Why not oak?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Guitar & Bass Technical Discussion' started by fumbler, Sep 26, 2006.

  1. fumbler

    fumbler Member

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    Hi, I've been lurking for a while but this is my first post so be gentle with me!

    I was shopping for hardwood floors with the wife and I saw many of the standard tonewoods represented: the maples, ash, walnut, mahogany and even some of the more exotics like bubinga, korina, zebrawood, etc. (man, that stuff was pricey!) But there was also a ton of oak and it occurred to me for the first time "why are there no oak guitars?" At least I've never seen or heard of one.

    It's certainly widely available and decently priced. Does it sound like poo? Is it impossible to work with or finish the stuff? (But then why is there so much oak furniture?) Is it unstable over time? (But again why the 200-year-old furniture?)

    Anyone know?

    Just curious,
    the fumbler
     
  2. tonezoneonline

    tonezoneonline Member

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    Oak is very heavy and porous.Maple is heave too and that's why you see guitars with maple caps.
     
  3. fumbler

    fumbler Member

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    So why are there no guitars with oak caps?

    There's gotta be some reason related to tone (i.e. it sounds like a cardboard box). Some luthier must have tried it, no? Fer gosh sakes guitars have been made of lucite, aluminum, masonite, plywood, etc.

    Now I'm *really* curious.

    fumbler
     
  4. Killa-B

    Killa-B Member

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    Oak is a shock absorbant wood with long coarse grain. Woods such as these are I believe the opposite of what you'd want in a tonewood. You don't see hickory (used in axe handles) as a tonewood either.
     
  5. TAVD

    TAVD Guitar Player Gold Supporting Member

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    Well, Gibson did make that hickory les paul.

    I built a lap steel out of white oak once and it sounded ok but wasn't anything to write home about either. Oak is heavy, not too pretty and not so nice to work with, imo. If used strategically, I'm sure it would work fine though. Maybe as a binding or part of a laminated neck. Some oak burl might make an interesting top.

    Didn't Martin or Taylor make a guitar from pallets? I'd bet they used some oak since that's what is used for pallets.
     
  6. DualRectifier

    DualRectifier Silver Supporting Member

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    Taylor did make a limited run of pallet guitars, made of pallet oak and pine that Bob Taylor got from pallets in the back of the shipping department at the factory. They were $10,000, due to the difficulty of working with oak and pine.

    [​IMG]

    Note the forklift inlay....funny. These guitars had oak neck, back and sides, with a pine top, all from shipping pallets.

    Oak is an ugly, dense wood. Who would want to make a guitar out of it?
     
  7. 57special

    57special Silver Supporting Member

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    Oak is heavy (like ash), but i'm not aware of a lightweight Oak ,i.e. "swamp oak".
    Maple is prized partially for it's tone, but also for it's outstanding figure. Oak is not a heavily figured wood.
     
  8. disaster

    disaster Member

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    Brian May's "Red Special" is oak, iIrc, and made from a fireplace mantle. sounds pretty good to me...
     
  9. QuickDraw

    QuickDraw Member

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    i thought brian may's guitar was made out of a mahogany mantle
     
  10. Lasiurus

    Lasiurus Member

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    exactly what i was thinking when i think oak and guitar. the veneer of the red special was mahogany i think. i know pianos use oak.
     
  11. forestryguy

    forestryguy Member

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    There is a botanical answer dealing with the structure of the wood. Oak is ring porous, meaning the vessels are aligned in the early or spring wood of each growth ring more or less in a distinct arcing line around each year's growth ring. Most tonewoods are diffuse porous, meaning the vessels are evenly distributed through both early and late wood in each annual growth ring. Ring porous woods tend to dry unevenly and fast, shrink, crack and split easily. Diffuse porous woods dry slowly, but evenly and are more dimensionally stable.
     
  12. 57special

    57special Silver Supporting Member

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    But i thought Ash was less stable than Oak, and more prone to splitting? That's why they offer oak trim, doors, etc. at buiding supplies rather than the otherwise similar Ash (not talking Swamp Ash here). And Eastern maple is an absolute bitch to work with. splits far worse than oak. Yet maple and ash are used extensively in instrument building.
    No argument with something like Mahogany vs. Oak, though.
     
  13. BradKM

    BradKM Member

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    I've seen a few oak topped instruments. I didn't find them very attractive.

    The stuff's horrendous to work with as well. We use it for some things on the farm, when it's called for. It's like iron. It eats up drill bits, saw blades, and anything else you throw at it.

