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Anders Eliasson

Posts: 5780
Joined: Oct. 18 2006
 

Evaluating soundboards 

There´s always a lot of talking about the value of soundboards and other tonewoods. How they sound, what is best etc. Vendors of luhiers wood use grades, like AAAA for the best and A or B (C) for the worst or they might use words like Master grade, 1st grade, 2nd grade etc. (Noone uses words like worst grade hehe )
I get a lot of mails from clients who´ve read a lot of internet sites about wood and what is best. So they want it all to be AAAA, master etc. I always stock wood like that, but it doesnt mean that its what I consider the best myself and when I build a guitar for personal use, I dont care about grading and the last one was with a AA grade top. I have my favorites, based on the almost 100 guitars that I´ve built and a LOT of my wood is bought without grading. Grading is something vendors use in order to be able to sell some wood a lot more expensive, but it doesnt necesarily mean that its the best wood. Many of my German spruce soundboards, I bought some 5 - 6 years ago from the great guitar maker Rolf Eichinger in Granada. Unfortunately he´s not with us anymore, but I think of him every time I look through my soundboards. He liked 5 string banjo and Ray Charles and so do I. Peace to you Rolf, whereever you are.
The soundboard below, is from a 2A guitar that I´m building now. Its going to be for sale within a month or so. The wood is from Rolf. I bought a big stack of soundboards without grading for a very reasonable price.
This piece of German spruce is a very good example of low grade TOP quality tonewood. It would be graded AA (or even A ) because of the red striping towards the sides. But besides that its as good as any top graded wood I´ve ever had in my hands. Its perfectly quatersawn with a very nice silking all over the board. It has nice straight grain, with exactly the amount of anular rings per inch that I like. Not to close, not to wide. And the best of all, weight/stiffness relation is top notch. On 2,2mm its really ligt and still stiff with a bit of that stubborn flexibility that a good soundboard needs.
So.... Maybe we should learn to judge soundwood in another way, or at least understand that what the comercial machine tells us is right, doesnt have to be so.



This is from my blog. Its just a copy, but I thought it would be a good intro to a discussion on this forum.

Images are resized automatically to a maximum width of 800px

Attachment (1)

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 7 2012 7:39:16
 
Jeff Highland

 

Posts: 401
Joined: Mar. 5 2010
From: Caves Beach Australia

RE: Evaluating soundboards (in reply to Anders Eliasson

I agree with you Anders, there are much more important things than visual grading. I don't mind a bit of colour variation either.
I am currently using the Trevor Gore method to obtain stiffness modulus measurements and have in the past done static deflection testing for the same purpose.
It has been surprising how much variation you get and how poor some "High Grade" soundboards actually are.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 7 2012 9:07:27
 
aarongreen

 

Posts: 367
Joined: Jan. 16 2004
 

RE: Evaluating soundboards (in reply to Anders Eliasson

Looks like a very nice top to me. Of course looks is the problem with wood graders. They pretty much only go by looks.

Interestingly enough I had a mint 1940 Hauser (and I mean mint) that was also one of the best sounding ones I've seen. Excellent guitar by any standard....even if the label said Bob Jones. Anyways this Hauser had a top somewhat similar to the one in your photo, red streaks (which never bothered me) and inconsistent grain but obviously it was a very good piece of wood. Sure made a hell of a guitar.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 7 2012 11:44:25
 
keith

Posts: 1108
Joined: Sep. 29 2009
From: Land of Daniel Boone

RE: Evaluating soundboards (in reply to Anders Eliasson

question: was not the grading system for wood done for furniture builders and cabinet makers where looks count more than acoustic properties? i like the idea presented by jeff highland--it makes sense to grade on sonic related qualities rather than appearance.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 7 2012 12:29:00
 
tri7/5

 

Posts: 547
Joined: May 5 2012
 

RE: Evaluating soundboards (in reply to Anders Eliasson

Call me crazy but I actually like those red lines along the spruce. Gives it some texture.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 7 2012 12:41:29
 
ralexander

Posts: 797
Joined: Jun. 1 2010
From: Halifax, Nova Scotia

RE: Evaluating soundboards (in reply to Anders Eliasson

Great post, Anders. I ordered a steel string guitar a few years ago that had similar streaks in the top:



