Tag archives: Guitar Making

"Crotch" Wood

In a previous article, I spoke about Burls in wood. Crotch Log 9 GoodA while ago I had someone ask me what is Crotch Mahogany. Where Burls are as a result of growth, of which the cause is often unknown, Crotch, or Flame Mahogany as it is also sometimes referred to, is a result of the way the tree grows. It is where the tree forks and a V is formed, much the same as the crotch of humans. If the tree is cut in the torso, just below the chest and just above the knee (as would be on a person), the wood if then cut or sliced into veneer, would result in the grain forming a type of V or U and the grain would be somewhat more pronounced forming, if you used your imagination, what may represent a flame. Crotch is not only found in the Mahogany species, but in any tree. The size of the tree would matter as the tree would have to be of a fair size for there to be adequate growth to result in the pattern to be of significance.

It is a very distinctive and beautiful feature that is often sought after when making furniture. It would often be used in panelling, door panels, table tops, somewhere where the space or sizes large enough to allow it to be shown off. In solid it would be somewhat of a waste, because you would only see one surface and the repeating visual pattern would be locked in the rest of the piece. So, in this case it would make sense to slice it into veneer, or cut it into thin planks/pieces. It is not often used in guitar making as the size of the instrument would not show off the full beauty, but having said that, if one finds a reasonable specimen and the size and pattern is good, then, a very unique instrument could be made with a good aspect of added value. Crotch Walnut 5The visual impact is often highlighted when book matched, as in most veneering pieces; the mirror image often improves the effect. I will discuss book matching in a future blog.


Burl Woods

What is Burl, or Burr in wood?

Burl Wood 5It often forms on a tree as a type of nodule or lump and in that lump is an intricate growth system which results in a beautiful, attractive unique pattern when the wood is cut into planks, or sliced into a veneer. Mostly, the burls grow beneath the ground, but when they are above ground level, they are quite noticeable in the form lumpy protrusions on the trunk of the tree. Obtaining the burl wood is expensive because of it scarcity.

What causes this?

Well, no one can say for sure, but it is almost like a type of malignancy or disease that forms causing the tree to create this lump or effect. Sometimes insect infestation or mould infestation can also cause this. In a nutshell, the burl will result when the tree undergoes some kind of stress.

The results of this burl are visually very attractive and very unique and can sometimes give the wood a very wild, busy look. Some common species you may have heard of is, Walnut Burl, Bird's Eye Maple, Elm Burl, Oak Burl, Poplar Burl and there are many others.

Where is it used?

This busy, wild grain, makes the wood very dense, which also makes it much harder than the species that it originates from.Burl Wood 7 This makes it very sought after for making bowls and in the past, it was used for mallets, mauls and chisel handles used for hammering. Today it is used for instruments,inlays in tables, door panels, wooden wall paneling, dash boards in up-market cars, boat building etc. The burl wood is difficult to work with, because of its intricate knurled grain that has no specific direction and when sliced into veneer, it can easily buckle and crack or split. Having said all this, the end result, when it has been used in guitar making, furniture, panelling,or other types of instruments, the result is truly stunning, with a beautiful depth and lustre, as well as being unique, something that only nature can provide.

Wood Veneer

Are veneers used in guitar making?

The answer is yes. In the lower price range of guitar and even the entry level of the more top well-known brands, veneers are used on the tops, sides and backs. These are known as laminated tops and backs. This is done primarily to cut production costs due to the high volumes produced compared to increasing scarcity of good solids used in instrument making. This makes the instrument look as if it was made in solid and often these instruments, if made well, have a fairly good sound. Some manufacturers also use high pressure laminates (HPL) on their backs and sides. HPL is a laminate that is made under very high heat and pressure, and example of this is Formica, which is covered with a paper foil and then covered with a melamine.

On instruments that are handmade by individual luthiers, they are made using well-chosen tone woods that are solid, the top being the focus of creating an above average tone.

But, many people are not familiar with what a veneer is, so I thought I would give a brief outline of what veneering is.

What is a wood veneer?

Veneer is a thin slice of solid wood that is glued onto a substrate, like chipboard, mdf (medium density fibre), plywood etc. The thickness can vary up to approximately 2mm - 5mm. Veneering 3When people who are specialists in selecting veneer, choose logs for slicing that are the prime. The reason for this is that they will get the best optimisation out of the log and hence the quality will be good a minimal defects such as knots, crack, rot, defective grain etc. The word veneer, according to Merriam Webstera's dictionary dates to 1702. However, adding a thin sheet of a superior wood grain to a lesser quality wood is a much older craft. Today, adding a veneer of wood is commonplace on many high-quality solid-wood furnishings as well as less expensive items constructed from particle boards. A simple wood veneer can unify the appearance of a piece or serve the design of the furnishing as a work of art.

