Tulip Poplar?

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Tom O'Brien
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Joined: Fri Aug 03, 2012 10:10 pm

Tulip Poplar?

Post by Tom O'Brien »

I was wondering if anyone has any experience working with Tulip Poplar backs and sides. I bought a set a few years ago when I was going through my wood whore stage. I just pulled them out of the pile because I wanted an unusual light colored wood. (It has a green hue and some fan figure.) I'm having a difficult time finding any lutherie-specific information about the wood, and virtually none of the sellers carries it, which of course, makes me nervous.

After looking the wood up on the wood database it appears to be a very soft wood much less dense than Mahogany. It also suggests that there are finishing issues, especially with sanding. Is this a porous wood? The article talks about it having closed pores.

The good news is that it will make a very light weight guitar. But I'm not sure I want to waste my time with it if it's going to be junk or a nightmare to work with.

Bill Raymond
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Location: Red Bluff California

Re: Tulip Poplar?

Post by Bill Raymond »

Though not a popular wood in lutherie, it can be a very attractive wood and Al Dodson has had success using it. Perhaps he'll drop in with some comments. I don't believe it's "porous", but does frizz up with waterbase finishes--a light sanding after a sealer coat should remedy this. The only other finishing issue I can think of is should you want to even the color with staining, it can be difficult to do so. It should take a clear finish with no problem.

Tom O'Brien
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Re: Tulip Poplar?

Post by Tom O'Brien »

Thank you Bill. It is reassuring to know skilled luthiers have used poplar.

I'm very fortunate to work in a piano restoration shop where I get the benefit of about 80 years combined experience from the technician and the finisher.

They just told me not to clear coat the green hued wood, but to use a reddish stain. They also reinforced the notion that poplar is a wood that is VERY easy to work with.

Chuck Tweedy
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Re: Tulip Poplar?

Post by Chuck Tweedy »

Yes, it should be very easy to work with, and no pore filling when finishing.
Usually not very exciting to look at, but not ugly. The dark green will turn a very attractive dark brown over time. I really want to get a dark piece and use it for a neck some time.
Likes to drink Rosewood Juice

David Malicky
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Location: San Diego, CA

Re: Tulip Poplar?

Post by David Malicky »

Poplar with a light green hue will change to a honey color after about 5 days in the sun. White poplar goes to light honey, and any dark green/gray/purple areas go to dark honey. Very pretty! If you want to keep it light, choose a finish with UV inhibitors.
Taylor made a batch of tulip poplar GA guitars, using the Liberty Tree:
http://www.imagineguitars.com/archive/a ... index.html
I played one of them and found it ok, but not great, fwiw.
I recall Peter Gabriel had a poplar guitar built for him, but I can't find any details now.

Clay Schaeffer
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Re: Tulip Poplar?

Post by Clay Schaeffer »

Tulip Poplar is a different wood from many of those called poplar. It generally takes finish well and can be stained to resemble many more expensive woods. I would consider it to work a lot like butternut.

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Charlie Schultz
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Re: Tulip Poplar?

Post by Charlie Schultz »

Hi Twob1961 and welcome to the forum. Please note that we require the use of real first & last names on this forum. Kindly PM me your correct name and I'll update your registration. Thanks!

Tom O'Brien
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Re: Tulip Poplar?

Post by Tom O'Brien »

Thank you so much for all the tips and ideas concerning this wood. I'm very encouraged and now have lots of ideas to mull over.

It's great to know the green in this wood turns honey brown when exposed to sunlight. I work in a warehouse basement with piano restorers and the wood has not seen the light of day and won't until I bring the guitar home.

The shop finisher was non-plussed by the green hue and was recommending staining to correct it, but your comments have convinced me to let nature do its job. Hopefully I'll have good results.

Clay Schaeffer
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Re: Tulip Poplar?

