Tone Wood Discussion
This page is a work in progress, as I can find time to update the various categories
Before I continue….Please be aware of anything that sounds too good to be true.
If a guitar is priced too low, given woods and construct, there must be a reason.
As you can probably imagine, it is probably NOT a good reason.
Does this apply solely to guitars? No….of course not.
Make no mistake…Brazilian RW, Cocobolo and other quality woods for tops or backs, do not come cheap, are very difficult to work with,
taking many hours to prepare properly. There is a reason that these woods are expensive.
They are difficult to find in “quality”. There is a difference between what one board supplier calls Master Grade and another supplier calls AA grade
They are difficult to find in any quantity, becoming rarer by the year.
They are difficult to prepare, requiring anywhere from 20-50 hours of prep time alone.
Say a master luthier (I do not use the term loosely either…there are master luthiers and then there are guys who think they know how to build a guitar) spends an average of 30 hours on a back for a guitar.
What is the bench-rate that we would apply to that cost? $30/hour…$40?…$50? Or do you believe that some of them should work for less than $8/hour? But I digress….
So where does any builder get off charging $1500-$2500 for a Brazilian or other exotic Rosewood “high end, master grade, masterpiece, getting sick ad infinitum” guitar given
1. the cost of the wood…2. the cost of the prep time….3. the cost of the “other” materials, i.e. tuning machines, top woods, ebony, headstock, neck, bridge material, tools, finish time (which is huge btw!), hard-shell case, shipping, insurance, utilities, and other myriad costs, never you mind the actual building of the rest of the guitar?
Really, think about this a bit before you’re wowed by the Brazilian RW CG being sold for cheap. Or the Cocobolo, or the Honduran, or the Burmese RW….
There is a reason. It will never be a good reason.
Sitka Spruce - Sitka Spruce can be quite stiff, where it’s main use is in Acoustic Steel strings, testament to its toughness. Thinned and tapped properly by a master luthier, one can achieve a brighter ringing across the spectrum, especially in the trebles. This wood in its better grades, will evidence silk or medullar rays across its grain. Bear-claw markings across the grain may also be evident.
Adirondack Red Spruce - Quality wood in appropriate size is very difficult to come by in these times. The wood gives us a very bold, forceful tone with exceptional clarity. This is one of the reasons you will find this wood used in vintage instruments. Finding quality boards of master grade is rare.
Engelmann Spruce - This spruce wood can be very uniform and consistent for the builder. A bit softer than typical German Spruce, this wood primarily comes from the Canada. The wood can be a bit stiffer than your typical Sitka Spruce. Finishing to a gorgeous gloss in the hands of a master builder, it produces some fantastic looking and sounding guitars.
Redwood - Numerous well built guitars that I’ve had using Western Redwood of good stock have produced an instrument with a very woody sound, very clear as you would find in a good Spruce top, yet warm as you would find in a regular Cedar top. Richly brown and red, sometimes with gorgeous markings, this wood produces some beautiful ringing tones. The wood must be older growth for appropriate stiffness needed in a quality instrument and should always be harvested responsibly.
One of my favorite all time guitars was made with this incredible wood – Hippner #506
Western Red Cedar - A wood that is well known to be stable regarding environmental conditions, she is a soft wood, with warm coloring, warm tap tones and a straighter grain. Some of the finest guitars are being produced using this gorgeous ruddy wood.
Port Orford Cedar - Stiff and light this wood is less prone to splitting, which may be why it is used in some of the finest violins and cellos. A beautifully clear sound is evident in these tops, yet able to evidence a warmth that may be a bit surprising. One of my personally favorite top woods, I wouldn’t ignore a well made guitar using this wood.
Italian Spruce – same species as European Spruce, though different characteristics due to climate and environmental issues. A beautiful Spruce, from the violin, viola, and cello makers of Cremona and surrounding areas. Crystal trebles, tight grain to be almost imperceptible, the trees of this wood typically grow at high altitudes of at least 1000 to 1500 meters above sea level, they are long lived and highly resistant to the cold weather. It is also known as Hazel Spruce which is usually very light, elastic where planing of the wood will cause a shimmering. Harmonic tapping and the purity of such, regarding this wood is clearly evident.
An incredible example of this wood can be found in an instrument built by Woodley White in 2009
German Spruce - also known as European Spruce, Picea Abies - German Spruce is a common term for Spruce coming from Europe, but it is not really accurate as guitar grade Spruce has not come out of Germany for many years now. They are typically found from Norway to Central Europe including Yugoslavia. Master Grade boards can expect the excellent, slightly golden-colored tonewood that, for years now, has been the staple of the bowed instrument world, and is always a favorite among high-end steel string and classical guitar builders.
