Or How I Stopped Worrying and Loved the Guitar
So you have taken the first step in getting a new guitar. Great! What now? Let’s talk about tone woods. You may have heard, “Rosewood or Mahogany?” in your great search for that new guitar. And I would bet that you stopped and wondered to your self, “Which is better?” Well for guitar makers and players all over the world it has kind of become the wooden equivalent of the Coke or Pepsi challenge.
Seek and ye shall find a large pool of opinions and debates and downright arguments when it comes to Rosewood V. Mahogany but as a new buyer or a player who has come to the realization that the wood from whence the guitar is built can affect the sound that shimmers forth when you strum that G chord. Is there a simple way to understand this age old debate? The simple answer is…hopefully.
Step One: Understanding the tone.
Mahogany has a long history of use in the building of guitars due to its natural strength and its ability to create dark, warm tones. In your search you will also find words thrown about describing Mahogany as, woodsy and less complex with a great midrange and an attack that rolls of quickly. Rosewood also has a hold on history as a tone wood in guitar construction. Rosewood is known for its striking looks and ability to create bright tones. You will also hear words such as articulate and complex with more sustain, overtones, and a fuller bottom end and treble range. The short and the sweet of it, is that your ears are the final authority on how the guitar sounds, but these descriptors are a fairly good survey of players and builders from around the world, describing how they interpret the sound of these two tone woods.
Step Two: Chasing the tone.
With a solid wood, well built guitar you may have a harder time detecting a dramatic difference in the tone woods and luckily there are few really great builders out there who understand the affect of these woods on tone. The great builders offer the same models built using Rosewood and Mahogany, a great way to experiment with your understanding of tone. Larrivee offers their D-03 model in Mahogany or the D-03R, in Rosewood. This model represents a great value and provides you the option to choose either tone wood using the same build. Guild offers their D40 Bluegrass in a Mahogany, while the D-50 Bluegrass will cover your Rosewood needs. You may also look at different styles of guitar. Morgan offers their Grand Concert with Mahogany but uses Rosewood on its Traditional Dreadnought and Traditional Jumbo guitars. You can also look to different builders to compare, take the Larrivee 000-50, a Mahogany guitar and compare it to the Northwood R80-MJ, a Rosewood guitar. The idea here is in chasing the tone, you have a variety of builders and price points to compare before settling on which tone wood works best for you. In the end, as much as we all may resist it, you will end up getting one of each.
Ultimately one can not be told which is better and why because this is such a subjective, user experience. The question should not be “Which is better Rosewood or Mahogany?”, but rather “Which wood moves you, the player the most?” Every great player or great builder is in search of the tone. That sound that grabs you and inspires you to put string to wood and make that connection with all things music.
This where the “hopefully” comes into when seeking an answer to the question of the differences between Rosewood and Mahogany, for there really is no definitive answer to that question. You can pick up on some of the ideas of tonal differences, Mahogany being warmer or Rosewood being brighter, and these ideas are a great place to start. But at the end of the play (as in the guitar), only you can decide which wood you prefer. But remember that in the eternal debate of Coke or Pepsi, both, in their own right will satisfy your thirst. And in quenching the parchment of musical desire, we are all lucky to have builders like Larrivee, Guild, Northwood and Morgan offer a variety of models to sate our need.
And to think you have not even gotten into body shapes and bracing patterns, but that, is for another discussion….