Post by Clay Schaeffer »

I would stain it a nice dark red Mahogany color, in the tradition of Stella and other low end guitar makers. With the right hairdresser tulip poplar can go from mousie to Wow! <g>
Many makers, low end and otherwise, even stain mahogany guitars to bring out the grain and add a little color.

Al Dodson
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Re: Tulip Poplar?

Post by Al Dodson »

Clay covers it very well; I would send it to the hairdresser too. Tulip Poplar, or yellow poplar, is a wonderful wood to work with. I think it makes great sides and backs. I would not use it for a neck however; it has a tendency to take a set or follow the string as bow makers would say. The lighter colored wood does take on a sort of honey brown over time but it retains a green cast in strong light. I have a natural finished guitar I made at least 10 years ago; it's still GREEN. Poplar was used quite a bit in lower end guitars in the past and this has given it a poor reputation it does not deserve. I would strongly encourage you to use it but do some experimenting with the finish to find what you will be happy with.

It is a shame the name is so confusing also. I think some of the reluctance to use yellow poplar comes from it being confused with the true poplars which are not all that great as cabinet woods. A friend and I decided it should be called yellow magnolia, as it is much more closely related to the magnolias than the poplars, but then no one knows what your talking about.

Conleym54

Re: Tulip Poplar?

Post by Conleym54 »

You all may know this already, but poplar is a key ingredient for cigar box guitars! You go to lumber store and find the straightest stick of 1 by 2 poplar and it makes the best cigar box necks! Only 4 strings, so no worries about neck tension. Besides, if it bows, it makes for great Crossroads slide playing! 8-)

Mark

Jens Moller
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Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado

Re: Tulip Poplar?

Post by Jens Moller »

Danelectro made thousands of guitar necks out of Tulip Poplar (and most remain straight 70 years later). They did put in 2 steel braces (running under the fretboard) in each one to help keep straight (no adjustable truss rod).

Its very easy to work wood, but dents easily.

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Jim McConkey
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Re: Tulip Poplar?

Post by Jim McConkey »

Conley, we require full, real names here. Please PM any of the moderators with your full name so we can change your login. Thanks!
MIMForum Staff - Way North of Baltimore

Mark Conley
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Re: Tulip Poplar?

Post by Mark Conley »

Right after my post, I realized that this was the new rule and logged back in with my full name. I also PM'd Charlie to let him know. Now, Jim, look at Charlie's message above to someone else who committed the same sin. Then, look at your message to me. See any difference?

Mark Conley

Clay Schaeffer
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Re: Tulip Poplar?

Post by Clay Schaeffer »

Hi Mark,
Welcome to the forum. If you ever have the pleasure to meet Jim McConkey in person as I have, I'm sure you will find him to be one of the most affable and friendly people you will ever know. Both messages contain a Please and Thank you. Neither was intended to offend.

Mark Tierney
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Re: Tulip Poplar?

Post by Mark Tierney »

Tulip poplar appears to have been the wood of choice for low-end archtops in the first half of the last century. The plates were formed in a mold with some combination of heat and moisture, rather than being carved, and the wood evidently responded well to this treatment. Since these intruments were typically finished very dark with a sunburst, what the raw wood looked like wasn't an issue. Surviving examples seem to have held up well.

David Wilson
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Re: Tulip Poplar?

Post by David Wilson »

This OM sized instrument was my first attempt at making an acoustic guitar. As a complete novice, I found the tulip poplar sides really easy to bend. The dark lines in the back and sides were much softer than the surrounding lighter wood and I had to be really careful not to sand them too deep. It was finished with french polish and has retained it's colouring very well. Using tulip poplar I have ended up with a guitar that is very light in weight.
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Steve Senseney
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Re: Tulip Poplar?

Post by Steve Senseney »

Show some more pictures.

Nice use of your narrow pieces.

David Wilson
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Re: Tulip Poplar?

Post by David Wilson »

OK Steve, here are some more pictures of my guitar.
First the front.
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David Wilson
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Re: Tulip Poplar?

Post by David Wilson »

Now the back full length.
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