Some things in life get better with age. Musical instrument-making tonewoods fall into that category. As fortune would have it, my client stumbled upon this “muy viejo” tonewood through Craigslist. I have the fortune of transforming this gorgeous old wood into a new classical guitar.
This European spruce set was stamped “Jan 17, 1968” by a wood dealer, which means the tree was likely cut several years prior. That made me wonder what notable events were taking place in the guitar world around the time of this tree’s harvest. I can’t think that far back as I was not born yet. Any anecdotes from my readers, going back to the famed 1960’s?
One interesting nuance not immediately noticeable in the above photo (unless you are a wood geek) are the tool marks left by the saw. Most tonewood I purchase today seems to be cut on bandsaws. The circular marks you see on this wood, are an indication that a giant radial saw was involved. Think of a round, spinning disc of steel, at least two feet in diameter, festooned with sharp teeth. Now imagine that disc spinning several thousand rotations per minute, and you are the one holding wood, and pushing it toward the whining blur of polished steel. I take my hat off, to the brave sawyers of yesteryear.
Here is the braced soundboard, awaiting the marriage to the neck, sides, and the back. Notice the yellowing/oxidation along the center seam, especially visible in the upper bout above the rosette. Wood darkens naturally, as it is exposed to UV light. This soundboard is several shades darker than new spruce. I’m looking forward to putting the first coat of shellac on this newly-born guitar with built-in patina!
For the transverse bars (above and below the soundhole) I chose 100+ year old, tight-grained Douglas Fir. The finest of European and North American wood in this conference of conifers!
Now let’s take a peek at the equally old wood reserved for the back and the sides of this elegant beauty. The rich layering of color in this rosewood is reminiscent of a decadent dessert of cacao, cinnamon, cream and coffee.
If you’ve been following my posts, you may have noticed the new setting in which the photos are taken. Yes, indeed, I have moved my shop location out of my home, and into an industrial building occupied by artists, writers, woodworkers, glass blowers, and the like. In its past life, the building housed a metal foundry, casting brass and aluminum.
I am enjoying my new light-filled space, replete with a sizable window, and walls, oozing the aura of the bygone industry, of sweaty foundry workers, melting, casting, and polishing metal.
Here, the guitar is awaiting the sealing of the box. The air volume within the cavity, the exacting springiness of woods, natural character and tonal attributes of spruce, rosewood, and Spanish cedar, will together define this guitar’s voice.
As a luthier, my job is not so much to force the “best” sound out of the guitar. It is rather, as though I am a guide, allowing the wood to transition to this new state. If I am alert, and careful, I can manage to carry this wood across safely. Then, the wood remembers the music it heard in the forest.