Guitars are made of numerous different parts, many of which are made of wood. The choice of wood in the guitar body (the solid body and laminate in electric guitars and the sides, back and top of acoustic guitars), neck and fretboard all contribute to the overall playability, feel and, of course, tone of the instrument. Since agathis is used in the construction of guitars and basses, it's worth investigating whether it's a good tonewood or not.
Is agathis/kauri a good guitar tonewood? Agathis/kauri is considered a decent “budget” tonewood thanks to its affordability, easy machining qualities, and notable sustain. However, its tone is somewhat lacking in the low end, giving it a relatively sharp tone overall. Agathis/kauri is too soft for practical use in necks and fretboards.
In this article, we'll discuss if and how agathis tonewood is used in electric, acoustic, classical and bass guitar construction with a keen focus on its tone.
Note: in my research for this article, I used Sweetwater's extensive guitar database to find examples of guitars with agathis in their construction. The links to the guitars in this article will send readers to Sweetwater's site for more information. Sweetwater is featured in My New Microphone's Top 10 Best Online Audio Gear/Equipment Retailers.
Table Of Contents
- Characteristics Of Agathis Tonewood
- Is Agathis A Good Electric Guitar Tonewood?
- Is Agathis A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?
- Is Agathis A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?
- Other Tonewoods
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Characteristics Of Agathis Tonewood
Agathis tonewood comprises a variety of woods from the genus of the same name within the family Araucariaceae. The most common species is the Agathis australis, otherwise known as New Zealand kauri or southern kauri, which is native to New Zealand.
More generally, Agathis' habitat extends to the tropical regions in Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, and Australia. Other names include kauri, dammara and kauri pine (though it's not a true pine from the genus Pinus).
New Zealand kauri (agathis) has a pale yellowish-white to golden brown colour. Its grain is typically straight, and its texture is uniform and fine.
Agathis is not listed in the CITES Appendices, nor is it on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, though this status may change since the IUCN lists it as conservation-dependent.
Agathis has superb working characteristics thanks in large part to its even density and straight grain. It works well with hands tools, and machines and finishes wonderfully.
As a tonewood, agathis (kauri) projects well with an articulate response yet noteworthy sustain. Its midrange is strong, though it's lacking in the low end. The brilliance and clarity of the high-end give it a sharp, bright tone.
Here are a few notable agathis (New Zealand kauri) specs:
- Hardwood/Softwood: Softwood
- Colour: pale yellowish white to golden brown
- Grain: usually straight
- Texture: fine, uniform
- Density: 540 kg/m3 / 33.71 lb/ft3
- Janka Hardness (Typical): 3,230 N / 726 lbf
- Elastic Modulus: 11.87 GPa / 1,722,000 psi
- Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): warm
- Price: low
Here are links to the official website of the IUCN and Cites:
• IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature)
• CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora)
Is Agathis A Good Electric Guitar Tonewood?
Before we begin, I should mention that tonewoods don't have nearly as much of an effect on the overall sound of an electric guitar as they do on an acoustic guitar. The guitar pickups, strings, signal chain and amplifier all play a huge role in the overall tone of an electric guitar. It's not all about the wood, though it is a factor.
Agathis/kauri is a tonewood that gets little attention in large-scale electric guitar manufacturing.
As for electric guitar construction, agathis is an affordable option and can sound decent as a solid body material. It machines well and has notable sustain. However, its softness makes it a poor choice for necks and fretboards.
Is Agathis A Good Electric Guitar Body Tonewood?
If agathis/kauri is used in an electric guitar, it'll be used as the body wood. Though it's lacking in low-end frequencies, the wood actually sustains very nicely. Its high-end is clear and articulate.
Though agathis is a viable option for electric guitar bodies, it's generally only used in entry-level models commercial level. Yamaha, in particular, uses agathis in some of its low-end electric guitars.
Yamaha is featured in top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
Examples of electric guitars with agathis bodies/tops:
- Yamaha PAC012: solidbody with agathis body
Is Agathis A Good Electric Guitar Neck Tonewood?
As a softwood, agathis/kauri is too malleable and prone to bending to withstand the pressures and strains of electric guitar necks.
Is Agathis A Good Electric Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?
Agathis/kauri is generally considered not dense or strong enough to use as an electric guitar fretboard tonewood.
Is Agathis A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?
Agathis/kauri is an affordable option for acoustic guitar bodies, though it's far from the greatest tonewood available. It's too soft for use as a neck or fretboard material.
Is Agathis A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Back/Side Tonewood?
Agathis/kauri is lightweight and easy to bend. It's also very affordable. This makes it a good choice for budget acoustics as a back and sides material.
The wood actually has decent sustain and can sound great as a back/sides tonewood. However, its softness is liable to dent, and its low-end (or lack thereof) doesn't produce overly loud/projecting results.
Examples of acoustic guitars with agathis backs and sides:
- Epiphone El Nino: acoustic with agathis back and sides (spruce top)
Is Agathis A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Top Tonewood?
Agathis/kauri can also be used as a top/soundboard wood, thanks to its decent stiff-to-weight ratio. Though it's not as encompassing a sound as the typical spruce, cedar or mahogany options, it still does the trick, offering decent projection across the midrange and into the high-end.
Due to the difficulty of low-frequency production, agathis may work best on shorter-scale guitars.
Examples of acoustic guitars with agathis tops:
- Fender FA-15 3/4 Scale: acoustic with agathis top (sapele back and sides)
Is Agathis A Good Acoustic Guitar Neck Tonewood?
Agathis/kauri is too soft, weak and liable to bend for proper use in acoustic guitar neck builds.
Is Agathis A Good Acoustic Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?
Agathis/kauri is generally considered too soft for use as an acoustic guitar fretboard tonewood.
Is Agathis A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?
Bass guitars can also benefit from agathis/kauri tonewood. However, its relative lack of low-end may give bass guitars weaker fundamentals and less overall resonance.
That said, it's a cheap choice for electric and acoustic guitar bodies, even if it's far from the best option.
Examples of bass guitars with agathis tonewood:
- Ibanez Gio GSR200TR: solidbody with agathis body
Of course, there are plenty of other tonewoods besides agathis/kauri. Here is a list of other tonewoods with links to check out more in-depth articles on each:
- Panga Panga
- Pau Ferro