All North American wood guitar questions

Construction and repair of Classical Guitar and related instruments
Sean Eric Howard
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All North American wood guitar questions

Post by Sean Eric Howard » Mon Aug 28, 2017 3:17 pm

I am interested in a guitar built entirely of wood native to North America. In particular, I am wondering what woods might possibly serve to replace an ebony fingerboard and what woods would best serve as neck material. I am definitely interested in Osage Orange for b/s.
"Besides, this criticism of Segovia is pointless. If you disagree with what Segovia did, take that energy and go out and do something positive. Otherwise, shut up." - Eliot Fisk

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Andy Culpepper
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Re: All North American wood guitar questions

Post by Andy Culpepper » Mon Aug 28, 2017 4:00 pm

I built one with a Black Walnut neck and Hickory fingerboard. I also have two large logs of Persimmon wood (technically an Ebony) that are about two years old now and are waiting to eventually be sawn into fingerboards so I think that would work nicely.

Ryeman
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Re: All North American wood guitar questions

Post by Ryeman » Mon Aug 28, 2017 4:30 pm

Sean, I am probably the last person to offer you advice. I am certainly no expert on classical guitar making. And, as an Englishman, I have little experience of working with American woods. But a thought does occur to me about suitable woods for guitar necks and fingerboards, which you ask about. I think most people agree that the classical guitar neck gets its necessary stiffness from the ebony fingerboard. Having tested a variety of woods for along-the-grain-stiffness (for wooden camera making, not guitar making) I know that ebony is very stiff for a give cross-section. Much stiffer than Honduras Mahogany, which is often used for necks. So what you seem to get with many classical guitars is a very stiff fingerboard and a not very stiff neck.
When I made my own guitar from local woods (see the thread Local Woods) I was aware that I wouldn't have access to a wood as stiff as ebony, for the fingerboard. So I compensated by choosing a wood for the neck that was stiffer than a normal classical guitar neck wood. So instead of being able to have a very stiff fingerboard and a not very stiff neck, I settled for a fingerboard and neck that both had quite good degrees of stiffness. (The neck on my guitar is European Ash and the fingerboard Laburnum)
It might be worth you considering something like this for your guitar, depending on the properties of woods available to you.
Good luck with the project.

Alan

iim7V7IM7
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Re: All North American wood guitar questions

Post by iim7V7IM7 » Mon Aug 28, 2017 4:50 pm

---Name(s)---------------Density (lb ft/^3)-----Hardness (lbf)-----Stiffness (lbf/in^2)---
---Texas Ebony------------------60------------------2,820--------------2,398,000---
---Osage Orange----------------54------------------2,620--------------1,689,000---
---Persimmon-------------------52-------------------2,300--------------2,010,000---
2015 - John Buscarino, 650 mm, Carpathian Spruce/Honduran Rosewood
2014 - Peter Oberg, 640 mm, Western Red Cedar/Black Cherry

Carey
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Re: All North American wood guitar questions

Post by Carey » Mon Aug 28, 2017 5:21 pm

I recall Alan Carruth metioning the use of butternut for necks. A good replacement for cedro and mahogany would be a fine thing to find.
Wonder how the workability is?

Alan Carruth
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Re: All North American wood guitar questions

Post by Alan Carruth » Mon Aug 28, 2017 6:17 pm

Butternut (Juglans cinerea ) is pretty much the NA equivalent to cedro in terms of it's properties. It's closely related to black walnut (J. negra), and shares the usual walnut stability, but it's lighter and softer. The one workability issue is that it tends to be a bit 'stringy', particularly when scraped. It is sadly available these days; a blight is decimating the trees and a lot of salvage logging is going on. It's too bad: I used to love the nuts.

The best local replacement for mahogany is cherry. It's what the Philadelphia cabinet makers used back in the Colonial era when they were not allowed to import mahogany from the Spanish colonies, and wanted to make their own versions of Hepplewhite and Chippendale furniture. As with all woods it ranges in hardness and density, running roughly from something like a common Honduras mahogany to the harder Caribbean wood. It is close grained, carves and finishes well, and is quite stable.

