Different Spruce? Sitka?

Construction and repair of Classical Guitar and related instruments
Posts: 1199
Joined: Sun May 08, 2011 6:14 pm
Location: Whitefish, Montana

Different Spruce? Sitka?

Post by Dofpic » Wed Jul 22, 2015 12:00 am

Has anyone used this for classical guitars? I have had german, swiss, and englemann instruments but was curious if anyone had opinions on this wood for a top and how it compares to the others?
2011Fritz Ober(maple), 2015 Eric Sahlin, 2006 Greg Byers(fan)2009 Eric Monrad(maple)
2012 Martin Blackwell(for sale), 2003 Tacchi Simplcio satinwood 2017 E. Bottelli 52 Hauser, 2014 Joshua DeJonge Cedar( for sale) 2002 Jeff Elliott spruce.

Posts: 4185
Joined: Sun Nov 30, 2008 9:15 pm
Location: Philadelphia, PA, USA

Re: Different Spruce? Sitka?

Post by riffmeister » Wed Jul 22, 2015 12:12 am

I believe John Gilbert often used Sitka for soundboards.

Emil Krasich
Posts: 568
Joined: Thu Jul 17, 2008 1:40 pm
Location: Massachusetts

Re: Different Spruce? Sitka?

Post by Emil Krasich » Wed Jul 22, 2015 12:14 am

I have a 19th century copy with 200 year old Sitka from a desk as the soundboard. It's quite awesome. Keep in mind that all species of wood are going to vary.

User avatar
Posts: 1459
Joined: Thu Mar 17, 2011 4:31 pm
Location: Saint Paul, MN

Re: Different Spruce? Sitka?

Post by tateharmann » Wed Jul 22, 2015 12:43 am

I owned a Doug Somervell in sitka, fantastic guitar. :)
"One should always eat muffins quite calmly. It is the only way to eat them."

Posts: 70
Joined: Thu Mar 08, 2012 1:16 am

Re: Different Spruce? Sitka?

Post by RPR » Wed Jul 22, 2015 1:09 am

John Mello once told me that he could part with Brazilian rosewood but not european spruce!

User avatar
Brian McCombs
Posts: 1510
Joined: Mon Feb 07, 2011 7:55 pm
Location: Union City, Michigan

Re: Different Spruce? Sitka?

Post by Brian McCombs » Wed Jul 22, 2015 1:55 am

I have 5 or 6 or so made with Sitka....early in my work I happened upon 30 sets out of Washington at a budget price. I viewed it as "beginner" wood and used it versus more expensive higher quality wood...to keep my costs low. It does make a perfectly good soundboard but it tends to be generally harder/stiffer than the other commonly used spruce types. Well at least I should all of mine seemed harder/stiffer than any others types I've used - but I'm sure that it has a range and less dense material can be found. I understand that its properties are not markedly different from some of the others but it tends to be a bit more finicky in terms of making a guitar that sings out. It seems to be darker in color than the other spruces, more brownish when finished. The stuff I have is all over the place in terms of grain and coloration. All the guitars I built from Sitka were tight sounding. They were not disappointing but none of them had a voice that made me get excited....they sounded somewhat plain. One guitar, the top caved inward as I braced it super thinly...and the top was thin as well, it was a very quiet guitar before it died. I use my Sitka for all internal fans and grafts as I have a lot of those soundboards left and I like the stiffness, it works very well for fans... I saved 10 sets and put them aside, perhaps I'll use it someday but I really like Engelmann and German, when I switched to those other types I made better sounding guitars. I like the lighter colors of the Engelmann and German too. I'm sure it makes a fine guitar but the other varieties seem a bit more forgiving in my hands and I have a greater chance of ending up with a guitar that gets close to what I'm trying to produce tonally. I'm positive in the right hands, a jaw dropping guitar can be produced. If I ever get to a point in which I feel I'm skilled at this craft, perhaps I'll glue up some of the interesting sets I have and try to see if I can unlock the characteristics I'm looking for in a finished instrument. I'm sure it is very possible but I don't yet have that magic touch I think.
Last edited by Brian McCombs on Wed Jul 22, 2015 2:00 am, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
Chris Sobel
Posts: 1069
Joined: Sat May 04, 2013 8:44 am
Location: Vancouver, WA

Re: Different Spruce? Sitka?

