100 mile guitar - what woods to use?

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Howard Williamson
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100 mile guitar - what woods to use?

Post by Howard Williamson »

Hi there;
I’m completely new to this guitar stuff. 60 years old and trying to learn to play – but that’s another story.
I’m located in BC, Canada, have my own sawmill and thinking about trying to build an acoustic guitar.
I have some nice edge grain Western Red Cedar that I sawed myself and is currently planed down to around .140”. I have edge grain Douglas Fir and some boards I cut from a Cherry tree that I cut down in my front yard. I’m thinking WRC for all the body parts, D.Fir for the neck and Cherry for the fretboard and bridge.
Is this workable or just a bad idea ?
Thanks in advance !

Bob O'Leary
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Re: 100 mile guitar ??

Post by Bob O'Leary »

I did the same thing only at the young are of 58 ,Looks like you have all the right wood ,go for it . its actualy easyer to build one than to learn to play one(my hands are a lot older than I am). just take your time and have fun . Bob
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Howard Williamson
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Re: 100 mile guitar ??

Post by Howard Williamson »

I'm kinda wondering what it would sound like W/ WRC sides and back as well as top ? I do like a deeper, richer tone but would all WRC body be too much maybe ? Iknow .... depends :D
No doubt the back and sides will be more easily marked but I like a bit of "patina" that says its been used.
Wondering also, how thick should I make the top, back, sides ?
Thicker bracing ? more bracing ?

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Rod True
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Re: 100 mile guitar ??

Post by Rod True »

Howard, where in BC are you? I'm in Abbotsford in the Fraser Valley.

What type of guitar do you want to build? Steel string or nylon? There's different tensions depending on what you want to build. I think a short scale guitar might be doable with WRC back and sides, but you'll want to make them a bit more on the thicker side. You could easily use the cherry for the back and sides.....and the neck but it'll probably be a bit on the soft side for a fretboard, might not hold the frets very well.....but then again, you could always glue the frets in....

Anything is possible, just depends on the outcome you're after.

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Bill Snyder
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Re: 100 mile guitar ??

Post by Bill Snyder »

Of the woods you have I would use the WRC for top only. The cherry won't hold up as well for the fretboard as an ebony or rosewood board will. Doug fir has been used successfully on mandolins for top, back sides and neck and would probably work for the guitar for any of those as well. Having said that I would probably go ahead on use the cherry for sides, back and neck instead of the douglas fir.
I need to make it clear that I have not built any guitars and have not used cherry, doug fir or WRC for any of the mandolins or other instruments I have built.

Mike Crabbe
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Re: 100 mile guitar ??

Post by Mike Crabbe »

Howard - I have found this process can take alot of time - hundreds of hours, depending on how efficient you are, present wood working skills, etc. The wood is the least of it. If this is OK with you, go for it and have fun! But I'm not sure how happy you would be with the woods you suggest, so you might end up spending months building something that doesn't sound very good to you - I'm no expert, but that's the risk.

Guitar necks, backs and sides are traditionally built with hardwoods. I'm not sure how well Douglas fir would do with the stress of a neck, although I suppose you could build a laminated neck to increase its strength and stability. Backs and sides from softwoods might result in an instrument with a dull sound rather than the overtones and sparkle you might want. You could read up on the differences between guitars with mahogany back and sides vs. rosewood to see what people say about using softer woods (e.g. mahogany) for back and sides. I would think douglas fir would have characteristics more like mahogany but to an exaggerated degree! Maybe a flat, flabby sound, but that's just my guess. I'm not sure if there would be structural issues. (I think if softwood back and sides were a good idea you would see guitars built that way - but you don't. It's hardwoods: mostly rosewood & mahogany, sometimes maple, cherry, walnut, etc.)

The wood needs to by dry and stable, too. I don't know how long it takes to air dry, but I seem to remember people talking about years... Maybe you have access to kiln drying...

Red cedar would be good for the top and like Bill said, you could use Cherry for the back and sides. Personally I would do that and use something else for the other parts, although maybe you could use Cherry laminated for the neck, too. If you want to build one, don't scrimp on the wood unless you just want to consider it an experiment.

Mike

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Mark Swanson
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Re: 100 mile guitar ??

Post by Mark Swanson »

Cherry works really well for backs and sides, and for necks too. I have used it quite a bit and continue to do so. Douglas fir has been used for necks too, Dan Erlewine likes it.
But for your fingerboard and bridge, it's well worth it to get the right stuff- rosewood or ebony.
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Howard Williamson
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Re: 100 mile guitar ??

