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

Is pine a good guitar tonewood? Pine is a good yet rare tonewood for solid electric guitar bodies and acoustic guitar tops. However, it’s largely too soft and weak for use in necks (unless laminated with other wood), back and sides, or fretboards. It’s lightweight and offers a warm tone with clear highs and decent projection.

In this article, we’ll discuss if and how pine 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 pine 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 Pine Tonewood

Pine tonewood comprised several species (notably lambertiana, strobus and monticola) in the genus Pinus within the Pinaceae (pine) family. The term pine also extends to a few other tonewoods, including King Billy pine (Athrotaxis selaginoides) and Huon pine (Lagarostrobos franklinii), though these species aren’t true pinewoods.

Beginning with the true pines, we have eastern white pine (Pinus strobus), which is native to eastern North America (Canada and the United States). Other names include northern white pine, white pine, Weymouth pine, and soft pine.

Eastern white pine heartwood is light brown and sometimes features a reddish hue. Its grain is straight, and its texture is fine and uniform. As a softwood, it’s easy to work with both hand tools and machines. It glues and finishes nicely.

Western white pine (Pinus monticola) is native to the mountains of western North America (Canada and the United States). Other names include silver pine, California mountain pine and Idaho white pine.

Western white pine heartwood is light brown and sometimes features a reddish hue. Its grain is straight, its texture is medium and uniform (coarser than eastern white pine), and it features plenty of tiny knots. As a softwood, it’s easy to work with both hand tools and machines. It glues and finishes superbly. However, it’s prone to tear-out, splits easily and is liable to warp if not dried completely.

White pine tonewood sounds great but is often considered too soft for use outside of guitar bodies. As tonewoods, eastern and western white pine are relatively warm with notable top-end and can offer decent projection.

Sugar pine (Pinus lambertiana) is native to coastal and inland mountain areas along the Pacific coast of North America and is more popular than the aforementioned white pine.

Sugar pine heartwood is light brown and sometimes features a reddish hue. Its grain is straight, and its texture is medium/coarse and uniform. As a softwood, it’s easy to work with both hand tools and machines. Like the other types of pine, it glues and finishes excellently but is prone to tear-out, cracking and warping.

Sugar pine sounds relatively bright for a softwood, though its presence in the low and midrange give it an overall warm tonal characteristic.

None of the aforementioned true pine species are listed in the CITES Appendices. They are all reported by the IUCN as being a species of least concern.

There are also plenty of other true pine tonewood species. There are generally referred to as yellow pine, which refers to a wide variety of pine species depending on location. The density and hardness of these softwoods range significantly. Let’s consider the variety of yellow pine according to geographical location:

  • Western United States yellow pine:
    • Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi)
    • ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa)
  • Southeastern United States yellow pine:
    • longleaf pine (Pinus palustris)
    • shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata)
    • slash pine (Pinus elliottii)
    • loblolly pine (Pinus taeda)
  • United Kingdom yellow pine:
    • eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) – mentioned above
    • Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris)
  • New Zealand yellow pine:
    • Halocarpus biformis (not a true pine)

Now let’s move on to the non-Pinus pine tonewoods, namely Huon and King Billy.

Huon pine (Lagarostrobos franklinii) is native to the wet southwestern corner of Tasmania, Australia, and is also known as Macquarie pine.

Huon pine heartwood is light yellow to golden red-brown. Its grain is straight to wavy, and its texture is fine and uniform. As a softwood, huon is relatively hard. It works nicely with both hand tools and machines and glues and finishes well. Pieces with wavy or knotty grain are more likely to tear out, though the wood is relatively easy to work overall.

As a tonewood, huon pine offers great headroom and sustain. Its overtones are warm and rich, and its low-end is notable. Overall, the tone can be described as bright and crisp, yet resonant.

Finally, we should discuss King Billy pine (Athrotaxis selaginoides), which is also native to Tasmania. This is the softest of the “pines” mentioned in this article, but its stiffness makes it a good choice for acoustic guitars.

King Billy pine has a light pink hue, straight grain and fine texture. As a tonewood, King Billy pine offers a strong bass response and clear, crisp treble with open midrange. It’s not as loud as spruce or huon pine but makes a superb choice for classical guitars and fingerpicking styles. Unfortunately, King Billy pine is no longer harvested, making it an expensive option.

