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Thread: Using obscure woods

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    Default Using obscure woods

    Hello, I am from India, but I live in America. This summer, I am going to India, and I want to build a mandolin there because everything is cheaper there and the wood is always super high quality. I was wondering if it would be okay to use some obscure woods like mango, coconut lumber, wood from rubber trees, etc. because they are very dense in my family's backyard plantation, so I could literally cut down my own wood. Also, I think it would be very unique. Mango seems the most reasonable to me because coconut and rubber trees have a small diameter. Thanks.

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    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
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    Default Re: Using obscure woods

    folks that know talk about density and modulus. Or so I think?

    Interesting topic though!

    f-d
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    '20 A3, '30 L-1, '97 914, 2012 Cohen A5, 2012 Muth A5, '14 OM28A

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    Default Re: Using obscure woods

    I have seen a Elkhorn mandolin with a mango top.

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    Default Re: Using obscure woods

    How long will you be back home? Wouldn't the trees need to be dried out for a long time after cutting them down?

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    Default Re: Using obscure woods

    Quote Originally Posted by Ron McMillan View Post
    How long will you be back home? Wouldn't the trees need to be dried out for a long time after cutting them down?
    I will be there for one month, but considering the fact that my part of India is literally on the equator and I have a terrace at my house that is exposed to harsh sunlight, the wood will dry out SUUUUPER quick.

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    Default Re: Using obscure woods

    There are some lumber experts that pop in on the forum occasionally, so maybe they can give you some guidance. I think air drying wood takes years, though. I think some suppliers let it dry for decades. Kiln drying is faster, but requires the proper equipment. You still might be able to find some good exotic wood in India that has already been dried. I would guess that Indian rosewood would be readily available. You might also be close enough to some exotic woods like Macassar Ebony (I think it grows in SE Asia). Macassar, to me, is one of the most beautiful woods. But it's super-expensive here in the US, and very hard to work with as a back and side material.
    This forum is a great resource for learning how to build a mando. There are a few tried and true methods for building a mandolin. Folks have been building long enough to know what works well, and there's something to be said for following that model for your first few builds. That being said, my philosophy is that it's your project, so do what makes you happy. If you get joy out of trying something different, go for it. If it doesn't work, you can chalk it up as a learning experience.
    Also, think ahead. Even if you can't dry out lumber from your family's home for this build, go ahead and harvest the timber and it may be ready for your fifth or sixth mandolin. I would start by researching how to properly cut the lumber (a lot of tone woods need to be quarter sawn).

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    Default Re: Using obscure woods

    Elkhorn ''Mango'' mandolin. Robb Brophy's made some of the most stunning mandolins i've ever seen from what might be termed ''obscure'' woods,
    Ivan
    Click image for larger version. 

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    Weber F-5 'Fern'.
    Lebeda F-5 "Special".
    Stelling Bellflower BANJO
    Tokai - 'Tele-alike'.
    Ellis DeLuxe "A" style.

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    Default Re: Using obscure woods

    I'm sure there are many woods that would work just fine, but there are two main issues:

    * Drying the raw timber, from what I hear 6 months is an absolute minimum requirement for air drying even if it's been sawed thin first.
    * Customs: you would have all kinds of CITES issues with Indian Rosewood (even though much of it is sustainably plantation grown there), even for other woods I would check very carefully before trying to walk through customs with them as Indian laws are pretty strict on what natural products can and can't be exported and in what form. Exporting the finished instrument would be no issue, but you're not going to fell the timber and build it in a month

    If I were you I would consider and laying the timber up for air drying on one trip, then exporting the next time you visit.

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    Default Re: Using obscure woods

    [QUOTE=PaniniWar;1633115]I will be there for one month, but considering the fact that my part of India is literally on the equator and I have a terrace at my house that is exposed to harsh sunlight, the wood will dry out SUUUUPER quick.[/QUOTE

    Fast drying of wood is NOT a good idea! It can warp,crack and check. Cut green wood takes quite a long time depending on the wood, thickness,etc.I'd suggest gathering the woods you want to use, coat them in parrafin and bring them home that way.Then you can let them dry properly. There is lots of information on that on the web.
    Delayed gratification is good for you! ;-)
    For wooden musical fun that doesn't involve strumming, check out:
    www.busmanwhistles.com
    Handcrafted pennywhistles in exotic hardwoods.