I've used a lot of persimmon for fingerboards. It's reasonably close in properties to Macassar ebony, but is not normally black, although I've had some that had black streaks. A local tone wood supplier has experimented with a process for dying in black all the way through, with mixed results. There is a process that works well, but it's expensive. A less expensive way to do it tends to not penetrate as well, leaving grey streaks. At the moment he's not selling the wood, which he calls 'Ozark Ebony', since it costs as much to produce as a regular ebony fretboard. I have a few pieces and will use them, in hope that he'll start in again. When I can't get, or don't want to use, the dyed wood, I use a stain made from walnut hulls to color the surface of light woods brown. It doesn't penetrate deeply, but does help to mask dirt and wear marks.

Two other NA woods I've used for fingerboards are American hornbeam (Ostyra virginiana) and soft shell almond (I don't know the botanical on that). Hornbeam is a local native, and is the hardest and densest local wood. It's also called 'lever wood', and 'muscle wood', both of which refer to it's growth habit. These are small understory trees, somewhat resembling beech, but the trunks look corded, as if they were emulating comic book super heros. The wood has strongly interlocked grain, which helps it resist splitting, and that's why it was sought after for use as tool handles and levers. When properly seasoned and well quartered it makes a very nice fingerboard. As it is white to light brown I normally stain it, and the fancy grain makes it interesting. I need to run some tests on the mechanical properties.

Another good NA B&S wood is Black locust ( Robinia pseudoacacia L.). In many respects its an improved Indian rosewood, having similar stiffness, slightly lower density, and damping more like BRW. It bends well and finishes well enough when filled, much like a rosewood.

Many people object to the light color of both Osage orange and black locust. I recently found that both will darken appreciably when fumed with common household ammonia. Locust turns quite dark, while Osage takes on a deep honey color. Both retain their grain pattern and reflectivity.

Dave M
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Re: All North American wood guitar questions

Post by Dave M » Mon Aug 28, 2017 7:46 pm

I noticed that some electric guitars with maple fingerboards are varnished/lacquered. I wonder if this technique would make maple more acceptable on steel string or classicals to get round the staining problem?
Dave

Paul Micheletti
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Re: All North American wood guitar questions

Post by Paul Micheletti » Mon Aug 28, 2017 8:42 pm

Alan Carruth wrote:
Mon Aug 28, 2017 6:17 pm
Many people object to the light color of both Osage orange and black locust. I recently found that both will darken appreciably when fumed with common household ammonia. Locust turns quite dark, while Osage takes on a deep honey color. Both retain their grain pattern and reflectivity.
I found a supplier that has Osage Orange sets. They are quite yellow which is not a desirable back/sides coloration. But I may consider it if it can be fumed darker. Do you have any before/after fuming pictures for your Osage Orange and Black Locust samples?

Thanks Alan, your posts are always so informative!

hatalap
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Re: All North American wood guitar questions

Post by hatalap » Tue Aug 29, 2017 1:05 am

Andy Culpepper wrote:
Mon Aug 28, 2017 4:00 pm
I built one with a Black Walnut neck and Hickory fingerboard. I also have two large logs of Persimmon wood (technically an Ebony) that are about two years old now and are waiting to eventually be sawn into fingerboards so I think that would work nicely.
Andy, any idea about the cherry in #75 or #84? You know I'm a fan...

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Chris Sobel
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Re: All North American wood guitar questions

Post by Chris Sobel » Tue Aug 29, 2017 7:54 am

Sean Eric Howard wrote:
Mon Aug 28, 2017 3:17 pm
I am interested in a guitar built entirely of wood native to North America. In particular, I am wondering what woods might possibly serve to replace an ebony fingerboard and what woods would best serve as neck material. I am definitely interested in Osage Orange for b/s.
Pistachio is very hard and some samples are at least as dense as rosewood or ebony.