Post by Chris Sobel » Wed Jul 22, 2015 1:59 am

RPR wrote:John Mello once told me that he could part with Brazilian rosewood but not european spruce!
Yes… you can have some of my Brazilian but I'm keeping the Swiss.

I haven't built any guitars out of Sitka, although I did a re-top recently of a Martin that was originally constructed with sitka. I re-toped it per the customers request with a nice and stiff piece of Austrian spruce, and the sound difference was really marked. The bracing was identical in both tops, and they ended up weighing almost exactly the same, +/- only 5 grams.

The sitka pre-repair was louder and punchier, with a fast attack. The Austrian was slightly quieter but much richer in harmonics and overall complexity of sound. It was very lush sounding in comparison, really rich. The difference was really quite remarkable between the two woods, even though the overall weight was identical.

I would think the key with Sitka in a classical guitar would be finding a piece that was lower in density and had a really nice ring to it. I'm sure it would work well, but you need the right piece. Overall it just seems a little better suited to steel string guitars IMO.

CE Sobel Guitars

Posts: 1024
Joined: Tue Feb 20, 2007 12:11 am
Location: halifax, nova scotia

Re: Different Spruce? Sitka?

Post by brooks » Wed Jul 22, 2015 2:20 am

I had a sitka-brazilian DeJonge (Sergei), a DT, and it had absolutely gorgeous trebles...you would never have guessed it was a double top to have heard it....not loud, but so refined, with beautiful overtones (Sergei used all-wood DTs with no nomex). smelled delicious too, though I assume that was the Brazilian

User avatar
Eric Reid
Posts: 293
Joined: Sat Jul 18, 2009 9:01 pm

Re: Different Spruce? Sitka?

Post by Eric Reid » Wed Jul 22, 2015 6:15 am

There is a general prejudice against sitka among many classical players. They associate it with steel string guitars. It is denser and stiffer than the spruces commonly used for classicals, and that needs to be taken into account in the build.

The Paracho builder I trained with has strong opinions about wood. He doesn't care for cocobolo. He'll build with WRC, but prefers spruce. He's fussy about the spruce he builds with. The sound is important to him. Grain width is secondary. He tends to prefer European spruce to engelman. He thinks good sitka is an excellent top wood.

A few years ago, I had occasion to show one of his guitars to the buyers at several high-end shops. They all raved about the sound, and talked about how much they loved cedar. It was a sitka top with a darker French polish finish. I sold that guitar to a shop back east, and it sold quickly to a local student. When the student's teacher heard the guitar, he ordered one like it for his son.

In my opinion, the best European spruce is hard to beat. The best I've worked with comes from Italy. There's a lot of variation though. Sitka is more consistent. If I had to order blind, I'd prefer it to European. Engelman comes in third.

Alan Carruth
Posts: 2785
Joined: Mon Dec 24, 2007 6:56 pm

Re: Different Spruce? Sitka?

Post by Alan Carruth » Wed Jul 22, 2015 4:39 pm

As has been said, Sitka tends to be denser than European spruce on the average. However, all wood species vary widely in their properties, and there's a lot of overlap. If you control for density, the Young's modulus along the grain (which is a predictor of stiffness) is the same for ALL softwoods, within surprisingly narrow limits. Cross grain stiffness, so far as I can tell from much testing, is mostly a function of how well quartered the wood is; it's hard to find any other correlations there. At any rate, IMO, cross grain stiffness is over rated. The bottom line is that Sitka can work well for a Classical guitar if you get the right piece. I've had good luck with it. The main issue is the old one of selling it: Torres didn't use it, so it's probably no good in the eyes of some players.


Re: Different Spruce? Sitka?

Post by Peterson2 » Thu Jul 23, 2015 2:06 pm

Yezo Spruce (Hokkaido Japan variety spruce) - these trees are supposed to be closesly related to sitka, -though i dont think in sound. i recently tapped on Sitka spruce wood for soundboard, it rings a lot different to European spruce, maybe more like Western Red Cedar in some ways (i had a high grade sitka set i listened to, and compared to medium grade WRC and master grade Euro spuce - it was completely different to WRC AND eruo spruce.) i think it is ok for building classical guitars but do not believe it is good enough to build high level classical guitars, the qualities of the tap tone do seem to work better for steel string guitars- it would work good for things like double top and lattice, where the wood makes little impact and you can use whatever level, whatever wood, but for real classical guitars - fan braced - this wood seems innapropriate, it could work, but why bother with heaps of design changing and experimenting, when you have pleniful better European Spruce that works better.

