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Thread: Is red spruce the best wood for the top?

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    Default Is red spruce the best wood for the top?

    I read alot of posts here that talk about the "greatest mando I have heard", "the greatest mando I have played", "the greatest mando that has passed thru my hands", etx...and most seem to have had a red spruce top. Should my next mando definitely have a red spruce top? Is it good from day one, or does the red spruce on a mando require several years to "open up" like I have heard about guitars with a red spruce top?

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    Default Re: Is red spruce the best wood for the top?

    Depends upon what you want to hear. Tone woods all have different properties, even within the same species. On top of that, construction methods come into play, as well as the type of wood with which the top is paired. Only your own experience can help you here in deciding which sounds appeal to you. If I prefer red spruce or engelmann or carpathian or whatever, it is only my choice based on my ears and experience in playing lots of mandos and listening for the sound that I have come to prefer. I'm sure you'll read a lot of discussions of various top tone woods, enjoy them but remember, they are only guides at best. Listen, and again remember that it takes a few years of focussed listening to develop an ear for this stuff.
    Last edited by Mike Bunting; Oct-03-2012 at 2:58pm.

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    Registered User dcoventry's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is red spruce the best wood for the top?

    As a broad generalization, RS makes some great tops if well made. There have been been many classic pairings of RS and some other hard maple for backs and sides: Rock maple, Sugar Maple, Bigleaf.

    Generalizations have also been made about Engelmann being more open earlier and Sitka being a little less so.

    As spruce has said, there have been some amazing examples of Dense and hard RS....and also really soft and light ones.

    My favorite mandos have had RS and Eastern hard maple(Rigel G5), and European Spruce and and a slightly softer maple(Phoenix Jazz).

    I guess I'll end by saying IT DEPENDS. It depends on the wood, the dude carving it, and what you perceive as great tone.
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    wood butcher Spruce's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is red spruce the best wood for the top?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Bunting View Post
    Listen, and again remember that it takes a few years of focussed listening to develop an ear for this stuff.
    I'd bet there isn't a soul on the planet who could ID a spruce species in a mandolin blind listening test...
    Or even a test play with eyes wide open....

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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is red spruce the best wood for the top?

    Withing each commonly used spruce species, wood varies from excellent to junk when it comes to top wood, so there is red spruce that is excellent for tops and there is red spruce that is junk. Is it better on average than other spruce? I'd say 'no'. I've been using red spruce (not exclusively) since the early '90s because I have a large stash of it, cut in West Virginia (with Ted Davis) and processed in my shop, so I would qualify as one of the early users of red spruce in the resurgence of it's use that began when Ted finally got permission to harvest a few trees on public land. Some of what I have is very good, some is average and some is excellent. I also have sitka, engalmann, and european spruce, and some of those pieces are excellent too. Actually, since those came from tonewood suppliers, they tend toward high quality in general.
    As for your question "Should my next mando definitely have a red spruce top?", I'd say no, but it should have a good top if not an excellent top, and if it is red spruce that's fine (or if it's sitka, or engalmann or...).

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    Default Re: Is red spruce the best wood for the top?

    Quote Originally Posted by Spruce View Post
    I'd bet there isn't a soul on the planet who could ID a spruce species in a mandolin blind listening test...
    Or even a test play with eyes wide open....
    Wouldn't argue with that at all. I was referring more to developing an ear towards what you really like. I've heard instruments that impress me and it never dawns on me to ask what kind of wood are in them.

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    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is red spruce the best wood for the top?

    Quote Originally Posted by Timmando View Post
    Should my next mando definitely have a red spruce top?
    No. You should use Western Redcedar, which, to my ears, is the finest sounding tonewood. Of course it sure helps if your builder also has a reputation for awesome sounding instruments.

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    wood butcher Spruce's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is red spruce the best wood for the top?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Bunting View Post
    Wouldn't argue with that at all. I was referring more to developing an ear towards what you really like. I've heard instruments that impress me and it never dawns on me to ask what kind of wood are in them.
    There we go....

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    Default Re: Is red spruce the best wood for the top?

    From between 1 and 2 minute marks.


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    Default Re: Is red spruce the best wood for the top?

    Quote Originally Posted by TEE View Post
    From between 1 and 2 minute marks.

    And??

    I cut all those tops, and know each of those trees very well...

    Go grab a billet from the other side of any of those trees (the tight grained side in the case of S5, the Red Spruce John was tapping), and you find a piece that taps very differently...

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    Default Re: Is red spruce the best wood for the top?

    I think the skill of the builder is WAY MORE important than the pieces of wood
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    Default Re: Is red spruce the best wood for the top?

    It's a dance, the builder and the wood. Partners. You can take it from there...

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    Default Re: Is red spruce the best wood for the top?

    Some more....

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    Default Re: Is red spruce the best wood for the top?

    Quote Originally Posted by Spruce View Post
    And??

    I cut all those tops, and know each of those trees very well...

