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

Is Spruce a good guitar tonewood? Spruce is a softwood with a variety of grain types, from tight to wide. It offers a balanced tone across the lows, mids and highs with good projection. Spruce is the most popular acoustic guitar top tonewood but doesn’t see much use in electrics or guitar/bass fretboards or necks.

In this article, we’ll discuss if and how spruce 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 spruce 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 Spruce Tonewood

Spruce comprises many different tonewoods, typically from the genus Picea. Among the most used spruce tonewoods are Engelmann, Norway, Sitka, white, and red spruce. Let’s discuss each in a bit more detail.

Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii): is also known as mountain spruce or silver spruce. It is native to western North America (the United States and Canada). Engelmann spruce has a light cream or white colour with a fine, even texture. Its gain is straight but features many small knots. Engelmann spruce trees are often harvested too early, so it’s relatively rare to receive top-notch pieces without run-out.

Engelmann spruce offers a smooth sound with a slightly richer midrange than Sitka. Its tone is considered warm and mellow, providing rich overtones across the frequency spectrum. It’s loud but has a lower headroom than Sitka, meaning it will lose clarity at lower sound levels as the guitar is played loudly.

Norway spruce (Picea abies): is also known as European spruce or German spruce. It is native to northern and central Europe. Norway spruce’s typical colour is light cream/white with subtle hues of yellow and/or red. Its gain is straight with fine, even texture, but the wood will often feature many small knots.

Norway spruce offers a complex overtone profile and fullness when played quiet or loud. It has a broader dynamic range than Engelmann, though shallower than Sitka. Its attack is sharp, meaning each individual note can be clearly heard.

Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis): is native to northwestern North America (Canada and the United States). Its colour ranges from light cream/white to light yellow. Its gain is typically straight, though some trees exhibit a “bear claw” grain. Sitka offers a fine, even texture and has larger resin canals than other types of spruce softwood.

Sitka spruce is the modern classical when it comes to acoustic top tonewoods. It offers great resonance and a wonderfully high stiffness-to-weight ratio, giving it a high velocity of sound (projection). It sounds direct and punchy tone with the best headroom of any top wood. Its fundamental is strong, and it actually adds little in terms of overtones, helping to increase the clarity and overall volume of the guitar.

White spruce (Picea glauca): is also known as Canadian spruce, skunk spruce, cat spruce, Black Hills spruce, and Porsild spruce. It is native to northern North America (Canada and the United States). White spruce has a whitish colour with a slight yellow hue, a fine, even texture, a straight grain, and small knots typical of spruce wood.

White spruce produces a balanced tone with a rich midrange and strong fundamentals. It provides superb projection, though not as much as Sitka.

Red spruce (Picea rubens): is also known as Adirondack spruce, yellow spruce and eastern spruce. It is native to eastern North America (Canada and the United States). Red spruce has a whitish colour with slight hues of red and yellow. The wood features a fine, even texture, a straight grain, and small knots typical of spruce wood.

While Sitka holds the crown for the modern go-to for acoustic top woods, red spruce was the go-to before World War II. It has rich overtone content, strong midrange, and a surprising amount of headroom. Red/Adirondack spruce sounds great in any playing style.

Lutz Spruce: Lutz is another spruce worth mentioning. It’s a naturally-occurring hybrid of Engelmann (Picea engelmannii) and White (Picea glauca) spruce. It is native to British Columbia up into the Alaskan panhandle. Its colour is generally creamy white, often with a slight pink or tan hue, sometimes with darker bands/stripes. It has a fine, even texture, straight grain, and small knots typical of spruce wood.

Lutz spruce boasts the strength, stiffness and dynamic range of Sitka with the aesthetic beauty of Engelmann. It’s bright, loud, and works well across all styles of playing.

None of the spruce tonewoods are listed in the CITES Appendices, and the IUCN states they are species of least concern.

All spruce varieties are generally easy to work so long as there aren’t too many knots. These tonewoods can be difficult to colour due to their pores.

As a tonewood, spruce is generally bright and lively with better projection than all other tonewoods.

