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Lets Talk Light Weight Woods

PostPosted: Wed Jun 13, 2012 1:32 am
by Paul Rhoney
Some light weight woods are perfect for guitar makers, others simply are not. Let's limit this conversation to woods that fit in the former category.

For my purposes, I'm looking to find a replacement for Spanish Cedar. As far as I'm concerned Spanish Cedar has two things going for it. First, it's light weight. Second, it can be used as both a body and neck wood (I'm talking about solid body electric guitars here). Sure, it has a good tone and I guess it looks pretty enough. But those things don't make it worth the trouble of trying to put a good finish on the stuff. So what's something else I could use? Something also light weight that I can use as a body and neck wood. Something that sounds good and looks good.

Re: Lets Talk Light Weight Woods

PostPosted: Wed Jun 13, 2012 10:10 am
by Terry Mashek
Before I "knew any better" my very first guitar was built with a neck and body made of Philippine mahogany. The guitar is very light weight and sounds awesome. The neck has held up fine for eight years now, although it also has a couple maple laminates in it.

I've used it in a couple more laminated necks as well with no issues.

I know Philippine mahogany is traditionally frowned upon in the luthier world, but my experience is that it works fine.

Re: Lets Talk Light Weight Woods

PostPosted: Wed Jun 13, 2012 10:55 am
by Clay Schaeffer
I think much of the problem with Philippine mahogany, is that it the sellers passed it off as a mahogany, which it is not. Because of this "fraud" people don't look at it for what it is. Also since many different species are lumped together under this moniker it is hard to know which wood is being considered.
Tulip poplar or yellow poplar (liriodendron tulipifera) is a light weight, inexpensive and commonly available wood that takes stain and finish well.

Re: Lets Talk Light Weight Woods

PostPosted: Wed Jun 13, 2012 11:11 am
by Steve Senseney
I made a small electric guitar with a catalpa neck, reinforced with some carbon fiber. This is the least dense wood I have, and it dented easily. Because of the ease of denting, I spray painted it, added a contrasting spray paint coat, and then distressed the surface.

I have not looked at the neck for a while to see if it is really straight or not.

I think the big issues are whether the neck will remain straight (and also attached) and whether it will dent too easily.

The neck can be controlled with the reinforcement, and an adjusting rod with a little luck.

Re: Lets Talk Light Weight Woods

PostPosted: Wed Jun 13, 2012 12:36 pm
by Alan Carruth
Butternut (Juglans cinerea) is the North American equivalent of cedro, IMO, except it doesn't smell as nice (or taste as bad!). It is sadly available now, as an imported blight is killing off the trees, and there's a lot of salvage logging going on.

Alan Carruth / Luthier

Re: Lets Talk Light Weight Woods

PostPosted: Wed Jun 13, 2012 12:45 pm
by Chuck Tweedy
Basswood is pretty popular as a body-wood for solidbody electrics, it is pretty low density.
I do not know if it would be suitable for a neck, but with enough carbon and truss-rod it would probably work.

Re: Lets Talk Light Weight Woods

PostPosted: Mon Jun 18, 2012 3:38 pm
by Matthew Lau
FWIW, I really like quartersawn Port Orford Cedar.

Re: Lets Talk Light Weight Woods

PostPosted: Wed Jun 20, 2012 6:59 am
by Kif Wood
In the last 12 months I built a 'Flamenco/Classical' with some wood I found in a skip when a wood working company moved . I never waste a chance of 'freebees', but presumed the timber used for doors, stairs etc would be unsuitable.

I pulled out a 2" plank 10"x 36" and to my amazement it weighed next to nothing and had a 'tap tone' like a bell with sustain. I have made a nylon strung which I believe is close to very, very good ( I am a humble man!). Audible resonant sustain unfretted top 'E' is just over 10 seconds. Fretted 'G' string has at least equal audible gain as wound 'D' string. It weighs in at about lb2 13 with machines and adjustable neck system ( I prefer PegHeds). The neck was laminated with this timber as a 1" centre beam and two outers of microfine grain Alaskan cypress. Sitka top. Bolt on neck.

You can strum the guitar and lift it through 90 degrees by the headpce and the change of pitch is about 2/100!

