Wood from Pennsylvania, USA

Construction and repair of Classical Guitar and related instruments
mts132
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Location: Carlisle, Pennsylvania USA

Wood from Pennsylvania, USA

Post by mts132 » Thu Aug 31, 2017 7:18 pm

I am currently in the market for a custom made classical guitar and was curious about alternative tonewoods. I live in central Pennsylvania, USA and would like to use native wood for its construction. We have many tree species here but so far, I feel like I haven't been able to find one with a good enough reputation for such an investment. Black walnut seems to come up as decent while ash, maple, and tulip-poplar are primarily used for electric guitars. Oak and hickory are everywhere but seem to be lousy. I wonder if anyone has any opinions about trees such eastern hemlock, black locust, black cherry, eastern red cedar, and sycamore. We have white, red, and black spruce too. Maybe eastern US trees just aren't all that good for CG guitars...I don't know.

For guidance, I was using these sites as well as some random google hits:
http://www.guitarnation.com/articles/calkin.htm
http://tonewooddatasource.weebly.com/li ... vered.html

To make the guitar, I am going to get with Peter Tsiorba (www.tsiorba.com) in Portland, OR. I stopped by his studio while at a conference and I was 100% impressed. I played the one in the pics below and loved it.
guitar1.jpg
guitar2.jpg
All of that said, I'll just use wood from the western US if need be but I'd really like to have something local.
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Michael.N.
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Re: Wood from Pennsylvania, USA

Post by Michael.N. » Thu Aug 31, 2017 7:41 pm

If you want to play it safe then figured maple is probably thee most popular choice of the alternatives. It has such a long history in stringed instrument making, hundreds of years. Of the darker timbers walnut is relatively popular.
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basso1956
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Re: Wood from Pennsylvania, USA

Post by basso1956 » Thu Aug 31, 2017 8:42 pm

You'd think one of those spruces might work for a top.

At least one luthier here thinks well of black locust for back and sides. Maple could be used for that as well. Maybe cherry too.

Maybe walnut, maple, or cherry could work for the neck.

The fingerboard might be the hardest (no pun intended) thing to source locally. Do you get any eastern/American persimmon there?

viewtopic.php?f=11&t=114683

Alan Carruth
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Re: Wood from Pennsylvania, USA

Post by Alan Carruth » Thu Aug 31, 2017 9:09 pm

Locust is a decent replacement for Indian rosewood; maybe even better than the 'real thing' in some respects. I made one Classical from it; it looked like a Flamenco, but had the Classical sound, so I thought of it as a 'Classica blanca'.

Walnut works well, as does cherry. Cherry is a pretty good replacement for Caribbean mahogany in terms of it's properties; a bit harder and denser than most Honduras mahogany. You can sometimes find cherry with an attractive curl figure that runs across the piece at something like a 45 degree angle. Walnut tends to be a bit softer and lighter in weight. It's actually pretty close to soft maple in it's properties, but most folks say that maple guitars sound 'bright' while walnut sounds 'dark'. That may be a matter of 'listening with the eyes'.

Most of the walnut and cherry I get probably come from your neck of the woods. With all the hunting that goes on I have gotten both woods with embedded shot, or, at least, the remains of it. The lead itself dissolves over time, but you're left with the tracks of the balls and cavities full of pitch in cherry. I tend to refer to this wood as 'enriched'; it's harder and denser than the usual stuff, and often has quite attractive figure. It makes a nice instrument. I'll note that small black pitch pockets are common in cherry, and are not considered as down grading the wood so long as they are not large.

I have also made several guitars of quartered oak. Players tend to like them, but they are hard to sell due to the appearance. I actually did a 'matched pair' experiment using oak and BRW for the B&S of two Classical guitars back in the '90s. The rosewood one was a little better, but not all that much.

Any of those spruces should work well. Try to find a low density piece for the top, and don't worry too much about the grain spacing. Don't forget the secondary woods. Willow makes good wood for blocks and liners, or you can use butternut, which is similar in properties to cedro.

Several years ago I built a guitar for the 'Cherry Seven' project. The wood was all locally sourced by a Quebec luthier, Marc Saumier, and he recruited several builders who showed at the Montreal Festival to make guitars from it. He provided Red spruce for the tops, cherry for the back, sides and necks, and American hornbeam for the fingerboard and bridge. The spruce was nice and light, so I elected to make a Classical, and swapped in a piece of butternut for the neck to save some weight (he would have sent me some, but I already had it). It turned out very nicely.

Remember that early on most musical instruments were made of 'local' woods; imported 'exotics' only became common with the expansion of trade, and started out as 'prestige' items that were more for show than sound. You have some of the best lutherie wood around right in your back yard.

mts132
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Re: Wood from Pennsylvania, USA

Post by mts132 » Thu Aug 31, 2017 9:19 pm

basso1956 wrote:
Thu Aug 31, 2017 8:42 pm
You'd think one of those spruces might work for a top.

At least one luthier here thinks well of black locust for back and sides. Maple could be used for that as well. Maybe cherry too.

Maybe walnut, maple, or cherry could work for the neck.