BACK and SIDE TONEWOODS
East Indian Rosewood - By far the most popular sound wood available, it is known for its workability and consistency. Given the numerous examples of this tone wood that I’ve seen over the decades, it is remarkable to note the various color ranges, where some have fooled me into thinking that I was looking at Brazilian Rosewood. Ruddy looking to deep and dark brown, straight-grained, and extremely stable, it is a favorite amongst the many top-notch luthiers out there such as Kenny Hill, Friedrich, D’Andon, Ken Whisler, Pete Barthell as well as numerous Spanish builders, etc.
Brazilian Rosewood - Difficult to work with, difficult to get (legally), Brazilian Rosewood is the benchmark for all other Back woods. Dense and wet, she never really stops leaking. It’s denseness lends itself to a strong and bold tone, with crystalline ringing in the trebles.
Luthiers must work with dried specimens (and I’m talking years here), wiped with acetone, glued quickly, filling with pumice and shellac, and doing it numerous times. Even the best luthiers have trouble filling in the pores, where over time, the shellac still seeps in, leaving little check marks and or pocking marks. Subject to cracking, especially in less than ideal and consistent humidity and temperature conditions, the luthier and the player both must consider their environment at all times.
Much like Cocobolo, even more so, this wood commands a premium of anywhere from $1000-$2500 from a master luthier, given its rarity, its scarcity and its difficulty to work with in the luthier’s hands.
Anyone selling it for less than a premium has no idea what they are doing. I have seen too many examples of poor workmanship and poor preparation by the so-called “luthier” when it comes to Brazilian RW or other exotic and oily woods. Go cheap and you will get what you pay for, I guarantee it, i.e. Paraguay? <shaking my head in disgust>…what? I speak my mind…get over it…ha!
Cocobolo Rosewood - A beautiful wood in appearance as well as in workability. The wood ages to a superb and rich, ruddy brown complexion, sometimes with black streaking, lending a very handsome affect to superb guitars using this wood. Equal in temperament to Brazilian Rosewood, she evidences beauty and tonal quality throughout the spectrum, being heavier and wetter than most rosewoods. Its denseness is what lends guitars built with it to bring forth a very strong and bold tone. A bear to work with for the luthier, the woods must be cured (exactly like Brazilian RW) and glued properly.
This wood commands a premium by the luthier and rightly so. It can be difficult to work with, its dust is considered dangerous, but when done right, it is a superior back wood used in some of the finest guitars. Please see our Jose Oribe 1994 Gran Suprema featuring exceptional use of this gorgeous wood.
Macassar Ebony - A stable and handsome wood, it is a pleasure to work with as she bends and glues with a bit more facility than others. Guitars usually evidence a very even tone across the spectrum built with this wood. The evident alternating striping of this wood is very appealing. She can also be quite expensive in the best examples.
Koa - Hawaii’s version of Rosewood, she can be tough to work with but the results are most rewarding. Much like a porous Rosewood, she requires care by the luthier with respect to filling and preparation. The high tones achieved by Koa coupled with an excellent top might leave you wondering why luthier’s have not chosen to work it until recently.
She can be Curly in her appearance, with golden coloring and dark streaks,, she is a handsome wood as well as tonally consistent.
Ziricote - Ziricote is the most dramatic member of the Cordia genus and stands apart from other exotic woods due to it’s unique grain lines that frequently depict spider webbing, marbled swirls, cloud bursts, mountains, valleys and other captivating patterns. The heartwood is reddish brown with irregular chocolate or black streaks that tend to form abstract art within itself. These color tones contrast nicely with the sapwood which ranges from creamy vanilla to golden tan. Artisan craftsmen are fond of incorporating this sapwood into their projects to maximize the final visual impact. It is a stunning combination indeed! See an example of this wood used by Ashley Sanders of Australia
With a density higher than rosewood, Ziricote turns very well. It is able to take a very smooth finish and a high polish. Ziricote is slightly brittle but also known as a good steam bending candidate and is proven to hold nails and screws well. This exotic hardwood is easy to work by hand or machine and is stable in use. Ziricote wood has a medium to fine texture and a straight to slightly interlocking grain. It has a tendency to develop end and surface checks during drying, but is stable afterwards. Quartersawn surfaces will sometimes display ray or flake patterns similar to Hard Maple. The highly figured spider web grain is similar to what can be found in Brazilian Rosewood only more complex. Surface has a natural waxy appearance and takes on a satin finish with simple sanding. * taken from savagewoods.com (come on, I gotta love that website LOL)
I will add to this Page as I find more time. Thank you kindly for your attention. Rich 631-335-5447