How far back does veneering go? The ancient Egyptians were the inventors of veneer wood according to the David R. Webb Company, a modern manufacturer of wood veneers. Though the Egyptians enjoyed the beauty of wood, trees were scarce in the Nile region. By carefully cutting exquisite wood into thin sheets, it could be crafted into delicate boxes, inlaid or applied to the top of less beautiful wood or materials. Ken Melchert of the Harp Gallery notes that fabulous veneer work in ebony” a dense, black wood, was put into King Tut’s tomb.

So, as you can see, veneering is not new, but what has changed, is the substrates and glues used today are more efficient and stable. Also, it is a lot more environmentally friendly, compared to a 1 inch (25mm) thick piece of solid, you get approximately 30 - 40 times the area using veneer, which the standard thickness that is cut today is 0,6mm.

Wood is becoming a scarce commodity. In the furniture and decorating industry, there is definitely a need for veneers. Many of the top manufacturers use it for the consistency and variation that is available it is definitely not inferior, in fact,if done properly, in many instances it can be better.

Neck Grafts on Violins

Many instruments in their lifetime will at some stage need to have repairs done. This specific repair of this blog has no reference to guitar making. It pertains to the violin.Neck Graft 8

As instruments are played and used, over time they wear, and also due to accidental damage they may need repair. Repairs must be done carefully to maintain the integrity and the value of the instrument. More specifically, neck grafting of a violin, viola, cello and double bass is a repair done where the neck is replaced but the scroll and peg box is kept original.

Starting round the 19th century, to improve the sound of specifically the violin, necks were made longer, and many instruments made before this time were altered by having new necks made, but the original scrolls and peg boxes were used to keep the instrument as original as possible. This was done by what is known as a neck graft. So, if you see an instrument that has had a neck graft, you can tell that it was possibly pre 19th century, but beware of fake grafts.

This repair would be similar to the violin, viola, cello and double bass. The first step would be to remove the finger board and the remove the neck from the body. Then the scroll and peg box would be cut from the original neck. A new piece of wood for the neck would selected to match the grain of the original neck as close as possible and then shaped as close as possible to the original shape, trying to keep the instrument the way it was made. The centre line of the peg box and scroll is lined up perfectly with the new neck and a joint is cut to fit the two together. The new neck is fitted to the body and before gluing, the fingerboard is fitted to allow the neck to be finally shaped. TNeck Graft Violin_Repair_Finished_Varnish_Touch-Up 5he neck is then fitted and glued, setting the angles and bridge height. The luthier will now touch up the neck to try and match the colour to make the repair as invisible as possible. If this neck graft is done well, it is often quite difficult to find.


CITES - What is it?

In a previous blog I mentioned Engelmann Spruce being CITES listed. This is to explain more about CITES see:  http://www.cites.org/

Timber is also becoming a scarce commodity and we need to plan and use wisely what we have left. Even in this small trade of guitar making we can see the depletion of good quality of wood - with proper planning we can win.CITES -Timber 2

In our fast moving economic environment, and our ever growing world population, we are experiencing an increasing demand on our natural resources and if we, as a human race are not careful, because of our ever growing desire to have and consume, we will deplete and possibly destroy our planet. There are organisations that exist and are doing good work and are trying to make people aware and are trying to put restrictions on using resources that are endangered..... CITES is one of these agreements...

What is CITES

CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

Widespread information nowadays about the endangered status of many prominent species, such as the tiger and elephants, might make the need for such a convention seem obvious. But at the time when the ideas for CITES were first formed, in the 1960s, international discussion of the regulation of wildlife trade for conservation purposes was something relatively new. With hindsight, the need for CITES is clear. Annually, international wildlife trade is estimated to be worth billions of dollars and to include hundreds of millions of plant and animal specimens. The trade is diverse, ranging from live animals and plants to a vast array of wildlife products derived from them, including food products, exotic leather goods, wooden musical instruments, timber, tourist curios and medicines. Levels of exploitation of some animal and plant species are high and the trade in them, together with other factors, such as habitat loss, is capable of heavily depleting their populations and even bringing some species close to extinction. Many wildlife species in trade are not endangered, but the existence of an agreement to ensure the sustainability of the trade is important in order to safeguard these resources for the future.

Because the trade in wild animals and plants crosses borders between countries, the effort to regulate it requires international cooperation to safeguard certain species from over-exploitation. CITES was conceived in the spirit of such cooperation. Today, it accords varying degrees of protection to more than 35,000 species of animals and plants, whether they are traded as live specimens, fur coats or dried herbs.

How Cites Works

CITES works by subjecting international trade in specimens of selected species to certain controls. All import, export, re-export and introduction from the sea of species covered by the Convention has to be authorized through a licensing system. Cites Rhino 1Each Party to the Convention must designate one or more Management Authorities in charge of administering that licensing system and one or more Scientific Authorities to advise them on the effects of trade on the status of the species.

We need to do much more as a human race to protect this planet against greed and abuse. In South Africa we have a rapid depletion of our Rhino due to brutal poaching, all for just their horn. Yet amazingly, you can still acquire a licence to hunt a Rhino..? We need to do Much More!!!