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Thread: Port Orford Cedar as a soundboard

  1. #1

    Default Port Orford Cedar as a soundboard

    I've done a search of prior posts on POC so I have seen those discussions...

    I am very close to pulling the trigger on a Cittern with Lawrence Nyberg and am talking to him about using POC for the top. We are both very interested in it because it has a reputation as a great 'undiscovered' wood. I thinking about it because I'd like something a little warmer than spruce and a little brighter than red cedar. If I don't go with POC I would probably lean towards Engelmann spruce or some type of European spruce.

    For those of you who have actually played an instrument with a POC top, what was your impression? How would you compare it to red cedar or one of the spruces?

    thanks

    Jack

  2. #2
    Registered User Lefty Luthier's Avatar
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    Default Re: Port Orford Cedar as a soundboard

    I have built two mandolins and one mandola with Port Orford Cedar soundboards with mixed results. One mandolin sounds fantastic and has held up for several years of heavy playing but the other mandolin and the mandola developed a longitudinal split between the tone bars near the neck for no apparent reason after being played for about a year. I inspected both instruments and could find no apparent flaws in the wood or contouring errors so am a bit baffled as to cause since have never had a spruce or yellow cedar top fail this way. Bottom line, you may get lucky but again you may not.
    Byron Spain, Builder
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    Default Re: Port Orford Cedar as a soundboard

    POC has a wonderful odor while being worked and is both light and strong. Recall, that wooden shafted arrows for archery were crafted from POC that had been treated by compression that developed a truly strong shaft.

    However-I have found the wood to be somewhat bland and without character or figure when lacquer or other finish is applied. It is fun to work with but I would go with the Engelmann spruce or European spruce.

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    Registered User j. condino's Avatar
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    Default Re: Port Orford Cedar as a soundboard

    The fragrence from Port Orford cedar is beautiful; so much that I've been using it exclusively for linings on my mandolins for over ten years. For tops, it can be prone to cracking, as suggested above. About a dozen years ago, while working for one of the small factories, I built a couple of guitar tops out of it that sounded so bad I pleaded with them not to let them go out the door- like wet cardboard; alas, the front office poindexters still took the money and ran.

    I also build an "Oregon" mandolin using local Port Orford cedar for the top and myrtlewood for the neck, ribs, and back; that one was both a beautiful sounding an visually intoxicating instrument. When you opened the case, the smell was amazing, but faded in about six months.

    I've got a few wedges under my bench right now that I'm always pulling out to get an aromatic "fix" from, but have yet to do anything with. As with all cedars, it is VERY soft on the workbench and will wear fast on a finished instrument. If it was for me, I'd be willing to gamble on it. If it was for a high maintenance customer, don't expect it to sound like red spruce...

    j.
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  6. #5
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    Default Re: Port Orford Cedar as a soundboard

    I guess experience differs as do some opinions. My opinion of port orford cedar is that it will not sound like red cedar at all since it is denser and stiffer and not a cedar at all but a cypress. I find it tougher to carve and more resistant to denting than red cedar, at lest the pieces I have used. I too have some that will some day become instruments, and like James I take it out and smell it once in a while.

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  8. #6
    poor excuse for anything Charlieshafer's Avatar
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    Default Re: Port Orford Cedar as a soundboard

    This comment won't apply to the sound qualities, but a couple of years ago we had a commission to do a whole boardroom out of Port Orford Cedar (the old-growth stuff, took a year to accumulate enough) in the style of the old Greene and Greene interiors, which back then were 100% Port Orford cedar, again all old-growth. The shop was filled with the smell for months, every time we cleaned out a dust collector the smell would still be there. The smell worked it's way into the house as well, which we frankly loved. Hanneke Cassel, a Scots fiddler originally from Port Orford, and now living in Boston, came over to the house once before a show, took a deep breath, and just couldn't stop smiling, saying that the whole town smelled when the humidity was right or when it was milling time. My experience in working with it, and the panels we were making did get down to 1/8" in thickness in places, mirrors what others were saying here, in that it can be brittle and can be prone to cracking, a trait that in New England atleast, we hate due to drastic humidity changes.

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    wood butcher Spruce's Avatar
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    Default Re: Port Orford Cedar as a soundboard

    Quote Originally Posted by Charlieshafer View Post
    ...in that it can be brittle and can be prone to cracking, a trait that in New England atleast, we hate due to drastic humidity changes.
    That has not been my experience with the wood, nor is it POC's reputation....

    It's my understanding that they used the stuff for all the Bristol Bay boats in Alaska because it doesn't freeze check....

