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Woodchopper’s Ball

Woodchopper’s Ball

by Bruce Harvie

from his 2004 GAL Convention Lecture

previously published in American Lutherie #90, 2007

How many people are here because they are thinking about processing their own wood? I highly encourage it. It’s very satisfying to build instruments from wood that you’ve cut. You can get a spruce on a firewood permit. It’s a great feeling to be out in the forest.

When the Guild was first starting out over thirty years ago, the word “tonewood” was not in common usage. Back then there were maybe only three or four suppliers. Now you can Google “tonewoods” and get a hundred suppliers.

There’s still a lot to be explored in the world of tonewoods. Englemann spruce didn’t really come on the market until 1978, and Red spruce not until ’89 or so. I can think of four or five species that are virtually untapped in the world of tonewoods: Noble fir, California red fir, and true white fir are all great woods. In Europe, you have places like the Ukraine opening up right now. They have beautiful spruce. I’ve seen quite a bit of it. We have wood here at this convention from the Balkans. That’s nice to see. It’s amazing how much wood is here. It’s just great to see all the guitar tops and woods for sale. And don’t miss the auction.

If you look at the woods that were used in guitars in the first part of the 20th century, you see some scuzzy looking wood. On some of the best-sounding prewar Martins, the tops are mismatched and the grain is running every which way. You see tons of runout because that wood was supplied in the form of lumber, not split billets. I see some wonderful-sounding old guitars that were built with wood that people would throw away nowadays. But a typical guitar store today has walls full of Breedloves or Martins with tops that were milled correctly, probably by Pacific Rim Tonewoods up in Concrete, Washington. They do an incredible job of milling guitar wood.

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