Best alternative neck wood?

Construction and repair of Classical Guitar and related instruments
Robert England
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Best alternative neck wood?

Post by Robert England » Sun Oct 16, 2011 11:44 pm

I have been using Spanish Cedar for my guitar necks, but it seems now that the large US tonewood distributors (e.g. Stewmac, LMII) will no longer ship Spanish Cedar to Canada. They cite CITES restrictions. The more-or-less usual alternatives available to me seem to be Sapele, Khaya Mahogany, and Sipo. I am not familiar with these woods. Which would make the best classical guitar neck, considering stability, workability, appearance, and customer acceptance? Is there any other source for good Spanish Cedar that can be obtained in Canada?
Thanks,
Robert

JohnAbercrombie

Re: Best alternative neck wood?

Post by JohnAbercrombie » Mon Oct 17, 2011 1:48 am

Robert-
You have a couple of excellent local wood suppliers- both list cedro on their websites.
A&M Wood Specialty in Cambridge is excellent- when I lived in the GTA, I spent some expensive Saturdays browsing their wood piles! A friend here in BC has mail ordered from them and was v. pleased.
Exotic Woods in Burlington is often mentioned as well.

Scot Tremblay
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Re: Best alternative neck wood?

Post by Scot Tremblay » Mon Oct 17, 2011 4:11 am

Honduras Mahogany, Spanish Cedar are pretty much finished as a legal woods unless one has proper documentation of legal harvesting (mostly impossible to get if you don't already have it) so luthiers need to find viable options for sure. Especially so if one is planning to ship or travel to the USA.

I cannot tell you which is best of the list you presented above but I can give you a short blurb concerning my experiences with a couple of them.

Most of my 19th century guitar necks are made of Maple (occassionally Spruce or poplar) and either lacquered black or veneered with ebony so I don't often use woods similar to Spanish Cedar or Mahogany. However, I have used Sapele and African Mahogany (Khaya) in models that require a Spanish Cedar/Mahogany look. Both can have a look and feel very close to Honduras Mahogany depending on the piece. They both have an interlocking grain so are a little more difficult to work with hand tools. If using a planer or jointer watch for tear out depending on grain direction.

Both are in general heavier than Spanish Cedar but in the same range as Honduras Mahogany. Khaya has lower shrinkage numbers than Spanish Cedar and is more stable under use (dry) than Spanish Cedar.

As to customer acceptance, I've not had a single comment indicating that the customer was concerned about either Sapele or Khaya. Most don't even notice unless it's pointed out. However, it's been my experience that period instrument buyers seem to be less "fussy" about the material in their instruments than modern instrument buyers so it is possible that my data might not apply 100%. But I think if you point out to them that their instrument with a Spanish Cedar or Honduras Mahogany neck is likely to be confiscated and not returned, should they cross an international border...their attitude towards alternative woods will change in a mighty big hurry.
Scot Tremblay Guitars

"One picture is worth a thousand words. So, for me, one good note put where it should be put, will say what it will take some people many notes to say. ~B.B. King, 1986

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Alexandru Marian
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Re: Best alternative neck wood?

Post by Alexandru Marian » Mon Oct 17, 2011 9:15 am

Khaya looks like a decent replacement. The color is about the same but khaya is a bit more brighter, with a pinkish overcast that is mildly distracting. It probably fades away after it is lacquered and aged for a bit. The weight of my samples tends to be similar to cedar, a bit lighter than mahogany. The pores are different than cedar, and the texture slightly less fine.
Sapele is heavy, dark, with fine grain and very tightly packed small pores. I'm less excited about this one because of the weight.

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Michael.N.
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Re: Best alternative neck wood?

Post by Michael.N. » Mon Oct 17, 2011 9:23 am

What is it with the Neck weight thing? There was me under the impression that heavy Necks were great for sustain - something we are a little short of with our plinky plonky instruments.
Historicalguitars.

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Alexandru Marian
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Re: Best alternative neck wood?

Post by Alexandru Marian » Mon Oct 17, 2011 10:29 am

I am a bit annoyed by heavy necks because they sometimes give the impression the box is lifting and is going to tumble...
Maybe these are better paired with a heavy type of guitar: dense or thick B&S, double sides, large size, things like this.

Michael Thames

Re: Best alternative neck wood?

Post by Michael Thames » Mon Oct 17, 2011 5:59 pm

Michael.N. wrote:What is it with the Neck weight thing? There was me under the impression that heavy Necks were great for sustain - something we are a little short of with our plinky plonky instruments.
From my limited experience, heavy necks do give more sustain, but more sustain equals less volume, and a thinner attack. Less volume and a thin attack might work well for lutes and baroque guitars, but modern instruments such as the classical guitar have moved away from the nasal thin lute sound towards a strong fundamental, one can also see this trend in the keyboard family, tastes have evolved from the harpsichord to the grand piano, towards a smooth strong fundamental. From my recollection David Van Edwards recommends spanish cedar neck cores for lutes over other woods, probably a result of tailoring the thinner lute tone to be more acceptable to the modern ear.

There is an interesting video of John Williams interviewed by Shin Ichi Fukuda, about how modern peoples hear sound, as a result of sound pollution we all are exposed to in modern times.

seans

Re: Best alternative neck wood?

Post by seans » Mon Oct 17, 2011 10:39 pm

Which Khaya? there is actually seven different ones according to wiki although they only name five.
The colour varies in the different species, perhaps weight and stability also.
Which ones are being imported and sold under the African Mahogany name?

