Mahogany and rosewood are both great tone woods for acoustic guitars, but they produce very different sounds. In this article, I’ll compare the use of mahogany and rosewood on acoustic guitars to help you decide which is the best option for your next instrument.
The Quick Answer
Rosewood on the back and sides of an acoustic guitar produces a rich and bright sound whereas mahogany produces a warmer and fuller tone due to its flatter EQ and more mid-range emphasis. Rosewood guitars look more striking due to the unique grain, however they are usually more expensive and rarer.
|Mahogany Acoustic Guitars
|Rosewood Acoustic Guitars
|Warm and full sounding
|Rich and bright sounding
|Flat EQ with slight mid-range hump
|Scooped mid-range with more bass emphasis
|Dry and subtle tone
|Rich in overtones
|Common and less expensive
|Rare and more expensive
|Dark wood with a subtle grain
|Dark wood with a very prominent grain
Rosewood on an Acoustic Guitar
Rosewood is primarily used on the neck and the back and sides of an acoustic guitar’s body and is rarely used on the top of the body. This is because it is a very dense wood so the guitar would be very heavy otherwise. It’s also quite expensive and rare so is typically used on high-end acoustic guitars.
Rosewood has a warm tone which is dense in overtones. This means that it has a rich tone which is very popular for fingerstyle players but less commonly used for strummers as it can sound a bit heavy.
In terms of the EQ, rosewood has a scooped mid-range. The bass-frequencies are very prominent and the treble is slightly boosted. Often, rosewood is paired with a spruce top which brightens up the tone.
There are two main types of rosewood:
- Brazilian: very prominent grain, sounds the clearest and brightest.
- East Indian: less prominent grain, sounds the warmest and darkest.
The use of rosewood on acoustic guitars is getting less frequent due to restrictions placed in its export by the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The most sought after type of rosewood, Brazilian is the most difficult to get hold of.
Tonal Characteristics: rich and warm. Mid-range scoop with emphasis on the bass frequencies.
|Pros of Rosewood
|Cons of Rosewood
|Rich in overtones
|Well-suited to fingerstyle
|Export restrictions make it rare
|Can sound too heavy for strumming
Mahogany on an Acoustic Guitar
Mahogany is primarily used on the neck, back and sides of the body but it can also be used on the top of the body. It is a very common wood which is widely used on both entry-level and custom-shop acoustic guitars. It has a dark appearance with a subtle grain.
Mahogany acoustic guitars are often described as sounding warm and full. The EQ is fairly flat, but with a slight mid-range hump which gives it a lot of depth. However, the lack of treble response means it can sound a little passive.
This wood suits a range of music styles and can be used for strumming and fingerpicking. However, it really excels for rhythm playing due to its warm tone that doesn’t cut through the mix too much and interfere with the vocalist/ lead player. It’s suitability for fingerstyle is debated. Some players appreciate the warm and full tone, but others prefer something with more clarity and brightness.
It’s also worth noting that mahogany guitars can be paired with other woods on the top of the body (e.g. spruce) to make up for the lack of brightness it provides.
Tonal Characteristics: warm and full. The EQ is fairly flat with a slight mid-range hump.
|Pros of Mahogany Guitars
|Cons of Mahogany Guitars
|Inexpensive and widely available
|Lack of clarity and note separation
|Warm and full tone is good for rhythm
|Not the most unique looking wood
|Pairs well with most top woods
|Not very loud
Mahogany acoustic guitars sound warmer and fuller whereas rosewood acoustic guitars sound brighter and richer. Mahogany has more mid-range emphasis, whereas rosewood has more treble and bass emphasis and is richer in overtones.
Both tone woods can be used for strumming and fingerstyle. However, mahogany guitars excel more at rhythm playing due to their fuller but more subtle tones, whilst rosewood guitars work really well for fingerstyle playing due to their bright and rich sound.
Check out this YouTube video to hear a comparison between spruce-top guitars with either rosewood back/ sides or mahogany back/ sides.
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