At the heart of every great Gibson guitar there are great tonewoods. But do you know your mahogany from your maple, your spruce from your cedar?

For a great acoustic guitar, great wood is paramount. And it’s the same for electric guitars, even if you can feasibly make an electric solidbody from any solid material.

Here’s a quick 101 on just some of the finest woods you’ll find on some Gibson's 2016 acoustic guitars…

Spruce
The most common spruce used for acoustic guitar tops now is sitka spruce, grown in the United States and Canada. The trees are tall and in plentiful supply. Spruce tops offer a strong, loud acoustic guitar with good sustain and a wide dynamic range. Spruce often improves with age, perhaps more-so than other woods, say many luthiers. For tops, it's just a question of visual appeal!

Find Spruce tops on 2016s: Gibson J-45 Standard, Gibson J-45 Custom, Hummingbird Vintage (thermally aged), Hummingbird Vintage, Hummingbird Standard and Limited Edition Hummingbird Red Spruce, Songwriter Deluxe Studio EC, L-1 Blues Tribute and 1932 L-00 Vintage (also red spruce), SJ-200s and many more.

Here’s 2016's Gibson J-45 with AA grade Spruce top and the stunning Limited Edition Hummingbird Red Spruce.

Gibson tonewoods

Gibson tonewoods

Mahogany

Durable, attractive and resonant, mahogany is a regular choice for backs, sides and necks. Mahogany first became popular in guitars because it was more affordable than rosewood. On acoustics, Mahogany tends toward a “twangy” tone but, some say, not as deep-sounding as rosewood.

Some Fab-o-philes reckon the Beatles’ early acoustic sound was due to their use of Mahogany Gibsons and Epiphones. Right now? Gibson has many models that marry a spruce top with mahogany body and neck.

Find mahogany backs, sides and necks on 2016s: Hummingbird Ebony, Hummingbird Standard, J-45s, LG-2 American Eagle, J-35, L-1 Blues Tribute, J-45 Red Spruce Figured Mahogany Special and more.

Gibson tonewoods

Gibson tonewoods

Rosewood

Warm and rich-sounding, Rosewood is a classic guitar tonewood. You’ll find it on numerous Gibson acoustics and also on numerous Gibson fretboards.

Although Rosewood is a naturally oily wood, a rosewood fretboard needs some care. Tip? A regular rub with lemon oil will keep a Rosewood (or Mahogany) fretboard looking and feeling new. Note that you don’t need to do so much with a Maple fretboard as it is usually lacquered.

Find rosewood backs and sides on 2016s: J-29 (mahogany neck, rosewood 'board), Songwriter Studio and Songwriter Deluxe Studio EC, Western Classic Mystic Rosewood and more.

Below is the Gibson J-29 and beautiful Mystic Rosewood.

Gibson tonewoods

Maple

Flame maple is a stunning wood – you'll know that from the tops of a classic Les Paul electric. Quilt maple is even more eye-popping. And maple looks just as good on acoustic backs and sides and offers great tone and projection too. You'll often find it on big-bodied Gibsons.

Find maple backs and sides on 2016s: J-185 Quilt Vine, SJ-200 Amber Quilt and SJ-200 Standard (flame maple)

Walnut

Walnut is a fine-looking and sounding wood and it's more affordable than some other options, too. Walnut tends to have a bright top end, but with a more present midrange, somewhere between mahogany and rosewood. Married to a spruce top, you'll get plenty of twangpower, offering low ends and crisp highs.

Find walnut on 2016s: the bargain J-15 and the SJ-100 (figured back and sides)

Gibson tonewoods

Koa

Koa is Hawaiian wood, which naturally means supply is limited. Koa has a variety of rich golden colors, from light to relatively dark and beautiful swirling grain. Tonally, it has much of the warmth of Rosewood yet also much of the brightness of Mahogany. Note that some folks confuse koa with korina (used on early Gibson Flying Vs, and other models) but korina is an African wood. Know your wood!

Find koa on 2016s: the Limited Edition Songwriter Koa, Firebird Koa and Hummingbird Koa Elite (with a AAA grade koa top, too!) Stunning.

Gibson tonewoods

Acacia

Acacia is often compared to koa, but with over 1300 variations of acacia alone, a generalization is tricky. It generally produces a deep woody tone and it looks simply fabulous.

Find acacia on 2016s: (small bodied) L-00 Acacia Special and Dove Custom Acacia

Gibson tonewoods

Sound and Vision

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All Gibson guitars are a unique blend of tone, looks and playing comfort. But what sort of buyer are you? Is the tone of your Gibson acoustic the be-all and end-all? Or are you more interested in what a Gibson guitar looks like? Let us know...

Use Your Eyes and Ears

All guitarists judge with both their ears and their eyes. On heavily-colored/lacquered guitars, you might not even see the wood grain, but it’s still good to know what wood is used on the Gibson guitar you want to buy. Bodies, tops, necks and fretboards could all be different timber across different models. Not by accident, but by design.

And that’s what makes guitars so fascinating. Other woods are used by Gibson on top of the above, of course. That’s why building a Gibson guitar is a science.

It’s your own choice, but as a very brief tonal synopsis...

Spruce = Bright
Mahogany = Woody
Rosewood = Even-tempered and rich-sounding
Maple = Bright and versatile
Koa and Acacia = Clear but balanced

Wood is key to any guitar’s sound, so it’s best to know even a little bit. Please discuss!