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 laurel is used in the construction of guitars and basses, it's worth investigating whether it's a good tonewood or not.
Is laurel a good guitar tonewood? Indian laurel (most commonly referred to as “laurel”) is a superb fretboard tonewood and also works well as a back and sides material. It's hard and dense with a rich harmonic profile, brilliant highs and a punchy low end. It's considered too heavy for solid bodies and necks and is disregarded as a soundboard wood.
In this article, we'll discuss if and how laurel 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 laurel 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.
Related article: Top 11 Benefits Of Learning & Playing Guitar
Table Of Contents
- Characteristics Of Laurel Tonewood
- Is Laurel A Good Electric Guitar Tonewood?
- Is Laurel A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?
- Is Laurel A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?
- Other Tonewoods
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Characteristics Of Laurel Tonewood
Indian Laurel (Terminalia elliptica) is not a true laurel (from the family Lauraceae). However, when discussing laurel as a tonewood, we're nearly always referring to Indian laurel. As the name would suggest, Indian laurel is native to India. It grows in several countries in southern and southeast Asia, including Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
The term “laurel” can apply to any of the nearly 3,000 species within the Lauraceae family. One species, in particular, is Umbellularia californica, also known as myrtlewood or bay laurel. Though confusing, I should add that myrtlewood is not part of the myrtle family (Myrtaceae). Wood names are difficult, indeed.
To learn more about myrtlewood (aka bay laurel or California laurel) as a tonewood, check out my article Is Myrtlewood A Good Guitar Tonewood? Electric, Acoustic & Bass.
To reiterate, when the term laurel is used in reference to guitar and bass tonewoods, it practically always designates Indian laurel.
Indian laurel is a light brown to dark brown with near-black streaks of colour. Its grain is typically straight, though it can be slightly interlocked or irregular with fiddleback and mottle grain patterns. The texture of Indian laurel is medium-to-coarse.
Indian laurel is not listed in the CITES Appendices, nor is it listed in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
This tonewood is relatively easy to work given its high hardness (10,390 N / 2,336 lbf Janka), and it finishes well. It's difficult to bend, and the pieces with more complex grain patterns are prone to tear-out during planing and sanding.
As a tonewood, Indian laurel is a lively wood with rich overtones and brilliant highs. It maintains a warm, sustaining low-end, and its midrange is slightly scooped, allowing the lows and highs to punch and shine through.
Here are a few notable Indian laurel specs:
- Type: Indian laurel
- Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
- Colour: light to dark brown with black streaks
- Grain: usually straight, sometimes slightly irregular or interlocked
- Texture: medium to coarse
- Density: 855 kg/m3 / 53.38 lb/ft3
- Janka Hardness (Typical): 10,390 N / 2,336 lbf
- Elastic Modulus: 12.46 GPa / 1,807,000 psi
- Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): bright
- Price: 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 Laurel 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.
Indian laurel is a valued tonewood for electric guitars, though typically only used in fretboard due to its high density and hardness. The rich yet bright tone and beautiful aesthetics of laurel make it a sought-after fretboard wood.
Is Laurel A Good Electric Guitar Body Tonewood?
Indian laurel is disregarded as a solidbody slab material due to its great weight, which would result in an uncomfortably heavy guitar. Its density is significantly higher than the typical choices in this regard (alder, ash, basswood, mahogany).
That being said, as a top/veneer, laurel could benefit the overall tone of an electric, offering its richness and brilliance to lift the sound of the instrument. Additionally, the figured cuts of Indian laurel look amazing, making for a beautiful electric guitar.
That all being said, it's not common to see Indian laurel incorporated into electric guitars (in small shops or large manufacturing plants).
Is Laurel A Good Electric Guitar Neck Tonewood?
Indian laurel could be a viable choice for electric guitar necks, though its weight keeps it from being widely accepted. It's a solid, durable wood that sounds superb but would likely only be practical as a portion of a laminate neck.
Is Laurel A Good Electric Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?
Indian laurel is a relatively popular choice when it comes to electric guitar fretboards, though far being the standards like rosewood, ebony and maple.
As a fretboard material, Indian laurel imparts its lively sound and rich overtones to the guitar's overall sound. Its brilliant highs shine through nicely. It's hard and durable, which is ideal. Furthermore, it feels great under the fingers, adding to the overall enjoyment of the electric guitar.
Examples of electric guitars with laurel fretboards:
- Epiphone Les Paul Standard '60s: solidbody with Indian laurel fretboard
- Epiphone Les Paul Muse: solidbody with Indian laurel fretboard
- Gretsch G2210 Streamliner Junior Jet Club: solidbody with laurel fretboard
- Gretsch G5655TG Electromatic Center Block Jr.: semi-hollowbody with laurel fretboard
- Gretsch G2622 Streamliner Center Block: semi-solidbody with laurel fretboard
- Gretsch G2420 Streamliner: hollowbody with laurel fretboard
- Ibanez Artcore AF75: hollowbody with laurel fretboard
Is Laurel A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?
Indian laurel is an excellent acoustic and classical guitar tonewood, especially as a fretboard wood. It's rarely seen as the back and sides material in commercially released acoustic or classical, though it's definitely a viable option for the role. Its tone makes it worth it in many custom designs.
Is Laurel A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Back/Side Tonewood?
Indian laurel is difficult to bend, which makes it a challenging option for the backs and sides of acoustic and classical guitars. However, when worked properly, it can definitely be part of an incredible-sounding instrument.
The awesome sustain and punchiness of laurel enhance the projection and volume of a well-chosen soundboard. As a back and sides material, Indian laurel introduces lovely, rich overtones to the overall sound along with remarkable liveliness.
This tonewood is rarely seen in commercial acoustics, though Larrivee used Indian laurel in a limited series run of immaculate acoustic guitars. Rather, Indian laurel is most often found in experimental builds in small, custom shops.
Larrivee is featured in My New Microphone's Top 13 Best Acoustic Guitar Brands In The World.
Is Laurel A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Top Tonewood?
Indian laurel is fairly punchy, though its projection is nowhere near that of the softer, standard top/soundboard option (spruce, cedar, mahogany).
Is Laurel A Good Acoustic Guitar Neck Tonewood?
Bubinga is rarely used as the neck material in acoustic guitars. Again, it's very heavy and is really only practical in laminate designs. There are better, easier options for acoustic and classical neck woods.
Is Laurel A Good Acoustic Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?
Indian laurel is a relatively popular choice for acoustic guitar fretboards, too. It feels awesome and looks spectacular. Its rich tone can bring out the notes of heavily strummed steel-string acoustics and gently plucked nylon-string classicals alike.
Examples of acoustic guitars with laurel fretboards:
- Breedlove Organic Wildwood Concert CE: acoustic with Indian laurel fretboard
- Takamine GC5CE: classical with laurel fretboard
Is Laurel A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?
Bass guitar designers utilize Indian laurel in bass guitars like it's used in electric and acoustic guitars, notably as a fretboard material. It can add to the liveliness of the bass while looking and feeling amazing.
Examples of bass guitars with laurel tonewood:
- Squier Affinity Series Precision Bass PJ: solidbody electric bass with Indian laurel fretboard
- Ibanez Artcore AFB200: hollowbody electric bass with laurel fretboard
- Kala U-Bass Short Scale: acoustic bass with laurel fretboard
- Ibanez PNB14E: acoustic bass with laurel fretboard
Of course, there are plenty of other tonewoods besides laurel. Here is a list of other tonewoods with links to check out more in-depth articles on each:
- Panga Panga
- Pau Ferro