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

Is Walnut a good guitar tonewood? Walnut is a dense and heavy tonewood. It offers a bright tone with tight low-end, and good sustain. Walnut is typically used as laminate tonewood in electric guitar/bass bodies or the sides/back of acoustic guitars, as well as in guitar necks and fretboards. It’s too heavy for practical solid bodies.

In this article, we’ll discuss if and how alder walnut 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 walnut 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 Walnut Tonewood

Walnut tonewood is typically either of the black or English variety.

Black walnut (Juglans nigra) is native to eastern North America (the United States and Canada).

English walnut (Juglans regia) is also known as Circassian walnut, European walnut, French walnut and common walnut. It is native to eastern Europe and western Asia.

Neither of these tonewood species is listed in the CITES Appendices or the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The heartwoods of black and English walnut offer a variety of colours ranging from light pink to dark brown with grey, purple and red casts in addition to brown streaks. The woods have a medium texture with medium-to-large-sized pores, and their grain is typically straight, though it may show irregular patterns such as curl, crotch, and burl.

Walnut is very easy to work with, especially when the grain is straight. It’s easy to finish and bend but may be prone to tear out if the grain patterns aren’t overly straight.

As a tonewood, walnut offers a bright tone with tight low-end and good sustain. Its tone is often described as having the bright woodiness of mahogany with the resonance and bottom end of rosewood, two excellent characteristics from two of the most beloved guitar tonewoods. English walnut tends to produce a slightly brighter tone than black walnut.

Other walnut species worth mentioning are claro walnut, Peruvian walnut and Bastogne walnut.

Claro walnut, also known as California black walnut, is the common name for two species: Juglans hindsii and Juglans californica. Claro walnut offers warmth and power to the midrange overtones while maintaining superb clarity in the low and high frequencies.

Peruvian walnut typically refers to Juglans neotropica, though it may also refer to Juglans australis, Juglans olanchana, and other types of walnut. Other common names include tropical walnut and nogal. Peruvian walnut typically provides more projection and volume than other walnuts. It is a clear and open-sounding tonewood.

Bastogne is a crossbreed between Juglans hindsii (Claro walnut) and Juglans regia (English walnut). This rare hybrid is harder and denser than the natural walnuts and offers resonant overtones with strong mids, defined bass and brilliant highs. It’s relatively porous and offers some of the nicest figurings of all the walnut varieties.

Here are a few notable specs of the walnut varieties we’ve discussed:

  • Type: Black Walnut
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: light pale brown to dark chocolate brown
  • Grain: usually straight, somtimes irregular
  • Texture: medium
  • Pores: semi-ring-porous
  • Density: 610 kg/m3 / 38.1 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 4,490 N / 1,010 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 11.59 GPa / 1,681,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): bright
  • Price: moderate to high
  • Type: English Walnut
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: light pale brown to dark chocolate brown
  • Grain: usually straight, somtimes irregular
  • Texture: medium
  • Pores: semi-ring-porous to diffuse-porous
  • Density: 640 kg/m3 / 40.0 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 5,410 N / 1,215 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 10.81 GPa / 1,568,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): bright
  • Price: moderate to high
  • Type: Claro Walnut
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: light pale brown to dark brown with dark streaks
  • Grain: usually straight, somtimes irregular
  • Texture: medium
  • Pores: semi-ring-porous
  • Density: 640 kg/m3 / 40.0 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 5,030 N / 1,130 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 11.59 GPa / 1,681,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): bright
  • Price: high
  • Type: Peruvian Walnut
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: dark brown with purple hue
  • Grain: usually straight, somtimes irregular
  • Texture: medium to coarse
  • Pores: diffuse-porous
  • Density: 600 kg/m3 / 37.46 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 4,250 N / 955 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 7.81 GPa / 1,133,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): bright
  • Price: moderate to high
  • Type: Bastogne Walnut
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: golden yellow to reddish-brown with dark brown streaks
  • Grain: usually straight, somtimes irregular
  • Texture: medium
  • Pores: semi-ring-porous
  • Density: 745 kg/m3 / 46.51 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 5,560 N / 1,250 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 10.81 GPa / 1,568,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): bright
  • 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 Walnut 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.

Walnut is a superb tonewood for electric guitars. As discussed previously, black walnut and English walnut are the typical species used as tonewood. Most manufacturers don’t designate the difference. That being said, the other varieties also make excellent electric guitar tonewoods.

