Rosewood vs Mahogany: Which is the Best for Back and Sides?

Published Categorized as Buying Guides, Guitar selection

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Blueridge BR 160 Solid rosewood back and sides

This post is going to look at Mahogany vs Rosewood in terms of their characteristics when used as the back and sides of a guitar.

First let’s take a look at the tonal characteristics of each and then we’ll see which is better.

Table of Contents

Mahogany

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Cordoba Mini II FMH, Flamed Mahogany, Small Body, Nylon String Guitar
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Mahogany is a wood that is used for both acoustic guitar tops (soundboards) and for back and sides.

Mahogany is a fairly dense/hard wood and is relatively heavy and strong-ish.

When used as a top it produces a warm, earthy, mid-range dominant sound with subtle overtones. Highs are typically soft and not overly pronounced.

When used as back and sides it can either be used with a mahogany top or it can be paired with a different top wood.

For example it can sometimes be paired with Sitka Spruce. This pairing can mellow out the sound of the spruce a bit and beef up the mid-range. It adds a more beefy character and reduce overtones.

(Learn more about characteristcs of tone woods here)

Mahogany back and sides

Rosewood

Our Top Pick Rosewood Guitar

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Rosewood is much denser/harder and stronger than mahogany. This is why it is also used a lot for bridges and fingerboards.

it’s not used as a top for guitars because it’s a bit too dense and wouldn’t vibrate well as a top. But it works wonders as back and sides – if it produces the kind of sound you are looking for.

Rosewood also has strong mids like Mahogany but it expands its tonal range in both directions. It produces pronounced lows and crisp highs. So it’s not as mid dominant.

It has a very full, resonant sound with a large dynamic range.

It also has rich overtones as opposed to Mahogany’s more subtle overtone character.

Rosewood vs Mahogany: Which is Better?

When it comes to Mahogany and Rosewood the answer to which is better is a very big: depends!

Tonally

Tonal characteristics often come down to personal preference and that is certainly the case with Rosewood and Mahogany.

Perception of Sound

tone preferences

Firstly, everyone perceives sound differently.

So to some they prefer the softer highs and the more-meaty midrange sound of mahogany and might find Rosewood too crisp and resonant for their ears.

On the other hand to some people’s ears Rosewood sounds distinctive and well-rounded and they might find the sound of Mahogany too “muddy”.

Style and Sound Preferences

The other thing that depends on what is best for you is the type of music you want to play and the sound you are looking for.

Mahogany is often sought after for blues but it is also very versatile – especially when used as back and sides with a different top wood.

If you’re looking for a warmer, softer, mid-rangy sound, then mahogany top and back & sides might be for you. Or if you are just looking to mellow out a crisper sounding top like Spruce then it’s also great for that.

Rosewood is also very versatile and will of course differ depending on the top that you pair it with. It is said to be particularly good for blue grass because of its full lows and bright highs but it really can be used for anything that requires a bright, resonant full sound with distinctive lows and highs.

Guitar Style and Shape

I have heard some people say that they prefer Mahogany on bigger bodied guitars and rosewood on smaller bodied guitars.

This is perhaps down to the fact that they might find Rosewood too much on already loud resonant guitar but they like it on a smaller bodied guitar because it’s not as overpowering – and maybe Mahogany doesn’t produce enough in a smaller guitar for their ear.

This isn’t necessarily going to be the case for you but it’s another consideration to take into account.

Playing Style

Everyone plays the guitar differently.

Some people play very “brightly” whilst others are said to have “dark hands”.

If you have dark-hands then something like rosewood can be good to bring more brightness and resonance to your playing.

On the other hand if you have “bright hands” then rosewood may make your playing sound too bright. In this case Mahogany might be a better option to mellow out your bright hands.

For more discussion on the differences between Rosewood and Mahogany check out this forum. You’ll get a good picture there of how some people prefer mahogany and some prefer rosewood.

Other Options

Of course mahogany and rosewood are only 2 back and side options and there are many other choices out there.

Check out the link below to learn more about the characteristics of more back and sides woods and top woods.

