Most acoustic guitars and ukuleles are made of wood; certainly the ones from our shop. There are large number of available woods to choose from both for the tops, or sound boards, and the backs and sides. Over the years there have been some traditional wood pairings, but many of those traditional woods have become increasingly rare and expensive, or even legally challenging to obtain. For the last century most high end guitars were made of Brazilian rosewood, but due to its popularity (not just by luthiers) it has been severely over harvested
and is now nearly impossible to obtain. As an endangered species, it falls under the Lacey Act, making it effectively illegal to import or export. There are a few good pieces of it still around, but we do not offer it on principle.
As a result of the increasing pressure on exotic hardwoods it is important to understand the choices and trade offs of your tone wood selections. Redwood Custom Guitars uses only legally obtained, and sustainably harvested woods.
Tone Woods: Tops
In general the woods used for tops, or sound boards, come from the conifer family of trees, sometimes called softwoods. These include spruce, cedar, cyprus and redwood. Traditionally the Adirondack, Sitka, Engleman spruces have been used for steel string guitars and western red cedar and some of the spruces for classical or nylon string guitars. Redwood is a relative new comer to the collection of top woods, but I personally like both its looks and its tone. Sometimes, steel string guitars will be made entirely of a hardwood species, usually mahogany or Hawaiian koa. Nylon string guitars are generally not made this way because the energy imparted by the strings is not sufficient to drive the top to generate enough volume. An exception is the traditional Hawaiian ukulele, which, although strung with nylon, is usually all koa.
The top wood is probably the most important component in generating the tone of the instrument. There is much discussion about which spruce has the best tone, what effect does western red cedar have, what does redwood do to the tone? All of these can be very subjective and personal. You can hear some of the differences by comparing the sound clips of the redwood vs koa ukuleles on the sound page.
Tone Woods: Backs and sides
A luthier at the Healdsburg Guitar Festival once told me, “you can make a guitar out of any wood, if you find the right piece…” This is probably true, but there are some woods that are more likely to produce the desired look and sound than others. First of all, woods for instruments should be quarter-sawn. This means that the grain of the wood will be perpendicular to the surface of the piece of wood. Most boards that you see are flat sawn, because it is easier to get more useable wood from a log this way; therefore quarter sawn wood is a specialty product. We get most of our wood from Luthier Mercantile International in Windsor California. Clicking on the link will take you there where you can learn about many species of woods available for your guitar. You will also see that there is large difference in price points for the various woods. We encourage you to look at their pages and descriptions of the woods and their tonal qualities when making your choices of wood to create your custom guitar.