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What woods should I get for my guitar?

First - Body Style
Petros Guitar’s three body sizes play an important role in meeting your needs.  The choice depends on your playing style. The smaller body FS is most popular for the more subtle, finger style player.  The Dreadnought is for the more aggressive, heavy-handed, rhythmic style player.  The popular Grand Concert is a great in between choice.  Make this decision first.  Woods come next.

Woods – A Brief Education
There are a lot of words used to describe how a guitar sounds.  The seemingly endless effort expended to come up with the latest, greatest, most nuanced description has reached almost comical proportions.  At Petros Guitars, we like to simplify the choice of woods for you, the player, as much as possible.

At Petros Guitars, we start with master-grade tone woods that have only the best, proven track records for producing good sound in acoustic, steel strung guitars.  We then classify these exceptional woods on a hardness/density scale (see chart to the right).  We have placed the different woods on a scale from lightest and softest to heaviest and hardest and have suggested pairings of tops and backs.

The harder the back wood is, the less energy it absorbs and so the less it vibrates. The less it vibrates the more it projects.  The cost of great projection is reduced tonal color as contributed by that wood.  Conversely, softer woods vibrate more and produce great tonal color, but project less well. 

So, hard back tone woods:

  • are heavier,
  • vibrate less,
  • effectively focus energy to the top and, therefore,
  • project powerfully.
Soft back tone woods:
  • are lighter,
  • vibrate more,
  • focus less sound to the top, but,
  • contribute to more evocative color and tone.

The Guitar Top – Heart of the Instrument
The top is the heart of the instrument.  It “makes or breaks” the sound of a guitar, regardless of what back wood is employed. Because the top is so important to how a guitar sounds, Petros top construction has been very highly refined over the years. We can reliably produce well-balanced tone with lots of harmonic body. Slightly arching the top creates stability and wonderful overtones, while the graduating of the top’s thickness creates big, deep basses. This remains consistent regardless of the back and side woods we employ.  Yet, while the overall volume, weight and timbre changes, just as a gold flute will sound different than a silver one, one is not superior to another.  They are just different. 
Petros Guitars builds tops with time-proven techniques that produce consistently well-balanced, well-defined tonal characteristics. The different wood combinations used contribute to the production of a pleasing array of variations in timbre and volume. The Petros techniques for building the guitar top are far more important than the difference, for example, between Sitka and Adirondack top woods. Adirondack is harder so the top is made thinner than a Sitka top would be. (This has a tendency to make Petros Adirondack guitars a bit louder.)
Cedar and Redwood are very much alike and are softer than Sitka and Red Spruce. Being softer woods they need to be made a bit thicker.  While less loud than the harder tops, these lighter woods make for very responsive, delicate sounding Fingerstyle instruments that produce warm tones and are favored for their expressiveness. Englemann and Italian Spruce fall between Cedar and Sitka.

A Word on Top Development Over Time
The Cedars and Redwoods do not develop dramatically over time like the Spruces.  This is primarily because the Spruces contain resins that continue to dry and harden over many years. Cedar and Redwood don’t have resins and sound pretty well developed right off the bench. All guitars will break in and develop regardless of resin content by virtue of playing and vibration through some magical realignment and relaxing of the wood fibers and molecules. All very scientific!

Commonly Available Back & Side Woods from softest & lightest to hardest & heaviest.
Click on the wood for more information
Species Weight/Spec. Gravity Recommended
top pairings
Alaskan Yellow Cedar 29/.38 1 - 4
Mahogany 35/.54 1 - 5
Koa 37/.57 1 - 5
Sapele 41/.58 1 - 5
Claro Walnut 40/.55 1 - 5
Bolivian Rosewood 42/.70 1 - 7
Ziricote 53/.66 1 - 7
E Indian Rosewood 53/.77 1 - 7
Brazilian Rosewood 53/.77 1 - 7
African Rosewood (Bubinga) 56/.88 1 - 7
Ceylon Satinwood 62/.88 1 - 7
Ebony (Macassar or Malaysian) 54/1.01 1 - 7
Cocobolo 63/1.02 1 - 7
Cambodian Rosewood 72/.97 1 - 7

Top Woods from softest & lightest to hardest & heaviest
Species Weight/Spec. Gravity
1 Western Red Cedar 24/.33
2 Redwood 25/.38
3 Engelmann 26/.34
4 Italian Spruce 26/.35
5 Sitka Spruce 27/.36
6 Adirondack Spruce 28/.37
7 Alaskan Yellow Cedar 29/.38

Less common woods that are occasionally available. These fall between Walnut & Cocobolo in hardness & weight. I have a few of these sets available. Call for availability.
Species Weight/Spec. Gravity Recommended
top pairings
Shedua 37/.46 1 - 5
Zebra Wood 47/.55 1 - 7
Wenge 54/.83 1 - 7
Madagascar Rosewood 58/.47 1 - 7
Paua Rosa 68/.67 1 - 7
Bois De Rose 58/.47 1 - 7


Deciding on Back Wood and Top Combinations
In my experience, the softer the back, the softer the top should be. A softer back with an Adirondack top will absorb too much energy to efficiently drive that top. Generally speaking, if you want a softer back, go with a softer top – Cedar, Redwood or Englemann. If you are a more aggressive player and really want maximum volume and lots of headroom, we suggest a harder back and a harder top. A hard back and any top, even the softest, will completely utilize that top. If your style is more delicate and you play with more nuance and subtlety, you would naturally lean toward the softer, lighter weight woods. A good, in between compromise is Indian Rosewood and Sitka ... both in the middle of the hardness scale.  They are an excellent pairing and therefore very popular.
Bottom line, you can pick the woods you like best for any of a number of reasons – visual appeal, for example – and Petros Guitars will do what it takes to make it superbly well balanced.

I hope this helps.
~Bruce Petros~