Most guitar players constantly focus on their gear, pedal, and amps among others.
Although that equipment plays an important role in defining the tone, it is not the only concerning aspect.
Stringed instruments vary in tone, size, and shape but they all have something in common: their main material is wood.
Therefore, today we will break up a curious method that tonewoods undergo to enhance their quality.
You may have heard about Torrefied, Roasted, or Baked tonewoods. Although these are different terms, they refer to the same thing: thermally treated timber. This treatment prevents decay and stabilizes the material making it a better suit for musical instruments.
If these concepts are new to you is common to feel overwhelmed but don’t go crazy, here we are to help you.
Throughout this article, we will explain what thermal treating is, how the process is carried out, and its effects on wood.
What is the point of thermal treating guitar tonewoods?
Wood is somehow the most important source in guitars construction and that’s because 90% of the components consist of this natural material.
Therefore, as instrument manufacturers are in the search of better quality raw materials, here is where thermal treating takes place.
So, it is possible to become bad wood into premium pieces?
Not exactly, what thermal treating does is something different.
The process involves treating wood with heat to make it more resistant to decaying, mold, and fungus plus obtaining an environmentally friendly material.
The treatment comprises placing wood planks in an oven heated between 180º to 250º, a temperature that will usually turn the wood into ashes but the container is previously injected with water vapor.
As a result, the humidity increases to 100% preventing the wood planks to set on fire.
The outcome is amazing, through this steam boiling you get non-poisonous wood with improved stability and less neck relief due to the lower humidity level, in short, a premium timber.
Obviously, the project is scientifically tested before and after the treatment and the studies go from sound velocity, and absorption capacity to tap tone tests.
Is there a difference between torrefied, roasted, and baked tonewoods?
When talking about thermally treated tonewoods we refer to a heating process that modifies the properties of wood.
However, the manufacturers call this method in several ways but does every one of its names evoke an unalike heating procedure?
Well, not really.
If you research, you will find different names such as torrefied, roasted, baked, toasted, and even especially aged but in fact, they are synonyms.
This happens due to each manufacturer adopts a different way to call thermally treated tonewood because they want to show a kind of exclusivity for their own trademark but there’s no noticeable variation from “baked” to “roasted”.
Do heat-treated tonewoods sound better?
Referring to thermally treated timber sound could be a difficult task, as the word “better” is an arbitrary concept this brings a lot of debate.
In general terms, players who own heat-treated guitars will claim that they deliver a superior sonic outcome.
Some musicians affirm that the thermal treatment influences the type of dynamic response and tonal behavior of the instrument.
As a result, both acoustic and electric heat-treated guitars, offer a tonality that gets closer to vintage instruments or old guitars.
Moreover, the treatment also offers enhanced sustain plus a quicker strumming response.
Other features are a broader EQ range and louder projection, especially in the low-end and high frequencies.
However, the only way to know which one is better (at least for yourself) is to try both, treated and untreated instruments and compare their tones with your own ears.
Bear in mind that although this process improves certain aspects of the tonewoods, the sound might not be one of them.
It is said that the improvement obtained is not quite noticeable in terms of tone and volume, and if it is, it wouldn’t be so substantial.
Therefore, don’t let yourself be carried away by other players’ voices, and make your own decision regarding sound performance.
Are these treated tonewoods more stable?
The main goal of thermal treatment is to get a similar outcome to naturally aging tonewood.
That’s because this process modifies certain characteristics of the wood making it a bit weaker and less dense.
As a consequence, the timber can improve the rate of rigidity in relation to weight.
Besides, the thermal treatment delivers a resin-free, non-toxic tonewood resistant to decay resulting in a block of more stable wood.
Are thermal-treated tonewoods really worth it?
Musicians of varied styles are in the search of heat-treated timber instruments, not only for their look but also for their enhanced qualities.
Thanks to the thermal process, these guitars offer a better balance and improved stability for longer periods of time.
But are they really worth it? Well, there are many aspects to consider before being conclusive.
On one hand, we have the improved characteristics already mentioned (stability, stiffness-to-weight, resistance, etc.), and on the other hand their tone.
Despite having said that the tone difference is quite questionable, some guitar players continue to believe that thermally treated pieces provide kind of a vintage tone.
What is more, you will have better quality in other aspects such as durability and stability.
In addition to that, experienced musicians state that these instruments present a more mature sound plus a sensitive tone like old guitars.
Therefore, I would say that if you want to get that sound without busting the bank, go for a heat-treated guitar.
Finally, something important to mention, is that in the early days, when the first electric guitars were made, the quality of available tonewoods was way higher than that what’s usually available nowadays.
Heat treating less stationed, lower quality woods, for many manufacturers is a way of making them comparable to what legendary guitars were built with.
Are thermal-treated tonewoods just a way manufacturers found for using low-quality woods?
At the beginning of the article, we said that poor pieces of wood cannot become premium timber, that is a fact.
Nevertheless, some companies take a profit from thermal treatment in order to upgrade bad tonewoods.
Instrument manufacturers approach this method in the first place to replicate the features existing in naturally aged tonewood.
The interesting thing about the thermal treatment procedure is that accelerates the process mentioned before and that’s why is implemented by different companies.
Another reason is that younger pieces of wood that have not dried sufficiently can improve their quality.
Through the steam treatment, these tonewoods could act as better-quality pieces.
To sum up, thermal treatment is an amazing method to improve low-quality tonewood.
Nonetheless, this upgrade will help but the wood will not meet the standards of high-end timber.
Hello there, my name is Ramiro and I’ve been playing guitar for almost 20 years. I’m obsessed with everything gear-related and I thought it might be worth sharing it. From guitars, pedals, amps, and synths to studio gear and production tips, I hope you find what I post here useful, and I’ll try my best to keep it entertaining also.