Differences in back and sides woods????

BluesBop HarryBluesBop Harry Mexico city, MexicoVirtuoso
I haven't played that many gypsy jazz guitars, and I'm curious about the influence of the different laminated woods used for the back and sides on the final tonal characteristics.

Maple VS Indian Rosewood VS Brazilian Rosewood

I found this: woods and more woods

But still I'd like to know your personal opinions.

Thank you.


  • Bob HoloBob Holo Moderator
    Posts: 1,252
    You asked about laminated woods - but the stuff from Shelley's site referred to solid woods ( I think)

    The top wood makes the most difference - and the back wood does make some difference, especially if it is solid wood; though variance from piece to piece (quality and age of the wood) can make a lot of difference. For instance, most of the East Indian Rosewood you get today is actually Sonokeling... it's the same tree, but grown rapidly on plantations in the Orient. Good Sonokeling is about like average East Indian (true old growth East Indian) and Good East Indian is as good as Brazillian... (blasphemy! yes, I said it... tight dark well quartered East Indian Rosewood is fantastic... but it's also hard to come by - I only know one source for it and every time I can afford it I buy a few sets - someday it won't be around to be bought.)

    Books could be written on this subject, but the long story made short - there are tonal differences between back woods and back wood constructions (solid vs. laminated) These differences need to be coaxed out by the builder - it's not enough to just have the wood - the wood has to be used to maximum advantage. But assuming the guitar is built right - you could make some generalizations like: "Hard Maple gives a moderately clear tone with pronounced midranges" and "Rosewoods are punchy and clear" and "Mahoganies and fruitwoods and soft Maples are lush and mellow" and "laminates are punchy and dry"

    ... but these are just generalizations. It all depends on the guitar - the design and the topwood are the dominant predictors of tone - they're the meat of the meal; whereas backwood / sidewood are "spices & sauces".
    You get one chance to enjoy this day, but if you're doing it right, that's enough.
  • BluesBop HarryBluesBop Harry Mexico city, MexicoVirtuoso
    Posts: 1,379
    Hello Bob,
    Thanks for the info.
    You're right, the info on Shelley Park's site refers to solid woods, I just thought it would also apply to laminated.

    Interesting to know about Sonokeling / Indian rosewood.
    Are there any builders that only use the "true" variety? How to identify a good quality Indian rosewood?

    I understand the back/sides woods, especially laminated ones, are secondary to the final sound and as you pointed out will only color the sound and not define it.
    The generalizations you mentioned are what I'm after, just rough guidelines about the expected relations back wood / tonal character and how dramatic can they actually be on laminated guitars.
    Like if you were to build a laminated Selmer type guitar, What kind of woods would you use for the back and sides for what kind of desired tones?
    And how much does the wood choice really influence the final result?

    Also what are "hard" and "soft" maples?

    Please excuse so many questions, although I really don't know much about this, I find it very interesting.
    Thanks again.
  • Charlie AyersCharlie Ayers Salt Lake CityProdigy
    Posts: 286
    Hi Harry:

    I'm not an expert, but I think the wood choice for the outer laminate affects the tone little, and serves mainly a cosmetic purpose.

  • django'spooltalentdjango'spooltalent ✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 71
    Hey Harry,

    How's everything going? From what I've read, it seems like there were only a few selmers that had solid bodies, mostly consisting of the maple solid peghead guitars. Overall it seems that a 90-95 percent majority were made of laminated sides (back I'm not sure) of east indian rosewood exterior, poplar middle, and interior mahogany.

    My question to the guitar guys out there is, if you were building a with solid sides, would you use mahogany or east indian rosewood, which of the three laminates colored the selmer/mac sound, or did they all equally contribute to it?


  • Joli GadjoJoli Gadjo Cardiff, UK✭✭✭✭ Derecho, Bumgarner - VSOP, AJL
    Posts: 542
    These guitars were played in ballroom at the begining, and that's precisely to make sure that the guitar could be heard amongst a set of horns and accordions that the guitar is built this way : this bracing, this shape and this soundhole are designed to get the bigger sound you can get. It was supposed to keep the sound even more "pure" with the resonator...
    Laminated woods makes the guitar lighter, but also doesn't absorb the sound as much as solid woods... that's why even with a mahogany back, it doesn't sound that mellow. And that's also why we play gypsy jazz like that, the wrist and forearm far away from the soundboard, and with downstrokes.
    It's all about sound, tone and volume
    - JG
  • gitpickergitpicker Beijing/San Francisco✭✭✭✭ Gibson, Favino, Eastman
    Posts: 213
    These links with information by Paul Hostetter offer some interesting insight. There is a ton of information here on these guitars and woods and more than you asked for but nonetheless I think you'll find his site has a lot of useful information.
    Live life and play music like it's your last day on earth. One day you'll be right- Russel Malone
  • Bob HoloBob Holo Moderator
    Posts: 1,252
    Paul H. is a good guy and his information is wonderful - take a read if you haven't already.

    You just have to ask the luthier if it's Sonokeling vs. EI Rosewood - all the luthiers I know are mellow and honest to a fault. I'd have a hard time imagining any of them misleading people about the wood they used, especially given that there are a lot of people out there who can spot the difference from 10 feet away. In general, the true old growth East Indian Rosewood is fine grained across the width of the back because the trees were large - and the grain is fairly fine and with some interesting bright stripes in it - almost like a Sapele Mahogany's stripes or a Bolivian Rosewood. The Sonokeling is likely to be wider in grain toward the outside of the guitar because the trees are smaller - the striping is not as brilliant because the color palate of Sonokeling includes tan & olive and rust along with the classic blacks and burgundys and purples of a true East Indian Rosewood. In general, the grain of Sonokeling can look a lot like a Walnut or Oak where it gets wider - and with larger pores in the wider grain - it can look a bit more muddy depending on how those pores are filled. A picture is worth a thousand words but I am a bad photographer so I can only offer you a picture that is worth a hundred words... maybe a hundred fifty at the most ;)

    Maybe I should record some tap tones of these and post them. I'm pretty pressed for time now trying to finish some guitars for people and to have some to take to DFNW. This has been a good break but I have to get back to it... Today is fingerboard day! :)


    By the way, Sonokeling is a fine wood - it's just not EIRW so it irks me when people don't identify that. I use Sonokeling neck stringers in my Busato style necks because it's darned near perfect. the strength to weight ratio is wonderful for that use and you can buy it in thick enough widths to be able to plane it flat and let it rest and plane it flat again to make sure the stringer is stable without any tendencies to wander over time. However, I don't use Sonokeling for fingerboards because it doesn't hold frets... Honduran Rosewood / Palisander / Ebonies / Bollivian Rosewood etc.. are much better options.
    You get one chance to enjoy this day, but if you're doing it right, that's enough.
  • mmaslanmmaslan Santa Barbara, CANew
    Posts: 87
    This guy seems to experiment more than most with laminates:

    Anybody played his guitars?
  • asd123321asd123321 ✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 121
    I am wondering what the Cigano is made from which isn't clear from Saga.
  • djadamdjadam Boulder, CONew
    Posts: 249
    Just a thought which you might or might not find useful... back when I was getting ready to purchase a handmade guitar, I spoke with a luthier friend (who makes extraordinary mandolins) and he gave me some excellent advice - that if you've chosen a luthier, then you're best off going with a wood which that luthier is most comfortable using. Luthiers get to know wood well and requesting a wood they don't use often entails at least some risk.
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