Tonewoods

   

Select Woods

I am most content when I buy my wood personally from specialty lumber shops around the west coast. This way I know exactly what I am getting. Living near a main port city gives one some advantage in this respect. The selection can be limiting, though. Only a fraction of exotic lumber meets my standards for luthiery. However most tonewood dealers are fairly reliable for quality. I either buy it in set form or as planed stock pieces that I resaw myself.

The grain on any component is quartersawn. This means when you view the end of a board the growth ring or grain lines are perpendicular to the face width. This configuration allows the least expansion of the plate arising from temperature or moisiture changes.

I look for wood that has tight consistent grain with minimal runout or imperfections. All wood that I use is dry to less than 7% moisture content. I keep my workshop properly acclimatized to meet the care concerns of the average player.

I am available to answer any questions you may have regarding wood and it's related affect towards tone, stability and color.

Choosing a Top Wood

The soundboard or top is the most important component of an instrument. Choosing the right one makes a difference, although I use only species which are proven winners. Western red cedar is the most abundantly available tone wood for me and thus you will notice on my price lists, it is the most affordable. If you are unsure about what would suit you, here are some lowdowns on the tone, density and colour of the top woods that I generally use:

Sitka Spruce is the most dense top wood I use. Colour is from cream to slightly pinkish. Has a very balanced and tight response. Sitka spreads out more tonality in the high registers and has crispy bass character.

Engelmann Spruce falls somewhere in between sitka and cedar. It's higher cellular resin content brings in a deep richness in tone but slightly more balanced than cedar. A bit more woody sounding than sitka.

Western Red Cedar.The two grades of cedar I offer do actually have a small difference in tone. Generally cedar is a very 'woody' sounding species. Quite punchy and warm. The 'streaky' kind (left photo) is very dense at around 50 grains per inch in the center and is tighter sounding than the regular (right photo) which is a bit softer and warmer. All in all you would want to pick one mainly to suit the look you like.

I have also used Appalacian spruce (red spruce) but it can be hard to find and price varies all the time. Contact me if you are interested in this or other top woods or have any questions.

Choosing the Body Wood

The tonewood chosen for the body of an acoustic instrument will lend around 25% to the final tonal character. This is lower than the significance of the top wood but has a bearing to be considered. Here is my impression of the main tonewoods I offer. Feel free to ask me about other options:

Honduran Mahogany is the 'woodiest' sounding tonewood I stock. Warm and loud. Kind of thumpy. Nice bass and warm trebles. A soft hardwood with colours ranging from tan and pink to caramel. Some lenghtwise ribbon-grain shimmer.

Paduak (pronounced 'pad-OOK') is similiar sounding to mahogany but a little tighter trebles and balance. Fairly dense hardwood with initial colour of reddish-orange changing and oxidizing to a deep red and brown with excellent ribbon grain appearance. Smells like cinnamon when worked.

Flamed Maple, also known as fiddleback maple, is a crisp and and very tight-sounding hardwood. Often used for mandolin family instruments or jumbo guitars. Light cream colour with intense cross-grain flame figure.

Indian Rosewood is the industry standard for a well balanced and rich sounding tonewood. Excellent response in all frequencies with defined sustain and no boominess. Beautiful color ranges from red to light brown with dark-caramel streaks, but usually runs to various shades of purple-brown which oxidize to a deep broan shade.

Flamed Koa is a beautifully figured hardwood from Hawaii. Wonderful warm presence in tone and lacking the boominess of mahogany but similiar in volume output. Expensive due to it's rarity. Comes in a golden colour with accentuated brown grain highlights. Sometimes in a darker brown to dark-greenish shade.

These are the main woods I have used but I have also made instruments from Cocobolo, Bolivian rosewood, Walnut, Wenge and others. Let me know of a particular colour or tone scheme that you have in mind.

– Lawrence

 

 

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