The medium-density/weight and hardness of typical walnut wood make it a versatile option for guitars. However, it’s rarely used by itself in the construction of electric guitar bodies and necks. It’s a great tonewood but is often used in addition to another laminate wood in guitar design.

Remember that walnut has a bright and tight tone, and even though its low-end is made apparent, it can often sound a bit brittle.

Is Walnut A Good Electric Guitar Body Tonewood?

Walnut is not overly common in solid-body electric guitars due to its weight but can be included as the body or laminate tonewood in electric guitars.

Walnut is commonly incorporated into laminate solidbody designs when incorporated at all and often with mahogany. When used in hollowbody designs, walnut’s easy bendability and tone make it an effective back and sides material.

Its tonal characteristics brighten up the overall tone and have the effect of increasing articulation thanks to the relatively fast roll-off of the bright harmonics.

Examples of electric guitars with walnut bodies/tops:

Is Walnut A Good Electric Guitar Neck Tonewood?

Walnut is rarely used as the neck material of electric guitars, though it can be.

Walnut is commonly incorporated into laminate neck designs when it’s incorporated at all. It can be used to improve the attack of the guitar’s notes and impart a brightening effect on the guitar’s overall sound.

Examples of electric guitars with walnut necks:

Is Walnut A Good Electric Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

Walnut is rarely used as the fretboard material of electric guitars, though it can be. It’s relatively soft compared to the popular fretboard tonewood choices (rosewood, ebony, Indian laurel). However, it’s only slightly softer than hard maple, which is a great fretboard choice in its own right.

So, walnut can be a viable choice for electric guitar fretboards. However, its relative softness will likely lead to faster wear. As for tone, it’s great, but it may be a bit too soft for harder players.

Ibanez, a company known for experimenting with different tonewoods, offers electric guitars with walnut fretboards. Gretsch is another notable company that utilizes walnut fretboards in some of its electric guitar designs.

Ibanez is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 13 Best Bass Guitar Brands In The World
Top 13 Best Electric Guitar Brands In The World

Gretsch is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 13 Best Electric Guitar Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Drum Brands In The World

Examples of electric guitars with walnut fretboards:


Is Walnut A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?

Walnut can be an awesome acoustic guitar tonewood thanks to its easy bendability, defined tone across the frequency spectrum, relative hardness and density, and overall aesthetic appeal. It’s a valued tonewood for backs and sides and is sometimes used in necks and even fretboards.

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

Walnut is remarkably easy to bend and work into guitar backs and sides. It’s a great choice for acoustic and classical guitars and is an option available with several big-name manufacturers/brands.

Walnut back and sides will yield a strong low-end and midrange response while maintaining the clarity it’s known for. When combined with a bright top tonewood like spruce, it can be part of a balanced and articulate yet loud acoustic or classical build.

Examples of acoustic guitars with walnut back and sides:

Is Walnut A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Top Tonewood?

Good, loud soundboards are generally made of lightweight yet stiff pieces of softwood and soft hardwood. Of course, there’s nothing stopping luthiers from using walnut as an acoustic top wood. It can even look magnificent.

However, the density of the wood will lead to a quieter, more harmonically dead sound. Walnut will be less resonant and more clear but at the expense of volume, sustain and top-end.

Therefore, it’s largely ignored as an acoustic top wood by small and large guitar shops alike.

Is Walnut A Good Acoustic Guitar Neck Tonewood?

Walnut is rarely used as the neck material of acoustic guitars, though it can be. Like with electric guitar neck designs, walnut is generally incorporated into laminate designs. It’s relatively prone to warping and more expensive than maple and mahogany.

Examples of acoustic guitars with walnut necks:

  • Guild F-55E: 3-piece mahogany/walnut neck (ebony fretboard)

Is Walnut A Good Acoustic Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

Walnut is rarely used as the neck material of acoustic guitars, though it can be. Again, it is hard enough to be a solid fretboard material, but it’s softer than the typical woods chosen for such a task.

Examples of acoustic guitars with walnut fretboards:


Is Walnut A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?

Bass guitars also benefit from walnut in their construction. The remarkable low-end response of most walnut species helps bring out strong fundamentals in the low notes of a bass guitar, while the brightness of the top-end can bring out the character of the bass, particularly in denser mixes.

As with the aforementioned 6-string guitars, walnut is versatile for use in bass bodies, necks and fretboards, though it’s often laminated with a second or third tonewood.

Examples of bass guitars with walnut tonewoods:


Other Tonewoods

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