Recently, I ran across another discussion in an online forum debating the characteristics of various tonewoods in electric guitars. In case you've never visited a guitar forum and witnessed this, the debate surrounds the influence that different species of wood have on tone, or the voice, of the guitar.
One side claims the different species absolutely effect the tone. Maple is brighter than Ash, which is brighter than Alder, which is brighter than Mahogany, for example. The other side says "Wood? How can wood have an effect on an electric guitar? It isn't part of the electronic signal chain!"
So, I found a Professor at Georgia Tech, a prestigious engineering institution, who holds a Bachelors in Music Performance and Recording Arts and Sciences as well as a Masters and PhD in Mechanical Engineering. I asked him the following questions:
In the guitar building community, there is an ongoing debate regarding the effect that various species of wood, used in the construction of the necks and bodies for solid-body electric guitars, have on the tone (or what I would consider the voice) of the guitar. For example, it is a widely held belief that mahogany (a more porous wood) body guitars produce a warmer tone while maple (a less porous wood) body guitars produce a brighter tone. As it relates to solid-body, fully electric guitars only, how could the choice of Ash, versus Alder, Mahogany, Maple, etc., directly influence the tone of the guitar? Is it possible for different species of wood to effect the electromagnetic field surrounding the guitar's pickups, which would in-turn effect to frequency response of the signal and cause some guitars to sound "warm" and others "bright"?
The Professor, from whom I did not seek permission to use his name so I won't disclose it, provided the following response:
Thanks for reaching out. This is CERTAINLY a controversial topic as you know.
From a simplistic point of view, the body should make no difference to the sound. The pickups are so close to the strings and the wood exhibits no electromagnetic properties. In this basic model, the assumption that the body makes no difference would be a correct one. However, people will trust their ears and their perception/feel more than basic models. More complex models look at the motion of the solid body and how the physical vibrations of the transducer might have a noticeable effect on the electromagnetic response. (Editor's Note: this link works occasionally: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Helmut_Fleischer/publication/233595733_Mechanical_Vibrations_of_Electric_Guitars/links/561b67b508ae78721f9fca8c.pdf) Other people have looked at particular joints of the guitar body/neck and how it might affect the vibrational characteristics. (https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-00810874/document)
You can try to contact the authors of those papers for more of their research. I find as a musician, the feel of the instrument can affect the perception greatly. If the weight or the density distribution, or the texture (or anything else) is off, then it’ll affect my acoustical judgement of the instrument. I would hypothesize that in most scientific studies, with rigorous statistical analysis, it’s hard to say one way or the other. Thus why it’s so controversial.
Here’s another paper that may interest you: http://hal.upmc.fr/file/index/docid/810875/filename/hal-00810875.pdf
So, there you have it. The definitive answer. Or not. My take-away is this: if you believe you hear a difference, then there is a difference.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go practice Voodoo and over-wind some pickups to add extra mojo to offset the brightness of a solid Maple body, Ebony fretboard, and titanium saddles on the guitar I'm building.