Talking about "Tone-woods" is inevitable when it comes to musical instruments, but what really is a tone-wood?
In a nut-shell, it's wood that is specifically selected for Instrument making. When we refer to the guitar-making world, the reality is that historically, a few timber species were first selected for various reasons but primarily for their mechanical and acoustic qualities, appearances and more or less their ease to work with. Availability was of the least concern since only a small amount of material is required to build a stringed instrument and at the time resources were in abundance however expensive. At a time when instruments were made by hand only it was a sensitive and reasonable approach to refine the selection to the very best that nature had to offer since the sheer amount of effort it took to produce any instrument, there was no intention to make anything cheap or easy. Most instrument were destined to have a busy life and needed to be as good as they could be. Masterpieces had to be as much of a work of art as a performance tool. In short species like Ebony, Rosewood, Mahogany, Maple or Cedar just to name a few, quickly became the primary choice for instrument makers because they had the best overall qualities.
Overtime, the development of instrument manufacturing had its effect, thus generating an increase in supply, pushing the price of instruments down and driving the demand up. The 20th century saw the resource of those exotic tone-woods rapidly deplete almost to the point of extinction for some. To this day tradition remains strong amongst luthiers in general around the world, and for those who have continued to build and use guitars the same way they were back some hundreds of years ago, those exotic and marvellous species will remain the only valid choice to make instruments. Regardless of their justified opinions, it has now been proven countless times that when it comes to guitar making, it's not the wood species who will prevail in the overall quality of an instrument but rather the craftsmanship. It's the ability of the maker to master the subtlety of each species and marry them together in an elegant balance of structure, design, ergonomics and aesthetics who will define the complexity of the tone of the instrument. It is also established that due to the organic nature of the material and despite some peculiar characteristics of any species, two instruments made from the same parts by the same maker will always sound different, because wood is like us. Every tree is unique and has its own voice. Every wood is a potential tone-wood...
For an electric guitar, the amount of tone generated by the wood is somewhat even harder to perceive compared to an acoustic instrument. It certainly has its impact but the sound that most people hear will come from the pickups once amplified. Nevertheless, the choice of timber remain an important point of focus for electric guitars as it still carries many important roles. From a players' perspective, the weight-balance, the feel of the neck, the resonance and the looks all account for the playing experience.