    Beautiful boats, BTW...

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    poor excuse for anything Charlieshafer's Avatar
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    Default Re: Port Orford Cedar as a soundboard

    Quote Originally Posted by Spruce View Post
    That has not been my experience with the wood, nor is it POC's reputation....

    It's my understanding that they used the stuff for all the Bristol Bay boats in Alaska because it doesn't freeze check....

    Beautiful boats, BTW...
    That's what I'd heard, too. The suppliers, all from oregon, were a little surprised to hear that there was some long end-checking going on. All I can surmise is that in the winter here, with the heated indoor spaces, relative humidity can easily drop to less than 10%, and most people won't condition to add humidity unless they have something cool, like instruments or great antiques. Could have been just that batch, too. All I know is I had to toss a bunch out!

  12. #9

    Default Re: Port Orford Cedar as a soundboard

    One of the things I've learned, is that even here in Oregon it is prudent to manage the humidity of your instruments. I keep my guitars in their cases with an Oasis humidifier. I'd do the same with this cittern.

    I appreciate the input from everybody, so far. Keep it coming.

    I'd like to pose this question to those who have built with it...

    If you understand how to tap tone your tops with spruce or cedar, is getting the best tone with a piece of POC going to be the same process? In talking to Lawrence he has not built with POC before. I guess I am asking if there is a learning curve in building with POC for the experienced luthier?

    thanks

    Jack

  13. #10
    wood butcher Spruce's Avatar
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    Default Re: Port Orford Cedar as a soundboard

    Quote Originally Posted by EvilTwinSkippy View Post
    I guess I am asking if there is a learning curve in building with POC for the experienced luthier?
    I dunno...

    I built 3-4 mandolins out of POC, and the process seemed to be similar to other woods....

    I think I did rub the gluing surface with acetone, as the stuff--especially well seasoned wood--tends to display oil "patches" on the surface of the wood that only seems to show up when the wood has been sitting for more than 5 years or so....

    And the wood does take longer to dry and season than the spruces, "cedars", etc....

    I remember liking the sound of POC, but not the look...

    I had very tight-grained wood (common in POC), and the graining was ill-defined...
    Not a look I liked then, or now....

  14. #11
    Café habitué Paul Hostetter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Port Orford Cedar as a soundboard

    I'll second Michael: POC and WRC aren't even taxonomically related much, and they don't sound much alike generally. POC is close to Alaska yellow cedar, though. I love the stuff.
    .
    ph

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    Default Re: Port Orford Cedar as a soundboard

    Old thread ! Any updates from POC users !
    My two favorite pastimes are drinking wine and playing the mandolin but most of my friends would rather hear me drink wine! Adapted from quote by Mark Twain------supposedly !

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    Default Re: Port Orford Cedar as a soundboard

    Look up Les Stansell (sp) in Pistol River, Oregon. Guitar maker and supplier of POC (cypress) for many years.

    I have a considerable stash of POC. I like it.
    I also have quite a stash of AYC. I like it.

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    Default Re: Port Orford Cedar as a soundboard

    I built a #0 sized guitar a year ago with POC as soundboard and neck, a cutaway, body being a rosewood relative (forget the name at the moment). It's wonderful. I built it light, thinking it would be good with gypsy type strings and style. It's like a sports car. Got the guitar wood from LMI. I have a couple tops from Spruce for mandolin. They're ready for final graduations but haven't gotten those done yet. If the guitar experience is an omen, I think it should be great. Different tone than red spruce. Warmer but still with some pop.

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  19. #15
    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Port Orford Cedar as a soundboard

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Lewis View Post
    I guess experience differs as do some opinions. My opinion of port orford cedar is that it will not sound like red cedar at all since it is denser and stiffer and not a cedar at all but a cypress. I find it tougher to carve and more resistant to denting than red cedar, at lest the pieces I have used. I too have some that will some day become instruments, and like James I take it out and smell it once in a while.
    Western red cedar is also not a true cedar, being a member of thuja and not cedrus.

  20. #16
    Mandolin user MontanaMatt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Port Orford Cedar as a soundboard

    My custom Weber is POC. It started tight and bright. After 5 years I wan no longer noticing the brightness. I know the “mandolins don’t open up” crowd will be filled with disbelief, but it changed to a much softer tone. It is best suited to bluegrass adjacent and jazz styles in my hands.
    It is different from my Ratliff, which is red adi topped, but a different builder gets you different sound, regardless of wood selection.
    2007 Weber Custom Elite "old wood"
    2017 Ratliff R5 Custom #1148
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    Too many microphones

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