Wood for Musical Instruments

Every luthier collects and stashes wood. Some woods, like Brazilian Rosewood, are no longer commercially available. High quality, carefully aged wood is a decided advantage when building instruments. The best quality wood is quarter-sawn, and air dried.

Typically, the top wood is a softwood. Sitka spruce, Engelman spruce, European spruce, Western Red Cedar, Redwood are used for the instrument's top. The top is the diaphragm of the instrument and must be a wood that is strong, has good tensile strength and resiliency to handle the tension of the strings and the constant vibrations.

The sides and back are made of the same wood. Many luthiers prefer rosewood for this purpose. Mahogany, Hawaiian Koa, Flamed Maple, and a variety of other hardwoods have been used.

Guitar necks are made from mahogany and maple. Cuban mahogany is highly sought after because of its light weight, strength and beauty.

Fingerboards are made from ebony or rosewood. Ebony is harder, denser and wears longer.

The bridge is made from rosewood or ebony. The headplate is usually the same wood as the back and sides.

Nuts and saddles are made from bone, synthetic ivory or other plastics.

Copyright, Shel Sax, July 2001. No reproduction without authorization.
Photographs by Howard Rossman