Robert England
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Re: Best alternative neck wood?

Post by Robert England » Mon Oct 17, 2011 11:55 pm

seans wrote:Which Khaya? there is actually seven different ones according to wiki although they only name five.
The colour varies in the different species, perhaps weight and stability also.
Which ones are being imported and sold under the African Mahogany name?
This is an excellent question. Today I went to a local supplier (Exotic Woods in Burlington, Ont) and purchased eight neck blanks of "African Mahogany". I'd love to know what these actually are, because the Lacey Act will require me to list the scientific name and country of harvesting. The employees were not much help. All 8 of these have a typical mahogany looking grain pattern, but 4 of them are quite light in color, just an off white, and the other 4 are darker reddish brown. I chose them based on degree of quarter sawn and minimum run out, not color. I also bought a large plank of Spanish Cedar, with origin listed as Brazil, which yielded four nice neck blanks when cut up. (Plank only cost $23) The employee said he was not aware of any problem exporting Spanish Cedar to the US.
Robert

Marcus Dominelli
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Re: Best alternative neck wood?

Post by Marcus Dominelli » Tue Oct 18, 2011 12:10 am

Robert England wrote:Today I went to a local supplier (Exotic Woods in Burlington, Ont) and purchased eight neck blanks of "African Mahogany". I'd love to know what these actually are, because the Lacey Act will require me to list the scientific name and country of harvesting. The employees were not much help. All 8 of these have a typical mahogany looking grain pattern, but 4 of them are quite light in color, just an off white, and the other 4 are darker reddish brown. I chose them based on degree of quarter sawn and minimum run out, not color. I also bought a large plank of Spanish Cedar, with origin listed as Brazil, which yielded four nice neck blanks when cut up. (Plank only cost $23) The employee said he was not aware of any problem exporting Spanish Cedar to the US.
It just goes to show you how "behind the times" some people are, and how inconsistent everything is.
My wood dealer here in B.C first told me about the "coming ban" on Spanish Cedar almost 10 years ago. Now it's for real, and I hav'nt bought any new spanish cedar for a while now.

As for alternatives, I think that Red Alder (alnus rubra) will work very well. It has a similar weight to spanish cedar, although it should not be used (IMO) without reinforcement. It has a nice warm colour and the stiffness and weight seem very good.
Walnut and Maple will work great, but of course, all those conservative players will look at them and say "Hey what's this?!"
Most players would'nt even notice red alder, since it looks so much like light coloured spanish cedar.

Dominelli Guitars

seans

Re: Best alternative neck wood?

Post by seans » Tue Oct 18, 2011 12:46 am

Curious Robert which is lighter the white or the red ones? You may have two different species there, I found one khaya is also called white mahogany. There seems to be pinkish, reddish brown, brown in the colour palette for "African Mahogany" and a large range in density.

Robert England
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Re: Best alternative neck wood?

Post by Robert England » Tue Oct 18, 2011 5:05 am

seans wrote:Curious Robert which is lighter the white or the red ones? You may have two different species there, I found one khaya is also called white mahogany. There seems to be pinkish, reddish brown, brown in the colour palette for "African Mahogany" and a large range in density.
The densities of the light color African Mahogany are (KG/cuM) 488, 535, 455, 528, giving a mean of 501 and a standard deviation of 37.5
The densities of the darker color African Mahogany are 446, 471, 418, 484, giving a mean of 455 and an SD of 29.3

For comparison, the densities of the Spanish Cedar neck blanks, all cut from the same plank. are 504, 453, 443, 502, 498, giving a mean of 480 and a SD of 29.4.

You can say that the darker Khaya appears less dense than the lighter Khaya, and the Sp. Cedar falls in between, but given the variation in densities as indicated by the standard deviations, it is difficult to make a definite statement about consistent differences in future samples of these woods.

Robert

Intune
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Re: Best alternative neck wood?

Post by Intune » Tue Oct 18, 2011 12:47 pm

I once owned a guitar built by Aussie maker John Price that had neck of a "Queensland maple," a wood I'm told is often used there for this purpose. It looked terrific under finish and seemed to meet all the requirements for a good neck. If this wood can be sourced in your area, you might want to include it on your list of alternative species to consider.
Intune
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Michael Thames

Re: Best alternative neck wood?

Post by Michael Thames » Tue Oct 18, 2011 2:19 pm

It just goes to show you how "behind the times" some people are, and how inconsistent everything is.
My wood dealer here in B.C first told me about the "coming ban" on Spanish Cedar almost 10 years ago. Now it's for real, and I hav'nt bought any new spanish cedar for a while now.
Marcus, when did they "ban" Spanish cedar, and what does that mean exactly? I bought some recently from a dealer who specializes in it, and he never mentioned anything to me about a "ban". Maybe I'm behind the times too...........

Michael Thames

Re: Best alternative neck wood?

Post by Michael Thames » Tue Oct 18, 2011 2:19 pm

It just goes to show you how "behind the times" some people are, and how inconsistent everything is.
My wood dealer here in B.C first told me about the "coming ban" on Spanish Cedar almost 10 years ago. Now it's for real, and I hav'nt bought any new spanish cedar for a while now.
Marcus, when did they "ban" Spanish cedar, and what does that mean exactly? I bought some recently from a dealer who specializes in it, and he never mentioned anything to me about a "ban". Maybe I'm behind the times too...........

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