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

Is Poplar a good guitar tonewood? Poplar is a relatively soft hardwood with dense pores and closed grain. It offers a neutral tone with relatively low sustain. Poplar is used as the body or laminate top of electric guitars and basses, but not in acoustic body construction or guitar necks or fretboards.

In this article, we’ll discuss if and how poplar 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 poplar 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 Poplar Tonewood

Poplar tonewood is typically either white poplar or yellow poplar.

White poplar is a common name for several Populus species, though it typically refers to Populus alba (also known as silver poplar or silverleaf poplar). White poplar is native to southern and central Europe and Asia.

Yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) is also known as tulip poplar. Yellow poplar is native to eastern North America.

Neither white nor yellow poplar are listed in the CITES Appendices or the IUCN Red List.

The heartwood of white poplar is generally near-white to light yellow with occasional streaks of gray or green. Its grain is straight and uniform, with medium texture and small pores.

The heartwood of yellow poplar is light cream to yellowish-brown in colour, with occasional streaks of gray or green. Its grain is also straight and uniform, with medium texture and small pores. The burled piece can be very attractive visually.

Poplar hardwood is relatively soft and easy to work, though finer sanding may be required to smooth it out. It’s prone to warping due to humidity changes.

As a tonewood, poplar is neutral with relatively low sustain. It’s a bit lacking in the low-end, though its mids and highs are well-defined.

Here are a few notable specs of white and yellow poplar:

  • Type: White Poplar
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: light cream to light brown
  • Grain: straight, uniform
  • Texture: medium
  • Pores: diffuse-porous
  • Density: 440 kg/m3 / 27.5 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 1,820 N / 410 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 8.90 GPa / 1,291,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): balanced
  • Price: low
  • Type: Yellow Poplar
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: straight, uniform
  • Grain: light cream to yellowish brown
  • Texture: medium
  • Pores: diffuse-porous
  • Density: 455 kg/m3 / 28.4 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 2,400 N / 540 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 10.90 GPa / 1,581,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): balanced
  • Price: low

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 Poplar 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.

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.

Poplar is a relatively common electric guitar body material, up there with basswood and swamp ash, though not as popular as mahogany and alder. Its lightweight and neutral tone make it a well-rounded wood, tone-wise. Additionally, its affordability, availability and workability make it an extremely viable option for small and large shops alike.

Is Poplar A Good Electric Guitar Body Tonewood?

Poplar is a superb solidbody wood, even though there’s nothing particularly impressive about its tone. Tonewoods matter much less in electric guitars, which rely on the pickups, string, and gain stages for the overall tone. However, the balanced sound of poplar can make a decent-sounding body.

Poplar can be used as the solidbody wood or the laminate top of an electric guitar. Its sustain isn’t great, though its articulation is notable. As a top material, burled poplar can yield some beautiful-looking instruments.

Poplar is easy to work, though care should be taken when finishing and colouring it.

Examples of electric guitars with poplar bodies/tops:

Is Poplar A Good Electric Guitar Neck Tonewood?

Poplar is rarely used as the neck material in electric guitars due to its prone to bending due to its soft nature and natural tendency to expand and contract.

Is Poplar A Good Electric Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

Poplar is generally considered too soft and too prone to splitting for use as an electric guitar fretboard tonewood.


Is Poplar A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?

Although poplar is commonplace in electric guitars, its performance in acoustic and classical guitars is lacklustre. Poplar is rarely ever considered for acoustic builds, not as a top, back/sides, neck or fretboard material.

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

Poplar’s unpopularity as a back and sides tonewood is largely due to its propensity to shift when subjected to changing humidity. The wood can be bent but is liable to bend back to its original shape, which isn’t great for stability. Furthermore, changes in humidity will cause notable expansion/contraction even after the wood is finished.

To add to the difficulty of working, the poor sustain of poplar makes it virtually unusable as a back and sides material. It’s not worth the hassle for relatively poor sonic results.

Is Poplar A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Top Tonewood?

Poplar can be used with varying success as an acoustic top wood, though it’s largely ignored as an option.

Its poor sustain and low-end translate to weaker resonance and overall projection. Though it may look nice (as is the case with burl poplar solidbody electric tops), its relatively poor projection means it’s not thought of as a good soundboard wood. Spruce, cedar and mahogany are much better.

Is Poplar A Good Acoustic Guitar Neck Tonewood?

Poplar is rarely used as the neck material in acoustic guitars due to its prone to bending due to its soft nature and sensitivity to humidity, though it can be.

Is Poplar A Good Acoustic Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

Poplar is generally considered too soft and too prone to splitting for use as an acoustic guitar fretboard tonewood.


Is Poplar A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?

Poplar isn’t the most popular tonewood for bass guitars, though it is used by several big-name manufacturers as a body material, especially as a laminated top/veneer.

The lightness of poplar makes it an ergonomic choice for bass bodies, even if it doesn’t provide the best low-end. Its

As a veneer, poplar will do little to the overall tone of the bass. Not only is it naturally pretty neutral, but it also isn’t dense enough to have a significant impact. Rather, poplar tops are generally chosen due to their visual appeal (especially the burled pieces).

Examples of bass guitars with poplar tonewood:


Other Tonewoods

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