Fine Hand-made Guitars
The Woods I Use to Build Guitars
Here are some photos that show the various woods I use
in constructing guitars. Enjoy!
Here's some pretty wood:
Left to right: Figured bubinga, curly mango, flamed koa, and figured madrona:
(All B00 bodies)
creamy white and very even
very uniform usually
uniform, dark colored
I have some curly redwood billets coming, photos coming soon.
this example shows the color variation which is common in Sitka spruce (white-yellow-pink)
fantastic bearclaw, hand-picked
This is a AAA set
red spruce ("Adirondack" spruce)
Depends on avaiability.
What they made the tops out of for
those pre-war gems.
I choose top woods based on their stiffness, tone, regularity, and beauty.
I choose my spruce and cedar myself, one top at a time.
If you order a steel string guitar, you will get AAA grade of:
Sitka spruce, Englemann spruce, or western red cedar.
Redwood is $100 extra for either steel string or classical.
Bearclaw sitka is $200 extra.
European spruce is $200 extra.
Adirondack (Picea rubens) depends on quality and availability; but $200-$300 is a decent estimate for this top wood.
Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) is most common for steel string guitars and I believe it is a
superior wood. Here's a photo comparing three pieces of Sitka spruce:
If you order a classical or flamenco, you get your choice of Engelmann
spruce or western red cedar. I can also get you Adironack red spruce
or European spruce as an option at increased cost. Please contact me for
a quote. I can build classics with Sitka spruce too; but I don't recommend it.
European spruce is excellent for classical guitars and is $200 extra.
Master grade European spruce: Contact me for availability and price.
Here's a photo for color comparison with (left to right):
Engelmann spruce; western red cedar; and redwood
Woods for the Backs and Sides
The traditional woods for back and sides of guitars, such as Indian rosewood, maple, koa, and mahogany
are now giving way to a wave of new, wonderful hardwoods that are shaking up the guitar world.
As you can see below, I am building with many of them, such as purpleheart, myrtle, madrone, mango
Osage orange, Maccassar ebony, walnut, and bubinga. I strongly urge you to consider these woods: They
make spectacular sounding and looking guitars and they are often a bargain over the traditional woods,
which are becoming ever more scarce and expensive. In my opinion, many of these give superior
tone when compared to the traditional rosewood and mahogany.
The graphic shown below gives my impression of the "voice" of various back and siedes woods.
These are relative ratings only and only my opinion, though I do think they are accurate.
(The main factor in the voice of a guitar is the top wood and bracing and the overall design. Back
and sides just flavor the tone some.)
A steel string classic. Lots of overtones
and fat woody sound, with punch.
See more back sets and my discussion of
Indian rosewood, at the bottom of this page.
Very clean pretty sound. A classic wood for steel string. Similar sound to Honduran mahogany.
Flamed bigleaf maple
Very clean and bell-like tones. Great for fingerstyle guitar or classical. Less punchy but sweeter, clearer. Clean, clean tone.
Tone similar to Honduran mahogany and walnut
Flamed black acacia
Very similar to koa, which is another species of acacia.
Black acacia and koa are hard to tell apart.
The classic look and sound. It does make great guitars, both classical and steel string. Nice sets are still available, but they are VERY expensive.
Call or email for availability and price
Figured claro walnut
Very similar to Honduran mahogany in sound. Very nice for fingerstyle guitars.
Macassar ebony (striped)
Diospyros spp. (sometimes celebica)
Punchy, powerful. The closest thing I've heard to Brazilian rosewood. Sometimes spectacular figure.
Figured Honduran Mahogany
Swietenia macrophylla, Swietenia mahagoni
The classic clean-tone sound for steel string. These have ribbon figure. Conditional on availability.
Plain Honduran mahogany
Swietenia macrophylla, Swietenia mahagoni
The classic clean-tone sound for steel string.
this shot compares figured and plain
Very nice for steel string. I prefer its
sound to Indian rosewood.
A highly-figured example (spalted as well), very special and rare:
Similar to Indian rosewood in sound.
Bright orange fading to mellow brown with age.
(and European cyress: same species)
(flamenco and classical)
Punchy and bright. I prefer the sound of cypress guitars: both classical and flamenco.
Bright, punchy, very resonant: Osage Orange is a great wood for steel string, classical, or flamenco. Quite like Brazilian rosewood in tap tone. Very plain grain, light yellow in color. Because these come from small trees (in Argentina) there is normally some flat-sawn wood in the backs.
Conditional on availability, though I usually have some in my shop.
(If you want a "soft" (Venetian) cutaway on a flamenco guitar, this is the wood I can use for the back and sides to get the cutaway.)
Pacific Madrone ("madrona")
This wonderful wood is new to my shop in 2011. I built my first guitar with it out of a very plain set, and I love the look, sound, tone, and working properties of this wood. I have obtained some highly figured billets as well.
