Standard Soundboard Characteristics
The top is the primary generator of sound in a guitar, and will largely determine the volume and response of the instrument. Softwoods are used for their combination of lightness and strength.
Spruce: This stiff, strong and light wood produces volume, immediacy and power. The sound improves noticeably with age, particularly in the first couple of years. Spruce offers a strong focused tone, and a prominent fundamental note.
Sitka Spruce is the hardest of the spruces, with the greatest elasticity to weight ratio. Guitars incorporating Sitka spruce are consistenly loud and punchy. Although a tonal difference is extremely difficult to discern between Engleman spruce and Sitka Spruce two materials, one might expect Sitka to have a brighter sound based on its strength and stiffness. Its colour is generally pinker than Engleman, and grain lines are more pronounced.
Engleman Spruce is popular among guitar makers for its creamy ivory lustre and uniform grain lines. It is a softer tonewood offering a pleasant sweetness and refined sound.
Western Red Cedar
Although certainly not considered a ‘traditional’ soundboard material, Western Red Cedar is rapidly gaining acceptance as a fine tonewood. Typically, cedar topped instruments offer an immediate maturity and richness to their tone – something that frequently takes months to achieve in a spruce topped instrument. Cedar is warmer and sweeter sounding than Spruce, having a somewhat weaker fundamental note, but with abundant rich overtones. It is a softer material than both the aforementioned species of spruce, and needs to be treated with a little extra care by the player. It ranges in colour from pinkish brown to chocolate brown, and many tops have ’skunk stripes’ or radical colour variations across the grain.