I don't like playing the tone game. There are millions of experts out there nowadays, chiming in with their 2 cents of electric guitar wisdom… convinced they can hear the minutest of nuances brought about by the age of the wood, or the screws in the pickguard, these gurus spread a LOT of useless information. Having been in the guitar business for a couple of decades now, I believe I have the right to be tired of it. And I am.
You could A-B two exactly identical guitars, made from the same boards, same batch of electronics, same pickup winder, same amp, same player.. the guitars will sound different. Not much different, but when played immediately side by side the small differences will be audible. Does that make one better than the other? Maybe.. but I doubt it.
I think it's important to understand the true hierarchy of tone creating elements in the electric guitar. Wood is only part of it, after all.
#1- "the player". the person playing the guitar has more influence over the tone of an instrument than any other factor.
#2- "scale". The speaking length of the string, the distance between nut and bridge, increases in tension the longer it gets when tuned to the same pitch. This greatly affects the nature of the vibrating string and so has a huge influence on the tone.
#3- "quality of materials and construction". A good guitar plays well, and stays in tune. First and foremost. To do that consistently over time it has to be constructed with great care. Joinery is everything in guitar making. Clean-fitting, well-set joints throughout the guitar will produce a stronger tone as well as increased stability. Tonewoods are obviously a factor here, as is the type and quality of hardware used in holding the strings over the frets.
#4- "pickups". Pickups are microphones/filters. They are reading the vibrating string, the character of which is determined by #'s 1-3 above, at the same time imparting their own particular harmonic qualities in the process. This balance is a critical factor in a great sounding guitar.
So there you have it! The 4 basic food groups. All of the variables lie in those ingredients, and in the strings of course.
For me, after having played thousands of guitars through all the best old American and English tube amps, I arrived in my 'area' of guitar sound preferences. I think it has mostly to do with your favorite music, but for whatever reason I like the "Gibson-Marshall" model. Some people really love the "Gretsch-Fender" model, or the classic "Fender-Fender" model. They're all great... but as a builder I'm definitely drawn to the Gibson camp. So... I use a lot of mahogany, I use the 24.625" scale, & I use a set-neck, angled headstock design. That gets me in the ballpark. The rest of course, is the quality of the joinery and hardware, and the choice of pickups.
I only write this because the real joy in playing the guitar is in the playing of it. I don't play now as much as I should, but I have logged in a lot of hours in my time. Even when my gear was crappy, the thrill from playing in a band was incredible, and that's what I always try and think about when I'm making guitars. A guitar has to inspire you to pick it up, so it has to appeal to you visually. You're going to play it hard so you'll need it to stay in tune and not break strings. It has to work every time, and it has to sound great. That's my job. The rest is up to you.
-Mark Fuqua, 2013