View Full Version : what makes the best backs ?
I am about to have an instrument built by an independent luthier...I am settled on most of the specs, but still undecided on whether I want a one-piece back or a book matched back. What do you builders think from a structural point of view ? How about sound ? I know there are very fine instruments built with book-matched backs and many with the one-piece backs...any opinions ?
I'll get flak for this, but I consider the back of a mandolin to be a canvas for Mother Nature to display her eccentric mysteries, and for the maker to comment on "how cool is that?"...
Structurally, if the instrument is well made, the joint is not an issue.
Sound-wise, the choice between one and two-piece should not be an issue...
One can argue about the stability of a quartered piece vs. a slab-cut piece, but I think once that wood is locked into an instrument, it should be OK (provided it was well-milled, well-made, and dry and stable).
So go for the figure...
Have him/her build with something that will knock your socks off every time you look at it. #
Or if you prefer the more anal-retentive approach, go for some nicely quartered 2-piece bookmatched fiddleback maple with a nice "chevron" to the figure--slanted at 75 degrees or so to the back-joint....
Personally, I like a one-of-a-kind wildass big-flamed or heavily birdseyed one-piece back that just sucks your eyeballs out of their sockets...
Looks so cool under 25 years of varnish-wear, too... # http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif
I personally like the beauty of a 1 piece back. Structuraly I know alot of people say a 2 piece back is just as strong as a 1 piece but I must say you never have to worry about a glue joint in a 1 piece.
I too think a one-piece back is the ultimate expression in wood. I can't speak for everyone but this picture of Fletcher Brock's one-piece back dola below at Wintergrass was a thing of pure beauty. Both of my Nugget Deluxe's have had one-piece backs and I wouldn't want them any other way.
For the more organic look, here's a sample of my Old Wave's one-piece curly maple back.
While everyone is on this subject again..I have a great piece of wood that will make one back with horizontal (perpendicular curl) or it will make 2 one piece backs if I skew the curl a good bit more than PHilGE's picture. #If his is 5 degrees sloped, then this would be about 10 to 15 degrees. #Comment or thoughts please
I find that the grain, and not the figure, is the locating feature for a piece of slab (and more obviously quartered) maple in a back ....
If the grain is askew, it tends to throw the eye off, whereas the figure can (and does in some trees) go anywhere....
See that ringed "puddle" in the grain dead-center in PhilGE's Bussman back? #That means the maple was milled correctly, with the outside of the log perfectly indexed to the mill's blade. #
It's almost like run-out in spruce--that "puddle", as opposed to the grain-lines looking more like "horeshoes", is the indicator of properly milled slab cut maple.
It is also a classy touch, as in the Bussman, to stick that "puddle" dead-center in the mando's pattern...
By the way, see the 1" long reddish streaks in the maple? #That's "worm-track", and only occurs in some of the Eastern maple species and Chinese maple. #So we know Mr. Bussman obtained this chunk from the East Coast or China, and that it is not Bigleaf maple.
Knowing Mr. Bussman, I'll bet he hopped a plane for China and filled his suitcase with one-piece backs... #http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif # # #
No need to hop a plane, as soon as the slaves in that beijing prison camp finish the next order of walmart american flags, Im gonna have them whip me up a mess of eastman copies outta tibetan old growth.....
phils back came from the headwaters of the flambeau river in northern wisconsin, wish Id stocked up on the 16" wide 1 piece backs while I had the chance....
this indian corn 1 pc back in the spraybooth came from dr felts grandfather, who cut it near albany, mo in 1952. Using the other 3x14 for 2 pc upright bass back, super lightweight.
I prefer the old italian look of a 1 pc back of wide flame slightly off perpendicular to the grain, just wish I had a pile.......
Ooooh, that's nice! What kind of tints/stains do you use?
Thats stewmac colortone red mahogany, red, black, medium brown, and vintage amber in alcohol on the bare wood,kept mixing it up and testing on scrap maple till I had something that resembled the ear of corn, then 1.5# blonde shellac, then the first 5 build coats of nitro with vintage amber colortone
Nice work, Bill...
First whiskey and now corn--what's next? Myanalysis? Or Urinalysis?
Speaking of which, here's a back I've admired since I stole the pic off the Cafe Classifieds a year or so ago.
I love the figure (Silver Maple cut on the quarter?), but what I really love about it is the "wing" that was added to the left side of the plate...
"Not quite wide enough?? Heck with it--throw a wing on there and call it a day"...
It just reeks of confidence as a maker, and dumps on the whole anal-retentive approach to building that is all to common these days....
John Monteleone is the maker...
Here is a one piece back in the finishing process.
While I don't really care if a back is one piece or two, I suppose I have a preference to a one piece figured back, but not quartered. I like slab cut. It gives a different appreciation to the wood and quartered will have a different tone from slab. In our shop we try to get the best slab cut we can. We try to avoid quartered Maple. While both can be highly figured, there is a difference. Lots of builders use quarter sawn and while that gives the most flame bang for the buck, it is not as stable or quite as good in the tone department. At least that is our experience.
[QUOTE] "Lots of builders use quartersawn and while that gives the most flame bang for the buck, it is not as stable or quite as good in the tone department. At least that is our experience."
I'll have to disagree with that statement. Many builders are using quarter sawn maple, including me. I would not have it any other way. But, by saying that flat sawn has better tone than quarter sawn, saying that it is not as stable, and putting the Gibson label behind that certainly suggests that quarter sawn is not as good. That's simply not true. What works for me may not work for you, but what works for you does not work for me. That will not make one better than the other, and that is what you are suggesting.