The fingerboard might be the hardest (no pun intended) thing to source locally. Do you get any eastern/American persimmon there?

viewtopic.php?f=11&t=114683
I need to do more research into the 3 spruces but yes, that's an avenue I'd like to explore. As for the persimmon, I know the location of some larger trees, have the ability, and permission to cut them down. My game plan needs to be more solid before I break out the saw though. What I'd like to do is send the luthier some samples from different species to see what he thinks.

mts132
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Re: Wood from Pennsylvania, USA

Post by mts132 » Thu Aug 31, 2017 9:37 pm

Alan Carruth wrote:
Thu Aug 31, 2017 9:09 pm
Remember that early on most musical instruments were made of 'local' woods; imported 'exotics' only became common with the expansion of trade, and started out as 'prestige' items that were more for show than sound. You have some of the best lutherie wood around right in your back yard.
That's what I was thinking too. The whole place is filled with trees, hence the name of the state (and William Penn). Also, thank you for your very detailed response. It's nice to know I can come here for advice. Don't want to screw anything up with >5K on the line.

chiral3
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Re: Wood from Pennsylvania, USA

Post by chiral3 » Fri Sep 01, 2017 1:48 am

I've pulled a ton a great cherry and black walnut out of the woods behind my house. Mainly made bowls, boxes, and shelves. The BW I've harvested is obviously from larger trees. I have BW B&S in the vault but haven't built with it.

There's a local builder (closer to Philly), used to be on this forum, has some guitars for sale at the CG store, that I used to build with. He had this thing for building with white oak. Mainly turn of the (last) century steel strings if I recall correctly.

I checked mapquest your about a 100 miles from me, so I'd recommend looking into cherry and black walnut.
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bacsidoan
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Re: Wood from Pennsylvania, USA

Post by bacsidoan » Fri Sep 01, 2017 4:10 am

How about osage orange. I see tons of it here in Ohio.

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Chris Sobel
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Re: Wood from Pennsylvania, USA

Post by Chris Sobel » Fri Sep 01, 2017 4:56 am

Good call with your choice of Luthier. Peter does exceptional work!

Hemlock is an excellent topwood and at least out here it's easy to find nice boards for almost no money. It has a good s/w ratio and should sound more like spruce than cedar.

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Alan Carruth
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Re: Wood from Pennsylvania, USA

Post by Alan Carruth » Fri Sep 01, 2017 8:05 pm

If you have Osage available, and it opens out nicely, it's a great wood; the closest thing I've seen in a domestic to BRW. Although it was only found in one river valley in Texas when the Europeans came, it proved to adapt well to much of the rest of the country, growing well in poor dry soils. It's very tough, and has intimidating thorns (as does locust!), so it was widely used as a hedge tree. Often the smaller trees were coppiced, and the branches braided together to make a fence. One supplier I know has opened out Osage trees only to find the grain to be too interlocked to use, as the tree grew from such a fence post. Hedging was largely replaced by barbed wire, but the Osage trees still found use as a source for fence posts, which are reputed to last even longer than the holes they're in.

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Guitar-ded
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Re: Wood from Pennsylvania, USA

Post by Guitar-ded » Fri Sep 01, 2017 10:51 pm

So what does Peter T suggest you use?
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Peter Tsiorba
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Re: Wood from Pennsylvania, USA

Post by Peter Tsiorba » Wed Sep 13, 2017 4:09 am

I was notified of this thread by Mark, the person initiating this discussion. I thought I'd post photos of the Osage Orage wood I purchased about 10 years ago during a Guild of American Luthiers Convention in Tacoma. To resonate with Alan Caruth's assessment, I too was quite impressed with the tap tone and the "ping" of this interesting wood. I informally dubbed it the "North American Rosewood".

Exploring the possibilities of one's future guitar is at least half the enjoyment. So, I am offering these photos in that spirit, knowing that eventually, Mark and I will find the best set of parameters for his guitar. In the meanwhile, here is what I have....be it Osage Orange, Walnut, or Maple (or beyond).

To those of you who have Osage Orange trees growing in your area, what is the largest OO tree you've seen, in diameter from about knee high, to about six/seven feet or a couple of meters high? As a young boy, I recall those trees growing in Central Asia. I also remember those green, bumpy-looking "apples" being harvested, sliced, and soaked in alcohol for some sort of medicinal concoctions. I cannot recall its value at the moment. Perhaps my parents will remember, I will ask them when I speak with them next time.
Osage-Orange-Tsiorba-Guitars - 1.jpg
Osage-Orange-Tsiorba-Guitars - 2.jpg
Osage-Orange-Tsiorba-Guitars - 3.jpg
Osage-Orange-Tsiorba-Guitars - 4.jpg
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Peter Tsiorba
Maker and Restorer since 2001
Classical and Flamenco Guitars
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Alan Carruth
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Re: Wood from Pennsylvania, USA

Post by Alan Carruth » Wed Sep 13, 2017 5:52 pm

Try fuming the OO with household ammonia. The samples I tried turned to a nice medium-dark honey color in about 48 hours.

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Doug Ingram
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Re: Wood from Pennsylvania, USA

Post by Doug Ingram » Thu Sep 14, 2017 12:46 pm

Peter, that's a lovely OO back! And that shaving is killer. I'm sure that you will do an excellent job with whichever woods are chosen.

In addition to the support and love that has been shown towards Maple and Walnut, I would add that the humble Ash tree makes very nice B&S woods too. And don't get me started about how easy it is to bend the sides! All I can say is "oh, my...'

White Oak has a lot of potential and it is now gaining quite a lot of favour with steel string builders and players. A nicely figured set of White Oak B&S is amazing to look at. I have some here that I am anxious to experience in the completed guitar.

White and Black Spruces are excellent, they just need to be harvest properly from suitable trees. Red Spruce is a favourite for steel string builders and players. You just need to choose the right piece. White Pine, if it grows in your area, also offers much potential as an alternative wood.

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