Why out of pine? Wood choice

The pine wood is not really considered a „tone wood”. It’s been said many times that it’s not hard and dense enough to be used for guitar bodies. Yet, „Martha” will be made mostly out of pine. Read on…

There’s a common belief that the body of an electric guitar should be made of so called „hard wood” and it’s mostly due to the resonance and stability. While the latter is indeed important the former is partially a myth. Why? Because most of the tone does not come from wood (as opposite to acoustic and classic guitars) but from pickups. Electric guitar pickup doesn’t work by picking up the vibrations of the guitar body but by transferring changes in an electromagnetic field – changes introduced by metal strings’ vibrations – to the receiver that is an amplifier or another kind of “electrical device”.

While the density and resonance can sometimes affect the sound (I’ll get back to it another time) it’s certainly not the most important factor here.

The stability though, is. Metal strings of an electric guitar can carry a tension of even up to 180 pounds at the end of the neck and at the bridge mounting. That’s a lot. Pine can carry it however.

First thing to know though is that under the common name of pine there’s over 150 kinds of trees and the wood characteristics may significantly differ among them. One of acknowledge ways of recognizing the type of pine is “by region of origin”. Most of the “diy guitar makers” forum are American and the pine is “by default” considered an American Pine. And it’s much different from European/Syberian Pine.

For example:

An American Pine, known also as Weymouth Pine or White Pine, is a soft wood occupying last and 3rd from the end positions among popular woods on Janka Wood Hardness Scale.

An European/Syberian Pine, known also as a Scots Pine or a True Pine, is over three and a half times harder than the American one. On the Janka Wood hardness Scale it’s placed above such popular “guitar wood” as Teak, White Ash, Hard Maple. It’s also just a little below, surprise, Wenge and Rosewood.

The bottom line is: pine is as good as any other popular “luther wood” as long as it’s a “right kind” of pine. Fortunately, European Pine, is one of the most common and commonly used in a building and furniture industry woods here. We’ve got plenty of good pine, you just need to look for it.

The point is that the “fresh” pine is full of resin. It can also be quite wet because the way “from the plantation to the store” is extremely short. Nobody cares about proper “seasoning” and drying it. It’s also cheap.

In my opinion that’s the most significant reason why in Europe pine is also considered a “bad wood”. While it really is not.

“Martha”, my guitar, will be made out of European Pine, except the neck of course but I’ll get back to it. I happen to have some pieces (I think at least three solid bodies could be made out of it) of it that are over 30 years old and for all that time they were stored in a warm, dark and dry environment. It’s in excellent condition, it’s easy to work with and it’s quite lightweight. It also resonates nice when you knock on it so it will work just great.

And next week – I’m finally starting the “real” work so keep your fingers crossed. Photos will come too.