Alternate acoustic tops

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Eddie McRae
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Alternate acoustic tops

Post by Eddie McRae »

I just read recently where Taylor has released a new custom GS walnut model. Complete walnut construction....top, back, and sides. I've also been noticing the trend of other manufacturers to use other woods for acoustic tops such spalted ash, spalted maple, etc. These just seem like they would be excessively heavy and stiff for an acoustic top and I was just wondering if anyone here had tried any alternate woods for tops other than spruce and cedar.

Adam Savage
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Re: Alternate acoustic tops

Post by Adam Savage »

I certainly have no experience myself of building with unusual woods (given that Im currently working on my first!), but there is quite a tradition of using mahogany and koa tops, is there not?

Adam

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Jim McConkey
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Re: Alternate acoustic tops

Post by Jim McConkey »

I have no experience building guitars with hardwood tops, but I definitely prefer hardwoods for the tops on mountain dulcimers. .
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Alan Carruth
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Re: Alternate acoustic tops

Post by Alan Carruth »

For most hardwoods I've measured you'd really need to leave them just about as thick as some of the denser softwoods to get the same stiffness along the grain. Since hardwoods tend to be about twice as dense as softwoods, this means that a hardwood top would end up weighing about twice as much as a normal Sitka or Red spruce top. Since there's just not much horsepower in vibrating strings, they're not going to be able to move the heavier top as well, and you're likely to lose some sound.

Some people do use thinner tops when they make them of hardwood, and then use more braces. This is probably better than using the same number of braces but making them taller: the shorter unsupported spans will tend to 'oil-can' less. THe ultimate of that is the Smallman 'lattice', where the braces are essentially all of the structure, and the top is just a thin membrane to fill in the spaces.

Alternatively, the added mass on the top can come in really handy on an acoustic-electric that is designed to be played plugged in most of the time. By reducing the movement of the top you help control feedback. Some of the hardwood topped guitars I've heard have a nice sound; smooth and somewhat bassy, but not overly loud.

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Eddie McRae
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Re: Alternate acoustic tops

Post by Eddie McRae »

By my way of thinking.....I would expect that using hardwoods like that for a top would probably produce a very trebley tone acoustically. And Alan, I agree with your point regarding acoustic/electric.

Rodger Knox
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Re: Alternate acoustic tops

Post by Rodger Knox »

I've done an all hardwood guitar, maple top, mahogany braces, paduk B&S and pao ferro neck. It's a copy of Gibson's B-25 shape, abouth the size of a 000. The top is pretty thin, probably about .07", and the braces were all 1/4" x 1/2" or less. Initially, it sounded pretty bad, very thin and almost tinny, sort of like a resonator. The bridge was too thin, a little less than 1/4", and the saddle had nearly 3/16" above the bridge. I made another bridge about 3/8" thick to take care of the excessive saddle projection, and to my surprise the heavier bridge significantly improved the tone, much fuller and darker. Still not great, but not too bad.
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Chuck Tweedy
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Re: Alternate acoustic tops

Post by Chuck Tweedy »

Eddie, your original post asks about alternatives to spruce and cedar.
I'd say that the other softwoods are the better "non-traditional" top woods.
I've built with redwood, Doug fir, and I'm building right now with Subalpine Fir (from Larry Stamm).
Of those, redwood is the standout topwood. Very low-density and stiff (or it can be that is).
The right piece of Douglas Fir can make an outstanding acoustic instrument - though you have to use a low density piece!
The Subalpine Fir I'm working with now is interesting. It looks a lot like spruce, but it sure does not feel like spruce. A bit on the rubbery side, I'm hoping the bridge stays on this beast. :-)
Likes to drink Rosewood Juice

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Eddie McRae
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Re: Alternate acoustic tops

Post by Eddie McRae »

Thanks. Now that I have such a good supply of cherry and black walnut, I was thinking of trying each as a top wood.

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Mark Swanson
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Re: Alternate acoustic tops

Post by Mark Swanson »

I've always wanted to try a cherry topped guitar, I think it would work out a lot like mahogany does. And I have seen Taylors that had walnut tops too.
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Eddie McRae
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Re: Alternate acoustic tops

Post by Eddie McRae »

I think I'm gonna give the cherry a try in the near future. Guess I'll find out the hard way how it works out.

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Eddie McRae
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Re: Alternate acoustic tops

Post by Eddie McRae »

Just to follow up with an update....I decided to pull the trigger and give the cherry a try. I closed the box today on a another GA cutaway style guitar. Black walnut back and side with a figured cherry top. I used black walnut for the rosette with goldpowder rings. It's looking great so far...and even if it doesn't sound worth a damn, it'll be nice to look at!! LOL

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Mark Swanson
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Re: Alternate acoustic tops

Post by Mark Swanson »

Very good! I am interested in the details. How thick was the top, and how about a photo or two?
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Eddie McRae
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Re: Alternate acoustic tops

Post by Eddie McRae »

I thinned the top a little more than I normally would with spruce or cedar. I checked top thickness in 5 or 6 different places and it was consistently .080" -.085". Not sure how it will translate once the strings hit it but as of now, the body seems to be a good bit more resonant than the 2 spruce tops that I built during the challenge. At any rate, as requested, here a few pics.
Attachments
P6012011.JPG
P6012012.JPG

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Eddie McRae
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Re: Alternate acoustic tops

Post by Eddie McRae »

Dampened lightly to help show grain.....
Attachments
P6012013.JPG
P6012014.JPG

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Mark Swanson
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Re: Alternate acoustic tops

Post by Mark Swanson »

I once measured a couple of good sounding mahogany guitars and that was just about the same thickness they used on those tops as well. That's where I would start if I were going to build a cherry top.
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Chuck Tweedy
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Re: Alternate acoustic tops

Post by Chuck Tweedy »

That's flat-sawn cherry ...
If I were to make a hardwood topped instrument I'd use perfectly quartered wood and thin it as much as possible.
I think you've got a pretty heavy top there.
I'm jus' sayin'
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Trevor Gore
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Re: Alternate acoustic tops

Post by Trevor Gore »

Eddie McRae wrote: ...I was just wondering if anyone here had tried any alternate woods for tops other than spruce and cedar.
I made this one out of salvaged woods. The back is meranti and the top is 5 piece, pyjama grade radiata pine. At least you can grow a top in your own lifetime! Sounds fine.
Back.jpg
Top.jpg
There's a build thread here, for those interested.

Steve Senseney
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Re: Alternate acoustic tops

Post by Steve Senseney »

That pine top is unusual, but interesting!

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Michael Heytman
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Re: Alternate acoustic tops

Post by Michael Heytman »

Hi there,
I'm new to the forum, but thought I'd add to the discussion.
I've tried a few different tonewoods. A few examples below.

This one has a Hoop Pine (Araucaria cunninghamii) top.
IMG_0163.jpg
This tenor uke has a Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) top.
DSCF1108_sml.jpg
This guitar has a top made from Indian Devilwood (Alstonia Scholaris)
IMG_0327_sml.jpg
They have all been quite nice sounding instruments IMHO.
Cheers

Mike
(M○H)===:::

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Mark Swanson
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Re: Alternate acoustic tops

Post by Mark Swanson »

Welcome to the MIMForum, Mike! Nice looking guitars too.
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