Chris
CE Sobel Guitars

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Michael.N.
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Re: All North American wood guitar questions

Post by Michael.N. » Tue Aug 29, 2017 8:24 am

Paul Micheletti wrote:
Mon Aug 28, 2017 8:42 pm
Alan Carruth wrote:
Mon Aug 28, 2017 6:17 pm
Many people object to the light color of both Osage orange and black locust. I recently found that both will darken appreciably when fumed with common household ammonia. Locust turns quite dark, while Osage takes on a deep honey color. Both retain their grain pattern and reflectivity.
I found a supplier that has Osage Orange sets. They are quite yellow which is not a desirable back/sides coloration. But I may consider it if it can be fumed darker. Do you have any before/after fuming pictures for your Osage Orange and Black Locust samples?

Thanks Alan, your posts are always so informative!
You mean not desirable commercially? Maple turns a tan/yellow and of course cypress can range from a beautiful golden yellow through to a colour that becomes a very mellow and aged yellow, almost verging on orange. I think it's just tradition that dictates a dark wood. Except it's a relatively recent tradition, lighter coloured guitars have existed for hundreds of years. If people actually took the time to look they will see that these woods can display exceptional colour.
Historicalguitars.

Sean Eric Howard
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Re: All North American wood guitar questions

Post by Sean Eric Howard » Tue Aug 29, 2017 1:48 pm

Wow, thanks to all for your thoughts and knowledge. It's certainly a lot to mull over. By chance, do any of you have, or know where I might find, pictures of guitars with native woods?
"Besides, this criticism of Segovia is pointless. If you disagree with what Segovia did, take that energy and go out and do something positive. Otherwise, shut up." - Eliot Fisk

Paul Micheletti
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Re: All North American wood guitar questions

Post by Paul Micheletti » Tue Aug 29, 2017 5:05 pm

Michael.N. wrote:
Tue Aug 29, 2017 8:24 am
You mean not desirable commercially? Maple turns a tan/yellow and of course cypress can range from a beautiful golden yellow through to a colour that becomes a very mellow and aged yellow, almost verging on orange. I think it's just tradition that dictates a dark wood. Except it's a relatively recent tradition, lighter coloured guitars have existed for hundreds of years. If people actually took the time to look they will see that these woods can display exceptional colour.
Commerce is an important consideration. Sitting on a guitar for long periods of time without a sale does me no good at all. But there is also the aesthetic consideration. I love Maple and the tan/brown coloration that it has. Next on my list will be a maple build. I also love the look of rosewood and various dark woods. But a bright yellow/orange base wood that just gets more yellow with french polish is just not something I find appealing. If it mellows towards the brown tones with fuming, that is a clear win. I'm still hoping that Alan has some before/after photos so I can see how much it changes.

Going off topic to discuss other non-native woods and coloration...

I have a beautiful satinwood back/sides set that I keep pulling out of the pile and admiring. Then it goes back into the pile. Beautiful wood, but I don't seem to be wanting to pull off a bright yellow-orange guitar at this time. Is this a temporary insanity, or a permanent one causing me to not appreciate yellow-orange guitars?

Similar with Padouk. Padouk is a wonderful tonewood. It sounds great and it works so easily. But it is just so freaking pinkish orange. It eventually mellows out to brown, but it takes a long time getting there. I measured many different woods for guitar bridges to check their weight, strength, and tone by playing bridge blanks like a marimba key, and padouk came out as the best sounding tap tone of all the lower density blanks I was able to test. It's only the color that keeps me from using it for bridges. An instrument has to appeal to both the eyes and the ears, and I can't afford to design only for the ears.

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Michael.N.
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Re: All North American wood guitar questions

Post by Michael.N. » Tue Aug 29, 2017 5:44 pm

You can do a lot with UV and tinted varnish. Enough to turn a rather gaudy looking yellow wood into something that is very attractive. I've done a lot of work with that kind of thing. Some woods need nothing, others might need a bit of help. Of course a lot depends on your personal taste and perhaps what you consider to be a good guitar colour. As for Padauk. I could tone that down in less than a few days with UV.
Historicalguitars.

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Doug Ingram
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Re: All North American wood guitar questions

Post by Doug Ingram » Tue Aug 29, 2017 11:29 pm

I'm a fan of using local woods whenever possible. In addition to the functional properties of the wood, I think that an aesthetic shift is also required for them to be more widely used. And I'm OK with that!

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