Timber Selection

I am often asked about the best woods used when making a guitar

Building a guitar is a wonderful experience and the process itself is not as hard as it seems, well not if you have some help and that’s where we come in.
That’s right, building a guitar is easy if you have the right tools and the support of The Brisbane Guitar Making School.
Part of the process of building a guitar is to select a timber that not only sounds amazing but looks just the way you like
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 make to the sound when used on the back and sides?
We offer students a wide range of high-quality Australian woods to make their guitars.  
The question on what difference it makes 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 soundboards 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 favour 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.