Native necks

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Dale Penrose
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Native necks

Post by Dale Penrose »

Choosing from woods only native to the US, what is your first choice for necks on an acoustic guitar? Flat sawn, rift, or quarter? I'm leaning towards quarter sawn cherry on my next build, but was hoping for some input.

Eric Baack
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Re: Native necks

Post by Eric Baack »

I'm a big fan of walnut myself.

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Bob Gramann
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Re: Native necks

Post by Bob Gramann »

I buy 12/4 cherry planks. The 3" wide necks I cut from these end up being quartersawn. Select your wood for straight grain. Cherry (and walnut) can have grain that curves and runs off the plank. I like cherry because it's a bit easier to carve than maple and it has closed pores.

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Bryan Bear
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Re: Native necks

Post by Bryan Bear »

I've used walnut and will be using cherry based on many recommendations here. Quarter sawn American sycamore would be a good choice if you have access to it; Cumpiano is a fan of this for necks.
PMoMC

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Todd Stock
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Re: Native necks

Post by Todd Stock »

Gibson and Fender seems to have demonstrated that maple is a pretty decent neck wood - a little stiffer in flat sawn orientation than quartered. Buy flat sawn 6/4 to get out two piece blanks and 5/4 flat sawn for three ply. I get awesome curly stuff for about $6.50/bf, which works out to be $6 per acoustic neck blank. When we did some octave mandolins for a build contest, we did one neck in three ply and one in solid curly...both have proven to be very stable, and rather pretty...hard to see any real appearance difference. Surprisingly easy to shape curly stuff with bandsaw, rasp, file, and sharp scraper. Shots are the single and three piece neck planks and the necks drying after first coats of lacquer.
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Alan Carruth
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Re: Native necks

Post by Alan Carruth »

I tend to stick with quartered wood for necks, or, at least, wood that will yield vertical grain on the fingerboard gluing surface. I've used walnut, butternut, maple, and cherry, and like them all. Butternut can be a bit soft for a steel string neck, but is nice and light, and makes a good neck for a Classical. Curly maple works well, particularly in a three piece neck glued up from book matched halves of a wide, flat cut board. These are easy to find too, where quartered curly maple tends to be pretty thin on the ground in most lumber yards in my experience. Otherwise I'd avoid curly wood for a neck; you lose a fair amount of stiffness to the figure, and it can come back and bite you later.

Todd Stock
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Re: Native necks

Post by Todd Stock »

And the nice thing is that flat sawn stock glued up as a sandwich yields a nicely quartered neck blank!

So if you do the numbers on common domestic hardwoods that are suitable for necks, black cherry, black walnut, and big leaf or the soft maples all look a lot like mahogany when considering degree of shrinkage tangent and radial to the rings, stiffness, and density. Black cherry moves a little more in the radial direction than mahogany, but not by much, and the ratio between radial and tangential movement is a bit higher as well. Cherry and mahogany are of similar stiffness and density, so a pretty decent substitute. Walnut moves about 80% more than 'hog, but the ratio of tan/radial is about the same, while being a little stiffer and just a little denser. Big leaf and soft maples move similar to cherry, are stiffer than any of the common substitutes except beech, and is just a bit denser than mahogany.

So any of these wood will work pretty well as a sub, and figured grain in any of them will drop stiffness by 15% or so along the grain (some of which will be recovered by a multi-ply neck). Other subs include yellow poplar, birch, beech, and American sycamore. The last is is notably less dense than mahogany and a little less stable, but I think it makes a pretty neck wood and the ray fleck on sycamore sides and back can be pretty stunning.

For lower strength neck woods (not stiffness - strength), I think peg head adjusted truss rods are running a bit of a risk. Folks that do repairs see a lot of broken mahogany and maple-necked Gibsons...leaving the wood in that truss rod cavity helps, while I think I might consider running CF through the peg head/neck area on Spanish cedar necks, as well as epoxy filling to get better surface hardness...particularly if french polishing.

Forrest Products Lab Wood Handbook is handy here, but Google can produce most of the numbers of interest as well. Keep in mind that mechanic properties can vary, as can density...

Dale Penrose
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Re: Native necks

Post by Dale Penrose »

Had not given sycamore any thought. Will get a board next week and see how it looks. The next guitar will be walnut back and sides, sitka top, with either persimmon or black locust for a fretboard. And either cherry or sycamore for the neck. Thanks for the advice!

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Ryan Mazzocco
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Re: Native necks

Post by Ryan Mazzocco »

+1 on the Walnut. It's my favorite and it's not even close.
I also use Cherry and Maple. I used to use whatever I could get from my local hardwood dealer, so most of it was either flat sawn (though not truly "flat") or rift sawn. Those guitars are more than 3 years old and I have not had problems with them so far. Even so, I now only build with quartersawn just to be sure. My walnut and cherry are straight grain with no figure. But the Maple is figured because it's pretty, the maple is probably strong enough to take the drop in strength from the figure, and figured kind of seems to be what people expect in a maple neck.
I have not used sycamore, but I plan on adding to my list soon. It's very pretty.
As for your fretboards, you might consider using walnut for that also. Some may tell you not to because it's "too soft," and yes it is softer than RW, ebony, persimmon, and probably a hundred other woods, but all it needs to do is hold frets and stand up to vigorous play for decades to come. I don't think a fretboard needs to be rock hard to meet that criteria. And after you darken it up with a little lemon oil (or other fretboard oil of your choosing) the average person doesn't know it's not rosewood. Not that we're trying to deceive them, but it just proves that you can use a native wood that will serve the purpose without it looking out of place. (while there are many people that want something that looks "different" the majority of the market wants it to look "normal.")
just my $00.02

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Dave Weir
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Re: Native necks

Post by Dave Weir »

I've used Black Locust a couple times for one piece neck/fingerboard. I'ts not black, or particularly pretty, and smells like cat pee when it's cut. But it's a bit stiffer than maple and has a nice bright tone.
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Arnt Rian
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Re: Native necks

Post by Arnt Rian »

I have used birch and ash, they both work well if you don't mind the weight. Oak is similar to ash, so it could be a candidate. You can find flamed pieces of all of these species, personally I am a bit skeptical unless the neck is quite short (such as mando or violin family instruments), thoroughly reinforced or unusually deep. Some long, skinny flamed maple necks, for example banjos or electric guitars, can be a bit unstable, but with relatively low string tension it is usually OK. I would not use it on a thin bass neck, at least not without a lot of reinforcement. Maple normally shows its figure best on the quartered edge, which means that a the player will see it best if the neck is flat sawn, when he holds the instrument in normal playing position. I build my mandolins this way, I have had no problems.

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