Thanks for Reading

I hope you have learned more about rosewood and mahogany and which might be the best for your purposes for the back and sides of the guitar you choose.

The best way to tell what you prefer is to experiment playing different guitars with difference wood combinations to see which works best for you.

What do you prefer? Did you have a preference before reading this? Do you have one now? There’s no right or wrong answer but I’d love to hear your preferences in the comments below. Any other questions or comments very welcome as always.

Other wood comparisons on my blog:

FAQs

Is rosewood guitar better than mahogany?

Mahogany guitars are often praised for their strong midrange presence and excellent projection, making them well-suited for strumming and playing in a band context. Rosewood guitars are commonly associated with a responsive, clear sound and are favored by fingerstyle players and those who seek a well-rounded sound. However, the tonal qualities of a guitar depend on various factors, including the guitar’s construction, body shape, and the specific type of rosewood or mahogany used. It’s recommended to try out guitars made of both woods and see which one resonates with your playing style and tonal preferences.

Is mahogany or rosewood better for strumming?

Mahogany guitars are often favored for strumming due to their strong midrange presence and excellent projection. But there isn’t a definitive answer as to which wood is “better.” Both woods can work well for strumming, but they offer different tonal characteristics that may appeal to different players.

Is rosewood the best for guitar?

Rosewood is highly regarded and widely used in guitar construction, particularly for the fretboard and sometimes the back and sides. It is known for its unique tonal characteristics and visual appeal. That said, the question of whether rosewood is the best wood for a guitar is subjective and depends on personal preferences and the desired sound.

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)

12 comments

  1. This was extremely helpful. The best information and comparison I have found for mahogany vs. rosewood guitars. Thank you!

      1. Excellent comparison and explanation. Can a solid spruce top with laminate rosewood back and sides classical gutar be good for flamenco?

        1. Hey Vikky.

          My greatest word of advice would be that anything can be used for anything. The greatest technological and stylistic shifts occur as a result of people using what aficionados would call the wrong thing for a certain style of music. So, even if a solid spruce top with laminate rosewood back and sides classical guitar is not good for flamenco traditionally (which it probably is anyway), I would encourage to use it regardless.

          Good luck out there, Vikky!!

  2. MARTIN DX1AE VS MARTIN DX1RAE
    is there any real difference? which one did you like better?
    assuming that you tried both..

    1. Hi Gili

      I haven’t tried both, unfortunately – so I couldn’t say for sure. I did get one comment from someone saying that the particular laminate used by Martin on X series guitars doesn’t make any difference to the sound. In my experience from other guitars with laminate back/sides, the type of laminate does make a difference – but in this case apparently not. Though I can’t confirm that. I do hope to play these two side by side soon, to see for myself.

  3. I have a jumbo acoustic guitar with a rosewood back and sides. The top is mendelson spruce. I also have a dreadnought with mohagany back and sides. The top is Sitka spruce. The first guitar is an LLTA by Yamaha. The latter is a Martin D-16-E. Both have great projection, but the tones are equally different in comparison. However, I prefer the Martin D-16-E over the Yamaha LLTA for some of my original tunes, and some original tunes are better on the Yamaha LLTA. Some particular originals require both. It depends on the feel of the action over the other. The Yamaha LLTA has a wider and thicker neck, which I use for more of the faster Rock tunes, as where the Martin D-16-E, I tend to use it for mellower and picking style tunes, for the action is easier to play because the neck is thinner and not so wide as the Yamaha LLTA. I’m slowly figuring out which acoustic guitar is best suited for certain styles of my original songs. It’s been a very interesting journey experimenting between the two…

  4. my D-18 with mahogany back and sides sounds much clearer and brighter than my D-28 with rosewood back and sides. I find the bass end richer on the D-18 and I find the upper strings of the D-28 sounding muted compared to the D-18. Maybe its just me

    1. Hey Drew.

      These kinds of things are always going to be personal and in some way subjective, but it is the belief of many that if you train your ears enough, you can hear the same thing as your fellow man.

      Thanks for stopping by,

      Nate.

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