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Tone woods vs. wood quality/grade

Tone_Terrific

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
34,964
Why is there so much talk about tone woods and so little about the actual quality or grade of the wood that's being turned into an instrument?

Thanks

a.
You do not need tonewood. You actually need no wood at all.
You do need a chassis material with a range of performance that is consistent with the design parameters.
The industry has largely not caught up with that very fundamental concept, yet, so there are no quality specs for tonewood or any building material related to its functionality in use.
When we can hit doing the chassis on a 3D printer these specs will have to become available.
 

Terry McInturff

45th Anniversary of guitar building!
Gold Supporting Member
Messages
7,290
Why is there so much talk about tone woods and so little about the actual quality or grade of the wood that's being turned into an instrument?

Thanks

a.
The terminology in general use regarding wood used for musical instruments is indeed nebulous; there are many terms which overlap, many terms that are overly broad or misleading. I understand your confusion entirely!

"Musical instrument quality wood" is a term used by lumber suppliers that has changed some over the years.
In general, it refers to (or is supposed to refer to) woods of various species that are free of defects, are of the highest grade, and which (usually) is dried to 8% moisture content or less.

And so it is supposed to refer wood that is ideal for musical instruments, and is the most expensive wood.

The grading of such woods in many cases is nowhere nearly as stringent as it was 30 or more years ago.
This is due to a number of factors such as diminishing supplies, the common use by large manufacturers of wood that would have been rejected in the past, etc.

Here in 2021 the term is still of use by us pro builders, but now more than ever wood needs to be purchased with caution.
Fortunately, after decades in the business I have contacts with whom I have worked with for many years, who can be relied upon for quality materials.





none of that matters for electric guitars
After 45 years full-time in the guitar business, having been hands-on with over 50,000 stringed instruments, and having been involved in the building of many thousands of guitars, may I respectfully disagree? Thanks!

-Aside from the electronics, the traditional electric guitar consists of wood and hardware.
- This set of materials is never 100% identical from guitar-to-guitar, even when the same species of woods are used.
- The resonant character of this set of materials (via the form by which it is used) dictates how the strings can/cannot vibrate.
-This in turn dictates how the strings can/cannot interrupt the magnetic field of the pickup.
- The wood is a very important part of this resonant character of the unplugged guitar; it's not the whole story but it's a ton of the story. I could write plenty about it.
-And so it can be shown that the wood plays an important role in determining the nature of the electric current that is sent to the amplifier.
- The acoustical nature of the electric guitar is of foundational importance in this way.
 
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tea312

Member
Messages
710
How do you define quality and grade because it certainly differs to those individuals who are grading it as it is very subjective? Look at the different vendors and you will see how different their grading systems are from one to the next- a lot of these vendors usually sold lumber only and then branched out to selling guitar building woods. The grading systems is based mostly on aesthetics- how much of the wood is free of natural defects. Then again, think about who grades them. Might be an isolate few who might have actual luthiers in house that can properly grade them.

Though the stricter grading guidelines usually involves the violin family, arch tops and acoustic guitars (usually more involved with the soundboards) that involves many criteria’s that still could be subjective from one vendor to one vendor to one builder to the next- stiffness to ratio, quarter sawn, no grain run out, density, aesthetics, free of natural defects, tap tone response, etc. There should be some kind of a “velocity of sound” grading system like what they use on bowed stringed instrument like a Lucchi meter used on violin bows (pernambuco/pau brasil/Brazilwood) to give a builder some kind of reference.

Some vendors will put the physical weight on solid body electric guitar woods. A lot don’t because they won’t be able to move their inventory because most of the weight tend to be at heavier end for the species like swamp ash, alder and genuine mahogany. The fact of the matter is that the vendor stock that you see or they have available had already been reserved by the vendor for a company and luthiers or has been “cherry picked” by guitar companies and small builders alike.

We see a lot of these guitars mostly in completed form and most of the time we don’t see the challenges before hand when the luthiers worked with the material where defects are present (and become present during the process say like carving a maple archtop/carved top) and they have to figure out a way to work around it and/or isolate it or just completely reject it altogether. The quality of the instrument is due to the final execution of a luthier.
 
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bebenavole

Member
Messages
172
You do not need tonewood. You actually need no wood at all.
You do need a chassis material with a range of performance that is consistent with the design parameters.
The industry has largely not caught up with that very fundamental concept, yet, so there are no quality specs for tonewood or any building material related to its functionality in use.
When we can hit doing the chassis on a 3D printer these specs will have to become available.
I think Switch tried this with their vibracell technology, no?
 

Brian N

Member
Messages
2,387
Why is there so much talk about tone woods and so little about the actual quality or grade of the wood that's being turned into an instrument?

Thanks

a.
Easy answer; manufacturers can easily list what type of wood they used, and it's verifiable. Quality/grade however is completely subjective. Neither loggers nor sawmills provide grades for this sort of stuff. Even Gibson makes up their own grades when judging maple tops (triple A, quadruple A, etc).
 

RRfireblade

Member
Messages
4,070
The main problem with discussions on the internet is most of the people are going to ride in the top of 1% of either end of the absolute extreme point of views.

The second problem is the vast majority of those people actually have no idea what they're talking about and base everything that they believe on something they've read on the internet by people from the first group. :)

The reality, as always, lies pretty squarely in the middle. Anybody who actually does these types of things for a living, will tell you that there is absolutely, unquestionably verifiable methods for grading woods in terms of quality and structure and its intended use in the construction of a musical instrument. While there will still be some level of variance from builder to builder, you'll find that the vast majority of actual professionals still fall within a pretty close relationship of each other.

The one area that really is truly subjective, and has become even more so in recent years, is when talking solely about appearance. And that, like all things, is Artistic and really only means what it needs to mean to that one person. Grading related to appearance alone, will always be purely subjective although I think you will find that among rational people, still has a lot of common ground. Ultimately, you have to be clear about what grading it is you are talking about. Simple appearance or actual structural.
 
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t1r12003

Member
Messages
237
I am a builder and when it comes to quality or grade I would equate that to grain pattern whether it’s highly figured or not and yes that’s subjective. Also, does it have knots, blemishes or cracks etc. We’ve all probably heard the story of how Eddie Van Halen built his Frankenstein and thought that 2nd’s were the bodies next in line to be built, but they told him they were lower quality so he bought it cheaper. Guess we know how that turned out.

The wood you use in an electric guitar absolutely makes a difference. Maybe if you’re using a Death Bucker high output screaming pickup into a raging gained out amp it’s harder to tell, but ask any Guitar God that has a signature model and I’m sure they’ll agree
 

vegarman

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
1,296
my 2 cents about tone wood. to me its just another fun topic of discussion among guitarist, just like all the other topics, bone nut, fret size, pickups, neck thickness, etc. etc.. imho, it don't freakin matter unless the said player likes the damn guitar or not. to me it don't much matter what upgrades you do to a guitar, if you don't like it in the first place. sorry i got off track. i have played hundreds of guitars, and to me tonewood unless it is an acoustic instrument don' matter.
i am fortunate to have a son that loves guitars. he has lent me his trussart tele. i had my doubts about it. if you know anything about them they a generally a metal boxed body with your standard type neck attached to a block inside the body. at first i thought wtf? i t took me a while to get used to the hollow thud it made switching pups., but once i figured it out, its the best sounding guitar i have. love that steelcaster. have a damn fine day!! ps. it does have some arcane tele pups that rock!
 




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