Plug “agathis guitar wood” into a search engine, and you’ll find scores of forum posts debating whether or not this is a “good” guitar wood. There may not be a more controversial tonewood out there. Should you throw all your agathis guitars away, or is agathis not as bad as it’s made out to be?
Agathis is a good guitar wood for people who don’t mind compromising tone for affordability. It’s especially perfect for beginner guitarists. However, since agathis isn’t as resonant or durable as other tonewoods, experts and tone connoisseurs should stick to other higher-quality wood.
Let’s take a closer look at this unfairly maligned guitar wood and whether or not you should buy an agathis guitar.
What Is Agathis Wood?
Agathis wood is a genus of 22 kinds of trees, found primarily in the southern hemisphere. They’re in the conifer family and therefore stay evergreen all year round.
Agathis is also called “Kauri” and “Dammar” wood. It’s mainly found in islands on the South Pacific, such as New Zealand and Borneo. Because it grows so plentifully in those areas, it’s a little more affordable than alder, which has similar properties to agathis.
Agathis is widely used for the bodies of guitars. Still, some guitarists swear that they would rather burn an agathis guitar than play it.
Some of the reasons that guitarists avoid agathis are simply myths. Let’s take a look at these reasons.
Agathis Lacks Tonal Properties
If you’ve heard that agathis wood will dull or mute your sound completely, you’ll be happy to know that this isn’t true. All guitars are made of wood with tonal properties.
“Tonal properties” refer to the sonic character that a certain kind of wood will give the sound of a guitar.
Mahogany body guitars will generally sound warm, and rosewood fretboards will sound bright. These slight sonic differences are often imperceptible to the casual listener, but musicians who crave that perfect tone swear by their favorite wood.
Agathis isn’t known for its strong tonal properties, which is why some players may believe that it has none at all. (We’ll go into more depth about agathis’ tonal qualities later on.) However, that doesn’t mean that it dulls your sound entirely.
Agathis Is Ugly
This is more subjective, but for novice guitarists who aren’t familiar with the appearance of guitars made of different kinds of wood, you may have heard that agathis is a particularly unattractive tonewood.
In fact, agathis is what is known as “unfigured” wood. Unfigured wood is marked by its plainness—unlike maple or mahogany, you usually won’t get a woodgrain pattern or other markings.
This can actually make your guitar a great canvas for painted-on designs. I’ll discuss this further later on in this article.
Agathis Wood Downsides
Even though none of these myths are actually true, there are some real concerns with agathis wood that may cause some guitarists to avoid it. Here are a couple of those reasons:
The Tonal Qualities Don’t Match Other Tonewoods
It’s true that all tonewoods aren’t created equal. Agathis wood has a quick attack and gives off a relatively balanced tone. It’s not, however, very resonant or rich. That’s why some players will vastly prefer maple, mahogany, or spruce.
Agathis Can Damage Easily
Agathis is a softwood, meaning that, unlike some other woods, it’ll bend with a little amount of pressure. That means agathis guitar bodies will damage much more easily than many other kinds of wood.
If you’re a touring guitarist who’s constantly carrying your instrument from room to room, owning an agathis guitar may be a liability.
Agathis Wood Upsides
Despite all these downsides, there are some benefits to buying an agathis guitar that you may not expect.
Agathis Guitars Are More Affordable Than Other Wood Guitars
Agathis wood is more affordable than other woods. In fact, it may be the most affordable kind of tonewood for the bodies of guitars.
Fender Squier guitars are frequently made with agathis. Even though they aren’t as high-end as Fender’s Stratocasters or Telecasters, they’re still a reliable brand that makes consistently quality guitars.
Experienced guitarists looking to upgrade their guitar collection probably won’t have much use for agathis guitars. Beginners who probably won’t notice the difference in these subtle guitar tones, however, might find that agathis guitars suit their needs perfectly.
You Can Easily Paint Agathis Guitars
Agathis isn’t a figured wood. Figured wood has a slightly rougher, grainier appearance than unfigured wood, which is usually relatively plain.
That might make agathis less attractive than mahogany on its own, but it does make it ideal for one thing: painting an image over it. Painted guitars are usually not meant to undergo wear and tear since overplaying a painted guitar will eventually wear the art out.
If you want to make a beautiful, unique guitar that looks like a work of art, this kind of wood will work great.
Some Agathis Guitars Will Still Have Great Tones
Even though tonewood affects your tone, it’s actually not as important as some people think it is. In acoustic guitars, the kind of wood you have will affect the tone more profoundly. However, in electric guitars, it doesn’t matter nearly as much.
Because electric guitars mostly get their sound from their pick-ups and amplifiers, the kind of wood that the sound bounces off of becomes less relevant. If you’re worried about your agathis electric sounding bad, invest in a great effects pedal, or install humbuckers.
Some players also argue that guitars with set-in necks on agathis bodies will have better tonality. If that’s the case, then the difference may be barely noticeable. However, if you want to squeeze as much tone out of your instrument as you can, consider a set-in neck.
How To Improve Your Agathis Wood Guitar
Can you make your guitar made out of agathis wood sound better? That all depends on what kind of guitar you have.
Unfortunately, if you have an acoustic guitar made of agathis, there isn’t much to do about this. That’s because acoustic guitars derive all their sound from their body. Instead of using an amplifier to make the strummed strings sound louder, it uses the hollow chamber of the body to do it. The kind of tonewood that an acoustic guitar is made of will dictate how it sounds.
So, if you’re thinking of improving your acoustic agathis guitar sound, that may not work well. If sound quality is a priority to you, it’s best to invest in a better quality guitar. Of course, if you’re just starting out, an agathis guitar is good enough to help you practice and improve your skills. You can always upgrade your guitar later on.
If you have an electric guitar made of agathis, the best thing you can do is install a great set of pick-ups. The kind of pick-ups you have attached to your guitar is the most important thing when it comes to how it sounds.
To get a sharp, punchy sound, you can invest in a high-quality set of single-coil pick-ups. For a deeper, richer sound that defines some expensive guitars, go for humbuckers, or double-coil pick-ups.
Agathis is a common tonewood used for the bodies of many guitars. It isn’t known for its richness or resonance, but it’s more reliable and durable than you might believe just from scanning guitar forums.
Plus, there are benefits to owning an agathis guitar that you may not expect, especially if you want to paint your instrument.
If you’re looking for a guitar that’ll fit your budget, agathis is a great option for you. If you want a guitar that’s known for its tonal qualities, however, consider looking out for other kinds of tonewood.