    Go grab a billet from the other side of any of those trees (the tight grained side in the case of S5, the Red Spruce John was tapping), and you find a piece that taps very differently...
    Yeah, I am aware you provided wood to John. What I do not understand is why you object to a short concise tutorial on top wood by John in which none of the tops are declared better than any other? That was the topic of this thread is it not? I do not even know what type of spruce is on my own mandolin and I really don't care. I just love the way John explains stuff in those videos, he makes it look so easy.

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    Default Re: Is red spruce the best wood for the top?

    I think it often appears to be an attractive proposition to suggest that there is some strict hierarchy in tonewoods... red spruce is better than englemann... which is better than sitka, or Brazilian rosewood is better than Madagascan... which is better than East Indian... etc. etc.

    It is certainly the subject of a lot of marketing.

    The reality is not necessarily so cut and dried. Not by a long way. An instrument is the product of numerous variables, and they key is how well they come together. This is why judging by specification, and not by the finished instrument, can lead you seriously astray. Same with finishes. Varnish vs. lacquer..... and so it goes.
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    Default Re: Is red spruce the best wood for the top?

    Thanks for those posts guys about tone tapping. I have heard of tap testing, but never actually "heard" it done. That video really demonstrates the differences. I do understand that the final product is what needs to be evaluated, but I am leaning towards red spruce as my next top. My next trip to a store, maybe northern florida, I will listen close to those with red spruce first before I get sidetracked by something else.

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    Default Re: Is red spruce the best wood for the top?

    I am not a luthier and I can only speak from my own experiences as a mandolin player and what other players have told me. Red spruce takes a while to break in but it does make sense to me that the stiff, but well-seasoned, relatively light in weight, quartersawn red spruce will most likely have more structural integrity over time than softer Englemann and red cedar. This, considering the given that it is a very well-built mandolin.

    However, many players will not own the same mandolin for 50 plus years so maybe the bigger concern for a player is what (s)he prefers to hear right here and now. I've heard comments like, "I like the more immediate response and rounder tones that Englemann gives", "I love the bite that I hear with Red spruce", and "My new cedar topped mandolin sounds already broken in and it very responsive." There are also a lot of players who prefer vintage or at least very broken in, used mandolins to new ones.

    My 2003 Williamson has a sitka top in which you really cannot see the grain lines. I know it was extra stiff and (from what I remember being told by the luthier) 80 yrs. old, coupled with very old quartersawn red maple, and it has more lower response than my 2009 Kimble which has a red spruce top. The Kimble has more cut and bite however and I love it that they are so very different from each other.

    Carpathian spruce has been very praised by some of the top mandolin builders but I have never played one.

    Then there is European spruce which is said to have a tone and response somewhere between the Englemann and red spruce. But it is all generalities. I've heard it said a lot that a great luthier can make a very good mandolin from good wood, but a great mandolin from great wood.

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    Registered Mandolin User mandopete's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is red spruce the best wood for the top?

    Quote Originally Posted by Timmando View Post
    Thanks for those posts guys about tone tapping. I have heard of tap testing, but never actually "heard" it done.
    Me neither. I was amazing how clear the "note" was.

    Thanks for sharing!
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    Registered User John Duncan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is red spruce the best wood for the top?

    What top woods are in Loars and Ferns?
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    Default Re: Is red spruce the best wood for the top?

    I notice noone has mentioned the Walnut top on Brian Dean's superb 'Grand Concert'. The elephant in the room perhaps?
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    Default Re: Is red spruce the best wood for the top?

    John..I think the Loars were red spruce, not sure of the ferns.

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    Default Re: Is red spruce the best wood for the top?

    Quote Originally Posted by cwtwang View Post
    Red spruce takes a while to break in but it does make sense to me that the stiff, but well-seasoned, relatively light in weight, quartersawn red spruce will most likely have more structural integrity over time than softer Englemann and red cedar. This, considering the given that it is a very well-built mandolin.
    .
    I would not be too concerned about the structural integrity aspect. I have one of the very rare, early 50's "Magic Spruce" Martin guitars - in fact, Englemann. It has stood up every bit as well as any Sitka or Red Spruce example. Primary difference is in the color change or lack of it, over time compared to a Sitka example. Even after 60 years, it is still light golden/creamy looking rather than imitating a pumpkin! I think Englemann makes a fine guitar, or mandolin.
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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is red spruce the best wood for the top?

    With all this tapping going on, I grabbed a few samples from the wood rack and tapped them into my computer mic. If anyone can tell me how to attach the files (I have them in Garage Band and iTunes) it might interest some folks to hear them.

  28. #24

    Default Re: Is red spruce the best wood for the top?

    Create a MP3 file of them then import it to a host site like soundcloud, share the link and wella.

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    Registered User Max Girouard's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is red spruce the best wood for the top?

    John, if it is in mp3 format, just go attach it like you would a picture. It will upload directly to the thread. No need to find a host site.

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