"#Lots of builders use quarter sawn and while that gives the most flame bang for the buck, it is not as stable or quite as good in the tone department.
Man, it's difficult to fit 3 absurd statements into one sentence.... #http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/tounge.gif
Is this a troll??
"Lots of builders use quarter sawn and while that gives the most flame bang for the buck....."
A well-figured tree (with the exception of quilted maple, which I haven't seen in a Gibson mandolin lately) will display well regardless of grain orientation....
And quartersawn Red Maple is many times more expensive than slab-cut Red Maple--so much for the "bang for the buck" theory....
"...it is not as stable..."
The opposite is the truth...
"not...as good in the tone department"
Slab-cut Red Maple is my favorite wood to see in the back of an F5 mandolin, both visually and historically, but to say that one can pick the slab-cut back out of a pack of 10 instruments, 9 of which are made from the same tree cut on the quarter, is dubious to say the least....
If I was the wood-buyer for a large company building mandolins in Nashville, Tennessee, and following a tradition of building mandolins that were primarily built on the slab (well, some quartered European did sneak into some Loar backs), I'd be using Eastern seaboard slab-cut wood too...
It's a no-brainer....
It's the cheapest ("bang for the buck"), most readily available (99.9% of all Red maple logs are milled on the slab), and certainly one of the most beautiful maples under varnish.
But there's certainly no need to rationalize it with BS...
Ok yall boys, calm down http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/tounge.gif
Don't almost all the gibsons(except Master Model) have 2-piece quartered backs?
I can hear what can be described as a general difference between the Loars that are quartered and Loars that are slab cut. The slab cut one are warmer and darker while the quartered one are very bright/new string sounding. I can say that I would pick slab cut given the choice. But I would never agree in a general sense that slab is better tonaly or stability wise for mandolins..nor that I could pick one blindfolded
We try to use slab, as a general rule. (some quartered is used, but it's not my general preference)
Quartered is more stable, but I prefer slab because I believe it sounds better. The better Loars (again, in my opinion) have slab backs. Slab is plenty stable if cured correctly.
Again, we use it because I prefer it. I also like the look of flame on the slab to the tighter, straighter curl of quartered. It's really nice to be able to institute specs. and have the builders follow my preference.
Allright! So I had a brain fart. I really meant to say the opposite about stability. I was in a hurry and let my fingers do the talking. I never claimed to have well educated fingers http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif . Anyway, I believe I said the tone and all the rest was my opinion. My opinion is still just mine. It is not Gibson's. It is mine. Even Charlie and I do not agree on everything. That does not mean either of us are wrong. Just different. Please excuse my temporary lapse of awareness and let's get on with the rest of our lives. Or, in the words of my children when they were young and caught being wrong....I'm Sorry!
Hans and Spruce,
I'm with you on this one.
While flat or slab cut maple can obviously be succesfully used for mandolin backs, one of the most common mandolin repairs that I see is a seam separation between the back and the headblock on old Gibson mandolins with flatsawn backs. The movement of the back wood relative to the head block wood is responsible for this joint failure. Proper curing does not stabilize wood.
I did the math on this one time to satisfy my own curiosity. If slab maple is used for the back and quartered spruce is used for the top of a mandolin and it is moved from...say...Phoenix to...say...Cuba and is allowed to come to equalibrium moisture content in both places, the back will try to be about 1/4 inch wider than the top. That's a lot of stress for the instrument to withstand.
I'm not at home right now to have access to the actual formulae that I used to figure this out, but I can post it later if anyone is in doubt.
my ibanez has a one-piece back. so this must be the best way to do it.
To clarify a little further...
Flat sawn may indeed sound a little warmer if you are using rock maple for backs...and quarter sawn will probably sound rather percussive, but there are other maples around besides rock maple. You cannot make sweeping generalities about the tone of slab vs quartered. You must also consider the effect of the spruce you are using. I once built a mandolin with a German spruce top and bigleaf maple back (quartered) which ended up being one of the darkest, richest sounding mandolins I have ever built (I actually thought it was too dark). Had I used red spruce, it would have been an entirely different tone.
Of course your are right, Hans. But for me (since everything I talk about relates back to Loars) there are no generalities.
Quite so Charlie, and as far as the Gibson style tone you are, as always, "dead on".
The "sweeping generality" is stating that "quartersawn is not quite as good in the tone department", and backing that up with "in our experience". Just such a statement has caused me to have to answer emails about the "inferior" tonewoods that I use. I can assure you that there is nothing inferior about a $150. plank of aged, quartersawn flamed maple. I'm sure you will agree that it is the proper use of the material that is the important part. #(insert a smiley face somewhere in here)
I will agree and offer my sincerest apology for causing you problems. That is not my intent. I was speaking in my opinion which is worth just what it cost. Amongst all the variables that we may have differing opinions, wood choice is just one. There are opinions about everything in this place and everyone is entitled to them. While I'm sorry you may have to defend your choice of woods, that is not different from what we face nearly EVERY day from comments on the forum. I suppose the ability and opportunity to defend ones product or methods only helps us become stronger in what we do and what we believe. I think you are a great builder, Hans, but that does not mean I have to agree with all your opinions. The same with anyone else. I will add though that I really do hate to see you have any discomfort by any statements I make. That may not stop me from making them, but at least you have the comfort of knowing no harm is intended or directed at you. Keep up the good work man. Oh, I will never hesitate to say you make a good product and while I may not agree philisophically with all you do or think, that does not diminish the qualilty of your work in any way. You are welcome to quote me on that.