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South American Rosewood

South American Rosewood

by John Jordan

Originally published in American Lutherie #4, 1985 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2000



Rosewoods are among the most beautiful of all woods. Although they are native to tropical and semitropical climates around the world, we will deal in this article with those native to Central and South America. They are typically hard, very dense, and often resinous woods weighing 50–80 lb./cu. ft. One cubic foot (cu. ft.) is equal to 12 bd. ft. Because of their weight, they are expensive to ship; consequently the number of South American rosewoods available to the wood market in the U.S. will be greater than the number of African or Asian varieties due to our proximity to South and particularly Central America.

To quickly dispel some misconceptions: rose­wood trees do not produce rose-like flowers, nor are they close relatives of the Rosecae (flowering rose) family. The name rosewood is derived from the fact that the wood, especially when fresh cut, exudes a rose-like scent.

Several varieties of rosewoods were being exported for furniture, fine cabinetry, musical instruments, fine carving, and turnery long before botanical identification was established in the tropics. A Swedish botanist named Nicholas Dalberg (1735–1820) was credited with discovering that these rosewoods were close botanical relatives, hence the genus is named Dalbergia. The genus Dalbergia has over 300 species. I have gathered information on over 100 species, 15 of which, including the most popular ones, are represented here.

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World Outlook, a Merchant’s View

World Outlook, a Merchant’s View

by Michael Gurian

Originally published in Guild of American Luthiers Quarterly, Volume 7 #3, 1979 and Lutherie Woods and Steel String Guitars, 1997



Editor’s Note: The following article was distilled from Michael Gurian’s 1979 GAL Convention lecture. At that time Mr. Gurian was perhaps the leading lutherie wood supplier in the country. The update which follows it is from a 1995 interview with Michael Gurian by David Hill.

Availability. How much wood is really left? My answer is there are weak areas, but there is still wood. Everyone knows about the Brazilian rosewood situation. Some people swear Brazil still has mountains and mountains of rosewood that’s not been cut. There is, but it’s not the true Brazilian rosewood.

The availability of Indian rosewood is a little shaky right now and becoming more and more limited. That species of Indian grows in other parts of the world, so I figure the supply of Indian will continue for a number of years. Hundreds and hundreds of species of good quality rosewood can be had for instruments. It’s just a matter of letting people know which are good and which are bad and how available from which country.

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Selecting Australian Timbers

Selecting Australian Timbers

by Lindsay Hewson

Originally published in Guild of American Luthiers Quarterly, Volume 7 #1, 1979 and Lutherie Woods and Steel String Guitars, 1997



All luthiers no matter what their nationality, have one quest that binds them together more strongly than does the maternal cord: the eternal search for the materials and timbers needed to continue their art. In Europe and America, timbers traditionally used in lutherie grow in some areas, and despite the dwindling supplies of really top-grade wood, such materials are still available from retail outlets. However, here in Australia, some additional obstacles exist.

The geographic isolation of this country, combined with the relatively minute luthier population, does not present a sufficiently valid reason for the commercial importation of the traditional lutherie timbers. When someone does arrange to have some spruce or rosewoods imported in large enough quantities to be worthwhile, they are often bitterly disappointed to find that by the time the consignment arrives it has been very carefully ransacked, and the best pieces removed on the docks of the countries involved. Once again, being so far removed from the source of supply, little recall is possible without personally traveling overseas.

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Sustainability: An Issue Confronting Luthiers

Sustainability: An Issue Confronting Luthiers

by John Curtis

from his 1992 GAL Convention lecture

Originally published in American Lutherie #33, 1993 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Three, 2004



All around us we see people whose livelihoods are undergoing change. For some the change is minor; for others it is cataclysmic. How would you like to be a furrier or a slide-rule manufacturer? While most people can conceive of life without a mink coat, these same people have trouble conceiving of a world without musical instruments.

What can we do to keep building instruments that sound great and keep our customers happy? Let’s look at where we are and where we want to be a few generations down the line. A few items in our favor are:

▶ People would have low tolerance in a world without music. It would be hard to celebrate, to dance, sing the blues, or create a common ground among people.
▶ We are learning to manage our forests sustainably.
▶ There are other woods that would probably make very good instruments until we can ensure the survival and healthy propagation of species which have come to be preferred over the ages, even though this ensured survival will probably not happen in our lifetimes.
▶ Support for woodworkers who “source” their raw materials more responsibly is growing among consumers.
▶ Methods of verifying claims of sustainably-produced woods is starting to reward producers and users.
▶ Changes in the trade have begun to be seen as opportunities and not obstacles.
▶ There are organizations ready to help luthiers make adjustments: crafts organizations, schools of design, the media, galleries, forest-products laboratories, even CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).

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Building a Plywood Bass

Building a Plywood Bass

by Richard Ennis

Originally published in American Lutherie #3, 1985 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2000

see also,
In Praise of the Plywood Bass by Frederick C. Lyman, Jr.



Here is the basic design of one of the more unusual instruments I build in my workshop. This plywood three-quarter double bass of approximately 90 liters is built to a design that increases durability and ease of transport with reduced cost and maintenance. It has proved to be very popular with musicians and attracts the attention of nonmusicians as well.

The demand for an instrument such as this is widespread. Quality double basses are scarce and very expensive, and certainly beyond the reach of beginners, schools, part-time bands, and those musicians who might take it up as a second instrument. An instrument of this design can be easily purchased and cared for and makes an ideal community instrument.

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