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

Is oak a good guitar tonewood? Oak is an affordable yet neglected tonewood. Its tonal characteristics are decent (lively, warm, clear) but its working characteristics (large pores, brittle, coarse) make it a second-class choice for bodies, necks and fretboards. It can be and is used to varying results in guitars and basses.

In this article, we’ll discuss if and how oak 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 oak 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 Oak Tonewood

Though oak technically refers to nearly 500 species of trees and shrubs in the genus Quercus of the beech family (Fagaceae), oak tonewoods are generally selected from a select few species. The two most popular species are red oak (Quercus rubra) and white oak (Quercus alba), though English/European oak (Quercus robur) is also used.

Red oak (Quercus rubra): is native to the Northeastern United States and Southeastern Canada. Its light-to-medium brown colour features a reddish hue. Its grain is straight, and its texture is coarse and uneven. Red oak, like other oaks, has rather large pores.

The tone of red oak offers pronounced lows and low-mids with apparent yet soft high-end. It has great sustain and projection characteristics as well.

White oak (Quercus alba): is native to the Eastern United States. Its Iight-to-medium brown colour features an olive-green hue. The wood features include large, open pore, straight and coarse, uneven texture.

White oak’s tone has notable sustain, warm yet pronounced low-end, and clear high-end. It has good projection properties as well.

English/European oak (Quercus robur): is native to Europe, North Africa and Asia Minor. It also has a light-to-medium brown colour with a subtle green hue, though there’s more variety between trees. As for grain, it’s usually straight, though it can be irregular or interlocked depending on growth conditions. It’s a porous wood and has a coarse, uneven texture.

English oak has a balanced tone with warm midrange overtones and clear high-end. It offers good projection and is notably versatile for a variety of different musical styles.

All three of the “true” oak species mentioned above are not listed in the CITES Appendices and are all reported by the IUCN as being species of least concern.

Oak, in general, is easy to work with both hand tools and machines. It’s relatively easy to bend, and it glues, stains and finishes well. It’s relatively stable, though prone to shrinkage when drying. The porous, coarse nature of the wood can be somewhat difficult to smooth out.

Some woods are called oak, though they aren’t “true oaks” from the genus Quercus. These other “oak” tonewoods include northern silky oak (Cardwellia sublimis), southern silky oak (Grevillea robusta) and Tasmanian oak (Eucalyptus regnans, obliqua or delegatensis).

Northern silky oak (Cardwellia sublimis): is also known as Australian lacewood and is native to the state of Queensland in Australia. This wood is lighter and softer than “true” oak varieties and offers a balanced tone with apparent overtones and a clean top-end.

Its medium-brown with lighter brown rays throughout, sometimes in a snakeskin pattern, though the grain is typically straight. It’s a diffuse-porous wood with medium-sized pores and a coarse texture. It finishes and glues well, though it has a blunting effect on tools and is prone to tear-out, particularly pieces with more complex grain patterns.

Southern silky oak (Grevillea robusta): is native to eastern Australia, though it grows elsewhere (notably South Africa) as well. On average, southern silky wood is heavier and harder than its northern counterpart. Still, it’s lighter and soft than “true” oak varieties. Its tone is balanced with warm overtones and a clear top-end.

Its medium-brown with lighter brown rays throughout. Its grain is usually straight, though striking interlocked patterns may exist. It’s a diffuse-porous wood with medium-sized pores and a coarse texture. It finishes and glues well, though it has a blunting effect on tools and is prone to tear-out, particularly pieces with more complex grain patterns.

Tasmanian oak (Eucalyptus regnans, obliqua or delegatensis): is more of a marketing term and refers to the species of Eucalyptus regnans, obliqua or delegatensis when sourced specifically from the state of Tasmania.

It’s medium yellow to light brown in colour, and its grain is straight with a medium-to-coarse texture. Though it’s relatively light and soft for Eucalyptus timber, it’s comparable to English oak in these specs. It’s easy to work, glueing and finishing well.