I explained to the luthier what I wanted in terms of tone, and he delivered 10 fold with this Lutz Spruce top. He told me it had the goods and I'm glad I trusted him. This was a magnificent sounding guitar that I sold like an idiot for other stupid reasons.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 7 2012 13:56:55
 
Anders Eliasson

Posts: 5780
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RE: Evaluating soundboards (in reply to Anders Eliasson

In the end, looks is more about how everything goes together. That steel string looks great and I agree that it gives some life or texture to a piece of spruce.
Taste is personal. I hate the look of soundboards with strong runout. You know the guitars which have soundboards, where the 2 parts have different colors, but I know a pro luthier who think they look awesome.
Lots of Martin steelstrings with VERY low grade sitka soundboards that sound awesome. You know the ones with strom red lines and 5mm between the anular rings.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 7 2012 15:46:16
 
Ricardo

Posts: 13231
Joined: Dec. 14 2004
From: Washington DC

RE: Evaluating soundboards (in reply to Anders Eliasson

The guitar Brune uses himself that he built, (last I saw him was back in 2004 or 5 maybe) had these striking wavy lines on the soundboard, not even straight and uniform like those pictured. Sounded amazing though.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 7 2012 15:58:05
 
Richard Jernigan

Posts: 3194
Joined: Jan. 20 2004
From: Austin, Texas USA

RE: Evaluating soundboards (in reply to Anders Eliasson

My '82 Arcangel Fernandez blanca has a fine grained, nicely quarter sawn top with no runout. My '67 Ramirez 1a blanca has a very fine grained perfectly quarter sawn cedar top, with no runout.

My favorite classical of all I have played is my '73 Romanillos spruce/Indian. The grain in the top is quite broad in the center, broadening even more as it goes toward the edges, then narrowing down a bit again. I don't think any top quality maker would even consider putting a top that looks like it in a best quality guitar nowadays.

I read in an article by Kevin Aram that Romanillos' tops of this era were resawn from 'cello tops. Guitar tonewood was hard to get in England in those days. I saw Bream's '73 Romanillos on a few occasions, the one just after mine. The top could be the next board in the tree.

When I visited Abel Garcia in December 2006 to order my classical from him, he showed me some spruce. Romanillos gave him the wood when Garcia studied with him in Siguenza, saying it was from early in his career. It was from the same batch as mine and Bream's.

For my Garcia I picked out the back and sides from pieces he showed me. I told him to pick the top, since he was the expert. I didn't even look at tops. When the guitar arrived, the top was very fine grained with lots of uniform silk all over. A fine sounding guitar. But not as good as the Romanillos.

RNJ
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 7 2012 16:48:21
 
estebanana

Posts: 8324
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RE: Evaluating soundboards (in reply to Anders Eliasson

I'm glad Anders brought it up that the grading process for tops is to the advantage of the wood dealer not the maker or the end user of the guitar. It's like the 900 pound gorilla in the room that nobody wants to see.

The top I used on the tambura just made is striped. It was also one the stiffest across the grain I've seen. I would have used it on a guitar, but It's a risk that guitar players will not like it.

I was able to get some old wood last month, some mismatched tops. I picked though a stack of tops five feet high and took out 9 tops. The wood ranged from creamy perfect even grain lines to wild wild red heavy lines a 1/4 inch apart. Some of the cosmetically clean wood was the worst in cross grain stiffness. Some of the "ugliest" slices were awesome in terms of stiffness and lightness. Needless to say I picked the ones that I thought were sonically superior no mater what they looked like.

60% of the pile was garbage, but there were a few gems in there. Most of the garbage tops were clean looking, but flexed like wet socks.

