Acoustic Woods and other options
An acoustic instrument has many factors that determine the sound. Most importantly is the shape and size of the instrument, but beyond that, wood selection can be a big factor in the final tonality. Many luthiers are using non traditional woods these days with great results. If you would like a guitar made with a non traditional wood like Pear wood or Osage orange or Purple heart that is not a problem. Here is a summary of the more traditional woods used for acoustic guitars.
A very abundant wood from the northwest north America. Lightly tan or slightly pinkish in color, sitka spruce has a strong fundamental in relation to the overtones. Sitka has a meaty tone and it holds up well when played hard although it may not respond as well when played softly.
Also known as red spruce, adirondack spruce was the standard on old Martins. Like sitka it has a strong fundamental but it also has complex overtones. It retains it's clarity at all volume levels. Adirondack spruce was once over harvested but it is now available again thanks to replanting and wise forestry. The down side to this wood is that it is expensive and it is not as finely grained.
A light colored spruce, engleman spruce has a weaker fundamental with stronger overtones making it richer sounding even when played softly, although clarity may be lost when it is played loud.
Is a great choice for classical guitars. European spruce has much of the same characteristics as engelman spruce.
Western Red Cedar
Darker in color than the spruces this fine tone wood has great overtones and a lower fundamental, Cedar has less projection than spruce and it can loose clarity when played hard. It has a very short break in time.
Backs and Sides
Cocobolo, Indian Rosewood, Madagascar Rosewood, Brazilian Rosewood, Honduran Rosewood, African Blackwood, Kingwood, and Amazon Rosewood can vary in color, price and availability but all rosewoods have some things in common, they offer a ringing tone (like a built in reverb) and strong low overtones.
Mahogany and Koa
Lacking the ring and low overtones of the rosewoods, these woods have a dryer, more woody sound. Koa is a stunningly beautiful wood from Hawaii. Koa is a traditional wood for Ukuleles and it is sometimes used as a soundboard in addition to being used as back and sides. Mahogany has been used on great sounding instruments for many decades. Honduran Mahogany is becoming more scarce. It is very stable and easy to work. Fortunately African Mahogany has many of the same characteristics.
Maple, Cherry and Walnut
These woods tend to be more acoustically transparent, allowing the top wood to be uncolored. Maples can display beautiful figure such as birds eye, flame and quilt. These native woods are traditional and sustainable.
Walnut__________Quilted Maple _________Cherry
Other body wood choices
Although the demand for exotic woods from the guitar industry is less than one percent, traditional woods are becoming scarce. There are many new choices for great tone woods today. It seems that every year more and more are introduced. Many of these woods will give a guitar the sound of traditional woods and others can have uniquely great sounds of their own, some have a traditional look others offer beautiful alternatives.
It would be impossible for me to list all of the varieties of woods available today, here are some: Balsamo, Blood wood, Bocote, Bubinga, Jarrah, Jatoba, Ganadillo, Kauri, Lacewood, Macacauba, Makore, Malaysian Blackwood, Monkey Pod, Monterey Cypress, Myrtle, Narra, Osage Orange, Ovangkol, Padauk, Palo Escrito, Pau Ferro/ Morado, Pau Rosa, Pear wood, Purple heart, Sapele, Spanish Cypress, Wenge, Zebra wood, Ziricote.
I offer woods that are Forest Stewardship Council certified. They include Lacewood, Machiche, Maple, Honduran Mahogany, Narra and Pau Ferro.
Other considerations that alter the sound of a guitar
There are three factors that determine the pitch of a string. The first is the tension, (we adjust the tuning machines to raise and lower the pitch). The second is the length of the string, (we change the pitch by fretting up and down the neck, in effect changing the length of the string). The third is the weight of the string, (all six stings are approximately the same length and have similar tension but they produce different pitches by having different weight). By selecting different combinations of string gauge, scale length and tuning you can affect the timbre of a guitar.
When a player changes from light strings to medium strings, the weight of the strings is increased and therefore the tension must be increased in order to create the same pitch as before. This causes more pressure on the bridge and it gives the guitar's sound more punch.
A similar situation happens when a guitar has a longer scale length. With a longer string, the tension must be increased in order to maintain the same pitch (A= 440hrtz.). This situation also gives a more punchy sound. A shorter scale length will give a sweeter sound. On most standard guitars, scale lengths range from about 24.5" to about 25.5".
Alternate tunings will add another factor to consider. This changes the tension of the string. For example; when using D tuning, where the bass string E is dropped to a D, tension is reduced on that string.
A cutaway body is a great way to gain access to the upper frets. Two styles are common.
----The Florentine cutaway --------------------------------The Venetian Cutaway
Recently I have made some changes to the way that the cuaway meets the body of the guitar. The sides of the body now meet the neck heel with a smooth seamless transition that gives even more access and comfort when playing up the neck.
About my necks
My necks are engineered to be lightweight, resonant as well as stiff and resistant to breakage. Here is how I do that. First, the neck joint is a dovetail joint. This makes a very solid connection to the body. Secondly, the neck is laminated with Mahogany, Maple and Walnut, all great tone woods. This not only looks good but laminating makes the neck strong and stiff. Stiffness is a good thing for several reasons. It holds up well against the string tension, instead of absorbing vibrations, it reflects them back to the soundboard and it can be important if for slim modern neck shapes. Finally, the headstock is scarfed onto the neck. This allows the grain direction to be oriented on the headstock in a way that prevents breaking from impact.
Piezo pickups and internal microphones
A piezo pickup is another option to consider. If you are not sure what pickup to choose for your acoustic guitar, read this online article from acoustic guitar magazine
I recommend a good case to protect your investment. A low cost option is available from either Guardian or TKL. Ameritage makes a case with a humidity control system option, and they offer some options for the outer cover and the inner fabric. Cedar Creek cases offer many choices for the interior and exterior.
Cedar Creek case options are extensive, here are some examples. To see more choices please follow this link.