Here are a few notable oak specs from the tonewood species we’ve been discussing:

  • Type: Red oak
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: light to medium brown
  • Grain: straight
  • Texture: uneven, coarse
  • Pores: large, open
  • Density: 700 kg/m3 / 43.70 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 5,430 N / 1,221 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 12.14 GPa / 1,761,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): warm
  • Price: low
  • Type: White oak
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: light to medium brown
  • Grain: straight
  • Texture: uneven, coarse
  • Pores: large, open
  • Density: 755 kg/m3 / 47.13 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 5,990 N / 1,347 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 12.15 GPa / 1,762,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): warm
  • Price: low
  • Type: English/European oak
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: light to medium brown
  • Grain: usually straight, sometimes irregular or interlocked
  • Texture: uneven, coarse
  • Pores: large, open
  • Density: 675 kg/m3 / 42.14 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 4,980 N / 1,120 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 10.60 GPa / 1,537,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): warm
  • Price: low
  • Type: Northern silky oak (not true oak)
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: light to medium reddish brown with grey to light brown rays
  • Grain: straight
  • Texture: coarse
  • Pores: diffuse-porous
  • Density: 560 kg/m3 / 34.96 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 3,740 N / 841 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 8.92 GPa / 1,294,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): balanced
  • Price: moderate to high
  • Type: Southern silky oak (not true oak)
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: light to medium reddish brown with grey to light brown rays
  • Grain: straight
  • Texture: coarse
  • Pores: diffuse-porous
  • Density: 590 kg/m3 / 36.83 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 3,930 N / 883 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 7.93 GPa / 1,150,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): balanced
  • Price: moderate to high
  • Type: Tasmanian oak (not true oak)
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: medium yellow to light brown
  • Grain: straight
  • Texture: open, medium-to-coarse
  • Pores: diffuse-porous
  • Density: 680 kg/m3 / 42.45 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 5,400 N / 1,214 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 14.02 GPa / 2,033,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): bright
  • 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 Oak 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.

Oak can be a good electric guitar tonewood, though it is rare to find it in commercially-available guitars.

Is Oak A Good Electric Guitar Body Tonewood?

True oak is a bit on the heavy side for solidbody electric guitars. That being said, its warm, balanced tone can sound great when incorporated into electric bodies.

The other oaks may be more suitable as they’re lighter, though they’re rarely used in commercial guitars.

Examples of electric guitars with oak bodies/tops:

Is Oak A Good Electric Guitar Neck Tonewood?

True oak is relatively porous and prone to warping, making it a difficult choice for guitar necks. Of course, if proper patience is applied to the work, oak can sound great as a neck tonewood. Its overtone profile and clear high-end can help add definition to the overall sound of the guitar.

The other oaks may be more suitable as neck material since they’re easier to work and typically more stable.

When using oak as a neck tonewood, it’s advisable to laminate it in order to improve its strength and stability over the short and long term.

Is Oak A Good Electric Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

Oak is rarely used in fretboards. The true and “other” oak varieties are relatively soft compared to many of the standards, though hard maple is about as hard as white oak. The pores of white oak would need proper filling and finishing for proper use as a fretboard material.


Is Oak A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?

Oak can be a good tonewood, though it is rare to find it in commercially-available acoustic and classical guitars.

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

Oak is rather porous and fairly heavy. Though it’s easy to bend, it requires additional work to avoid splitting and to fill in the pores. It’s often not the most eye-catching wood, either.

The oak can offer a certain liveliness to an acoustic or classical guitar; there are plenty of better options for back and sides tonewoods.

The silky oaks are more apt for use as back and sides thanks to their easy workability, attractive aesthetic, and balanced, sustaining tone.

Is Oak A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Top Tonewood?

True oaks are considered too dense and too porous for practical use in commercially-viable acoustic and classical guitars.

The other oaks can be good top woods, though perhaps quiet and definitely heavy compared to the standard spruce and cedar options.

Is Oak A Good Acoustic Guitar Neck Tonewood?

Oak should be laminated for use as an acoustic or classical neck to reduce the risk of warping and cracking. It can sound good as a neck material but is largely neglected as an option, thanks to the variety of better neck woods.

Is Oak A Good Acoustic Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

True oaks and other oaks are relatively soft compared to many of the standard fretboard materials. There are harder, more durable options than the true oak variety, while there are more affordable and available options than the other oak varieties.


Is Oak A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?

Oak is typically only used in one-off or custom bass designs. It’s rarely ever the best option for any particular part of the bass instrument. However, it’s affordable and can be worked into a bass with good tonal results.

Examples of bass guitars with oak tonewood:


Other Tonewoods

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