The weight of a guitar can be a touching subject. There are those who think it doesn’t matter, while others won’t touch an instrument if it’s a few ounces overweight.
In each Guitarist review, we weigh guitars, so if we comment “that’s a good weight” you know exactly what that weight is. Likewise, we could say that the guitar is rather heavy: again, you can see precisely its weight in the specification list.
Heaviness should be on your radar if you’re buying a guitar body at the start of a piece casting build. Considering weight may not be a direct indicator of the final sound of your build, but it can certainly affect your enjoyment of the finished instrument if it falls outside of an accepted weight range.
Most guitar styles have a range of weights, but, of course, we’re talking about the total weight of the instrument, not just the weight of a body – the heaviest piece of real estate in your build. But what percentage of the total weight does this body represent?
Well, using a Wilkinson type S kit gives us an idea in that we can weigh the neck – which we assume is less likely to vary, in terms of weight, as much as the body – and even the parts, which are also pretty consistent in weight.
So with the neck at 0.56 kg (1.23 lb), which will be slightly lighter in practice as it has a still unformed paddle head, and all parts at 1.12 kg (2.47 lb ), we have a total of 1.68 kg (3.7 lb). To bring an S-type guitar to about 3.18 kg (7 lbs), we would need a body of about 1.5 kg (3.3 lbs). If we had a body of around 1.8 kg (3.96 lbs), we would probably end up closer to 3.48 kg (7.7 lbs). These are obviously rough numbers, but you get the idea.
For many players, light is best. But why? A super light body can affect the balance of the strapped guitar and, in extreme cases, cause the neck to dive. A heavier body will remedy this and the guitar should feel more centered on the strap.
For many of us, however, playing the guitar seated (probably strapless) can be just as important. Here, a heavier body can mean the guitar tends to slip off your right leg – something Les Paul owners will know.
His? This is the hardest part to predict. We know the common name of the body wood and hopefully its weight, but we don’t know the condition or how it was dried (which can also affect the weight). And will the sound be affected by whether the body spread is made of one, two, three or more pieces of the quoted wood?
This is a harder aspect to quantify, but keep in mind that one-piece bodies will cost a bit more than multi-piece bodies. Unsurprisingly, lightweight one-piece bodies generally cost more as well; heavier three-piece (or more) bodies, even of the same type of wood, will generally be cheaper.
Assumptions about how a piece of wood, like the body of a guitar, will sound are far from definitive. Alder is probably the most common bolt-on wood and would be my recommendation as the preferred choice for your partscaster bolt-on construction.
Ash can look more interesting with its strong wavy grain and while this makes it a popular choice for translucent finishes, its weight can vary widely. As we have reported, however, American ash is becoming less readily available and more expensive as a result.
Light ash (or swamp ash) can also be expensive; heavier ash is heading squarely into boat anchor territory. Other choices include poplar, basswood, and lesser-used woods such as obeche, which can be very lightweight.
Of course, you can always cross tonal trails using a “Gibson” wood, like mahogany, with or without a flame maple top. But be careful not to make too many assumptions here. Having made and played bolts constructed from just about anything imaginable, from hardboard and plywood to synthetic marble substitutes, I’ll say one thing: with those three single coils in place, it’ll sound like a Strat.
There’s a history to Tele-style semi-solid bodies, Strat types too, and there’s no set rule here either. Semi-solid and chambered designs are used to reduce weight or create a “hollow” that is sometimes difficult to quantify. Can you hear the difference between a lightweight nine-hole Les Paul and one that’s all solid? Discuss…
I don’t want to get into the whole ‘wood sound’ debate here, but I would suggest sticking to the recipe which, simply put, suggests a lightweight ash body for a 50s-style build, usually with an all-maple neck and alder body for a ’60s-style construction with a rosewood fingerboard.
That said, I put together a partscaster a few years ago using a DiMarzio neck (maple with a rosewood fingerboard) and a mostly mahogany body – a “rock” twin-humbucker S-type that still sounded great – and c was a good weight, too. The beauty of Fender’s modular design means you can always swap out a body or neck down the line.
Finally, I would suggest considering pickup routing. If you go for SSS and then want to try HSS, you’ll have to rout the body, which isn’t easy without the right tools. I chose an HSH route for this current build and in theory that should mean we can use any pickup setup, with just a little modification, simply by swapping out the scratchplate.