Is Cherry A Good Guitar Tonewood? Electric, Acoustic & Bass


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 cherry is used in the construction of guitars and basses, it’s worth investigating whether it’s a good tonewood or not.

Is cherry a good guitar tonewood? Cherry is a rarely-used, medium-weight wood with a clean, balanced, articulate tone, making it a good choice for guitar bodies. Its stiffness and projection make it a decent top wood, while its bendability and strength make it a good back/side wood. Cherry is never used in fretboards.

In this article, we’ll discuss if and how cherry 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 cherry 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 Cherry Tonewood

Cherry tonewood refers to two species of the genus Prunus within the Rosaceae (rose) family. Black cherry (Prunus serotina from the sub-genus Padus) is the most common type of cherry tonewood, though sweet cherry (Prunus avium from the sub-genus Cerasus) is also used, though rarely.

Note that “Brazilian cherry,” otherwise known as Jatoba, is from the species Hymenaea courbaril and is not a true cherry wood, though it’s often labelled as such. In this article, we’ll be discussing black cherry and, to a lesser extent, sweet cherry.

Black cherry (Prunus serotina) is also known as wild black cherry, rum cherry, or mountain black cherry and is native to North and South America.

Sweet cherry (Prunus avium) is also known as wild cherry, gean, or bird cherry and is native to large portions of Europe, West Asia and North Africa and is naturalized in the Americas.

Neither black nor sweet cherry is listed in the CITES Appendices, and both are reported by the IUCN tree species of least concern.

When a guitar uses cherry tonewood, we can assume that it’s black cherry unless noted otherwise.

Black cherry has a colour ranging from light pink-brown to a medium red-brown. Its grain is most often straight, though figured pieces can feature curly grain patterns. Black cherry has a fine, even texture.

In terms of workability, black cherry is remarkably easy. It’s strong, stable, straight-grained, and has a superb hardness (not too soft and not too hard), making it a pleasant wood to work with machines and hand tools alike so long as you’re careful not to burn it with higher-power tools.

The most difficult part when working with cherry would be staining due to the high potential for blotchy results.

As a tonewood, cherry is fairly balanced, offering a neutral or plain tone. Its density and reflectivity make it a good projector for acoustic instruments. Low, mid and high frequencies are clear and pronounced and the overtones are well articulated.

Furthermore, cherry wood is often inexpensive and readily available.

Sweet cherry also has a straight grain, though its colour is a bit lighter and more golden colour than black cherry, and it has a slightly coarser texture (though it’s still fine). Tonally, it’s similar to black cherry, though arguably brighter in the high-end and less sustaining overall, giving it a more articulate sound across the frequency spectrum.

  • Type: Black cherry
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: light pinkish brown to medium reddish brown
  • Grain: usually straight, sometimes curly
  • Texture: fine, even
  • Pores: semi-ring-porous
  • Density: 560 kg/m3 / 34.96 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 4,230 N / 951 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 10.30 GPa / 1,494,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): balanced
  • Price: moderate
  • Type: Sweet cherry
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: light pinkish brown to golden brown
  • Grain: straight to wavy
  • Texture: fine to medium
  • Pores: semi-ring-porous
  • Density: 600 kg/m3 / 39.00 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 5,120 N / 1,150 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 10.55 GPa / 1,529,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): balanced
  • Price: moderate

Sources: wikipedia.org and wood-database.com

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 Cherry 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, the signal chain and the 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.

Cherry is a fantastic tonewood for electric guitars, though it’s rarely seen in big-name brands. It’s a great choice for bodies and necks, though too soft for practical fretboards.

To reiterate, luthiers are typically discussing black cherry when they talk about the electric guitar tonewood.

Is Cherry A Good Electric Guitar Body Tonewood?

Cherry is a superb choice for electric guitar solidbody and hollowbody designs, even though it’s not nearly as popular as alder or mahogany. Its balanced tone makes for a somewhat bland yet clean and rich sound, but alder tends to dominate as the “neutral tone” body wood in commercial guitars.

That being said, black cherry is a superb choice, having great hardness and density specs for solidbodies and hollowbodies alike.

When it comes to brand-name electrics with cherry bodies, Godin is a main player, incorporating cherry in some of its hollowbody designs.

Godin is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 13 Best Electric Guitar Brands In The World.

Examples of electric guitars with cherry bodies/tops:

Is Cherry A Good Electric Guitar Neck Tonewood?

Cherry is rarely used in electric guitar necks, though it’s certainly a good option. It’s easy to work and strong enough but typically isn’t even considered due to the overwhelming (though earned) popularity of neck tonewoods like maple, mahogany, walnut, wenge, and more.

These common neck woods tend to offer more in terms of strength, hardness and tonal character, which puts them above cherry in the list of the best electric guitar neck tonewoods.

Is Cherry A Good Electric Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

Black and sweet cherry wood is too soft and malleable for use as fretboard material.

G&L uses Brazilian cherry in some of its fretboards. However, as we’ve discussed above, Brazilian cherry (Jatoba) is not really cherry.


Is Cherry A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?

Cherry is a superb but uncommon tonewood option for acoustic guitar construction. It’s been used in acoustic and classical guitars (along with violins, dulcimers and other stringed instruments).

Martin has made a few superb acoustics with cherry wood, though the wood isn’t as popular in commercial guitars as it once was.

Is Cherry A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Back/Side Tonewood?

When it comes to cherry in acoustic guitars, it’s usually incorporated into back and sides.

The wood bends well and makes for a solid construction. It’s fairly reflective, helping to project volume for acoustic guitars and offers a rich midrange and balanced tone. Combined with a cherry top (or something even more projecting like spruce or cedar), cherry back and sides can really make for a beautiful-sounding instrument.

Examples of acoustic guitars with cherry backs and sides:

Is Cherry A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Top Tonewood?

As a top, cherry is rather transparent with lower resonance. This makes it sound more balanced, especially in larger guitars where the fundamentals may ring too loud. However, cherry is often overlooked in lieu of maple, which tends to offer a similar or better sound at a lower price point.

Is Cherry A Good Acoustic Guitar Neck Tonewood?

Black cherry can be a good option for acoustic guitar necks. It’s fairly strong and dense. However, there are better, more popular options on the market, and cherry is rarely ever for acoustic necks, especially in commercially-available guitars.

Is Cherry A Good Acoustic Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

Once again, black and sweet cherry wood is too soft and malleable for use as fretboard material. Jatoba or “Brazilian cherry” is used in acoustic guitar fretboards but is not technically cherry.


Is Cherry A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?

Cherry can offer a balanced tone to bass instruments but may be a bit lacking in the low-end. It’s certainly a viable option for bass guitar bodies, though it’s rarely used in electric or acoustic basses.

As for bass necks, there are typically better options, though cherry is, once again, a viable option.

Luthiers disregard cherry as a fretboard material for bass and other guitars due to its relative softness.


Other Tonewoods

Of course, there are plenty of other tonewoods besides cherry. Here is a list of other tonewoods with links to check out more in-depth articles on each:


This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.

Arthur

Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement (hikersmovement.com) or composing music for media. Check out his Pond5 and AudioJungle accounts.

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