Spruce vs. Cedar Tops For Acoustic Guitars: A Comparison

For many people, tonewoods are one of the biggest factors that is considered when purchasing a guitar. After all, they have a significant effect on how the guitar sounds, each of them having its own characteristics. 

For acoustic guitars, in particular, the tops naturally get the most attention, and two of the most popular materials used for them are spruce and cedar. In this article, we will go over the key differences between these two fantastic tonewoods for your acoustic guitar so you can decide which one to have for your next one.

Why Acoustic Guitar Tops Are So Important

The top, also known as the soundboard, is the single most crucial component of an acoustic guitar since it transmits the strings’ vibrations and makes the sound resonate. 

Because of this, the choice of tonewood for the guitar top greatly affects the overall characteristics of the instrument since various types of wood have distinct properties that contribute to the guitar’s tone, projection, and responsiveness.

As mentioned in the introduction, spruce and cedar are two of the most commonly seen tonewoods for acoustic guitars, whether regular steel-string or nylon string and classical guitars. As you keep reading, you’ll learn more about the qualities that distinguish them to help you find the right one for you.

An Overview of Spruce Tops

Spruce is easily the most popular type of tonewood used for acoustic guitars and can be found in countless instruments across different price ranges.

Spruce tops can be identified due to their light color and straight grain pattern, and it’s known for their stiffness and hardness, allowing them to vibrate freely and produce a bright and vibrant tone. In acoustic guitars, Sitka spruce is the most commonly used one, but there are several other types of spruce, too, like Engelmann, Lutz, and European. 

Despite different kinds of spruce, the general tonal characteristics of spruce are often described as clear, focused, and well-defined.

It is highly responsive to the player’s touch, which can contribute to its wide dynamic range, making it suitable for various playing styles and genres.

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Spruce also projects very nicely, and it’s often the preferred choice for live performances because its sound carries well and can cut through the mix, which is helpful if you’re playing with other instruments on stage.

Although it’s evident that millions of people love spruce for their guitar tops, some might consider their sound to be too bright or harsh, and this may be viewed as a con of spruce tops, but it highly depends on your preference. However, if you have an acoustic-electric guitar, it’s possible to filter out the high-end frequencies that may be too overwhelming for you with an EQ.

Alternatively, those who don’t want such a bright-sounding guitar and want something with more warmth and depth may prefer cedar instead, which you will learn about next.

An Overview of Cedar Tops

Cedar is another popular tonewood choice for guitar tops, known for its warm and rich tonal characteristics. While not as commonly used as spruce, it comes in 2nd place and is revered for its sound quality. 

Dark, warm, mellow, rich, and full-bodied are all things you can describe as guitars that use cedar tops, which can be spotted due to their natural beige to reddish-brown hue. This can vary because, like spruce, there are different kinds of cedar, such as Port Orford, Western Red, and Canadian, to name a few.

Because it is less dense and more lightweight than spruce, it results in a softer and more delicate sound full of harmonic content with a strong midrange presence. This makes it ideal for players seeking a balanced and intimate sound.

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While spruce tends to project better than cedar, this tonewood is still great for live performances, especially if you’re a solo player who loves fingerstyle playing. Many classical guitarists prefer cedar tops because of their tone profile and responsive attack, making them suitable for delicate fingerpicking on a classical guitar. 

The sound produced by cedar tops tends to mature quickly, offering a well-rounded and complex tone from the beginning, whereas spruce tops tend to age over time, improving in tonal complexity over the course of years.

However, one downside to cedar is that it can get dented and dinged easier than spruce because it’s a softer wood. However, you can minimize the likelihood of damaging your instrument by keeping it in a sturdy case for various acoustic guitars or one made for classical guitars. 

That doesn’t mean that spruce isn’t susceptible to such issues, though! Just like any guitar, you’ll still need to care for and maintain it despite being the more durable of the two tonewoods.

Conclusion

Now that you’ve learned a bit about the pros and cons of spruce and cedar tops, you can decide which is most suitable for you.

Do you prefer clarity and projection? Spruce might be ideal. On the other hand, if you like a richer and more in-depth tone, you may like cedar. Aside from the sound characteristics, each of them has different advantages that you may want to consider too, and you might prefer the look of one over the other too. 

Instruments made from either of these woods can be outstanding and create beautiful sounds, so weigh out your preferences and try different ones if you get the chance. I know it might be hard to decide because I’ve run into this dilemma, too, but you really can’t go wrong with either. They’re both popular for a reason!