Here are a few notable pine specs:

  • Type: Eastern white pine
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Softwood
  • Colour: pink to yellowish-pink
  • Grain: straight
  • Texture: even, medium
  • Density: 400 kg/m3 / 24.97 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 1,690 N / 380 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 8.55 GPa / 1,240,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): warm
  • Price: moderate
  • Type: Sugar pine
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Softwood
  • Colour: light brown with pale red hue
  • Grain: straight
  • Texture: even, medium to coarse
  • Density: 400 kg/m3 / 24.97 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 1,690 N / 380 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 8.21 GPa / 1,191,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): warm
  • Price: moderate to high
  • Type: Western white pine
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Softwood
  • Colour: light brown with pale red hue
  • Grain: straight
  • Texture: even, medium
  • Density: 435 kg/m3 / 27.16 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 1,870 N / 420 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 10.07 GPa / 1,461,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): warm
  • Price: moderate to high
  • Type: Huon pine
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Softwood
  • Colour: light yellow to golden, reddish-brown
  • Grain: straight to wavy
  • Texture: fine, uniform
  • Density: 560 kg/m3 / 34.96 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 4,110 N / 920 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 9.23 GPa / 1,339,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): balanced
  • Price: moderate to high
  • Type: King Billy pine
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Softwood
  • Colour: light yellow to golden, reddish-brown
  • Grain: straight to wavy
  • Texture: fine, uniform
  • Density: 350 kg/m3 / 21.85 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 1,200 N / 270 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 5.80 GPa / 841,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): warm
  • Price: moderate to 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 Pine 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.

Pine is a fantastic, albeit rare, tonewood for electric guitars. It used to be regularly used as a solidbody wood but has fallen out of favour for the now-dominant mahogany, ash and alder woods.

Pine is typically too soft and prone to cracking for use as neck material and is certainly too soft for use as fretboard tonewood.

Is Pine A Good Electric Guitar Body Tonewood?

Pine (of the genus Pinus) is a great solidbody tonewood for electric guitars. Its light weight makes it an ergonomic option, first and foremost.

It machines easily and glues, and finishes well, making it a good choice for mass production. It’s stable, though its softness can be a liability when it comes to durability (it dents very easily).

As for tone, pine offers a warm tone with a nice touch to the top end.

Though pine is typically used in solidbody designs, it is also sometimes incorporated into hollowbody electrics. However, this is rare. Fender offers one-of-a-kind semi-hollowbody guitars with pine bodies from its custom shop but does not have any regularly-available options.

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As for the non-Pinus “pines,” they’re uncommon in electric guitar builds, even though King Billy pine could be a good, albeit soft, choice, and Huon pine has similar density and hardness to the commonly-used mahogany body wood.

Examples of electric guitars with pine bodies/tops:

Is Pine A Good Electric Guitar Neck Tonewood?

Pine is impractical for neck construction due to its soft and weak characteristics.

Even Huon “pine,” which is significantly harder, is typically overlooked as solid neck woods due to its price and general unpopularity amongst established guitar-makers.

Is Pine A Good Electric Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

All pine is considered to be too soft to be a viable electric guitar fretboard tonewood option.


Is Pine A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?

Pine is uncommon in acoustic and classical guitars and is rarely seen in commercially-available brand-name guitars. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a poor choice. When it comes to acoustic and classical guitar tops, various pine species can offer superb tonal and construction benefits.

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

Pine is not a great choice for guitar backs and sides. It’s largely too soft and brittle and, when cut thin, may produce an overly bright sound.

Southern yellow pine and huon pine are exceptions and can be viable options. However, even these woods are rarely discussed when it comes to producing acoustic backs and sides.

Is Pine A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Top Tonewood?

Pine can really shine as an acoustic top tonewood.

Real pine is stiffer across the grain than spruce but less stiff along the grain, given the same density.

Softer pines offer a nice, warm, resonant sound with notable high-end. Harder pines are a bit brighter, though both are pretty balanced. The projection is clear, though more subtle than most spruce species. It responds well to fingerpicking like cedar but offers a higher headroom.

Huon pine, which is the hardest “pine,” provides improved sustain across the fundamentals and overtones, along with a higher dynamic range. It sounds relatively bright.

That all being said, big-name manufacturers largely avoid pine as a top material, sticking to the staples of spruce and cedar (along with mahogany, maple, koa and others).

Is Pine A Good Acoustic Guitar Neck Tonewood?

Pine is impractical for acoustic and classical guitar necks due to its soft and weak characteristics.

Even Huon “pine,” which is significantly harder, is typically overlooked as solid neck woods due to its price and general unpopularity amongst established luthiers.

Is Pine A Good Acoustic Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

All pine is considered to be too soft to be a viable fretboard tonewood option for acoustic guitars.


Is Pine A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?

Pine is rare in bass guitars, like it is in electric and acoustic guitars. When pine is used, it’s generally incorporated into solidbody designs for its warm yet balanced tone and low weight.

Examples of bass guitars with pine tonewood:


Other Tonewoods

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