This is a tough question because there is sort of two answers. The first answer is that shape really doesn’t affect the sound of an electric guitar since electric amplification is basically an application of Lenz’s law…essentially vibrating strings over magnets create an electro magnetic field (EMF). Well, this mechanism allows motion to be turned into energy and, in this way, variations in this EMF (frequency signals) are sent through the guitar via electronics and hence into your amp. That’s the more or less simple explanation. On the quest for the perfect sound side of things – quality guitar headphones with the right guitar amp, will enable a guitarist to appreciate their work – let’s save this for another discussion though.
So..the short answer is that “shape” doesn’t affect tone that much. The much ballyhooed Gibson “Log” guitar is often listed evidence of this fact. Also, if you’ll look at all the hundreds of shapes of electric guitars out there, I think you’ll agree that shape probably doesn’t stack up high on the list. I’m not saying shape doesn’t affect the tone, I’m just saying there are other factors that weight in more heavily.
What people are really asking when they ask this question is what affects the tone of an electric guitar. Honestly, there are so many different contributing and complementary factors to how a guitar sounds that it’s pretty difficult to generalize them. The five broad areas include:
1) Aspects of the guitar itself
2) Playing style
3) Amplification system
If I just focus on number 1 above then I’ll give you *opinion* on the things that affect the tone of the instrument itself. They are probably in this order.
1) Your fingers. Look, if Eric Clapton plays a $10,000 Fender or a $100 Chinese knock-off, he’s going to sound like Eric Clapton. The quicker you get the idea the most of your tone comes out of your fingers, the easier life will be.
2) Pick-ups. Think about the pick-ups as the guitar’s “voice” – the better the pickups, the better the voice.
3) Woods and construction. Now, above I went through a whole thing above about how shape does not really affect tone. That is true in a general sense, but thickness and density of the wood, chambered bodies, and various other construction techniques can change the resonance, string energy transfer, and other qualities that ultimately get “picked-up” by the pick-ups. I’ll extend this thought to include bridge and nut styles as well (e.g., graphite, bone, chrome, brass, Floyd-Rose, string-through, stop-tail, etc.)
4) Strings. I find various strings to have different qualities in both feel and sound – largely due to thickness, construction, and materials. All of these things affect how I play and how the strings vibrate.
5) Electronics. Hey – the signal has to be routed, doesn’t it? Crappy wires + crappy pots = crappy tone.
Did I forget anything? Please post a comment below!