Listening to guitars made with non-traditional woods

Guitarists (and guitar builders) have been sold and hold dear a lot of misinformation which over time becomes accepted dogma. One such dogma is that dark tropical woods (OK, rosewoods specifically) are required for a great sounding guitar. It should be noted that great builders like Torres have built excellent guitars from domestic woods in the past.

We’ll pass on the question of what constitutes a great sound for now. A more pertinent question is: Is there an objective difference in sound between guitars built with expensive dark colored tropical woods  and those built with cheaper domestic woods ? Do you really get what you pay for or are you just being bamboozled into paying more for the same sound ? The only way to determine this is with double blind studies where listeners don’t know what instruments they are listening to. Many unofficial studies have been done on violins and guitars, and point to the possibility that there is no discernible difference when the only difference is the woods used in the back and sides. This adds credence to the old story of Torres’s paper mache guitar and the idea that it’s all about the soundboard.

Recently the Leonardo guitar research project published the results of an in depth study that into just this question. The study parameters are well thought out and executed. The results are in and it appears to put a nail in the coffin of this old dogma. See and

The blind audio can be listened to here How many can you pick out ? Do you hear any differences ?

The only remaining question is how long it will take guitarists to catch on and give domestic woods a chance ?

For those wanting to cut to the chase, the following conclusions are directly from the study:


• All 216 respondents perceived combinations of several guitars (including both T’s and NT’s) as being ONE guitar.

• In this test it was very difficult to differentiate one guitar from the other, and virtually impossible to distinguish between
guitars made from tropical wood species from those made from non-tropical wood species.

• Although several people demonstrated outstanding listening abilities (by indicating 7, 8 to 9 correct transition time points),
the ability to detect the nature of the guitars was notably less pronounced.

• This test shows that the distinctive sound qualities and the supposed nature of T’s and NT’s were not distinguishable one
from the other.

• This test implies that neither group (Tropical or Non-Tropical) possesses inherently distinctive, readily identifiable sound
• Indeed, as there are clearly more time points detected between T’s and NT’s made by different builders than time points
between T’s and NT’s made by a given builder, it would appear that the builder may have a more pronounced effect on
differences in sound quality than the wood species used for back/sides, bridge, fingerboard and neck.
    We should, however, exercise caution as some respondents indicated in their comments that they were able to detect
transition points based on “clicks” caused by editing rather than on a perceived difference in sound quality between guitars.
We are still in the process of analyzing whether or not there were more detectable “clicks” or other editing phenomena
between different builders than between guitars from the same builder.
• Furthermore, if we consider other studies on this subject (see extra info), the question has to be asked as to whether the
woods for back/sides, bridge, fingerboard and neck are really as important as has been previously assumed.
So after all this you are still skeptical, check out this video of the same guitarist playing a guitar made from newspapers.