Instrument Woods

Softwoods-the Conifers, the woods of choices for soundboards:

Cedar, Red and Yellow, Western 22lb/cu. Ft

It is used in Nylon stringed instruments because its light density, which makes a brighter and louder responses.

Redwood (Sequoia) 25lb/cu ft

Sometimes used in nylon stringed instruments for the same reasons as Western Red Cedar but not as frequently. It is deep dark red and considered to be an endangered species. Available in limited quantities and of poor quality. It is also poorly cured and cracks very easily, more so than Spruce or Cedar.

Spruce, Sitka 27lb/cu ft

Most widely used by American and European builders. It is darker than Engelmann Spruce and darkens even more with age making it difficult to do repairs. It is the wood of choice for ship masts and aircraft major structure (wing spars) because of tight internal fibers making very resistant to cracking. Some say it gives the best response for sound. Others, say because of it structure the sound is muddled compared to other spruces.

Spruce, Engelmann: 28/34lbs/cu ft

Engelmann Spruce is preferred by Asian instrument builders. It is a bright white and does not discolor as much with age making it easier to do repairs. It is more prone to cracking because of crystalline internal fibers structure but that internal structure gives it a more brilliant upper range and cleaner sound than Sitka Spruce. It is my second choice after my Balsa wood tops for Nylon and steel string instrument.

Spruce, Red or Adirondack: 28-34lbs/cu ft

Red or Adirondack Spruce is in short supply. This is the wood that made the Martin guitars famous for their sound.

Hardwoods the Deciduous Woods, sometimes used as sound boards:

Balsa wood 9-10lb/cu ft

I use it as a soundboard wood with carbon fiber and reinforcement. Note, it weight per cubic foot is half that of Western Cedar and a third that of spruce! The way I make the fan planked sound board, it is strong enough for heavy-duty steel string applications. It is loud, boomy and full color. I also use it in other places in the guitar such as kerfing/sideliners with carbon fiber.

Alder 28lbs/cu ft

Sometimes used as a soundboard when builders want an antique sound. I am not sure what that means? But from the same source, it has rough mid range and pounced high range I use it in thin strips in my braces with carbon fiber.

Koa 38lbs/cu ft

World famous for its acoustic qualities and part of what makes Hawaiian Ukuleles what they are.

Mahogany, many varieties from all around the world 30-50lbs

Used as economic alternative to more expensive top woods and it is an expectable top if it is on the lighter end of density.

Hardwoods The Deciduous Woods of the body and neck:

Alder 28lbs/cu ft

Used in for an antique sound. Whatever, that means?

Black Walnut, American 40lbs/cu ft

It is similar to Mahogany in properties.

Black wood, African 75lbs/cu ft

May be substitute for Ebony fingerboards

Birch 47-48lbs/cu ft

It looks much like Maple and has similar properties, but much more unstable. It is considered to be the strongest wood in the world for its weight and used in aircraft plywood. It was one of the reasons that I choose it for top bracing in thin strips with carbon fiber. It grows fast in cold climates and the small trees are clear-cut, and ground for paper pulp. It is difficult wood to cure and gets desirable/useful wood from. It is very unstable after it is cured and it is only useful in laminated thin strips or veneers to stabilize it.

Bubinga 55lbs/cu ft

A is a little lighter red than the South American Rosewoods but well stripped. It is sometimes called African Rosewood and it smells like roses. It is available in quality, quantity, and wide boards. In my opinion it is superior to any Rosewood currently available and works much and most importantly it like and sounds like Rosewood.

Canary wood (Tarara) 60lbs/cu ft

I have used this wood and it works more easily than Rosewood or Bubinga, but its sap canal can quickly ruin strips of a drum sander. It gives the same sound response. The color is yellow with pronounced attractive brown grain patterns.

Cherry 33-45lbs/cu ft

It is like Maple but softer and redder. Many good instruments are made with it.

Ebony 48-77lbs/cu ft

Black, hard, and very heavy. It is used in fingerboards

Koa 38lbs/cu ft

World famous for its acoustic qualities and part of what makes Hawaiian Ukelele what they are.

Lace wood or Leopard wood 33lbs/cu ft

Beautiful spots and grain and iridescent colors on a basic brown color, but the boards seem to badly checked and required lots of extra work filling the cracks with colored epoxy fillers. My use of carbon fiber linings makes its use a possibility for instruments. I would not recommend it for all wood instruments.

Maple Birdseye 44lbs/cu ft

It is considered to be the best wood for banjo rims and bridges. I have found that Rosewood is superior.

Maple, curly (fiddle back) and hard 44lbs/cu ft

Maple is the wood of all the concert stringed instruments (Violin, Viola, Cello, and the Bass) as well as banjoes mandolins, electric guitars and many others. The builder of concert string instruments seem to be very anal retentive about its use. In my opinion the sound of concert string instruments could have been advanced light years by the use of other woods!

Mahogany 30-50lbs

It is plentiful and available worldwide and it is used as an economic substitute for more expensive wood in instruments. It is an excellent wood.

Paduak 49-54lbs/cu ft

Is a beautiful dark red wood, with pounced striped grain that, works much like Mahogany, and sounds like Mahogany. The sawdust can cause sever allergic reaction similar to poison ivory! The sawdust when wet (from sweat) stains anything it comes in contact with red! It gives a new meaning to the red man. In spite, of a hospital visit, I still like this wood for my instruments.

Poplar 31-35lbs/cu ft

Used as substitute for other more expensive woods and frequently finds its way into musical instruments. I have seen necks, backs, blocks, and braces made from it. The Asian builders often use laminated sides, backs and even top. It appears to be the middle lamination of the cross grain lamination of the inner and outer matching flitch veneer made to look like solid wood sides, back, and tops. It works well. Its green color is detriment but as it ages it fades to a rich warm brown. It is similar to Alder but not as strong. A possible substitute for Spanish cedar in Flamenco guitars

Rosewood, Brazilian 53-63lbs/cu ft

Brazilian Rosewood is the most desired wood for back and sides of musical instruments. An endangered species and the supply is very limited and the quality is very poor.

Rosewood, others of South America (Santos) 53/63;bs/cu ft

Basically they are Brazilian but from other countries. The quality is poor and limited supplies.

Rosewood (Asian varieties-China, Indonesia, and Indian) 40-53lbs/cu ft

It is looked to as a replacement for Brazilian Rosewood and used in the most expensive guitars made. Indian Rosewood is the most popular wood for fingerboards, because of the expense of and scarcity of Ebony India has place imbargo on it and it can now only be obtained in sized and partially formed pieces form Indian importers. I have ceased using it.

Spanish Cedar 30lbs/cu ft

Often used in Flamenco guitars because of its lightweight, which make them vibrant.

Zebra wood 46lbs/cu ft

It has beautiful striping. Many very expensive car manufactures use it for interior trim. The double R (Rolls Royce) when they build a car, they keep enough wood in storage from the same lot to completely replace the trim in each and every car. From my association with an assembly line worker, they keep it on a movable rack and roll it out in sun each day so it ages the same as if it was in the car. He used to hang doors. He told he was able to hang a door in one afternoon 4-6 hours. He had one car door that took two weeks to hang, a single door, ONE DOOR!

Zricote 56lbs/cu ft

Black a possible substitute for Ebony cracks very easly

Willow 24-25lbs/cu ft

Used by many old time builders as kerfing/liners because of its flexibility when wet and light weight. A must for concert string builders.