Woodsound Studio - The fine art of Lutherie since 1975
 


Fine Tone Wood for Our Instruments
and the Musical Instrument Trade

Although there is an ever-decreasing supply of fine tone wood, I have, over the years, been able to locate the finest tone woods available for my instruments. I was not happy with the wood supplies most wood dealers had on hand until I located the best wood cutters, with sustainable forests and a reverence for their wood.

In my early years of study I knew that the classical designs and woods for guitars and violins came from the forests of Europe, especially the spruce for tops of both the guitar and violin family instruments. At first I built my guitars from both European and Sitka spruce. Those early instruments as well as my work with a variety of violin family instruments led me to the belief that, while Sitka spruce from the Pacific Northwest and Alaska is an excellent wood that can be made into a very good guitar, especially a steel string guitar, the tone of orchestral instruments suffers greatly when this wood is used because it lacks power and brilliance. Guitars, both steel string and classical, also seem to suffer this lack of brilliance and clarity. This is particularly evident in the classical guitar with its nylon strings and lower tension.

For the classical guitar there is also one other great wood for the top—western red cedar. This wood produces a sound that is warm and lush, and it has a quick break-in time. Its downside is that the builder must work hard to bring out the brilliance, since the wood naturally tends to the bottom with its warm character. This wood can also work well on small-bodied steel string models.

Spruce top wood

My preference is for European spruce from both sides of the Alps, which produces the strongest and most singing high register and a tightly controlled bass that lets me set the volume level and expansiveness for the best balance against the treble. Maple from Europe for the violin family and a warm, rich, brilliant guitar sound leads me to sell only the best of what the old family wood cutters have to offer.

In my travels to Europe I have found two wood cutters who are third and fourth generation in their field and who can supply me with the highest quality wood for instruments found in the world today. Are they “green”? With their families’ tradition of wood farming and cutting, they know their livelihood and that of their children depend on sustainability. The larger problems—ones the wood cutters cannot control—are whether changing world climate conditions and acid rain will cause changes in tree growth that will affect the nature of wood or kill the trees outright. The pressures of supply and demand are also at play here.

Indian Rosewood

The future of rosewoods is also a matter of great concern. The supply of Indian rosewood is still good, but the hardness and density is changing, as second, third and fourth generation soils have less nutrients to offer growing forests. Brazilian rosewood and other South American rosewood varieties are scarce or listed on the endangered species list. Mahogany is fast suffering the same fate, and pernambuco for bows is now listed as an endangered wood. While the musical instrument world actually uses a very small quantity of these highly sought-after woods, world demand for all uses has outstripped supply.

I never have a lot of wood for sale, but on my buying trips I always try to find enough quantity, even the occasional whole tree, and can sell limited quantities of the finest woods to the trade. I also regularly try to stock good quality plainer woods suitable for the aspiring craftsperson. These woods have good musical tap tones and will build a fine-sounding instrument without the pressure of working with precious rare woods.

We also supply commercial rosettes, purflings, and custom-made bridges and fingerboards. Custom rosettes and inlays are available in lots of 25 or more.

Curly Koa

Classical guitar bridges

Steel string guitar bridges

Commercial rosettes

Woodsound rosettes

A selection of center strip and butt plate purflings.


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