Posted on

Osage Orange: American Gold

Osage Orange: American Gold

by Ted Davis

Originally published in Guild of American Luthiers Quarterly, Volume 12 #4, 1984 and Lutherie Woods and Steel String Guitars, 1998



The greatest classical guitars are made from Brazilian rosewood and European spruce, true or false? I am sad to say, the usual answer is “true.” Did you ever wonder why? Does Brazilian rosewood possess some magic component which causes it to respond to musical excitation? Is the same true of European spruce? Or is it perhaps that circumstances during the 18th and 19th centuries caused the old masters to use wood that was available? If Torres had been an American, would the classical guitar have been developed using some American wood for back and sides? If the old masters had had access to some of the rosewoods that today’s luthier does, would we today still be led to feel that Brazilian rosewood possesses some mystic element? Would we still look down our noses at a classical guitar if its back and sides happen to be yellow instead of brown?

In my search for native American wood suitable for great classical guitar back and sides, I stumbled upon Osage orange or bodark, as it is sometimes called. This wood grows in my area of East Tennessee, not abundantly, but it is available if I do my own felling, bucking, and milling. It has most of the desirable qualities of Brazilian rosewood and is in fact vastly superior to rosewood in one important quality: Osage orange is almost unaffected by changes in humidity. How many old Brazilian rosewood guitars have you seen that weren’t cracked? Think too of the impact this could have for violin and lute pegs.

Become A Member to Continue Reading This Article

This article is part of our premium web content offered to Guild members. To view this and other web articles, join the Guild of American Luthiers. Members also receive 4 annual issues of American Lutherie and get discounts on products. For details, visit the membership page.

If you are already a member, login for access or contact us to setup your account.
Posted on

Some Alternative Lutherie Woods

Some Alternative Lutherie Woods

by Tom Ribbecke

from his 1992 GAL Convention workshop

Originally published in American Lutherie #35, 1993 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Three, 2004



My name is Tom Ribbecke and I’m on the staff of Luthiers Mercantile, pretty much the technical guy there. What I’ve brought to this presentation is based on my years of building and repairing guitars along with my four years at Luthiers Mercantile. I’m not a botanist or scientist, no more than any of you are... except for the botanists and scientists who are here. (laughter) I know there are many here as I caught Nick Von Robison’s workshop earlier today. So when I was asked to do this presentation, I thought, what could I do to focus on the alternative woods situation which is pretty much on all our minds these days? I’ve brought woods which have come up in my discussions with customers, things that we sell, and just about anything I could get ahold of on short notice.

When I look at materials, and people present them to me, I see things in blocks and 1" thick material and it’s hard to make judgments on what will sound good. Most guitar makers, like myself, like to hold, fondle, mutilate, and bang on the material in dimensions that are appropriate for the guitar. So this is what I’ve brought — woods of many species that could be used or considered for guitar building in appropriate sizes and thicknesses. I’ve brought some things that are commonly available, some not so available, and some which might be considered exotics. Many of these I’ve lacquered — usually with a lacquer gun in one hand and a phone in the other. The lacquer will give you an idea of the color of these materials.

Become A Member to Continue Reading This Article

This article is part of our premium web content offered to Guild members. To view this and other web articles, join the Guild of American Luthiers. Members also receive 4 annual issues of American Lutherie and get discounts on products. For details, visit the membership page.

If you are already a member, login for access or contact us to setup your account.
Posted on

Ocelot Ear and Spruceana

Ocelot Ear and Spruceana

by Don Musser

Originally published in American Lutherie #2, 1985 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2000



With regard to the problem of Dalbergia nigra and related Brazilian rosewoods: True Dalbergia nigra is scarce because most of what little remains is being processed into veneer. I’ve worked with a very active importer of Brazilian exotics for several years and have seen crates containing thousands of feet of beau­tiful nigra, but it was all veneer. Occasionally he will run into a farmer with some miscellaneous trees or old logs of true nigra but that is rare.

With the purchase of veneer he also has the option of buying backing boards and nigra lumber otherwise unsuitable (usually too hard) for slicing. I’m able to select guitar-quality boards from his shipments and resaw sets but there is never enough to meet the demand.

As far as other Dalbergias from Brazil being substituted for nigra I’ve seen two that are very close, and to the unfamiliar, almost undistinguishable.

Become A Member to Continue Reading This Article

This article is part of our premium web content offered to Guild members. To view this and other web articles, join the Guild of American Luthiers. Members also receive 4 annual issues of American Lutherie and get discounts on products. For details, visit the membership page.

If you are already a member, login for access or contact us to setup your account.
Posted on

Alternative Lutherie Woods List

Alternative Lutherie Woods List

by Nicholas Von Robison

Originally published in American Lutherie #35, 1993 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Three, 2004



Western larch. Larix occidentalis. Western tamarack, hackmatack.

Western U.S. and Canada. 37 lbs/ft³; S.G. 0.59.

Heartwood pale red-brown with clearly marked growth rings. Straight grained with fine, uniform texture. Low stiffness, low shock resistance, and only medium bending strength. Very poor steam-bending classification. Dries fairly rapidly with tendency to distort. Kiln dries well but produces softer wood. Small movement in service. Very easily worked but knotty material is a problem. Difficult to harvest, moderate price, limited supply. Finishes well.

Become A Member to Continue Reading This Article

This article is part of our premium web content offered to Guild members. To view this and other web articles, join the Guild of American Luthiers. Members also receive 4 annual issues of American Lutherie and get discounts on products. For details, visit the membership page.

If you are already a member, login for access or contact us to setup your account.
Posted on

Jatoba

Jatoba

by Nicholas Von Robison and Debbie Suran

Originally published in American Lutherie #36, 1993 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Three, 2004



Nick: Deb, you just recently completed your 100th instrument. That’s great! Why did you choose jatoba?

Debbie: I wanted to do something special for my 100th instrument. There were times when I was starting out when I thought I’d never live long enough to get into double digits! I decided to build a hammered dulcimer (my 95th) entirely from salvaged woods. I called on friends from CompuServe’s crafts forum’s woodworking section for help, and they sent me maple flooring from an old gym for the pin blocks, birch door casings from a 1913 old-folks’ home for bracing, and the redwood bottom of a wine cask from a 19th-century California monastery for the soundboard. You can still smell the wine on a damp day! Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any salvaged wood nice enough for the exterior frame and bridges for the instrument, so I decided instead to use a lesser known species of wood.

In 1986 I bought some tropical woods from a couple who had lived in Brazil for several years and who were augmenting the cash income from their homestead by importing Brazilian woods that were being harvested in an ecologically sound manner. They wanted a hammered dulcimer and I wanted some wood, so we swapped. Greg had a number of woods available that I’d never seen or heard of before and was quite insistent that I give these a try. He was persuasive, so I took some Amazon rosewood (Dalbergia spruceana), one piece of macacaúba (Platimiscium ulei), and a piece of jatoba (Hymenea courbaril). Both jatoba and macacaúba qualified as lesser-known species in those days; the jatoba had more character so that made the decision. A rather roundabout way to be introduced to a new wood. How did you first stumble onto jatoba?

Become A Member to Continue Reading This Article

This article is part of our premium web content offered to Guild members. To view this and other web articles, join the Guild of American Luthiers. Members also receive 4 annual issues of American Lutherie and get discounts on products. For details, visit the membership page.

If you are already a member, login for access or contact us to setup your account.