Wonderful tone: Purity of maple with much of the punch of rosewood. Fantastic wood for guitars -- even if you've never heard of it!
Burl back set (there are more of these):
This wonderful and spectacular looking wood makes great steel string guitars, especially large-bodied guitars. Incredible stiffness and bright ringing tap tone makes a guitar with the punch and tone similar to Brazilian rosewood and even more powerful in my opinion.
The example shown below is highly figured, in the typical figure for purpleheart: "beeswing" or "waterfall"
Another wonderful wood, very similar in look and tone to Honduran mahogany; but with more sparkle and punch. I REALLY love the tone of mango.
Often comes as "chocolate" dark sets or with nice curly figure.
These light colored samples below have medium curl:
I have a couple of sets with killer curl like this!:
Backs and Sides for Steel String Guitars
When you order a basic model steel string guitar, you get a choice of the
following wood for backs and sides: plain Honduran mahogany, bubinga,
or padauk. All sound great and look fine. I am particularly fond of bubinga.
Here they are in comparison:
(left to right: padauk, bubinga, mahogany)
All other woods are all optional at increased cost.
Basic Backs and Sides for Classical Guitars:
When you order a basic classical guitar, you get Indian rosewood backs
and sides. Flamenco guitars only come with cypress sides. Monterey
cypress (domestic) is included in the price, Spanish (European, most
comes from Italy now) cypress is $200 extra. Palo escrito is another
choice for no extra cost. Palo escrito is a nice tone wood commmonly
used by the luthiers of Paracho, Mexico. Other woods for classicals
at no extra cost: plain Honduran mahogany, padauk, and bubinga.
All other woods are optional at increased cost.
(Now. You may be wondering why Indian rosewood costs extra for
steel string and not for classical. Actually, the extra cost is built
into the classical pricing. There are extra parts and costs involved
with steel string making, such as truss rods, etc., that make them
a little more expensive for me to build.)
Indian rosewood is the back and sides wood which I use most commonly.
It became the "go-to" wood for steel strings when the supplies
of Brazilian rosewood became tight, expensive or unavailable.
It is a wonderful tone wood, works well, and looks great. It is also
most popular with customers. It is becoming harder to get really nice
looking sets and more expensive all the time. I get nice sets which I
pick myself. However, they are not like years ago, when every set
seemed like it was very darkly colored with straight, even grain.
I have some sets that fit that description set aside for special orders.
The normal extra charge for steel string guitars is $100 for Indian rosewood.
The special sets are $200 extra to reflect the additional cost for these sets.
As I stated above, it's hard to find especially nice looking sets. My
regular grade of Indian rosewood is very nice, see these examples:
AND: these sets all sound great. In fact, for a personal guitar I built
recently for myself (classical), I deliberately chose what I considered
to be the least appealing looking set of rosewood. The resulting guitar
was my best sounding instrument yet. I urge customers to consider the
tone of the instrument above visual aesthetics. See this guitar:
The grain is not straight (especially the sides), it's not particularly dark
or even. The color is uneven. I had to work really hard to make the
figure on the back work out. It doesn't look like a presentation model.
But, wow, does it sound great.
Price List for back and sides woods (subject to change without notice)
All figured woods are sometimes hard to obtain
Figured wood costs a lot more than plain wood, some woods are just more
expensive to obtain. My storage and seasoning of the wood costs me a lot.
My pricing system allows you to choose how you want to spend your money.
If you want fancy wood, I love to build with that kind of wood; but it increases
the price of the guitar:
Examples of wood we can use for your guitar:
(Subject to change without notice)
"Killer" koa back & sides $700 Plain koa back & sides $300 "Killer" curly mango $500 Plain / slight curl mango $150 Maccassar ebony back & sides $700 Flamed walnut back & sides (dep. on figure) $300-$500 Flamed Oregon myrtle back & sides $400 Plain Oregon myrtle back & sides $100 Flamed bigleaf maple back & sides $300 Flamed black acacia back & sides (very similar to koa) $400 Figured Honduran mahogany back & sides $200-$700 (depends on figure and availability) Plain Pacific madrone back & sides $100 Pacific madrone back & light ripple sides $300 Pacific madrone light ripple back & sides $200 Plain purpleheart back & sides No charge Figured purpleheart back & sides $200 Figured bubinga back & sides (set selection available) $100-$200 Highly figured bubinga back & sides $500 Osage orange back & sides $200 Redwood top (plain) $100 Bearclaw Sitka spruce top $200 European srpuce top $200
Other woods: contact me and I will quote other woods, assuming that I can obtain them.
Brazilian rosewood can still be found (good sets) but will be a large up-charge ($3000-$4000 range)
and will require a larger deposit to cover purchase of the Brazilian rosewood.
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© 2015, James W. Blilie, Barbarossa Guitars 5997 Turtle Lake Road, Shoreview, MN 55126 This page was last updated: 1-Sep-2015