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Thread: Spruce vs. Cedar?

  1. #26
    Henry Lawton hank's Avatar
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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    Mike, I guess a good roofer is just as important as a good luthier but do Cedar shakes sound better than Spruce shakes when the rain plays them? I like the sound of tin roofs. Their sort of the resonators of roof tones.
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  3. #27
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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Snyder View Post
    My mandolins are Sitka and Red Spruce, respectively, so.......
    Which one is the Black A4? I was under the impression that Mike largely builds his ovals with Engelmann.
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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post
    Someone correct me if this is wrong, but I think the "classical guitar = cedar top" thing started with Ramirez back in the 60's, maybe? The preferred top wood for classical guitars had always been European spruce until then. The best wood was becoming harder to get for a high production outfit like Ramirez, so they started using and popularizing cedar as an alternative. At least I think that's how I remember it (the old gray cells ain't what they used to be). Cedar is now just about all you see in the entry level classical guitar market, probably due to easy availability for the Asian builders like Takamine and Yamaha. However, spruce is still used alongside cedar by most of the higher-end luthiers like Dammann, Ruck, Humphrey, Smallman, etc. for concert-grade classical guitars.

    My main mandolin has a redwood top, with similar characteristics to cedar. I wanted something a little different, so I took a chance with redwood and I'm very happy with it. I'm not going to call the tone "warm" because that's such a cliché, and I'm not sure that describes the tone anyway. It's just nicely balanced between lows and highs, with a sweet tone and good volume. A hardcore bluegrasser (which I'm not) would probably stick with the "Monroe/Loar" formula and a spruce top, but for a general-purpose mandolin like this, being used for Irish 'trad, OldTime, Blues, and just a little grass now and then, I think redwood or cedar is a great tonewood choice. That is, *if* the luthier is accustomed to working with it.

    On the question of softness and damage: I have a cedar-topped Holst classical guitar, and that redwood-topped Lebeda mandolin, and I haven't noticed either one being any more prone to dings or surface wear than my spruce-topped instruments. The finish may have something to do with it, since both have thin but very hard glossy lacquer finishes. Maybe they'd be a little more prone to dings with a less protective finish like varnish or French Polish, I don't know. In general though, I think the idea that cedar (or redwood) is a soft wood that's prone to damage is somewhat overstated.
    Your post brought back a memory.

    Quite some time ago I bought a Pimentel classical guitar that was cedar-topped with a mahogany body, from a dealer in Tennessee. It had a lovely tone and was a joy to play. I was somewhat influenced to purchase it as it was made during the time luthier Richard Schneider was apprenticed to Pimentel. Schneider later went on to work with Michael Kasha who developed a unique bracing system. Sadly, I no longer have the guitar, so am unable to provide the date of its manufacture. I'd not heard of such a combination of woods in a guitar at the time, and was pleasantly surprised by the instrument.

    I believe Schneider was asked about steel strung guitars with cedar soundboards; he said they could be made, but considerable attention should be paid to the bracing, else there'd be trouble in future. Whether this applies to mandolins as well is beyond my ken, but I'd guess the stresses would be applied over a shorter moment arm, thus less susceptible to eventual mechanical failure.

  5. #29
    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    If it helps add to the discussion, here's a clip I recorded just for fun a few years ago. A two mandolin duet, one with a cedar top, the other with a redwood top. the tune is "Money's Gone," or "Hey Boys, the Money's All Gone," two different versions (there are a lot of different versions).

    The first part is a unison duet with two mandolins, them my friend takes off on the melody and I back him. You may need headphones to hear the two different instruments.

    http://ptjams.com/mb/mp3/Money%27s%2...0Duet%2002.mp3

    Left channel is me on a Lebeda redwood-top, maple back and sides F-style mandolin.

    Right channel is my friend Cheqa Rodgers on an Elkhorn cedar top, cocobolo back and sides F-style mandolin. There is a little pick click here due to the fingerboard extension, if you're having trouble telling them apart.

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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    What I've found is that my 1982 Fylde, cedar top mahogany back and sides is ready to go as soon as I open the case and remains in tune and constant in response all night. Whereas the Breedlove OF 2006 takes a good 10 minutes playing to wake up, becomes more responsive as I play longer but is less likely to stay in tune all night, a bit inconvenient when I watch to the electric for several songs, but I can deal with that.

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    Henry Lawton hank's Avatar
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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    Great song and playing Folded Path. Cheqa's and your nimble fingers prove the point that there is plenty of sparkle in the top end of both these mandolins. Your Redwood/Maple sounded slightly more top end oriented than Cheqa's Western Cedar/Cocobolo to me. When playing back to back Cedar or Redwood then a conventional Spruce/Maple mandolin do you find the A & E strings of both instruments respond and sound similar enough to make this discussion of top wood high end performance mute?
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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    Quote Originally Posted by Rob Gerety View Post
    You know, I used to buy into the notion that cedar is warmer, softer, easier to ding, more open, doesn't "open up" etc. etc. But now, I am very skeptical. My Bourgeois is none of these things. Frankly, its just a great power house of a guitar just like any really good guitar spruce topped or otherwise.

