Most people seem to agree that nut material influences tone. They may say something like – a brass nut, being a very dense material, gives a bright tone; a bone nut gives a warm tone and a plastic nut gives a muddy tone.

Some people, quite a few actually, say that the type of wood that the neck and/or body is made of, influences the tone of electric guitars like Stratocasters and Telecasters.

Basswood is a soft wood and is said to give a warm tone. So, your strings are suspended between a nut and saddles. Metal saddles mounted on a metal bridge, screwed into a soft wood.

So if a string is suspended between a brass nut and metal saddle which is mounted onto a metal bridge, screwed into a soft wood – which property takes precedence and what percent of each contributes to the tone?

This is the point where I’m reminded of the story of a scientist who is accosted by a “flat-earth” old lady who proclaims that the earth is flat and rests on the back of a turtle. The scientist politely asks, “And what does the turtle stand on?”. “Another turtle.”, the lady snaps back.

“Well what does that turtle stand on?” “Listen buster, it’s turtles all the way down!”

The tonewood adherents will say that mounting the bridge on a softer wood gives a warmer tone. And, on the surface, that makes sense. But then, what does the basswood body rest on? Your thigh? Then what are you resting on? A chair? Is that chair on carpet, tile or wood flooring?

Where do we stop? At what point can we say that anything past this point is probably irrelevant?

There are (at least) two things we need to consider –

  • Some people’s hearing is much better than others
  • “Hearing” happens in the brain, not in the ears

It’s my belief, that for most of us, “tonewood” is a mythical quality. But, like a placebo, if you believe in it, it may work.

Me, being more of a tech than a player, I don’t like basswood. it’s too soft to firmly hold bridge screws and others, over the long haul. I’ve had to do too much drilling out; filling with hardwood and redrilling to fix loose bridge screws, strap buttons, etc.

All music instruments, including and maybe especially guitars, are meant for human enjoyment. If believing that your guitar has the best “tonewood” makes you (and your pet turtle) happy – I’m all for it.

Thanks to for the graphic!

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