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Early Engelmann

Early Engelmann

by Jan Callister

Originally published in Guild of American Luthiers Quarterly Volume 10 #3, 1982, updated 1993 and Luthier Woods and Steel String Guitars, 1997

In 1975, while completing my third guitar, I became very interested in the interplay of the different woods and their significance in the construction of a guitar. Most beginning guitarmakers, I am sure, have had the same interest. However, I questioned the use of European spruce as the most esteemed tonewood. Why didn’t our own domestic spruce wood have the same qualities? I began researching the literature to gain information on our own domestic spruce and its use for musical instruments. I found some references concerning Sitka spruce, mainly short paragraphs relating to tonal characteristics of violins. I couldn’t help wondering if the Engelmann spruce from the forests on the mountains just east of my home near Salt Lake City might have possibilities for guitarmaking. My research revealed hints that Engelmann had been used successfully by a few violinmakers as far back as the 1900s. A local industrial arts professor noted for his knowledge of woods, however, told me that Engelmann had no merit as a tonewood. Undaunted, I continued my research and found positive confirmation of Engelmann’s tonal value from Peter Prier of the American Violin Making School in Salt Lake City, Sam Daniels from Jerome, Idaho, and some records of R. Peter Larsen who had built over 100 violins in the late 19th century and said Engelmann was “superior in tone to Italian wood.”

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