Post by Howard Williamson »

Rod; I'm in Salmon Arm, - steel string acoustic
Here's a link to an interesting article on alternative woods http://www.lmii.com/carttwo/alttonewoods.asp
This was the article that got me thinking that Cedar sides and back might be OK. This and photos from the old forum of a guitar made by a fellow from Oregon - I believe it was Doug Fir Top and Neck, I don't remember what the sides and back were.
Honestly, I hadn't considered Cherry for the sides and back - that Cherry log was only about 8" dia. so a back would have to be at least 3 pcs, maybe even 4 and flat grain at that. I might re-visit that.
Having never built a musical instrument of any kind (well, maybe one or two of those green Willow whistles), it seems to me that the major stresses in a guitar are in the top, where the bridge attaches and the neck ?? So, from a strength standpoint, Cedar should be strong enough for sides and back, its just the sound that's the question ? No doubt it'll be different but will I like it, only one way to find out !
I'm one of those people who like to be a bit different, or take a bit of a different path----------- but not too different.

No doubt a lot of work, possibly for nothing - but taking a different path always has both risks and possible rewards. :roll:

Any suggestions for how thick to make Cedar top, sides, back(I'm thinking maybe 10 - 15% thicker than conventional woods) , bracing modifications ??

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Mark Swanson
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Re: 100 mile guitar ??

Post by Mark Swanson »

Howard, I saw nothing in that article that said anything about cedar for backs and sides, and I have never heard of anyone using it and I for one think it's not suited for backs and sides. It is way too soft and cracks and dents, a bad idea.
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Alan Carruth
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Re: 100 mile guitar ??

Post by Alan Carruth »

You have to think about the job each piece is being asked to do, and choose the wood accordingly. The problem is that even steel strings don't pack a lot of horsepower, so you need to make the most of what you've got.

Most of the sound is produced by movement of the top, so you want to get the most you can. That means making the top light and just stiff enough to work. Spruce has been the traditional choice, but WRC has been used for a long time, too, and makes a great guitar. The main issues with it are that it's soft, so that it dents easily, and it is not as split resistant as spruce. It's a good idea to make the bridge on a cedar top with a little bigger 'footprint', to reduce the stress level on the glue line and resist peeling. Making the bridge wider from front to back helps more with this than making it longer. If you don't have the facilities to test the actual stiffness of the wood you've got, just make the top about 10%-15% thicker than the plans call out for spruce, and you'll probably be OK.

Except in the lowest ferequency range, the back tends to be a 'loser' in terms of sound prooduction. It's facing the wrong way, for one thing, and it's often up against your pudggy avoirdupois. The main thing, though, is that the top is the part that's being directly driven by the strings, and the back has to get it's energy by stealing it from the top. If you've already maximized the sound output of the top, why feed the energy to some part that's not likely to be as effective? The only guitar type I know of where they use a really light softwood back is the Flamenco, and they're pretty particular about the wood they use for it. WRC is reasonably close in properties, as it turns out, to the stuff they use, and might actually make a decent Flamenco, but is that the sound you want? With steel strings I'd expect it to be a decent blues box, but not very 'full' sounding.

Anyway, in general, the woods that are considered 'best' for backs tend to be dense, and to have low 'damping': they ring a long time when you tap them. WRC does have the low damping part down, usually, but it's one of the less dense softwoods. Doug fir might work well if the stuff you've got is on the heavy side. On the whole, though, I'd vote for the cherry for B&S, as well as for the neck and bridge.

Out here on the right coast we have several local woods that make decent fingerboards, and, of course, if you're willing to go 'out' for it, there are a number of domestic woods that work well that may not grow near you. I've used apple, hop hornbeam, and rock maple for fingerboards, all of which grow on my back hill. Some broadleaf maple is pretty nearly hard and dense enough, and so, for that matter, is some cherry. Most of these will need to be stained to hide the dirt. I don't know if there's any locust near you: we've got black and honey locust around here, and those would probably work too. Persimmon and Osage Orange are woods that grow in the USA that are hard and dense enough to work well. It may be difficult to get them, simply because they're usually only used for fence posts and such, and there's little real 'lumber' market for them.

Alan Carruth / Luthier

Howard Williamson
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Re: 100 mile guitar ??

Post by Howard Williamson »

Mark;
No, he doesn't mention WRC for sides or back but what caught my attention were his comments that "traditional" wood choices may have as much to do with the fact that many of the famous mfr's had used them and a mfr's choices may have been based as much in availability and supply concerns as they were in "what's the best species" considerations.
No doubt, WRC isn' the best choice for sides or back due to its soft nature but I am interested in using locally available materials, even though they may be less than ideal. I'm wondering if it may be useable, ie; can I make a useable guitar with it. From what Alan says above, it may be useable. Will it sound different, I'm sure it will but maybe I had better check out what a Flamenco guitar sounds like before I get any farther with this.
Alan;
Thanks for your comments, very enlightening.

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Mark Swanson
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Re: 100 mile guitar ??

