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Thread: Spruce vs. Cedar?

  1. #1
    Lost my boots in transit terzinator's Avatar
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    Default Spruce vs. Cedar?

    What's the general difference between these two tonewoods, as far as mandolins go? For guitars, you generally only see cedar on classicals (although I know Martin messed around with a Cedar HD-28 some years ago).

    But for mandolins, all other things being equal, how would the tone of a cedar and a spruce mandolin differ?

    (And is this the right section for this question?)

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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    Fylde Guitars in the UK make excellent mandolin, mandolas, bouzoukis, citterns and guitars using cedar tops, a warmer sound than spruce at the outset but doesn't open up much with age.

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    Horton River NWT Rob Gerety's Avatar
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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    Quote Originally Posted by terzinator View Post
    For guitars, you generally only see cedar on classicals (although I know Martin messed around with a Cedar HD-28 some years ago).
    I beg to differ. Cedar is a very popular top for guitars of various types including steel strings. I own a Bourgeois JOM Cedar over Mahogany. Gorgeous guitar. Powerful too, contrary to some popular opinions. Tons of headroom. Can't comment regarding the question of cedar on mandos, but in my opinion it is a wonderful tonewood for guitars.
    Rob G.
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    Registered User RichM's Avatar
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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    I've owned a few cedar-topped guitars, and I like it very much. Slightly more open sounding than spruce, and a little more "mellow." The biggest issue I've had with cedar is that it's very very easy to ding, so you need to treat it a little more gently (or have no issue with dings!).

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    mandolinist, Mixt Company D C Blood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    I know Ken Ratcliff has made a good number of his Silverangels with cedar tops. Ken...any comments on this?
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    Mandolin Botherer Shelagh Moore's Avatar
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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    For guitars, you generally only see cedar on classicals (although I know Martin messed around with a Cedar HD-28 some years ago).

    Not quite as common as spruce but there are plenty of cedar top steel string guitars about. I had a nice cedar top Lowden for quite a while. There are a fair number of makers using cedar for mandolins. It is softer than spruce and doesn't change as much with age. I personally find it has a nice warm sound though I usually go for spruce.

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    Lost my boots in transit terzinator's Avatar
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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    yeah, I probably got in a pickle there in my original post by saying the word "only"... so I'm good with the idea that there are more cedar tops out there than I'm properly accounting for...

    anyway, so, cedar as a tonewood... warmer... I often people talk about this or that being "warmer" with respect to sound or tone, but rarely do I hear anyone use "colder" to describe an opposite characteristic. So, would you say warmer means less bright? Less biting? Less crisp? Thicker?

    Would you say that, for a bluegrass mandolin, cedar is a desirable topwood? Or is it suited more to other styles? Or "it depends on the instrument"?

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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    Cedar is great for cladding houses and building sheds......
    Ray

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

    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.

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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    I used to own a Lark in the Morning cedar-topped mandola when I was in college... wonderful sounding instrument. Really, really was. And smelled SO good! I sold it while thinning out the herd, though...!

    It's great for a "folky" sounding instrument: warm, smooth, dark and "woody" right out of the box. It doesn't have the crispness or ringing complexity of spruce, but I (for one) really liked the tone.

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    Registered User RichM's Avatar
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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    When I say "warmer," I generally mean longer decay, less treble emphasis, more midrange, less focused, less percussive. Your mileage, as always, may vary.

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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    This conversation, coupled with the thread on walnut for an instument rim and back, is killing me. I just received a beautiful C# mando from Bill Bussmann, and with a sigh of relief felt my chronic case of MAS fading away. Alas, I have finally begun the long process (for me at least) of learning to sing. At present, I accompany myself on an old Gibson tenor tuned to octave mando pitch. Now, however, I'm starting to lust for a GOM made with, you guessed it, a walnut body and a cedar or redwood top. Bill, at Old Wave, is of course a builder to consider. But just for fun, can you all recommend a few other luthiers as well? Thanks.
    mr.randy

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    Horton River NWT Rob Gerety's Avatar
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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    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.
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    wood butcher Spruce's Avatar
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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ray(T) View Post
    Cedar is great for cladding houses and building sheds......
    Ray
    Tell that to Bruce Weber, or any of the folks currently playing those cedar-topped mandos they've been building lately...

    I've yet to play a bad one...

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    Registered User RichM's Avatar
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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.
    As far as tone goes, I think it just goes to show that selection of tonewoods is just one small variable in the overall equation of tone. As far as cedar's tendency to ding-- well, I'm glad your guitar doesn't, but mine got a ding in it just by someone pressing hard with a fingertip! No two pieces of wood are the same, so maybe I got a bad one or you got a good one!

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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    Maybe but I've never seen an spruce clad house or shed .......
    Ray

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

    Are there any old cedar or redwood mandolins to compare mechanical and tonal longevity? There are plenty of old and not so old spruce topped mandolins that developed cracks and top sinkage. Climate (temp and humidity) storage conditions (hot attics) always comes to mind but mandolins have more downward stress on the top than most flattop guitars especially classical. Does the thicker dimensions of the cedar/redwood tops compensate for differences in their stiffness and strength? How much does wood selection effect the aging process?

