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 bamboo is used in the construction of guitars and basses, it's worth investigating whether it's a good tonewood or not.
Is bamboo a good guitar tonewood? Bamboo isn't wood (it's “woody grass”), though its laminated lumber can be considered a tonewood. Bamboo isn't known for a strong tonal character, though its high end is nice and pronounced. Rather, it's known as being loud. Bamboo is notably viable as a fretboard, back, sides and top material.
In this article, we'll discuss if and how bamboo 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 bamboo 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 Bamboo Tonewood
- Is Bamboo A Good Electric Guitar Tonewood?
- Is Bamboo A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?
- Is Bamboo A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?
- Other Tonewoods
Characteristics Of Bamboo Tonewood
Bamboo makes up a diverse range of thousands of species in the subfamily Bambusoideae of the grass family Poaceae. Most timber-producing bamboo species are from the Phyllostachys and Bambusa genera and are native to South Asia.
Bamboo guitar tonewood is constructed of solid cross-laminated bamboo strips rather than bamboo plywood. Though it's not technically a wood, rather a monocot (woody grass), it is still a viable option for guitar and bass construction.
Bamboo generally has a uniform, pale colour between light yellow and white. Likewise, its texture is also uniform, ranging from fine (in lighter pieces) to medium (in denser pieces). Note that bamboo must be slipt and processed into lumber, which causes variations in its aesthetics at the connection nodes.
Bamboo is not listed in the CITES Appendices, nor is it on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Bamboo isn't a true wood, so it works a bit differently. Its fibres are prone to splitting when getting cross-cut. Additionally, it contains relatively high amounts of silica, which has a blunting effect on tools. That being said, bamboo bends, glues, stains, and finishes well.
Bamboo is naturally loud with notable sustain and projection. Its tone is relatively balanced across the audible range of frequencies, though there's a certain brilliance to the top end.
Here are a few notable bamboo specs:
- Hardwood/Softwood: N/A (monocot)
- Colour: light pale yellow to white
- Grain: intermittent variations
- Texture: uniform, medium to fine
- Pores: none visible
- Density: 500 kg/m3 (31 lbs/ft3) to 850 kg/m3 (53 lbs/ft3)
- Janka Hardness (Typical): 6,270 N (1,410 lbf) to 7,170 N (1,610 lbf)
- Elastic Modulus: 18.00 GPa (2,610,000 psi) to 20.00 GPa (2,900,000 psi)
- Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): bright
- Price: low to moderate
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 Bamboo 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.
Bamboo can be a superb electric guitar tonewood, though perhaps too heavy for the body and neck (assuming the laminate is strong enough to be that heavy).
Is Bamboo A Good Electric Guitar Body Tonewood?
Bamboo is rarely considered as a solid body tonewood. Bamboo timber is highly processed, and solid piece woods are often preferred. Additionally, bamboo can be relatively heavy, which can lead to an uncomfortable guitar build.
As we'll discuss in the acoustic guitar section, hollowbody electrics (those with tops, backs and sides) are more suitable for bamboo construction.
Is Bamboo A Good Electric Guitar Neck Tonewood?
Though bamboo is largely ignored as an alternative neck material, its incredibly high tensile strength and immunity to humidity changes could make it a viable option.
The difficulty with bamboo is that it's relatively heavy for the amount of sustain it gives. This isn't typically a good trade-off. Furthermore, the weight of a strong bamboo laminate neck is likely to through off the centre of gravity and, therefore, the ergonomics of the instrument.
Is Bamboo A Good Electric Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?
The harder bamboo lumbers can be cut thin and used as fretboards. These fretboards are surprisingly stable, virtually unreactive to environmental changes, and feel nice under the fingers. There aren't many big-name manufacturers using bamboo this way, though Relish is one of them.
Examples of electric guitars with bamboo fretboards:
- Relish Mary One Shady Tamo Ash: semi-hollowbody with bamboo fretboard
- Relish Mary One Dark Walnut Shady Edge: semi-hollowbody with bamboo fretboard
- Relish Mary: semi-hollowbody with bamboo fretboard
- Relish Jane: hollowbody with bamboo fretboard
Is Bamboo A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?
Bamboo is more popular with acoustic guitars than electric guitars, though it's still considered an alternative tonewood (though it's not really a wood). Bamboo can be used for a variety of acoustic guitar pieces, notably the fretboard, top, back and sides.
Is Bamboo A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Back/Side Tonewood?
Acoustic and classical guitar back and sides can certainly be made of laminate bamboo, though the many discrete pieces required may have a negative impact on the guitar's sound.
That being said, bamboo's reflectivity makes for a loud back/sides material. Its resonance across the audible range can bring out a decent tone with a bright top-end, though the volume is the impressive part of bamboo back and sides, even in shorter scale acoustics.
Examples of acoustic guitars with bamboo backs and sides:
- Luna Woodland Bamboo: acoustic with bamboo back and sides (bamboo top)
Is Bamboo A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Top Tonewood?
Bamboo can also be an impressive top wood, given the laminate is thin and stiff enough (which is typically possible). The balanced tone isn't overly remarkable, though the projection and ringing are. The bamboo is loud, which is a big factor in choosing a top/soundboard wood.
Examples of acoustic guitars with bamboo tops:
- Luna Woodland Bamboo: acoustic with bamboo top (bamboo back and sides)
Is Bamboo A Good Acoustic Guitar Neck Tonewood?
Bamboo laminate is relatively heavy for its tonal properties. Better sound can be achieved with lighter tonewoods, so bamboo is largely ignored as an acoustic guitar neck wood.
Is Bamboo A Good Acoustic Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?
Laminated bamboo makes for great acoustic guitar fretboards, too. It's incredibly stable and offers a nice brilliant attack in the high-end to enhance each and every note.
Is Bamboo A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?
The way bamboo can be incorporated into bass guitars is pretty much the same as with electric and acoustic guitars: it can excel as a fretboard material but is otherwise likely not the best choice.
Of course, there are plenty of other tonewoods besides bamboo. Here is a list of other tonewoods with links to check out more in-depth articles on each:
- Panga Panga
- Pau Ferro
This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.