    Maple can be tough, but I haven't had near the problems with maple that I do everytime I have to deal with oak.
     
  14. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Member

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    I've used eastern maples that were a pleasure to work and carve. Here's my point - this term is misused as much as any I can think of in the realm of all things guitar. There are many species of maples growing in the eastern US. All varying widely in density, color, figure, etc. Silver maple (one of the maples indigenous to the eastern US) is relatively soft, consistent in texture and not too hard to carve. I use it often for Goldtops. As far as splitting, I don't think maples are really bad splitters. Oak usually is. However....

    I have seen upright basses with oak necks. And this flies in the face reason, given how oak responds to environmental changes, ie: temperature and humidity fluctuations (splitting, twisting, checking). So some factories or small builders will use whatever they have, within a certain amount of reason.
     
  15. JohnnyL

    JohnnyL Member

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    I can't believe the timing of this thread and my encounter today. I saw a homebrew stratocaster made of oak with a 'Monteray' neck. Whoever made it did a great job-It had a Monteray neck and Kramer hardware. I can't believe how smooth it played but can not comment on tone, didn't ask to plug it in. It is very, very heavy. It was made from a laminated plank and the center piece was lined up perfectly with the neck! I told the shop owner what it was-he claimed he didn't really know. The pawn shop price was $329?LOL No thanks!

    JohnnyL
     
  16. 57special

    57special Silver Supporting Member

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    Jack,
    I've was brought up in Quebec, which is covered in Hard Maple. I am also a carpenter /cabinetmaker. I've done many,many trim jobs in both clear maple and clear oak. Both are very hard. Oak has a regular predictable grain, maple generally doesn't,especially figured maple. In my experience, it's not even close which is the more annoying and problematic to work with (except the poisonous splinters one gets from oak).
    Your post makes me think that the Maple you are using is very different than what I think of as Eastern Maple. The Bigleaf Maple from out west is certainly easier to work. The stuff I cut my teeth on is almost impossible to work with a hand plane, whereas Oak can be worked with a hand plane, albeit a sharp one.

    Quotes from my Carpentry text;

    "White ash- strong , stiff, and fairly heavy (42lbs. cu/ft.). Works fairly well with hand tools but splits easily..."

    "Sugar Maple, also called Hard Maple- Hard , strong, and heavy (44lbs. cu/ft.). Hard to work with hand tools ... works best with power tools"

    " Oak, White - heavy (47 lbs. cu/ft.), very hard, durable, and strong. Works best with power tools"
     
  17. tonezoneonline

    tonezoneonline Member

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    I think most here are thinking of red oak which is what most furniture is made from these days.White oak(mission style furniture) has a different grain structure and might be OK as a tone wood although still heavy.
    I made a couple acoustic guitars one off of a Martin pattern using sasifrass.
    I read about the hill people in Kentucky and Arkansas making dulcimers form this wood and they sounded pretty nice.Sasafrass is a light wood and easy to work although it will split out on you.I found a local guy that had a portable sawmill and a solar kiln with some 16" wide boards.It was a labor of love.
     
  18. BrandonT

    BrandonT Member

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    When I was younger we went through a ton of red oak 8/4 and 4/4
    cabinet grade oak and it was a joy to work with. I Bent some mandolin sides once and the pores of the wood looked almost open, sounded kinda nice.

    It would be worth a try building one just to hear it.
     
  19. middlepickup

    middlepickup Member

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    Didn't some of the early Peavey electrics (T60, T27, etc.) have oak bodies? I know they were heavy. Nice guitars, too. Had that tone pot that changed the humbucker to a single coil - innovative.
     
  20. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Member

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    57special,

    With all due respect, there are many maples which grow in Eastern America. Mostly up north the sugar or rock maple. Down south it's silver maples, red maples, etc. If you'd used silver maple after years of working with nothing but rock maple, you'd see exactly what I'm talking about. I wasn't referring to Bigleaf (western) maple at all. Call a lumberyard in Pennsylvania, for instance, and ask for 'soft maple'. You'll likely get silver maple, which is much softer than rock maple, but usually on a par with some Bigleaf maple. Bigleaf is all over the scale in terms of density. Much of the quilted stuff is really soft, but awfully hard to carve because of tearout. The flamed Bigleaf has greater density, but may vary much within the same piece. Silver maple, even figured, has a consistent density which makes it much easier to carve. If your experience of 'Eastern maple' is limited to rock maple (acer saccharum) you're missing alot within the overall realm of 'Eastern maples'.
     

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