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    wood butcher Spruce's Avatar
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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ray(T) View Post
    Maybe but I've never seen an spruce clad house or shed .......
    Ray
    Go to New England in the States sometime...

    All the clapboard on the old houses (and some new ones for that matter) are milled from premium Adirondack spruce...

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

    Quote Originally Posted by hank View Post
    Are there any old cedar or redwood mandolins to compare mechanical and tonal longevity? There are plenty of old and not so old spruce topped mandolins that developed cracks and top sinkage. Climate (temp and humidity) storage conditions (hot attics) always comes to mind but mandolins have more downward stress on the top than most flattop guitars especially classical. Does the thicker dimensions of the cedar/redwood tops compensate for differences in their stiffness and strength? How much does wood selection effect the aging process?
    Those are all good questions and the answer has to be that we just don't know yet, because it's only been in the last 20 years or so that luthiers have been able to sell alternative tonewoods that departed from the classic pre-war guitar and mandolin designs. I haven't heard anything about early production Ramirez cedar classical guitars blowing up, so we know guitars at least are good out to about 40 years or so.

    My Holst cedar classical guitar has carbon fiber lattice bracing under the top, instead of the usual wood fan bracing. I'm a little curious about what the long-term effects of that will be, as the wood ages and shrinks, and the CF doesn't. But so far, nothing has budged a millimeter... no ripples or weirdness in the soundboard after four years in a climate where the house humidity varies from 30% to 60% Rh through seasonal changes. It looks like stable tech, at least for the time frame that I'll own and play this guitar.

    I've had my redwood-topped 2006 Lebeda mandolin for a little over two years, and nothing on it has budged either.

    I don't think I'll live long enough to see whether either instrument is a long-term problem. I'm too busy just trying how to play the darn things up to their potential, and not worrying too much about something 20 or 30 years from now.

    As someone (maybe Alan Carruth?) once said; "All string instruments are trying to swallow themselves." They'll all self-destruct or become museum pieces if you take a long-enough worldview.

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

    This sleeping question of tonal differences has come to my attention again while admiring the beautiful Elkwood Cedar and Redwood topped creations coming from Robb Brophy's shop in Durango. Can some of you lucky gardians of these and other alternate wood mandolins help the rest of us understand the sonic differences of topwood choice?
    My perception questions a softer woods ability to excel at producing the upper end treble produced on the surface of the instrument. This is the part of the tone that logically seems to require a harder piece of Redwood or Cedar to compete with Spruce. As pointed out previously with at least with one individual's guitar, there is no noticeable degradation but improvement in this area of the tonal palet.
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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    The top tone wood is a large, but just one factor, for determining the final sound of a mandolin. While undeniably a huge factor, the redwood top of my Silverangel is also accompanied by a more pronounced carve, especially on the back,which won't clear a toneguard. It would be interesting to hear two mandolins, one with a more normal arch. I assume Ken Radcliff has developed his design for good reason. Anyway,the result is a fine mandolin I know won't appeal to every taste.
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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    My La Patrie classical cw is a cedar top. it is very warm. mind you it has nylon strings so...
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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    Quote Originally Posted by Spruce View Post
    Go to New England in the States sometime...

    All the clapboard on the old houses (and some new ones for that matter) are milled from premium Adirondack spruce...
    just as an f.y.i. of no real importance..
    Spruce and eastern white pine, for that matter. Easy to find clapboards well over 200 years old if they were maintained. Eastern (white) cedar for roofs only; didn't last unless they were by the water with the salt air helping to preserve...slightly. We didn't use cedar for siding here until the western forests were starting to be logged and they came across the big western red trees.

    Eastern white pine took over in the late 1800's for siding and trim as the spruce were pretty well logged out, along with the oaks suitable for timber framing. By about 1840, timber framing switched to hemlock as the large oak trees were gone. Chestnut was used for flooring, rarely for the frames. Then that went away, too, due to the blight.

    So there you have it, useless information for a Monday night.

  27. #24

    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    I have a Girouard mandola with a cedar top. It has beautiful warm tone that, at least to me, is more complex than spruce. As for durability, my father has had cedar shake shingles on his roof since 1972 in Livingston, Montana, where the winds routinely top 50 miles an hour, and have been clocked at over 100. Nary a shingle has given up its grip, despite suffering through temps as low as -40 and as high as 100+, as well as desert-like humidity levels. I don't know what that says about cedar as a tone wood, but it is a testament about its toughness.

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    Registered User Mike Snyder's Avatar
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    Default Re: Spruce vs. Cedar?

    My mandolins are Sitka and Red Spruce, respectively, so....... not much to add to the discussion, but cedar roofs I know about. The lifespan of a cedar roof has a great deal to do with the roofing system UNDER the shingles and the expertise of the crew. Done right they last better that asphalt composite.
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