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Harvesting Engelmann Spruce

Harvesting Engelmann Spruce

by Dennis Coon

previously published in Guild of American Luthiers Quarterly Volume 10, #1, 1982 and Lutherie Woods and Steel String Guitars, 1998

Visualize for a moment a fine handmade guitar, the essence of precision and elegance. Behind it picture the raw beauty of an immense tree, cloaked in scaly bark, bristling with blue-green needles and gnarled cones. The contrast between guitar and tree is striking. And yet, the link between the two is powerful.

As a luthier’s skill and appreciation for materials grows, a deeper respect for wood inevitably develops. Often the luthier begins to take a greater interest in the chain of events that provides his or her materials. Perhaps the luthier buys a billet or a log, visits a saw mill, dries and splits a local wood, or finds out exactly how the wood he or she uses was prepared. The gap between tree and instrument narrows and quite often, a life-long romance with wood is born. It was just such a romance that carried me to the arid highlands of New Mexico to visit Santa Fe Spruce, a company specifically geared to preparing wood for musical instruments.

My tour of Santa Fe Spruce was conducted by Tom Prisloe, president of the company. Tom, a musician (classical guitar and lute) with a background in forestry, shares the work at Santa Fe Spruce with partners Suzanne MacLean and David Bacon. As our discussion of timber and instrument making unfolded, it became clear that these three are dedicated to providing premium quality wood, prepared in a way that few other suppliers are willing or able to duplicate. The work demanded by their approach is formidable. Nevertheless, I believe their methods, successes, and problems are instructive.

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