Post by Mark Swanson »

There are many local woods that can be used for backs and sides. But cedar ain't it! It won't stay together, the sides will crack and the guitar won't last.
Let's get some thoughts from others as well- Alan is very respected but if you read his comments again he does not say it would be a very good wood to use.
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Thomas W. Felty
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Re: 100 mile guitar ??

Post by Thomas W. Felty »

I have made a nylon string kind of guitar using Yellow Cedar for back an sides and Port Orford cedar for the top and Spanish cedar for the neck. I've used Doug Fir for tops of acoustic guitars that I'm putting pick-up systems in. WRC for tops on Steel string and nylon string guitars.

Thomas

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Mark Swanson
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Re: 100 mile guitar ??

Post by Mark Swanson »

If you want to get more opinions on this question exclusively, why not start a new discussion and call it "Western Red Cedar for backs and sides" or "local woods for backs and sides", and say what area of the country you live in so people can mention woods that you have locally.
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Jason Rodgers
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Re: 100 mile guitar ??

Post by Jason Rodgers »

Port Orford Cedar has different properties than WRC: closer to sitka than a cedar, though harder. It's actually a cyprus, which is flamenco blanca material.
-Ruining perfectly good wood, one day at a time.

Clay Schaeffer
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Re: 100 mile guitar ??

Post by Clay Schaeffer »

I have an old parlor guitar that has spruce or fir back and sides with rosewood veneered over it. Richard Schneider built some classical guitars with redwood backs. Softwoods have been used for back and side wood with some success in the past and by at least one luthier who was certainly more than a novice.
That being said, western red cedar would not be my first choice for back and sides, but if you do use it look for a dense piece and maybe use an epoxy or other "plastic" coating to finish them. Or you could veneer them with a hardwood as some of the oldtimers did. If you have some nice edge grain Douglas fir it might be a better choice for B&S and have a bit more dent resistance than WRC.

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Bryan Bear
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Re: 100 mile guitar - what woods to use?

Post by Bryan Bear »

I'm not opposed to softwoods for b/s (though I haven't tried it), but I would be afraid to use soft woods. . . WRC is just dents too easily for my taste (for the back); I envision belt buckle shaped imprints after the first few songs. I would also be concerned about it splitting if used for the sides. If you do go this rout, I recommend solid wood side reinforcements. I do think an all WRC box would look cool when first built.
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Howard Williamson
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Re: 100 mile guitar - what woods to use?

Post by Howard Williamson »

Thomas W. Felty;
I would be interested to hear how your guitar W/ Yellow Cedar sides and back stood up to use and what was your impression of the sound ?
Presumably, it hasn't fallen apart ?
I've used Yellow Cedar before and I would say that its somewhat harder / stronger than WRC but not alot.

I haven't done anything yet, other than saw up the WRC and Cherry and plane some WRC top material to rough thickness.
The WRC is at about 4% MC, the Cherry about 8% - so I think the WRC is ready to use, the Cherry could use some more drying time I think ?
I've ordered a book / plan from Stewmac, waiting for that to arrive before I do anything.
I did look at side / back material from Stewmac, looks like it'd be over $200 with freight / brokerage / taxes etc. That WRC cost me nothing other than time and its pretty nice looking material and I have lots of it.
I think what I'll do is try to make a body from the WRC and see how it goes, how badly it gets marked up on the workbench, how strong (or weak) it feels in my hands.
If nothing else, it'll be practice / experience for the next one.
Bryan Bear,
yes, I had thought about some kind of lateral "X" bracing on the sides and some kind of a "hard" finish to try and minimize the "dings".

Thanks to those that have replied.
Howard

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Bryan Bear
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Re: 100 mile guitar - what woods to use?

Post by Bryan Bear »

I'm not sure how x braces on the sides would work; I was thinking solid cross grain braces along the sides. Similar to the fabric reinforcements that some use but with solid wood strips. These are designed to minimize any crack from spreading. Should a split occur, it should stop when it gets to each brace. Sorry, I'm not describing it well. . .
PMoMC

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Øyvind Taraldsen
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Re: 100 mile guitar - what woods to use?

Post by Øyvind Taraldsen »

Bob Benedetto has made a complete guitar out of western red cedar, top, back, sides and neck, i think it is called the Sinfonietta Western Red Cedar.
He mentions in his book that he normaly uses solid crossgrain spruce braces to reinforce the sides of most of his guitars.
This is an archtop guitar so it does not relate directly to flat tops, but perhaps it can be helpful.


I agree with Rod and Bill, cherry is not the best idea for a fretboard, it would wear to quickly, i would try to find something denser and harder for that, cherry does make a nice neck however.
If you want to use local woods, perhaps you can find something that fits the bill, sugar maple for instance is used on some electric guitars, and it is alot harder than cherry if you can get that localy.

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