The Importance of Tonewood (2)

Dave Bunker: Former Logger and Friend
Dave Bunker
Dave Bunker


Most of the early solid-body guitars were made out of Western Red Alder. Alder has a very rounded sound with moderate low ends and nice rich mids. Grown in the same region as Big Leaf Maple, it is a perfect match as it will vent and change with the same motion as it shrinks and expands. Also, it won’t adversely affect the finish of the instrument.

Basswood and Poplar are similar woods but are not as good a match for guitar, as they work best for bass guitars. Bass guitars require a lighter, not as dense wood to get the wider range of low-frequency tones. In modern electric guitars, those with Rosewood bodies are few and far between and almost unheard-of in mass production. That is because the wood is too dense and creates harsh high unwanted tones.

Rosewood today outranks both Maple and Ebony as the fretboard wood of choice in electric guitars. It’s known for having a very resonant tone with solid bass and treble ranges. Most noticeably, however, is the piano midrange. For modern guitars mostly built with Mahogany bodies and a natural midrange dip, Rosewood fretboards mated to Hardrock Sugar Maple neck backs make a great tonal combination.

Research over the last number of years has determined that by using the “Tension Free” style neck, licensed by Ibanez from Bunker, even other major woods work well when tension of the strings’ pull is removed. Before Bunker Guitars’ Tension Free neck, the fingerboard and the neck back had a considerable string pull stress, and woods were chosen as much for tone as they were for the ability to stay straight under the string tension. These earlier stringed instruments came equipped with a screw-type rod, from nut end to body end. This placed additional compression on the neck, limiting its ability to vibrate with picking of the strings. That compression problem was removed when necks were changed to become Tension Free.

What happened? While there was a compressed and reduced sustain sound before, now there could be more sustain and a higher quality sound.

Dave Bunker

Dave Bunker

Dave has been building guitars for more than 60 years. He has introduced many innovations that are now considered features of the finest, custom-made instruments.

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