Catalpa Wood Tips for First-Time Tele

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Catalpa Wood Tips for First-Time Tele

Postby Steve Janzen » Wed Mar 07, 2012 1:16 am

I'm launching into my first luthier project, and could use some help making sure I get started properly.

I have several planks of beautiful catalpa wood (pic attached), which I've heard is a great tone wood, and I know Bill Kirchen has one (at least) Tele made of the same wood, but I have a few concerns:

1. The wood seems rather soft. I could protect it with a hard epoxy finish, but I'm afraid that will kill the tone. Have any of you built with catalpa before? Did you find it too soft to create a body that's durable enough to be played regularly? How did you finish it?

2. I'm lucky enough to have access to some large planks, so I can create the entire face and back from single 3/4" pieces. Is this a stable construction method? Advice I get from traditional woodworkers says that large single pieces are more prone to warpage (for this reason, doors and tables are often built with several strips where the grain-cupping is alternated). This doesn't seem to apply to instruments quite the same way, though.

Any help you can provide would be much appreciated. The wood comes off my great-grandfather's farm, so I'd like to try to make it work if it's possible. Thanks!
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Re: Catalpa Wood Tips for First-Time Tele

Postby Steve Janzen » Wed Mar 07, 2012 1:22 am

1" rough plank catalpa
Catalpa rough plank
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Re: Catalpa Wood Tips for First-Time Tele

Postby Charlie Schultz » Wed Mar 07, 2012 7:21 am

Hi Steve and welcome to the forum!
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Re: Catalpa Wood Tips for First-Time Tele

Postby Mark Swanson » Wed Mar 07, 2012 9:13 am

The finish on a solid body guitar has little to do with its tone. that may be controversial, but if it does effect the sound at all, it is not much. Solid bodies are effected the least compared to hollow bodied guitars. I wouldn't worry. And go ahead and make a laminated body.
    Mark Swanson, guitarist, MIMForum Staff
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Re: Catalpa Wood Tips for First-Time Tele

Postby Eddie McRae » Wed Mar 07, 2012 10:08 am

I'll agree with Mark. In fact, I'll go a step further. I'm sure MANY will disagree with me, but in my opinion, regarding solidbody electrics, the wood itself doesn't lend much of an influence on tone. Yes, harder wood may be brighter or treblier while softer woods may be a little darker but in a solidbody situation, these differences are so subtle that most won't pick up on them. I'm of the opinion that when it comes to solidbodies, the majority of your tone will be determined by pickups, electronics, amps, effects, etc....along with HOW it is constructed. But not so much by the type of woods or the type of finish used. So I'd say, by all means, jump right in and build it with what you have.
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Re: Catalpa Wood Tips for First-Time Tele

Postby Steve Senseney » Wed Mar 07, 2012 10:45 am

Use the Catalpa.

I made one electric guitar out of catalpa.

The wood is very light weight, but fairly strong.

It will easily dent, so plan on accepting dents and dings as part of the "charm" of the instrument.

I would recommend that you reinforce the neck carefully as it will need a little added strength or it will bend too easily.

Since the body will be quite light, and the neck adjusting rod and tuners will add a lot of weight to the neck, the guitar may be "neck heavy". Include this in you design considerations, and you will be fine.
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Re: Catalpa Wood Tips for First-Time Tele

Postby Mike Dotson » Tue Mar 13, 2012 5:33 pm

I'm on my 3rd Catalpa solid body and I love the stuff. I do an epoxy grain fill to toughen it up but that's nearly a lost cause, it's just soft stuff and it will dent far easier than ash or even alder.
Still worth it IMP for the light weight and look.
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Re: Catalpa Wood Tips for First-Time Tele

Postby Henrique Schneiter » Thu Mar 15, 2012 2:48 am

This wood looks good!

Steve, if you are going to make the body in two pieces (back and top), you can "reverse" the grain on the back by turning it face down and thus lower the chances of warping (the two pieces will tend to warp on opposite directions).

Adding a hardwood binding helps to minimize dents on the edges.
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Re: Catalpa Wood Tips for First-Time Tele

Postby Thomas Dooher » Tue Mar 20, 2012 2:13 pm

My experiene is that the wood makes more difference in sustain than in tone. Feel free to pile on. A resonant,'bonky' body has more unplugged 'sound'. I had a really cheap, but very load when unplugged strat clone I donated to my Troop's silent auction.
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