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Dalbergia Nigra and Friends

Dalbergia Nigra and Friends

Luthier and author Cumpiano interviews famed wood scientist Dr. Bruce Hoadley

by William Cumpiano

Originally published in American lutherie #1, 1985 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie, Volume One, 2000



For over four hundred years, Dalbergia nigra has been considered the crown, jewel in the luthier’s creation. Its color, figure, and vitreous hardness has made it the sine qua non in the luthier’s inventory of raw materials. And so it has been among cabinetmakers: a book published in the late 1700s characterizes Brazilian rosewood as the “queen of the hardwoods.” Today a luthier can tack on something like $500–$800 to the sale price of a new guitar simply for the purchaser’s privilege of owning one made from Brazilian rosewood, never mind whatever additional qualities it may have. Part of this is unquestionably due to the material’s unique suitability and beauty but also is due no doubt to its great scarcity.

Manuel Velázquez, perhaps one of the greatest living classical guitar luthiers, bemoaned this fact and told me that during World War II, when he was a salvage carpenter in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, he was required to dismantle ten-foot mess tables and benches made from two- and three-inch thick Brazilian rosewood — and this was on troop ships. He began his career in guitar making taking scraps home with him. When I started my own career about thirteen years ago, these same Brooklyn docks held piles of enormous Dalbergia nigra logs stretching as far as the eye could see. The docks are empty now. Back then a set of Brazilian cost $35. Today a set of lower grade Brazilian can run $150, the better stuff up to $200. For the equivalent of less than one board foot of volume, this means Dalbergia nigra is among the two or three most expensive hardwoods in the world.

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Questions: Summer/Spring Wood

Questions: Summer/Spring Wood

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



Anonymous asks:
I’ve heard people talk about “strong” winter grain in spruce and cedar and others talk about summer growth and spring growth, or summer wood and spring wood. Which is which? Does it depend on where you are? Also there seem to be different ideas about what is desirable. It seems as if violin makers want strong, dark lines and guitar makers don’t care so much.

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Indian Import and Export

Indian Import and Export

by Gulab Gidwani

from his 1986 GAL Convention lecture

Originally published in American Lutherie #11, 1987 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2000



The reason I’m up here talking about importing and exporting woods is that I’m one of the few people who have had the fortune, or you could say misfortune, of being on both sides. I have been an exporter in India, I have been an importer over here. So I can give you some idea of the problems involved.

This whole thing started when I was living in the USA and I went to India on a vacation from my regular job. My younger brother sent me a cable telling me that the Gibson Company over here had problems getting a reliable supply of ebony. I said to myself, “That’s no big deal. I’ll go to the market and tell them please send some wood to the Gibson Company. Ebony is just like any other wood.”

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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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