Here are a few notable specs of the various types of spruce tonewoods discussed above:

  • Type: Engelmann Spruce
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Softwood
  • Colour: near-white to cream
  • Grain: straight
  • Texture: fine, even
  • Pores: closed
  • Density: 385 kg/m3 / 24.0 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 1,740 N / 390 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 9.44 GPa / 1,369,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): balanced
  • Price: moderate to high
  • Type: Norway Spruce
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Softwood
  • Colour: creamy white with hints of yellow and/or red
  • Grain: straight
  • Texture: fine, even
  • Pores: closed
  • Density: 405 kg/m3 / 25.3 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 1,680 N / 378 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 9.70 GPa / 1,407,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): balanced
  • Price: moderate to high
  • Type: Sitka Spruce
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Softwood
  • Colour: cream/white to yellow
  • Grain: straight
  • Texture: fine, even
  • Pores: medium
  • Density: 425 kg/m3 / 26.5 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 2,270 N / 510 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 11.03 GPa / 1,600,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): balanced
  • Price: moderate to high
  • Type: White Spruce
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Softwood
  • Colour: creamy white/yellow
  • Grain: straight
  • Texture: fine, even
  • Pores: closed
  • Density: 425 kg/m3 / 26.5 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 2,140 N / 480 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 9.07 GPa / 1,315,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): balanced
  • Price: moderate to high
  • Type: Red Spruce
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Softwood
  • Colour: creamy white, with hints of yellow and/or red
  • Grain: straight
  • Texture: fine, even
  • Pores: closed
  • Density: 435 kg/m3 / 27.2 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 2,180 N / 490 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 10.76 GPa / 1,561,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): balanced
  • 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 Spruce 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.

Though spruce is largely regarded as an acoustic guitar top wood, it can also work wonders in electric guitar design, albeit as a top material, typically in hollowbody designs.

Is Spruce A Good Electric Guitar Body Tonewood?

Spruce is very soft and lightweight. Though its density and hardness are comparable to common solidbody tonewoods like poplar, basswood, alder and even swamp ash, it’s rarely used as a solid body slab wood. This is perhaps because it’s a bit more expensive and doesn’t offer the same resonance as the hardwoods mentioned previously.

That being said, spruce is used as a top material, especially in hollowbody designs, helping to project the guitar’s sound when not plugged in and increasing the overall tone often by increasing warmth in the midrange.

Examples of electric guitars with spruce bodies/tops:

Is Spruce A Good Electric Guitar Neck Tonewood?

Spruce, like other softwoods, is much too soft for practical use in electric guitar necks.

Is Spruce A Good Electric Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

Spruce is too weak and soft to be considered as a fretboard material for electric guitars.


Is Spruce A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?

Spruce is one of the most famous tonewoods for acoustic guitars, though it’s really only used as a top/soundboard wood. Sitka is the most popular species in acoustic tops today, while red/Adirondack was the preferred spruce variety of years past. The other spruce varieties mentioned earlier in this article are less popular yet viable options in their own right.

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

As a softwood, spruce isn’t the best option for strength and even for bendability. It could make for a lightweight decent-sounding instrument if used for backs/sides. However, it is largely ignored due to its propensity to dent, the challenges that would come with construction (porous softwood with many tiny knots), and the results it would likely have on the overall tone (perhaps too strong of a fundamental?).

Is Spruce A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Top Tonewood?

Spruce is the best tonewood for acoustic guitar tops. It’s deeply respected by amateur and professional luthiers, brand-name manufactures, and guitarists around the world. It’s especially cherished on steel-string guitars, though it also shines on nylon-string classical guitars.

The spruce varieties boast the largest dynamic range of soundboards available. They can be played louder than the other practical tonewoods, notably cedar and mahogany. They can also sound amazing with quieter styles of playing.

Though each spruce species will vary slightly in its performance, all spruce tops can be counted on to sound incredible. They’re bright, loud, and articulate, often with notable midrange warmth and top-end brilliance.

Examples of acoustic guitars with spruce tops:

Is Spruce A Good Acoustic Guitar Neck Tonewood?

Spruce, like other softwoods, is much too soft for practical use in acoustic guitar necks.

Is Spruce A Good Acoustic Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

Spruce is too weak and soft to be considered as a fretboard material for acoustic guitars.


Is Spruce A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?

Like with 6-string guitars, spruce is really only utilized in bass guitar tops, particularly in acoustic bass models.

It’s a superb top wood for acoustic basses, providing great volume and strong fundamentals, which are paramount for bass frequency projection.

Examples of bass guitars with spruce tonewood:


Other Tonewoods

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