Sitka vs Engelmann Spruce for Guitar Tops: Which is Better?

Published Categorized as Buying Guides, Guitar selection

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Sitka vs Engelmann Spruce

The Sitka vs Engelmann debate could go on and on – and no one would win because what sounds better to you, well it sounds better to you. Full stop.

So why write a post about Sitka vs Engelmann?

Because it’s not so much about which is better – but rather which is better suited to you.

So if you’re debating between a guitar that has Sitka or Englemann Spruce as the top, read on to see which might suit your needs better.

Table of Contents

Context for the Englemann, Sitka Choice

Whilst it is true that Englemann and Sitka have different sounds qualities, and one may be more suited than the other for a particular purpose, it’s also true that the points below will hold true to varying degrees.

What do I mean by that?

Well ,if all else was equal, then the difference between Engelmann and Sitka is profound. But that assumes that the bracing is the same, the back and side woods are the same etc.

Elements other than the top also have a big influence on tone, dynamics, sustain etc. So, one Engelmann topped guitar may sound closer to a Sitka topped guitar, if the two are quite different in other ways (such as back and sides and bracing) than it would if everything else was the same. Or it might sound even more different.

O.k. with that out of the way, let’s take a look at the qualities of each top wood and what those qualities are best suited to.

Sitka Spruce compared with Engelmann

let’s take a look at the qualities of each first and then take a look at the differences and what each are best for.

Engelmann Spruce

engelmann spruce color

Engelmann spruce can also be known by a host of other names including

  • White Spruce
  • Silver Spruce
  • Mountain Spruce

It is native to North America. European Spruce (also known as German Spruce – even though it typically doesn’t come from Germany these days) is sometimes also called Engelmann Spruce – however, this is a different (though similar) species.

Engelmann has a creamier, whiter color to it than Sitka (hence the sometimes nickname, White Spruce).

You can get Engelmann in different grades including AAA, AA, A and 2nd grade. The quality of the wood will also affect how it sounds.

The Tonal Qualities of Engelmann Spruce

Engelmann is lighter weight and less stiff than Sitka – this allows the top to vibrate more (limited of course by other factors – particularly binding).

This, among other things, means that the overtones produced are stronger and richer than they are with Sitka spruce. it’s a more complex tone and the mids are stronger than Sitka too – giving a slightly smoother sound. It’s a less compressed sort of sound too because of those extra vibrations.

What does this mean for Who it’s Best Suited to?

The biggest thing that this means is that – it’s going to produce a different sounding tone – and if you prefer that tone then maybe Engelmann is for you.

But you’ve also got to think about how you play.

Engelmann will produce quite a different tone depending on if you play guitar softly or more vigorously. Because of the larger vibrations and the abundance of overtones, Engelmann will help a softer player produce a richer, more dynamic tone.

However, if you play too aggressively on Engelmann (all else being equal of course) the sound can become a bit washy. What I mean by that, is that the sound won’t be as clear and defined.

So, as well as tonal preferences you should also consider the way you play guitar.

Sitka Spruce

sitka spruce color

Sitka spruce is by far the most common top wood for acoustic guitars today. For example, most of the Martin 16 Series Acoustic Guitars have Sitka spruce.

And for good reason. It is a very versatile wood. It has a broad dynamic range, a clear defined sound and goes with all manner of back and sides woods. You can play loud and you can play soft and Sitka remains consistent.

it’s strong and elastic and can handle plenty of abuse from the less careful guitarist and guitar builder a-like.

Like Engelmann, you can get Sitka in different grades and the better the grade the better the sound – generally speaking. Some grades you might come across are AAAA, AAA, AA, A, and 2nd grade.

The Tonal Qualities of Sitka Spruce

Sitka is heavier and stiffer than Engelmann – this produces a more controlled, more consistent, more compressed kind of sound.

There are less overtones and there is less complexity going on – which means that whether you play loud or soft you get a clear, more defined sound than you do with Engelmann.

No surprise then that it’s the most common top wood.

Does this make it better than Engelmann – not at all. For some guitarists and some purposes, yes – for others, no.

What Does This Mean? Who are They Best Suited to?

There isn’t really a guitarist that isn’t suited to Sitka – which is what makes it such a popular option.

Of course it will depend on your tonal preferences most of all. If you like the sound of Sitka (and again that sound will differ greatly depending on other factors such as binding, back and sides wood and the size and shape of the guitar) then it’s a great choice.

In terms of playing, it’s great for a wide range of players from soft players to more vigorous players. If you move between playing softly and playing harder a lot (as a lot of guitarists do) then it’s an awesome choice.

If you typically play on the softer side then I would suggest giving Engelmann a try.

Check this discussion between some that prefer Engelmann and some who prefer Sitka.

Thanks for Reading

I hope this post has helped you to learn more about the differences between Sitka and Engelmann spruce and helped you to decide which might be better for you. Remember that the best way to tell is to hear and play it for yourself.

Of course, Engelmann and Sitka are but two types of top wood. There are plenty of other top wood options (including other types of spruce). Check out my blog on Best Tonewoods for Acoustic Guitars to learn more about other types of top woods and back and sides woods.

FAQs

Is Engelmann Spruce better than Sitka?

Whether Engelmann Spruce is better than Sitka Spruce for a specific purpose, like guitar tops, largely depends on the desired sound and application. Engelmann Spruce generally offers a slightly softer, more responsive tone with a richer midrange, making it well-suited for lighter playing styles. Sitka Spruce, on the other hand, is denser and more robust, offering a broader dynamic range and better handling of aggressive strumming and higher volume. So, the choice between them should be based on the specific tonal qualities and playing style you’re looking for, rather than one being universally better than the other.

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 :-)

2 comments

  1. Hi there,
    Found the article very useful. The simple explanation was really full and objective. It’s helped me to have an idea of the most suitable woods to look at.

    Well done.

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