The timber is Idigbo from cameroons. It varies in weight, but the lightest is so stiff that it is exceptionally hard to bend at 1.5mm sides. Similar family to the wood used in early Gib Explorer solids. Very cheap in UK (4$ bdft). Could make a fantastic electric body. Serious recommendation, but needs to be hand selected!

Re: Lets Talk Light Weight Woods

PostPosted: Sun Jul 01, 2012 1:38 pm
by David Schwab
Chuck Tweedy wrote:Basswood is pretty popular as a body-wood for solidbody electrics, it is pretty low density.
I do not know if it would be suitable for a neck, but with enough carbon and truss-rod it would probably work.


The original Parker Fly guitars used basswood necks.

Re: Lets Talk Light Weight Woods

PostPosted: Sun Jul 01, 2012 5:23 pm
by Bill Raymond
"The original Parker Fly guitars used basswood necks."

Yes, but did they not have a fiberglas "exoskeleton"?

Re: Lets Talk Light Weight Woods

PostPosted: Sun Jul 01, 2012 10:42 pm
by Mark Swanson
No- they have a carbon fiber wrap, very strong.

Re: Lets Talk Light Weight Woods

PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2012 3:50 pm
by Chuck Tweedy
Okay, but used normally, with a trussrod, would basswood make a suitable neck? I don't know.
I'm leaning toward NO (dents and lack of stiffness), but...

Re: Lets Talk Light Weight Woods

PostPosted: Tue Jul 03, 2012 10:41 am
by Clay Schaeffer
I would think it depends somewhat on the type of neck it is being used for. As a replacement for Spanish cedar, bass wood might work. But then again, some Spanish cedar doesn't work as a replacement for Spanish cedar. <g> For a low tension electric guitar or classical neck, or a short lute neck it might be O.K. For a twelvestring guitar neck I wouldn't want to use either species, although there may be a few boards of Spanish cedar out there that would work fine.

Re: Lets Talk Light Weight Woods

PostPosted: Fri Jul 13, 2012 4:52 pm
by Tom Sommerville
Basswood is surprisingly stiff for it's density, 1.44x10^6 if I recall--comparable to Spanish Cedar. It's a little soft and prone to denting, but one of the best for steaming dents out.

My only reservation would be with the surface texture-- I prefer porous woods for necks. Maple and other
closed-grain woods seem "sticky" to me.

It's a personal thing I guess. I may change my mind; let's see how my new medication works.

Re: Lets Talk Light Weight Woods

PostPosted: Wed Jul 18, 2012 1:27 pm
by David King
Are we talking electric solid bodies or acoustic necks? I don't see how you can do both with the same wood without some compromise.
Is ease of finishing of some concern to you? Open grain woods could sink a luthier's bottom line in the finishing department.
For neck wood I'd look at willow (ever try breaking a dried willow branch over your knee?) Unfortunately as any violin builder will tell you the stuff is impossible to source.
For solid bodies you might look to paulownia which looks a lot like swamp ash but weighs less. Again aside for the occasional street and yard tree the stuff is non-existant in the marketplace.
If you absolutely needed a wood that could do double duty then I'd suggest sassafras.
If availability is your primary concern then alder, douglas fir and poplar are good choices.

Re: Lets Talk Light Weight Woods

PostPosted: Wed Jul 18, 2012 2:11 pm
by Alan Carruth
I used to be able to get willow at one lumber yard: it's used sometimes by decoy carvers.

Willow is tough, but it has a real problem for a guitar neck wood, in that it cold creeps very badly. Some violin makers simply wet willow liners and clamp them in place: when they're dry, they hold their shape.

I did use willow for a lute neck once, but I veneered over it with maple on the back and ebony on the top: sort of an early-instrument wood version of the Parker 'Fly'. At any rater, lute necks are short, reasonably thick, and wide, and don't carry a lot of tension.

Alan Carruth / Luthier

Re: Lets Talk Light Weight Woods

PostPosted: Thu Jul 19, 2012 12:38 pm
by Steve Senseney
I don't have any willow, but I thought it was close to the Cotton wood in many of it's characteristics.

The local (Nebraska) cotton wood (Eastern Cottonwood) lumber has a tendency to look straight, but twists easily if it ever gets wet. I suspect it will cold creep easily. It is readily available in large sizes, but you need to go to a local sawyer. It is not available in the regular lumber yards.