    "It doesn't have the crispness or ringing complexity of spruce, " Everyone has different experiences - but this comment is 180 degrees out from my personal experience. My Bourgeois has all of this and more.
    I absolutely agree with Post#13. My Lakewood guitar has a AAA cedar top and has a very powerful, in-your-face tone that allows me to be heard at the bluegrass jams. It certainly changed my perception of cedar as a top wood. I'd love to do an A-B comparison with red spruce.

  11. #33
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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    Quote Originally Posted by hank View Post
    Great song and playing Folded Path. Cheqa's and your nimble fingers prove the point that there is plenty of sparkle in the top end of both these mandolins. Your Redwood/Maple sounded slightly more top end oriented than Cheqa's Western Cedar/Cocobolo to me.
    When I've compared that particular cedar/cocobolo mandolin to my redwood/maple one, the main difference I've heard in isolation is that it's a bit warmer in tone (a little more bass) and a little more harmonic content. My redwood mandolin doesn't have quite as much energy going into the bass frequencies. It's a bit more focused or "direct" sounding, if that makes sense. That may be why it sounds a little more top end oriented.

    Still, these are the products of two different luthiers, so it's hard to say how much of this is down to the tonewoods and how much is just the tone they were shooting for. It's possible they would have had the same relative sound if the tonewoods were swapped around.

    When playing back to back Cedar or Redwood then a conventional Spruce/Maple mandolin do you find the A & E strings of both instruments respond and sound similar enough to make this discussion of top wood high end performance mute?
    That's an interesting question. The qualities we associate with differences in tonewoods like "bark," "woodiness," "warmth," or "harmonics" to my ear, are mostly in the notes played lower on the fretboard and on the G,D,A strings. Once you start climbing up the fretboard and playing on the A and E strings (especially the E's), I think timbre differences from tonewoods tend to flatten out. The main difference between instruments then becomes the mechanical quality of construction that allows a note to ring out clearly on the high frets.

    I've played mandolins that had good high notes and others with poor ones (in terms of clarity and sustain) from all the different common tonewoods. The variable is more luthier skill than the top wood for those high notes, I think. Just my opinion, and others may disagree with that.

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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post
    I've played mandolins that had good high notes and others with poor ones (in terms of clarity and sustain) from all the different common tonewoods. The variable is more luthier skill than the top wood for those high notes, I think. Just my opinion, and others may disagree with that.
    Nah, the luthier's got nothing to do with it...
    It's all about the wood...
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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    Quote Originally Posted by Spruce View Post
    Nah, the luthier's got nothing to do with it...
    It's all about the wood...
    Objection, your honor! Witness has a clear bias!

    Have a great '17, all...
    Likewise!

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    Henry Lawton hank's Avatar
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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    Thank you Folded Path. The Luthiers skill is never forgotten when we discuss the leading particulars of a mandolins performance. My experience has been that most of what you described as tonal descriptions are more attributed to having the back plate coupled to the front plate. On better performing mandolins you often hear players discribe this coupling with comments like I feel the back vibrations like it's alive, etc. The few examples of Cedar or Redwood I have heard in person had a noticeable difference in the tone of the upper register particularly the E string. It wasn't a matter of the notes not resonating fully when fretted on the upper neck but strictly a warmer tone there and most noticeably on the E strings. The bass response for a good chop and woody tone didn"t seem affected by the top wood as much as the E strings voice. This had the beneficial effect of a smoother more even transition from wound to unwound strings. I believe many prefer this smooth transition and are not bothered by a little less pizazz in the E string.

    I brought this thread back knowing the answer is that the rigidity, mass and internal damping of all woods is as varied as the climate and location that nurtured them. Still, when my limited sampling seemed to indicate a woodier E string is the norm, WHO YA GONNA CALL? The Mandolin Cafe builders myth busters here in the forum.
    Last edited by hank; Dec-29-2016 at 9:47am. Reason: Typo
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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    Classical Guitar soundboards are commonly Cedar.
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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    Cedar heartwood (not the cambium, the "inner bark" layer) is naturally rot-resistant which makes it very useful for siding, decking and fenceposts but doesnt have much bearing on its suitability as a tonewood. Hemlock and locust are rot-resistant too but I dont see anyone using them for instrument tops. Spruce is pretty poor at rot-resistance. I am surprised to hear that it was a popular choice for siding, for which white pine has always been the preferred material here in Ontario.

    Getting back to the tonewood question, I too have a great mellow-sounding flattop mandola with a red cedar top (and yellow birch body, I think)-- also a terrific cedar-topped dreadnought which was a Japanese-made Lowden design. The latter has more bass than just about any guitar in the known world.

    Incidentally, the guy that made my mandola--he worked in a sawmill and liked to try different local woods--also made some with white pine tops. A friend of mine ordered one and was quite disappointed. Dull thuddy sound. Dont try it.

