Tonewood for Guitar Building
Find out the many of the important factors in pursuit of quality tonewood for use in fine acoustic instruments.
The phrase tonewood, in the guitar making trade is used to describe wood with acoustic qualities.
The term certainly can apply to the top, back and sides equally, but it is more often used to define the character of the guitar top plate.
Because the guitar top plate is accountable for producing the essence and caliber of tone, the term tonewood refers mainly to the guitar top.
Considering top tonewood, top bracing and the manner with which the guitar was constructed, the luthier has an unbelievable amount of control over the tone and volume aspects of a guitar.
Tonewood for Guitar Tops - Sitka Spruce
The main objective of the back and sides of the acoustic instrument is the support and amplification of the tone and volume that the guitar top exhibits.
The significance of the the guitar back and sides should not however be downplayed.
But, this fact was proven when the celebrated classical guitar luthier, Antonio De Torres constructed his paper mache guitar to demonstrate the importance of the top and top bracing.
It is understood that this guitar had tremendous sound and volume qualities and proved without a doubt the relevance that the tonewood and top bracing exhibit.
The character of the top plate tonewood used in guitar construction can thus not be underestimated.
The tone is enhanced by the shape of the instrument, the volume of air within the body of the instrument, the amount of vibrations that are inherent within the wood, the moisture content of the wood, the type and placement of the bracing and the mass of the tonewood.
But, if you don't start with a great piece of tonewood for the top plate you are wasting a lot of time in effort as one of the key elements has been compromised.
The caliber and species of the guitar top tonewood functions as the main control over the ultimate sound produced by the instrument.
Also, as we discussed, the tonewood is greatly affected by the wood moisture content.
The dryer the wood, the additional tone it is subject to producing, as moisture produces a dampening consequence within the wood.
Search for tonewood with a moisture content of roughly 6% for acoustic instruments.
By using proper drying strategies in heated and humidity controlled storage facilities, the tonewood should attain the ideal moisture content.
Quite often you will see kiln dried tonewood to attain appropriate moisture content.
Wood that you obtain from the lumber yard will frequently not satisfy these moisture content requirements, and needs to be air dried in your shop for several months, or better yet, up to a couple of years or more.
Tonewood for Guitars - Properly Stacked and Sticked
After kiln drying, the wood continues to 'age' and dry even more, particularly if it is properly stacked and stored in a humidity-controlled environment.
To see tonewood that is marketed as aged between 2 years and 10 years, or more, is not at all uncommon. If you intend to make quite a few guitars, you would be well advised to obtain quality tonewood that is appropriately dried, and buy as much of it as you can afford.
Storing and stacking this tonewood appropriately in your shop, will give you a great resource of aged tonewood for many years.
30 years ago, I bought a large quantity of high-quality tonewood, and I'm still drawing from that same stockpile today.
When you do purchase your tonewood make sure you find a good place for storage. This should be a place that is free from major swings in both humidity and temperature.
Also the proper sticking of the tonewood is required to allow for adequate circulation to all surfaces of the wood. This is commonly handled with 3 pieces of 1/4" thick x 1.5" pieces of sticking wood, such as cedar or clear pine.