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 redwood is used in the construction of guitars and basses, it's worth investigating whether it's a good tonewood or not.
Is redwood a good guitar tonewood? Redwood softwood is a superb acoustic top tonewood and can be used for solid bodies (and veneers) as well. It projects thoroughly and offers a bright tone with rich overtones in the mid/upper-midrange and a resonant bass response. It's too soft for practical use as a neck or fretboard material.
In this article, we'll discuss if and how redwood 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 redwood 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.
Related article: Top 11 Benefits Of Learning & Playing Guitar
Table Of Contents
- Characteristics Of Redwood Tonewood
- Is Redwood A Good Electric Guitar Tonewood?
- Is Redwood A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?
- Is Redwood A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?
- Other Tonewoods
Characteristics Of Redwood Tonewood
Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) is a tonewood from the last living tree in the Sequoia genus of the cypress family (Cupressaceae). It is native to coastal northwestern North America. Other names include sequoia, coast/coastal redwood and California redwood.
Redwood is not listed in the CITES Appendices. However, it is on the IUCN Red List as “vulnerable due to a population reduction of approximately 40% in the past three generations, caused by a decline in its natural range and exploitation.” California has passed laws making it illegal to harvest redwood, so the current supply of timbre is what's left. Luthiers largely source their redwood from recycled lumber and timber salvage.
Redwood's colour, as the name would suggest, is red, ranging from light pinkish-brown to deep reddish-brown. The grain is typically straight, though Redwood burl (also known as “lace” or vavona) is likely to have a wavy or irregular grain. Redwood's texture is relatively coarse.
Because the redwood trees are so large, their wood varies considerably in density. The optimal density for redwood tonewood is listed as 415 kg/m3 / 25.91 lb/ft3. Furthermore, “sinker redwood” (timber salvaged from sunken redwood logs) may be inconsistent tonally, though beautiful nonetheless, due to mineral deposits.
Redwood is generally easy to work with both hand tools and machinery. Generally speaking, it's soft, easy to finish, and glues relatively well (though not as good as spruce). The is prone to splitting along the grain and tear-out during planing. However, this softwood is a joy to work, all things considered.
As a tonewood, redwood is dry and clear with superb projection. It's not the loudest tonewood (the various species of spruce are the loudest, with Adirondack holding the top spot), but it does off a great sound for acoustic guitars. Its tone is crisp, with a notable definition to the notes being played. It's relatively bright, though its overtones are rich and complex. The sustain in the bass response is relatively high compared to other softwood tonewoods, though it comes at the cost of poorer definition.
Here are a few notable redwood specs:
- Hardwood/Softwood: Softwood
- Colour: light pinkish brown to deep reddish brown
- Grain: usually straight, sometimes wavy/irregular
- Texture: coarse
- Density: 415 kg/m3 / 25.91 lb/ft3
- Janka Hardness (Typical): 2,000 N / 450 lbf
- Elastic Modulus: 8.41 GPa / 1,220,000 psi
- Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): bright
- Price: moderate to high
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 Redwood 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, signal chain and 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.
Redwood can make a superb tonewood for electric guitars, though it's only practical for body construction due to its softness. That being said, it's uncommon to see redwood in commercially available electric guitars, partly due to its availability and partly because other body tonewoods (mahogany and alder, ash, poplar, basswood, etc.) are standards.
Is Redwood A Good Electric Guitar Body Tonewood?
Although redwood is soft, it can make a superb body tonewood. In fact, it's about as dense and hard as basswood, which is a popular choice. That being said, redwood is rarely seen in electric guitars. There are better options, and the limited supply of redwood is considered to be of better use in acoustic guitars.
Due to its relative softness, redwood is often best served by veneer/top of a harder tonewood (such as maple). Its rich and complex yet bright tone can serve an electric guitar well so long as the body is finished with a protective coat.
As for hollowbody electric guitars, redwood could be utilized as a top material but may be too soft and brittle for back and side designs.
Is Redwood A Good Electric Guitar Neck Tonewood?
Redwood is generally considered too soft and not dense enough for use as an electric guitar neck tonewood.
Is Redwood A Good Electric Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?
Redwood is generally considered too soft for use as an electric guitar fretboard tonewood.
Is Redwood A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?
Redwood is a cherished tonewood for acoustic and classical guitars as a top wood. It's often related to cedar (another softwood), only brighter, especially in the upper midrange overtones.
Is Redwood A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Back/Side Tonewood?
Redwood is bendable but is not as good as the typical hardwoods used in acoustic guitar designs (mahogany, rosewood, sapele, maple). Like other softwoods, redwood is rarely ever used in this portion of acoustic and classical guitars.
Is Redwood A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Top Tonewood?
Redwood tends to maintain a superb stiffness-to-weight ratio, which is a huge benefit for use as an acoustic/classical top wood.
It has great projection, though there is a compression ceiling to know about, where the wood will begin saturating when heavier strumming. Spruce is often preferred for louder guitars, but redwood can hold its own.
As mentioned, the upper midrange is rich, giving redwood a bright character. The low end is a bit boomy, though the rest of the frequency response tends to be well-defined.
Examples of acoustic guitars with redwood tops:
- Breedlove Legacy Concert CE: acoustic with sinker redwood top (East Indian rosewood back and sides)
Is Redwood A Good Acoustic Guitar Neck Tonewood?
Redwood is generally considered too soft and not dense enough for use as an acoustic guitar neck tonewood.
Is Redwood A Good Acoustic Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?
Redwood is generally considered too soft for use as an acoustic guitar fretboard tonewood.
Is Redwood A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?
Similar to the electric and acoustic guitars discussed above, redwood can make a superb bass guitar body tonewood, particularly as a top material (for electric and acoustics) but also as a solidbody slab material.
The resonant low-end can bring out strong fundamentals from the bass, while the upper-midrange boost can define the harmonics and give the bass more character in its tonal properties.
Redwood is impractical for bass necks and fretboards.
Examples of bass guitars with redwood tonewood:
- Spector USA NS-2: solidbody with reclaimed redwood body (figured spalted maple top)
Of course, there are plenty of other tonewoods besides redwood. Here is a list of other tonewoods with links to check out more in-depth articles on each:
- Panga Panga
- Pau Ferro