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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    Within the last couple of years I picked up one of Breedlove's last 'traditional' dreads - just after they discontinued them all. I got this one at a crazy blow out price.... what a nice guitar, though. WR Cedar over EIRW. Great fingerstyle but is fine with fairly heavy flatpicking too. Records superbly. A real shame they dropped this line.

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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    Almeriastrings- I just picked up a Cedar topped Breedlove too. Its an orchestra sized cutaway--I think a "concet solo performer" or something like that. Anyway, it sounds and plays fantastic and the built in electronics sound amazing. Possibly the best balanced tone through a PA that i'ved heard in an acoustic guitar. http://www.zzounds.com/item--BRESOLC...jOhoCiDHw_wcB=
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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    Excellent... yes... they have very good electronics in these! They do seem to have got the technique of working with cedar down really well, too. Much under-rated....
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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    After reading this thread, I am now considering going to Western Red Cedar for the new mandola that Lawrence Nyberg is making for me. The sides and back will be Paduak, which is walnut like. He offers two types of Western Red Cedar, one tight and hard vs a darker one that is softer and "warmer". I will be talking with Lawrence and get his opinion, but I would also really like the opinion of my friends on the Cafe. Thanks in advance.
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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    BTW, I think we initially chose Engelmann. We never really considered Cedar, at that time.
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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    Quote Originally Posted by red7flag View Post
    He offers two types of Western Red Cedar, one tight and hard vs a darker one that is softer and "warmer". I will be talking with Lawrence and get his opinion, but I would also really like the opinion of my friends on the Cafe.
    Go with cedar that is as hard-to-the-fingernail as you can find...regardless of weight...
    ...and steer clear of cedar that is soft...
    YMMV, but I doubt it...

    That being said, I always love to let the builder make the call, especially on tops...

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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    Yeah, come to think of it, The Black is probably Engleman.
    Mike Snyder

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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    Agree with the advice to go with the harder cedar. See Glen Hansard's cedar topped Takmine as exhibit A .

    I have a Taylor 714 with WRC top and EIRW B/S that I picked out off a wall of Martins. I have a D-28 Yairi copy from the '70s that's an excellent guitar (Spruce/Brazilian) and a Guild D-40 (Spruce/mahogany). I was looking for more of a finger picker and something to add a different tonal pallet to the arsenal, and the 714 met both needs very well. I agree with the "warmer" tone generalization compared to the other two that I own. The Guild is very focused sounding and an excellent strummer (classic D-18 tone). Its bass is good and records well, but not as boomy as the other 2. The D-28 gives boomy bass but a more focused tone than the 714 (though the Yairi is more overtoney and less focused than the Guild). The 714 has a really nice bass boom, but has more overtones while still retaining a bit of the signature Taylor "sparkle" (that people tend to either love or hate). It's an excellent finger picker, but has plenty of headroom strumming, too. If I'm playing straight up rhythm (in any genre) or bluegrass lead guitar, I'll grab one of the others, but for worship services, where I'll often play a bit of finger picking and rhythm, I grab the 714 every time. It handles dropped tunings very well (man, a low C or D really rumbles!), and sounds good with a LR Baggs sound hole pickup (that I leave off except when performing) through a Baggs Radius. And, so far, it's got no finish wear or significant dings (got it 6 or 7 years ago). I tend to be pretty careful with my instruments, but it's a good piece of WRC. The Guild actually has the most wear on treble side of the sound hole, but some of that is from less refined/experienced technique and over 13 years of wailing on it at this point.

    So, I'd definitely consider a cedar topped mandolin, but I'd want to hear/play it first, or commission one from a Luthier who has a rep for getting good results with that top wood. Wouldn't hesitate to get an OM or Zouk with a cedar top, though, given my satisfaction with my guitar...
    Chuck

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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    Just follow up. I talked with Lawrence Nyberg and he felt that WRC would be a very nice combination with paduak on a mandola. He will look through his cedar to find a piece that would be right for the projected instrument. Thanks all for this thread and the inspiration. After reading this thread I woke up in bed and my whole body popped up when I thought of the Cedar on the Nyberg mandola.
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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    I have a paduak ukulele. it is a very porous wood (you can see dots/indents all over). That tenor is quite soft sounding... not much volume compared to my plywood soprano lol.
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  32. #49
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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    Quote Originally Posted by Barry Wilson View Post
    I have a paduak ukulele. it is a very porous wood (you can see dots/indents all over). That tenor is quite soft sounding... not much volume compared to my plywood soprano lol.
    Not to disagree, Barry, but after a lot of investigation, soft sounding was not one of the qualities that come to mind with pauak. Most people relate it to walnut as far as sound. And while not a poppy as maple, soft sounding would not be the primary characteristic. Warmer probably, but no lack of volume. I have no direct experience with paduak, so I would like to ask the tone wood meisters for their opinions of paduak?
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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    Did not mean to hijack this thread. I will move the topic of paduak to a new thread. My bad.
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