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    Default Re: Using obscure woods

    [QUOTE=Paul Busman;1633210]
    Quote Originally Posted by PaniniWar View Post
    I will be there for one month, but considering the fact that my part of India is literally on the equator and I have a terrace at my house that is exposed to harsh sunlight, the wood will dry out SUUUUPER quick.[/QUOTE

    Fast drying of wood is NOT a good idea! It can warp,crack and check. Cut green wood takes quite a long time depending on the wood, thickness,etc.I'd suggest gathering the woods you want to use, coat them in parrafin and bring them home that way.Then you can let them dry properly. There is lots of information on that on the web.
    Delayed gratification is good for you! ;-)
    Okay. I will not fast dry then. I will buy wood that is already dried. I could still get these obscure woods. My curiosity is however about the woods themselves and what can and cannot work. Keep in mind I am a beginner, so I would like to not work super hard just to find out I made a failure of an instrument. I will have to work super hard because I am only going to use hand tools.

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    Default Re: Using obscure woods

    Quote Originally Posted by Tavy View Post
    I'm sure there are many woods that would work just fine, but there are two main issues:

    * Drying the raw timber, from what I hear 6 months is an absolute minimum requirement for air drying even if it's been sawed thin first.
    * Customs: you would have all kinds of CITES issues with Indian Rosewood (even though much of it is sustainably plantation grown there), even for other woods I would check very carefully before trying to walk through customs with them as Indian laws are pretty strict on what natural products can and can't be exported and in what form. Exporting the finished instrument would be no issue, but you're not going to fell the timber and build it in a month

    If I were you I would consider and laying the timber up for air drying on one trip, then exporting the next time you visit.
    I am going to build the instrument there anyways. I am not going to lug around a bunch of lumber lol. And in India EVERYTHING is cheaper, so I could get nice quality hand tools for very cheap.

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    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
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    Default Re: Using obscure woods

    Don't forget to post sound clips!

    I'm interested!

    f-d
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    '20 A3, '30 L-1, '97 914, 2012 Cohen A5, 2012 Muth A5, '14 OM28A

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    Default Re: Using obscure woods

    Does anybody know if Indian Rosewood can be used in tops? I think it looks super cool and my parents said that it's super cheap in India to get pre-dried Rosewood.

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    Default Re: Using obscure woods

    Also, my parents told me Mango is practically free in India and all they use it for is to light fires because it is so weak and has terrible support. If anybody here knows Elkhorn personally, could you ask him to address this?

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    Default Re: Using obscure woods

    You can build a mando out of anything you desire, rosewood, carbon fiber, hard plastic, literally anything. The question though is will it sound good and what criteria are you going to use to make it sound good. Once you start leaving the realm of "standard" wood choices for the top and back, you'll have less and less builders that can help you build it. It takes many years and many builds to learn and even longer to begin to feel confident enough to venture out into other methods of building.

    My suggestion? Forget the exotic woods and build yourself a standard maple and spruce mando for your first build. You'll be far more pleased with the results.

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    Default Re: Using obscure woods

    Quote Originally Posted by fscotte View Post
    You can build a mando out of anything you desire, rosewood, carbon fiber, hard plastic, literally anything. The question though is will it sound good and what criteria are you going to use to make it sound good. Once you start leaving the realm of "standard" wood choices for the top and back, you'll have less and less builders that can help you build it. It takes many years and many builds to learn and even longer to begin to feel confident enough to venture out into other methods of building.

    My suggestion? Forget the exotic woods and build yourself a standard maple and spruce mando for your first build. You'll be far more pleased with the results.
    I appreciate what you are saying, but I love a challenge. My goal isn't to build the best looking and sounding instrument in the world. I just want to have something that sounds good, that I can say I made. I want it to be unique. And I also want to build it on my trip. I know I sound adamant, it's just that everything is easier to do there. Cheap tools, Cheap wood, cheap sharpeners, beautiful weather, etc. It's just a nice environment and I would like to build my first instrument there.

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    Default Re: Using obscure woods

    Good luck to you, building should be fun, especially if it is not done to make money!
    I don't see any mandolin police around so you must do as you wish.
    I am sure you can find some locale instrument builders who might help you with the choice of wood.

