Robinia.  A set of guitars made from the more traditional Indian Rosewood were also made for comparison.  All the guitars used European spruce of the same quality for the sound boards and braces.  
Fifteen of these guitars including 5 Indian Rosewood and 10 non-traditional woods were then subjected to a range of blind and double blind testing by discerning players and audiences.  And the result?
The results from all the blind tests taken together, be they pair testing or group testing, showed that the guitarists, listeners and audiences had an equal sound preference for the tropical and non-tropical woods.
Now they did not test or report on the differences in the sounds of the various guitars.  For example were they brighter or darker in tone.  That was not the  point of the experiment.  They only set out to determine whether great sounding guitars can be made from these non-traditional woods and whether discerning listeners had a preference for one or the other.
Interestingly, when the blindfolds and screens were removed the results shifted very much (85%) in favor of the traditional woods!!
Aesthetics (e.g. a preference for darker woods for backs and sides and fretboards) and/or preconceptions about tonewoods (such as a belief that the best guitars are made with tropical woods) appear to exert considerable influence on sound perception.
So perhaps by selecting the wood that appeals to them most aesthetically my students are also selecting a wood that supports their sound perceptions as well.

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