Customer says you pick best wood combo, what do you pick?

Construction and repair of Classical Guitar and related instruments
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James Lister
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Re: Customer says you pick best wood combo, what do you pick

Post by James Lister » Thu Feb 08, 2007 10:01 pm

kylekoch wrote:Thanks James, It does.
I went to your site, Your Guitars are impressive and resonably priced, sometime I may contact you about building me one.

kyle
After some discussions with a friend and fellow luthier today, my prices may be going up soon. They'll still be reasonable though!

James
James Lister, luthier, Sheffield UK

jcrants

Post by jcrants » Fri Feb 09, 2007 7:32 pm

I've tried to read whatever I could find on guitar woods, but I've never been very satisfied with what I've found. It's hard to get even a faint idea of how a guitar would sound different if the sides and back were made of oak, hornbeam, or walnut (or adobe, or tin).

I'm intrigued by the non-rosewood backs and sides, like Derry's maple Rubio or the walnut guitars Johnny Walker has on special. I've also heard of cherry for backs and sides, and I once saw a guitar with osage orange back and sides on the web.

For soundboards, it's some kind of spruce, western red cedar, or redwood (and maybe something synthetic). Why not fir, juniper, or Norfolk Island pine? Why not a hardwood?

Those of you who have played or made guitars with alternative materials, how would you say their sound differs from something more conventional? For those who have made such guitars, how did working with the alternative wood compare to traditional materials?

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James Lister
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Post by James Lister » Sun Feb 11, 2007 9:40 pm

jcrants wrote: For soundboards, it's some kind of spruce, western red cedar, or redwood (and maybe something synthetic). Why not fir, juniper, or Norfolk Island pine? Why not a hardwood?

Those of you who have played or made guitars with alternative materials, how would you say their sound differs from something more conventional? For those who have made such guitars, how did working with the alternative wood compare to traditional materials?
The best soundboards are made from slow growing trees, which I think discounts some coniferous trees - and many areas where otherwise good tonewood trees grow. I recently played a CG with a hardwood top - it was cypress, and made by Paul Fischer. The conditions weren't ideal for listening to subtle tone differences, but my feeling was it sounded similar to the other guitars of Paul's I've tried, and there was nothing obviously different about the cypress top - it certainly worked OK.

As I've already mentioned, I love using maple. It's a lovely wood to work (although often very difficult if highly figured), and gives what I describe as a "creamy" edge to the tone.

James
James Lister, luthier, Sheffield UK

jcrants

Post by jcrants » Mon Feb 12, 2007 2:20 am

jmdlister wrote:The best soundboards are made from slow growing trees, which I think discounts some coniferous trees - and many areas where otherwise good tonewood trees grow. I recently played a CG with a hardwood top - it was cypress, and made by Paul Fischer.
Cypress is actually a conifer, in the same family with cedar and redwood.

I've read that slow growth (leading to a tight grain) is important, and I've seen something about why that is. All I can remember is that the soundwaves tend to move more evenly in all directions when the grain is tight, while sound travels faster along the grain than across it if the wood is coarse. (I think I have that straight.)

This certainly rules out some species. Pine, for example, never seems to have a very dense grain.

Thanks, James. I'll have to see if I can try a maple guitar some time. I've heard its sound described as dry, brittle, strong in the midrange, and, now, creamy. I'm afraid I may have to accept that words cannot express how a given tonewood sounds to someone who has not heard it before.

More in the spirit of the orignial post, though, if the customers were not so partial to rosewood, would you still prefer to make guitars out of it?

Jim

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James Lister
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Post by James Lister » Mon Feb 12, 2007 9:20 am

jcrants wrote: Cypress is actually a conifer, in the same family with cedar and redwood.
Ah, yes. You are right, of course. :oops: Still, it is unusual for a top.
jcrants wrote: I'm afraid I may have to accept that words cannot express how a given tonewood sounds to someone who has not heard it before.
True.
jcrants wrote: More in the spirit of the orignial post, though, if the customers were not so partial to rosewood, would you still prefer to make guitars out of it?
Jim
Of the best guitars I have made to date, one was rosewood (indian) and the other Maple (bird's-eye). I'm not sure I could tell the difference in a blind test, to be honest, but I know I can make a great guitar with maple, and I prefer working with it to rosewood. Bird's-eye is also quite beautiful when finished. The piece on this guitar is not one of the most highly figured I've seen, but still...


James
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James Lister, luthier, Sheffield UK

willi

Post by willi » Mon Feb 12, 2007 12:23 pm

My old Oskar Teller[1964] has maple back and sides[flamed I think ] it sounds good has a rounded mellow tone which I brightened with Saverez hard tension strings.

jcrants

Post by jcrants » Mon Feb 12, 2007 3:29 pm

jmdlister wrote:
jcrants wrote: Cypress is actually a conifer, in the same family with cedar and redwood.
Ah, yes. You are right, of course. :oops: Still, it is unusual for a top.
Yes. It occurred to me later that it was kind of rude of me to point out that cypress was a conifer without agreeing that it was still an unusual wood for a top. There are probably perfectly good reasons why hardwood tops won't sound as good as conifer tops, but your experience with cypress gives good reason to wonder if there are some good conifer species that are underutilized.

That maple guitar you've shown us is really stunning, James! The figure looks really deep, like looking down at the bottom of a stream. The purfling is a good match, too. Thanks a lot for sharing it.

I ask about alternative woods partly because, as a plant ecologist, I have some affection for our local trees, none of which are among the most commonly-used woods for classical guitar. I would like to try my hand at building one, but I want to use local wood as much as possible because I feel more connected to the species I know from my fieldwork.

Jim

Derry

Post by Derry » Mon Feb 12, 2007 4:41 pm

a photo of the back of my maple GV Rubio,,
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