Would’ve, Should’ve, Could’ve

When making a guitar, what wood should you use? No matter what you choose, someone will always  tell you that you should’ve used something else. If you decide to read up on the topic on the internet, everyone has an opinion. But I wouldn’t trust too many of them. The only people who can really know  how a guitar will resonate depending on the wood are the people who are playing a lot of guitars day in and day out. This means luthiers, repairman, set-up technicians at guitar factories.

2013 Los Straitjackets Galaxie 4 with a Mahogany body


I make and design guitars and I need to take a lot of things into account. The type of wood is important but other things can trump this. Many people will tell you that “mahogany is the best” or “you have to use “ash” and these are safe answers to this very complex question. Yet, the  tone of a guitar can be altered very dramatically by other factors.

When I first started to produce factory-made guitars in Korea, I insisted on using poplar. I owned an old 60’s Mustang that I thought sounded amazing. The guitar had its original finish stripped and I could clearly see the greenish tinge that told me it was poplar (as well as the smell when sanding it). Since I knew that Fender usually used ash or alder and Gibson used mahogany, I went for the poplar thinking this would give my brand its own sonic fingerprint.

This was working fine until the guitars started getting very heavy. I asked the factory to use lighter pieces of poplar but they were still showing up heavier than normal. I decided  to try other types of wood in the hopes of getting the weight down. I specified mahogany, ash, alder and basswood as well as poplar. The guitars became much lighter. Since 95% of my guitars have solid color finishes it was not always obvious what types wood were being used until I needed to do some routing for a custom job. I started noticing lots of mahogany and basswood bodies.

But to my surprise I did not notice a shift in tonality. The guitars were still sounding great and we were still getting the same great reviews. Also, at the time I was supplying the band Los Straitjackets with new guitars and they sounded just as good as ever through their old Fender Vibrolux amps.

Now, I’m not saying there is NO difference in the tonal qualities of different woods. There will always be subtle differences in different types of wood. But I also notice differences in tone when trying out two identical guitar made from the same wood, that came off the same assembly line.

I can tell you that I am not a fan of maple, it is very hard and bright, though it can be warmed up with the right pickup. And pine (from the hardware store) is a little too soft and kind of dead sounding. Any wood that is aged will always sound better. I rarely find and old solid body guitar from the sixties that I can’t get a cool sound out of, no matter who made it.

But that brings me to my last point. Along with the right pickup and decent hardware, the setup is key to the sound. If the strings are not set to the perfect height a guitar can feel and sound completely dead and off. I am fanatical about my set-ups. I do 90% of all the set-ups on our DiPinto guitars and the ones I don’t do I check over from head to toe. For this reason, you can find a guitar made by another company but made in the same factory as a DiPinto, and get far inferior sound quality and playability.

So if you are trying to figure out what wood to use on the guitars you plan to make, all I can tell you is that you should use the lightest and/or oldest available mahogany, alder, bass wood, poplar or ash that can be found. And if you ever decide to buy a DiPinto, you can be assured that the tone of your guitars will be killer because of any one of the light weight resonant woods we use, but also because of a great set-up, a well thought out design and great pickups!

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5 Responses to Would’ve, Should’ve, Could’ve

  1. Phil Henzig says:

    I can attest to the fact that Dipinto Guitars ,their setup and the guitars pickups are are KILLER! Theres 20 some pages on the Gretsch pages forum of Gretsch players ,Los Straitjackets fans that LOVE the Dipinto Galaxie 4! I don’t even play my Gretsch that much any more My Dipinto is my favorite # 1 now !

  2. Rick Bueno says:

    I have a Galaxie 4 and I love it . Great fit and finish. Very happy with purchase.

  3. Dennis Allard says:

    I have two Dipinto guitars and love them both! A 2003 Belvedere Blue Sparkle, and a 2009 Galaxie IV-Los Straitjackets model.
    The Galaxie IV still has a smell of wood from the great playing neck that is rock solid. Both guitars are solidly built and are obviously eye catching with unique playability. I can’t guarantee plying well on these guitars due to my talents but, the sour note I play will be the best sounding sour note as I stand there looking good with these fine instruments! Thanks Chris for the superb instruments you produce!

  4. Bob Hardy says:

    I have already used my Galaxie 4 on a recording for an as-yet unfinished CD, but the people who’ve heard the “preview” have all been impressed! It’s highly articulated and has a very clear, distinct voice. I have done *nothing* to it so far, except fine tuning – there’s been no need to even change the strings yet!

  5. I wanted a new player’s guitar for giging, so I took in couple of axes I had had for a while that I really wasn’t quite satisfied with. Not many guitars in my opinion could touch the Vox SSC-55 and Les Paul Deluxe I gig with. So here I am at GC with no idea what I want from the trade in, but my eyes keep locking in on a new/used Di Pinto Galaxie 4 model in sunburst. I didn’t even plug it in, and truthfully I was a bit skeptical as to whether or not I made a rational decision! Jesus! When I changed the strings I was blown away! I’ll be retiring from teaching this year and will probably be contacting you Chris to build a custom DiPinto, as I heard you are an honest and reasonable luthier. Thanks so much for your excellent guitars and great prices! I’m giging tonight with my Galaxie 4 I just got yesterday. Love the retro looks and feel. Oh by the way, I’ve owned Fender Jazzmasters. My Galaxie 4 totally blows them away. Thanks again Chris, and the best of luck to DiPinto guitars!

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