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

Is myrtlewood a good guitar tonewood? Myrtlewood is a rare but exciting tonewood, particularly in acoustic/classical guitar bodies (backs, sides and tops). It has superb sustain and projects well, having a balanced tone with a nice harmonic profile. It works easily and looks gorgeous, especially the pieces with figured grain patterns.

In this article, we’ll discuss if and how myrtlewood 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 myrtlewood 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 Myrtlewood Tonewood

Myrtlewood tonewood is from the hardwood species Umbellularia californica (formerly known as Oreodaphne californica) native to the western United States (California and Oregon). Depending on the state of harvest, myrtlewood is generally referred to as Oregon myrtle (from Oregon), or California bay laurel, California laurel or California bay (from California). Other names for this wood include pepperwood, spicebush, cinnamon bush, peppernut tree, headache tree and mountain laurel.

Myrtlewood’s colour varies from tree to tree, ranging from light orangish-brown to gray and olive. Darker streaks may also be present. A single tree may offer straight, irregular and wavy grain, depending on where the lumber is cut from. Beautifully figured and burled patterns are possible with this stunning wood. The diffuse-porous wood has a fine, uniform texture.

Myrtlewood is not listed in the CITES Appendices, nor is it included in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

This tonewood bends, glues, and finishes well, though it’s prone to burning when worked. The more irregular the grain, the more liable the wood is to tear out during sanding and planing. All in all, myrtlewood is a superb tonewood to work.

As a tonewood, myrtlewood is clear and bright, though with a rounded high-end. It offers superb projection and notable sustain and balance across the frequency spectrum.

Here are a few notable myrtlewood specs:

  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: light orangish brown, gray or olive, sometimes with dark streaks
  • Grain: straight, irregular or wavy
  • Texture: fine, uniform
  • Pores: diffuse-porous
  • Density: 635 kg/m3 / 39.64 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 5,650 N / 1,270 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 8.45 GPa / 1,226,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): balanced
  • Price: high

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 Myrtlewood 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.

Myrtlewood is best known as an acoustic tonewood, though it’s also successfully incorporated into electric guitar designs. The figured cuts can be gorgeous to look at, while the straighter-grained pieces are more stable.

The relative rarity of myrtlewood in electric guitars is likely due to its general obscurity and high price point. It can make for a great body, neck and even fretboard wood in solid and laminate designs. However, in commercially-viable options, it’s an unpopular tonewood.

Is Myrtlewood A Good Electric Guitar Body Tonewood?

As a solidbody slab, myrtlewood would definitely be on the heavy end of what’s deemed standard. It rivals the density of hard ash and hard maple, though these aren’t the common woods used in electric guitar bodies. Myrtlewood is harder and denser than the popular poplar, swamp ash, alder, basswood and mahogany body woods.

So it’s a bit heavy and may make for an uncomfortable electric guitar. However, its well-rounded sound can certainly add stability to the overall tone of the guitar.

When myrtlewood is incorporated into electric guitars, it’s generally as the top/veneer wood, especially when the grain is figured. This way, we get the beautiful aesthetic of myrtlewood with some of its tonal character, all without the weight.

Examples of electric guitars with myrtlewood bodies/tops:

Is Myrtlewood A Good Electric Guitar Neck Tonewood?

Myrtlewood is a fairly stable and strong wood and is easy to work, especially if its grain is straight. It can certainly make a solid neck material, though it’s rarely considered in small shops or large manufacturers.

Is Myrtlewood A Good Electric Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

Myrtlewood’s strength, stability and smoothness make it a suitable wood for fretboards. It is definitely soft, though harder than walnut (which happens to be a commercially-viable fretboard material).

However, due to the softness and high price, myrtlewood is hardly ever experimented with as an electric guitar fretboard tonewood.


Is Myrtlewood A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?

Myrtlewood is certainly an exotic “non-standard” wood, but a well-respected acoustic and classical tonewood nonetheless. It’s a wonderful wood to look at and has a remarkably balanced tone. It offers great projection and sustain, too, so what’s not to like about this alternative tonewood?

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

Myrtlewood is relatively easy to bend and offers strength and stability to acoustic and classical guitars as a back and sides material.

Its balanced tone maintains an even mix of lows, mids and highs, allowing the top wood (soundboard) to really shine through in the sound of the guitar. Myrtlewood’s resonance and sustain are thorough, helping to project the wonderful tone even further.

Though myrtlewood has been discussed in smaller circles for a while, it is relatively untouched in the big leagues. Breedlove is a notable brand that has taken a great liking to the tone and makeup of myrtlewood, featuring it as the back and sides wood of some amazing acoustic and classical builds.

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

Examples of acoustic guitars with myrtlewood backs and sides:

Is Myrtlewood A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Top Tonewood?

Myrtlewood’s balanced, articulate tone and outstanding projection and sustain make it a solid choice for acoustic soundboards, too.

The stiffness and strength of myrtlewood come as an advantage in this regard. It’s certainly denser and harder than the typical spruce and cedar tops, though its physical makeup is similar to mahogany, which is another popular top wood.

Rather than sound rich and dark like mahogany, myrtlewood’s projection is more transparent and bright with notable roll-off in its overtones but an overall clarity to its top-end.

Examples of acoustic guitars with myrtlewood tops:

Is Myrtlewood A Good Acoustic Guitar Neck Tonewood?

Myrtlewood could work well as an acoustic/classic neck wood. It’s fairly stable and strong and is easy to work, especially if its grain is straight. However, it’s rarely considered in small shops or large manufacturers.

Is Myrtlewood A Good Acoustic Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

Myrtlewood would make an expensive and soft acoustic fretboard. There are better options.


Is Myrtlewood A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?

The usage of myrtlewood in bass guitars is similar to its usage in 6-string guitars. That is, as an acoustic body material. We’re much more likely to find myrtlewood in acoustic basses than electric basses. Its balanced tone and softened top-end make it a strong choice for bringing out a bass’s stable, strong fundamental and midrange character.

Examples of bass guitars with myrtlewood tonewood:


Other Tonewoods

Of course, there are plenty of other tonewoods besides myrtlewood. 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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