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    Default Re: Using obscure woods

    Quote Originally Posted by PaniniWar View Post
    Does anybody know if Indian Rosewood can be used in tops? I think it looks super cool and my parents said that it's super cheap in India to get pre-dried Rosewood.
    Have you settled on a design yet? Flat-top, carved-top? That might help people suggest which woods are better suited. Softwoods are usually used for tops, but you can use hardwoods. E.g., this, this, and this. Whatever you go with, be sure to post some pictures of the process.

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    Default Re: Using obscure woods

    Quote Originally Posted by Walt View Post
    Have you settled on a design yet? Flat-top, carved-top? That might help people suggest which woods are better suited. Softwoods are usually used for tops, but you can use hardwoods. E.g., this, this, and this. Whatever you go with, be sure to post some pictures of the process.
    I have decided on a flat-back, arch-top, F5 mandolin.

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    Default Re: Using obscure woods

    Quote Originally Posted by fox View Post
    Good luck to you, building should be fun, especially if it is not done to make money!
    I don't see any mandolin police around so you must do as you wish.
    I am sure you can find some locale instrument builders who might help you with the choice of wood.
    Yes, I am very excited! I have been seeing a lot of videos on making musical instruments, and I can't wait to get my hands on some wood. I think a Mango top, Indian rosewood back and sides, and a Rubber-wood neck is what I have in my mind right now. I don't care if it is not conventional, because it is unique, and if it sounds good, it's cool with me haha. Does fretboard wood matter? I've always wondered.

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    Default Re: Using obscure woods

    By matter, I mean would it affect sound at all?

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    Default Re: Using obscure woods

    Quote Originally Posted by PaniniWar View Post
    By matter, I mean would it affect sound at all?
    If it affects tone, I think it is very, very subtle. Some of my electric guitarist friends say they can hear a difference between maple and rosewood fretboards. I don't think I could tell the difference in a blind test, to be honest. Rosewood and ebony are common in mandolin family instruments. But if you check out a place like LMII (NFI), they have several different woods available for fingerboard material: Cocobolo, Granadillo, Katalox, Ovangkol.
    In my limited experience (I'm a player and hobbyist, not a luthier) I've used Rosewood, Gaboon Ebony, Macassar Ebony, and Katalox.
    Does anyone have any thoughts on what makes a good fretboard material? My guess is that it needs to be sufficiently dense for the frets to stay seated.

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  32. #23

    Default Re: Using obscure woods

    I think Mango wood would be quite stiff, so it may be better for the back and sides. It's very pretty wood with a nice curly grain from what I have seen.

    I would use Spruce for the top if you want it to sound pleasant, maybe just take some with you or find something similar there.

    A flat top would be much easier and they do sound good.

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  34. #24
    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
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    Default Re: Using obscure woods

    I really know nothing. Really.

    Typically the wood on the tops of mandolins is spruce or some other, "Softer wood." Typically, the back, sides and neck or of some, "Harder wood." There are blocks inside the mandolin. I've heard folks using light, but strong wood for those.

    I liken the wood differenes (hard v. soft) like a drum, with the softer wood being more able to vibrate from the strings.

    Remember it's the vibration of the air in the chamber that makes, "The mandolin sound." So, all parts need to work together.

    Those tone bars! Sure, some are parallel, some are crossed, some are more exotic than that. They, "Adust the sound," or so I'm told. Theres a thing called, "Recurve" where the edge of the top and back are made thinner to facilitate that air-chamber movement.

    A straight and strong neck can bend at the body joint. So many different ways, or so it seems, on what's either best or easiest?

    I'd get the Siminoff book and look for local woods that match similar density and stiffness values as the standard spruce/maple. I think if you trend denser, you may need to think the measurements? Then again if you go denser AND less-stiffer, then what? I wouldn't know?

    I'd have fun noodling over it though? Good luck!

    f-d
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    '20 A3, '30 L-1, '97 914, 2012 Cohen A5, 2012 Muth A5, '14 OM28A

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    Default Re: Using obscure woods

    OK, I have shifted my plans a bit. I plan on making a flat-top, flat-back, F5 mandolin. I will use Rosewood for the Sides, Mango for the back and neck, Pine for the front (I heard it's just like spruce), and maple for the fretboard. I think I will use Artocarpus hirsutus for the blocks and tonebars, as it is extremely elastic, and is very good at providing structural support. Thank you all a lot for your help. I have fell in love with this website.

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