The tone of an acoustic guitar is mainly influenced by the tone woods used on the back, sides and top of the body. Two common tone woods include spruce and mahogany, and they both look and sound quite different from one another. In this article, I’ll directly compare spruce and mahogany acoustic guitars to help you decide which you prefer.
The Quick Answer
Mahogany acoustic guitars sound warmer and smoother with more mid-range and bass response compared to spruce top guitars. Spruce guitars sound louder and have more treble emphasis making them popular for strumming whilst mahogany guitars are often selected for fingerpicking.
|Emphasis on the mid-range and bass||Emphasis on the treble frequencies|
|Warmer and fuller sounding||Brighter and thinner sounding|
|Less volume||More volume|
|Darker appearance||Lighter appearance|
|Popular amongst fingerpickers||Popular amongst strummers|
|Used on the top, back and sides||Use primarily on the top|
Mahogany as a Tone Wood
Mahogany is a very popular tone wood and is used on many acoustic guitars. Mahogany can either be used on the back and sides of the guitar, or on the top as well. However, it is much more common to see a guitar with a mahogany back and sides and another wood on top, than it is to see a guitar with a mahogany top and a different wood on the back and sides.
It is well known for it’s warm and smooth tone which is well suited to fingerpicking as it is not quite as loud as some other tone woods including spruce. It terms of its appearance, mahogany is a dark wood with a distinct grain.
- Unique dark appearance
- Warm and smooth tone is good for fingerpicking
- Not very loud so often less popular amongst strummers
- More emphasis on the bass and mids compared to the treble resulting in some loss of clarity
Spruce as a Tone Wood
Unlike mahogany, spruce is typically only used on the top of the acoustic guitar. Spruce is the most common type of acoustic guitar top wood and is often paired with either rosewood, mahogany or sapele on the back and sides of the instrument.
Spruce top guitars have a bright and chimey tone due to the extra emphasis placed on the treble frequencies compared to the mids. This makes them sound more “scooped” in comparison to other tone woods such as mahogany. Spruce is a good wood for volume, making it popular amongst strummers who want to use a louder guitar.
Most spruce top guitars have a light appearance, but you can get some darker variants such as red spruce.
- Spruce top guitars look the most “classic”
- Produces plenty of volume for strummers
- Can sound a bit loud and “in your face” for some music styles and fingerpicking
- Lack of mid-range means it may sound thin in some circumstances
Mahogany guitars sound smoother and warmer compared to spruce top guitars which sound brighter and more crisp. This is because mahogany produces more bass and mid-range emphasis compared to spruce which has more treble emphasis.
Spruce tops also sound a bit louder compared to mahogany tops so it is often selected for strumming, whereas mahogany guitars are well-suited to fingerpicking.
One isn’t necessarily “better” than the other, it’s all personal preference. Some players like the more subtle warm tones of a mahogany top guitars, whilst others prefer the loud and punchy sound of a spruce top guitar.
It’s also important to consider the back and sides of the guitar. You’ll notice a far greater difference in tone between an all-mahogany guitar and a spruce-top guitar compared to guitars which have the same back and sides but the only difference is in the top wood.
Whilst mahogany is commonly seen on both the back and sides and the top of the guitar, spruce is primarily used just on the tops. You can find both mahogany and spruce tops on guitars with many other woods on the back and sides including rosewood, sapele and walnut.
Here are some YouTube videos which highlight the differences between the sounds of mahogany and spruce guitars.
Example #1 Solid Mahogany vs Spruce Top (Same Back and Sides)
- Both guitars are travel-size Taylor GS Mini models
- Guitar 1 has a solid mahogany top with laminate sapele back and sides
- Guitar 2 has a solid spruce top with laminate sapele back and sides
The mahogany body has a warmer tone with more mid-range compared to the scooped quality of the spruce top Taylor GS mini which sounds brighter and more shimmery. The mahogany guitar sounds a bit more even and balanced across all the strings in my opinion compared to the spruce top guitar here.
Example #1 Laminate Mahogany vs Spruce Top (Same Back and Sides)
- Both guitars are dreadnought style guitars
- Guitar 1 has a laminated spruce top with laminated mahogany back and sides
- Guitar 1 has a laminated mahogany top with laminated mahogany back and sides
In this comparison the differences are slightly harder to tell because both guitars have a mahogany back and sides. This means that even the spruce top guitar still sounds reasonably warm. You can still here the same pattern though, being that the mahogany top sounds a bit darker compared to the more shimmery spruce top.
Example #3 Solid Mahogany vs Spruce Top (Different Back and Sides)
- Guitar 1 (left) mahogany top, back and sides
- Guitar 2 (right) spruce top, rosewood back and sides
Here you will probably be able to notice the biggest difference between the two guitars since they have different back and sides as well. The all-mahogany guitar has a much warmer and darker tone with more mid-range compared to the spruce/ rosewood guitar which has much more treble emphasis to give it more brightness.
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