Is Paulownia/Empresswood 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 paulownia/empresswood is used in the construction of guitars and basses, it’s worth investigating whether it’s a good tonewood or not.

Is paulownia/empresswood a good guitar tonewood? Paulownia/empresswood is one of the lightest and softest viable tonewoods. It’s generally used as a solidbody wood but can also sound great as an acoustic top or back/sides. It offers decent sustain and a tone rich in midrange overtones, soft in the high-end, and pronounced in the lows.

In this article, we’ll discuss if and how paulownia/empresswood 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 paulownia/empresswood 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 Paulownia/Empresswood Tonewood

Paulownia is a hardwood timber from the species Paulownia Tomentosa of the Paulowniaceae family. It is native to central and western China. It also grows in Europe and North America, though it’s considered invasive in North America. Other names for paulownia include empresswood, empress tree, princess tree, and foxglove tree.

Paulownia has a light golden/blond colour, sometimes with a red or purple hue. It’s rather porous and coarse wood, though its grain is generally straight.

In most cases, paulownia/empresswood is easy to work, though pieces with higher silica content will have a notable blunting effect on hand and machine tools. Care should be taken when finishing the coarse grain. The wood is soft and liable to dent. It’s relatively stable and glues, stains, and finishes well.

Paulownia is not listed in the CITES Appendices or the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Paulownia/empresswood has a warm tone with lots of character in the mid-range. Its high-end is a bit subdued, though its overtone profile is rich across the audible spectrum. Its low-end is well-defined and maintains good sustain.

Here are a few notable paulownia/empresswood specs:

  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: pale grayish brown with reddish or purplish hue
  • Grain: straight
  • Texture: uneven, coarse
  • Pores: ring-porous
  • Density: 280 kg/m3 / 17.48 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 1,330 N / 420 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 4.38 GPa / 635,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): warm
  • 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 Paulownia/Empresswood 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.

Paulownia/empresswood is a decent tonewood for electric guitar. It’s perhaps the softest and lightest tonewood that could be considered practical for guitar-making. Its low density and hardness ratings mean it’s unsuitable for neck and fretboard construction. Therefore, paulownia tonewood is really only even used in the bodies of electric guitars.

Is Paulownia/Empresswood A Good Electric Guitar Body Tonewood?

Paulownia/empresswood is notable stable and lightweight, making it a great choice for electric guitar bodies. It’s fairly easy to shape, and can be used in very comfortable designs.

As for as tone goes, the rich midrange of paulownia is appropriate for the sound of electric guitars.

Since this tonewood is rather easy to dent (due to its softness), it can be a good idea to laminate it with a harder wood top, further defining the overall tone with another tonewood.

Examples of electric guitars with paulownia/empresswood bodies/tops:

Is Paulownia/Empresswood A Good Electric Guitar Neck Tonewood?

Paulownia/empresswood is far too soft to withstand the pressures and strains of electric guitar necks.

Is Paulownia/Empresswood A Good Electric Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

Paulownia/empresswood is not dense or hard enough to be considered as durable fretboard wood.


Is Paulownia/Empresswood A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?

Paulownia/empresswood can be a decent top wood, though it’s largely ignored in large and small shops alike. It’s considered much too soft for necks and fretboards and even backs and sides in most cases.

Is Paulownia/Empresswood A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Back/Side Tonewood?

Paulownia/empresswood is a bit soft for back and sides material and isn’t over resonant. There are better options (rosewood, sapele, mahogany, maple). However, it we’re after a lightweight guitar with a warm tone, there’s no stopping us from using paulownia.

Easy denting and low volumes are traits that would make paulownia an unpopular back and sides wood.

Is Paulownia/Empresswood A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Top Tonewood?

Paulownia/empresswood can make a great soundboard tone-wise and looks-wise. However, it’s rare to come across a guitar that utilizes it.

The projection of paulownia is almost as good as the more popular top woods (spruce, cedar, mahogany). Its sound is relatively warm with soft high-end frequencies. It works better with gentler fingerpicking styles, though it can be used to great results in both steel-string acoustic and nylon-string classical guitars.

Is Paulownia/Empresswood A Good Acoustic Guitar Neck Tonewood?

Paulownia/empresswood is far too soft to withstand the pressures and strains of acoustic guitar necks.

Is Paulownia/Empresswood A Good Acoustic Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

Paulownia/empresswood is not dense or hard enough to be considered as durable fretboard wood.


Is Paulownia/Empresswood A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?

Paulownia’s low density and superb stability makes it a great choice for electric bass bodies as well. Its rich midrange can bring out the important first few hamornics of the bass tone and the low-end is pronounced, allowing the fundamentals to resonate nicely.

Spector uses paulownia as the body material in some of its electric bass guitars.

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

Examples of bass guitars with paulownia/empresswood tonewood:


Other Tonewoods

Of course, there are plenty of other tonewoods besides paulownia/empresswood. 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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