Scot Tremblay
Posts: 4217
Joined: Tue Aug 24, 2010 3:18 pm
Location: Victoria, BC, Canada

Re: Different Spruce? Sitka?

Post by Scot Tremblay » Thu Jul 23, 2015 4:01 pm

Peterson2 wrote:...Yezo Spruce (Hokkaido Japan variety spruce) - these trees are supposed to be closely related to sitka...
I have used a few tops of the Japanese Spruce in the past. My impression is that it is very like good Western Red Cedar in tone with a pinch of Redwood. The stuff I had looked very much like high grade Cedar with high line count, uniform cedar like colour and quite brittle like Redwood. It is pretty rare around here so I probably won't be using it again but I would if the opportunity came up.

Sitka, I have tried, back when I made a few modern instruments, but I personally couldn't make it work to my satisfaction so haven't really thought about it since. I have heard some fine classical instruments made with it. Gilbert is the most notable proponent but not the only one. Interestingly, I do know of a few (having seen the guitars and spoke to the builders) who have slipped one or two into their opus without actually advertising the fact...I'll not say who, they know who they are... :wink:

The biggest problem with Sitka, it seems to me, is the weight. It is very stiff and strong but the weight tends to be too much on the heavy side. But like all woods there is variation and material can be found with an acceptable weight to strength ratio...it's just seems to be a fair bit more rare than in Englemann or European. Recently, there have been some tops split out of sinker Sitka logs coming out of a lake in Alaska which seem to be showing promise but I haven't tried any so cannot confirm this...anyone?

I have a suspicion that it will work better with the 19th century transverse braced guitar designs but I haven't tried it yet. I do have some very wide pieces (19 inches) which would make one piece tops just fine and I might do just that when I get the time to experiment..."Good luck with that!", I hear my inner voice saying... :roll:
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

Joe de V
Posts: 1853
Joined: Mon Nov 05, 2007 12:34 am
Location: Northern California USA

Re: Different Spruce? Sitka?

Post by Joe de V » Thu Jul 23, 2015 4:05 pm

My research on woods leads me to believe that Sitka is an excellent choice for topwood. Sitka is quite stiff along and across the grain; high stiffness, combined with the relatively light weight is a characteristics of most softwoods and a recipe for high velocity sound.
A good choice for players that prefer a wide dynamic response and a strong, meaty tone. On the opposite side, the lack of strong overtone component can result in a "thin" tone when played with a relatively light touch, depending of course on the design of the guitar and the other woods used in construction. The "break-in" period for a new Sitka guitar can also be longer than the other Spruces.
The most common alternative to Sitka is Engelmann Spruce. Sitka Spruce can endure "abuse" to which other soundboard materials are less immune, like dirt specks on the workbench and roughshod handling by the player.
My source: "About Tonewoods"

Marcus Dominelli
Posts: 2790
Joined: Thu Mar 08, 2007 4:52 pm
Location: Victoria, B.C. Canada

Re: Different Spruce? Sitka?

Post by Marcus Dominelli » Sat Jul 25, 2015 3:48 pm

I cannot add much that has not already been said. I always found sitka a little on the heavy side, on average, but if you find the right billet you can get great results with it.
I've got some lightweight sitka that I'm currently using for a double top , but double topping allows the builder to bring the soundboard weight down substantially.
Sitka can make great classicals/flamencos, but the luthier must know how to select the right wood, and build accordingly....

User avatar
Alexandru Marian
Posts: 3185
Joined: Sat Dec 23, 2006 5:02 am
Location: Bucharest, Romania

Re: Different Spruce? Sitka?

Post by Alexandru Marian » Sat Jul 25, 2015 4:56 pm

I don't know if Lutz is significantly different than Sitka, but I just finished a Lutz guitar which is pretty sitka-ish: not a light one (not too heavy either) and dark in color. It is my best classical yet I think. The trebles are fabulous.

Return to “Luthiers”