Many customers message us wondering what paulownia wood is and tell us that they have never heard of it before. While I am not here to get into a debate about how wood affects sound, I do want to discuss some of the properties of the wood and why we use it in order to help people looking for information about it.
For those of you who are die hard ash guys and will refuse to play a lighter weight guitar, paulownia may never be for you, however, as an affordable resource that works excellent for guitars, if you are thinking about working with a paulwonia body or buying a guitar that has a paulownia body, maybe this will help.
How it looks
Paulownia wood looks beautiful, it has a light colored tone which helps to expose attractive grain patterns. The grain patterns themselves are sometimes streaked in colors of purple, green, and blue. We have many ash bodies here in our shop with excellent grain pattern, as would be expected, and I would say that the paulownia wood really gives the ash a run for its money when it comes to looks. Especially when it is stained, more on that further down.
Working with paulownia
Although paulownia is a lightweight wood it is surprisingly dense and holds a screw exceptionally well. We have not seen any increase in dents or dings compared to other wood types that we carry and the material itself is not subject to warping or cracking compared to other wood types, even in bad weather conditions. Machining the wood does not wear down tools as much as other wood types and routing times are decreased due to less cutting path friction. This quality of being easy to tool works out great for home builders since piercing the holes for pickguard and hardware screws can be easier.
Affordability is a large benefit of using paulownia wood for guitar bodies not only to our customers but also to us and to the rest of the world. Paulownia is an extremely fast growing tree. A young tree can grow up to 20 feet in a single year. Although many guitar companies have built mystique around certain wood types over the years, the reality is that factories use certain wood types simply because they are species that A. grow nearby, B. Are plentiful., and C. Are good for building guitars. This wood is located near our factory which makes it very practical to source, which then enables us to give guitar enthusiasts awesome deals on quality guitar bodies. Many woods are becoming increasingly expensive as tree forests become depleted and we are seeing more and more companies in the guitar industry searching for guitar building alternatives. In our experience with building guitar bodies, paulownia wood is an exceptional candidate as a main future resource, especially compared to some of the plastic materials that are currently in trial on production guitars today.
Disclaimer, this is not an anti tone-wood stance. I know very talented luthiers who make amazing guitars using exotic woods. I am referring to large mainstream companies who are mass producing guitars.
Paulownia is a lightweight wood, while some prefer a heavier guitar, we find there are an equal amount of people who are looking for lighter weight guitars. Some experience fatigue when performing at lengthy shows with a heavy guitar, have health conditions, are going to use lots of heavy hardware pieces for their build, or simply prefer a lighter weight guitar. Most of our paulownia bodies weigh in around 3 - 3.5 lbs. When assembled, a guitar with one of our paulownia guitar bodies usually comes out to around 5.8-6 lbs. We have not had any issues with neck dive or imbalance and think that this is a great weight for an electric guitar.
I wanted to save this one for last as it is my favorite part about the wood. The way that it can absorb stain. If you are going to stain your guitar body or use an oil finish, paulownia wood will soak up the pigment like a sponge. Out of all the wood types we carry, none of them take a stain as well. The pores in the paulownia wood soak up the dye very well leaving extremely rich colors. When using the right stain paulownia wood can easily start to resemble wood types like mahogany and walnut.
Ok fine the sound....
I am a believer that wood matters in an electric guitar about as much as you want it to. If you hear something different in the sound, or think a certain wood type feels better under your finger tips when you are playing, use it. Bottom line is that some people just like to get into the finer details of things and others don't. Our paulownia bodies have given life to many guitars that sound great, and have excellent sustain. I would say that if I sat on the couch with a paulownia bodied electric guitar unplugged it may seem like it sounds a little bit "brighter" and maybe a bit more "resonant". Next I would say that once I turn up the volume on the amp these unique qualities that seem to be independent of the electronics start to fade. Does it all go away? Would it feel different if I could magically have the wood type instantly swapped to swamp ash instead to A B the difference? Probably... Does it matter? Maybe?
Until next time!
Thanks for reading and please feel free to leave a comment if you have anything to add.
And remember to support paulownia wood as a quality resource for guitar building as we all play our part in evolving the guitar industry, it is a great material for instruments and we have a lot of it to go around!
Some additional resources if you want to read more about paulownia wood
http://www.paulowniatrees.com.au/History.htm - Carbon credits and some history.
http://www.wood-database.com/lumber-identification/hardwoods/paulownia/ - Wood database with comments.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paulownia - Wikipedia page on paulownia wood.