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.
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, add a more beefy character and reduce overtones.
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.
Which is better?
When it comes to Mahogany and Rosewood the answer to which is better is a very big….depends!
Tonal characteristics often come down to personal preference and that is certainly the case with Rosewood and Mahogany.
Perception of Sound
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.
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 the link below. You’ll get a good picture there of how some people prefer mahogany and some prefer rosewood.
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.