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Thread: Tonewood

  1. #1
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    Default Tonewood

    Im thinking this subject has come up before, but I thought to pose the question about tonewood selection. I have 2 mandolins by great luthiers where they used aged tonewood. One is an F5 model where the builder used a 70-year old piece of flame maple that had been aged by a luthier who was holding it for a cello. However, it became 2 mandolins. The other is an A-style where the builder used wood from a barn constructed over 100 years earlier that was spruce and became the top of this mandolin and others. Can these new instruments match sound from vintage mandolins? What about the use of torified tonewood?

  2. #2

    Default Re: Tonewood

    Yes and no. Having old wood does give you a head start on getting an old sounding instrument, but vintage instruments have finish that has aged and had all those years married to the wood to produce the tone. New finish, even on old wood has to cure and that has a lot to do with the high frequencies that come off the top.

    Torrefaction definitely gets a head start on sounding old. I think it's benefits are more easily heard on guitars where long, sustaining tones live, less on the short, punchy type playing that is prevalent on mandolins.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Tonewood

    No matter what wood you use, you'll never achieve the real experience of playing a finely crafted, rare, vintage instrument with something the player knows is not.

    That's because there are two things going on here - the actual properties of the instrument, and our experience of the instrument.

    I would argue that the look, feel, and story behind an instrument influences our perception of "vintage tone" more than the tonewood used in its construction. Plenty of the wood used in actual vintage instruments is poor, and the vintage instrument would sound much better with a better-selected piece of wood.

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    Registered User PT66's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tonewood

    It’s not the wood but the skill of the builder that make a great sounding instrument. Without skill the best wood is waisted.
    Dave Schneider

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    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Tonewood

    Such old wood is mostly placebo for customers.
    Most of the very best luthiers I know are quite picky about choice of wood with desired properties and age is at the very tail of the priorities. Few years old is all what you need for proper drying/aging, everything more is just a bling. But some folks are willing to pay the extra...
    Torrefied wood is not the same as old wood and folks who measured the properties on samples can show that it CAN be slightly different from new wood in some desired ways but also not same as real old wood. Thre are many different ways of torrefaction that yield quite different results.
    Adrian

  8. #6

    Default Re: Tonewood

    It’s not the wood but the skill of the builder that make a great sounding instrument. Without skill the best wood is wasted.
    Exactly. Bob Benedetto built a nice archtop from "pallet wood" that sounded almost as nice as his normal guitars made from high dollar tonewoods.

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    Registered User Tavy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tonewood

    Good to see some healthy doses of cold water being served up here

    +1 on the skill of the luthier, if it doesn't sound great to begin with it won't sound great in 100 years.

    As for great sounding old instruments: yes there are some, quite a few in fact, but remember there is a healthy dose of self-selection here - it's the good ones that survive and are looked after. Nothing warms my heart more that to see a vintage instrument come through the door that has been literally played to death - for sure it will need some serious work, but at least you know it's likely to be a good one!

    I've also had plenty of vintage (well known brand name) instruments come through here which sounded noticeably average.

    There's also a certain amount of mojo that vintage instruments have that comes from construction methods and materials which frankly wouldn't be tolerated today on a new high-spec instrument. Folks literally don't build them like that any more, in fact they build them significantly better, but if you're looking for a vintage style and sound, then a rather flimsily built lightweight instrument might be just the thing.

    All that said, I'm all in favour of reusing salvaged woods - at the very least you know it's well seasoned, has stood up well, and if it's going to distort it's done it already! Currently have an ever diminishing stash of ebony piano keys salvaged from the local boozer's upright which are becoming bridge saddles.

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    Registered User PT66's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tonewood

    “ methods and materials which frankly wouldn't be tolerated today.”
    I used to have an old Gibson flat top guitar that had braces with very prominent saw marks. No finely sanded bracing in that guitar. Just glue them in and send it out the door.
    Dave Schneider

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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Tonewood

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Pile View Post
    Exactly. Bob Benedetto built a nice archtop from "pallet wood" that sounded almost as nice as his normal guitars made from high dollar tonewoods.
    I remember that, Bob Taylor did a similar build.....

    https://www.laguitarsales.com/index....rs-pallet.html
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

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    harvester of clams Bill McCall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tonewood

    While all the woods on an instrument have some impact on tone, my guess is that rosewoods, mahogany and other 'tone woods' were chosen more for their beauty and rarity in European markets rather than any acoustic evaluation as to their properties. Good workability probably didn't hurt either.

    The fact that cheap woods can be used with satisfactory results shows, to me, that the proper making of any particular musical instrument shaped box will sound a very reasonable approximation of an instrument made with finer grade woods.

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    Registered User j. condino's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tonewood

    Rosewoods and mahogany used to be common & cheap woods that flooded the European & US markets. There was nothing rare about them until we deforested half of the planet. I can remember buying Brazilian rosewood at all of the local hardware stores as a kid with my grandfather for $5 a board foot; no big deal back then.
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    Default Re: Tonewood

    Quote Originally Posted by j. condino View Post
    Rosewoods and mahogany used to be common & cheap woods that flooded the European & US markets. There was nothing rare about them until we deforested half of the planet. I can remember buying Brazilian rosewood at all of the local hardware stores as a kid with my grandfather for $5 a board foot; no big deal back then.
    That's a bucket full'a truth soup right there. Except your local hardware stores apparently had some more interesting stuff than mine did.

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  19. #13

    Default Re: Tonewood

    Reading old books on wood can give perspective: often the listed uses for what we might imagine as rare and valuable include railroad ties, marine structures, crates. All the foundry patterns here were largely mahogany. That tropical hardwoods are often rot-resistant and come in very large dimensions also defined how they were used. The last round of cheap to scarce is probably ipe. I scavenged a bunch of this about 15 years ago from the scrap of a decking company. First thing I did was to plane and finish a board - looked rather nice. Guess I should keep it around.

  20. #14
    Registered User urobouros's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tonewood

    Y'all make it hard to enjoy the tonewood placebo effect Seriously though, any tonal impact strictly from the wood is completely outweighed by the skill of the builder.
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    And a few electrics

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