Santos and many of the makers of his time used three piece mismatched tops. I've seen ouds with three piece tops, celli almost always have "wings" on the lower bouts. it's just wood, its organic, I wish the magazines would cease this pristine wood dialog because historically good instruments have been made with all kinds of grades.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 7 2012 17:28:10
 
Shawn Brock

 

Posts: 271
Joined: Sep. 19 2011
From: Louisville KY

RE: Evaluating soundboards (in reply to Anders Eliasson

Anders,
I think the problem with most people who buy guitars is that they don't actually play the guitar. If a person goes back and looks through the years and years worth of photos of the players that are highly admired, they would see that most of them played simple guitars. I'm not saying that I have a problem with spectacular headstock carving or pretty inlay, but in most cases this has nothing to do with the sound of the guitar.

Lets take the Martin D45 for example. So many of the acoustic flat pickers swear that Martin is the only guitar to play. They will point to all of the great flat pickers over the years and the Martins they played. When we look at the guitars used by the great flat pickers, we see that the most fancy of them is the HD28. We almost never see a D45 or D41 with its goofy inlay being played by a historical flat picker. I think Martin makes those guitars for the aspiring amateur who will be gullible enough to think that the fancy inlay will get him some attention.

Though after all we must remember that I'm talking about a company who built just under 7000 guitars per year in 1986. By 2002 they were manufacturing over 47000 guitars. Wow! And yes, I have bought a few of their guitars over my lifetime...

I'm not saying that a guitar shouldn't look great, but some of the best I have ever played looked the worse. And I'm not saying that I'm some great player, but damn it when I own a guitar I play it, not just hang it on the wall or leave it in its case...
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 7 2012 18:38:42
 
Anders Eliasson

Posts: 5780
Joined: Oct. 18 2006
 

RE: Evaluating soundboards (in reply to Anders Eliasson

quote:

The top I used on the tambura just made is striped. It was also one the stiffest across the grain I've seen. I would have used it on a guitar, but It's a risk that guitar players will not like it.


here we one of the biggest problems that we the builders have to face. Our clients want something they´ve read about on the internet.
The soundboard on the photo, I could have used on whatever of my 1A guitars. Soundboards just dont get any better, but client wants perfect, wants picture perfect, want to tell neighbour that this German spruce is from Germany, it has 28 anular rings per inch and is graded as a master grade piece of wood.......... Maybe I´ll scale down and build very expensive guitars with very cheap wood...

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 7 2012 18:48:12
 
estebanana

Posts: 8324
Joined: Oct. 16 2009
 

RE: Evaluating soundboards (in reply to Anders Eliasson

In response to Shawn pointing out that many of the greats used simple instruments. I bet Charlie Christian was not using anything fancy

Ever go to the Martin website and look at the menu of all gew gaws you can add on to your guitar? They make it seem like you are customizing the instrument, but it's really just picking lunch off a wood menu. You don't actually interact with the craftsperson who makes you guitar, you just get to pick stuff off a website. It's not really that personal.

Whereas if you deal with Anders you get to interact with an official authentic crotchety old man luthier




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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 7 2012 18:48:14
 
Sean

Posts: 672
Joined: Jan. 20 2011
From: Canada

RE: Evaluating soundboards (in reply to Anders Eliasson

The top on that guitar is going to age more beautifully then any pure white top guaranteed. I wonder do those same people trade in their guitars when the spruce takes on a golden glow for a shiny new white one.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 8 2012 5:18:13
 
HolyEvil

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Joined: Nov. 6 2008
From: Sydney, Australia

RE: Evaluating soundboards (in reply to Anders Eliasson

I actually like the red streak. Its pretty.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 8 2012 7:15:15
 
Turner

 

Posts: 81
Joined: Nov. 5 2011
 

RE: Evaluating soundboards (in reply to Anders Eliasson

Personally I like to have something a bit different from the usual very plain top, but not too different. A bit of striping as in the OP brings some character to the instrument. BUT .. it must sound good.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 8 2012 16:15:25
 
TANúñez

Posts: 2547
Joined: Jul. 10 2003
From: TEXAS

RE: Evaluating soundboards (in reply to Anders Eliasson

Does anyone here like bearclaw figure?

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 8 2012 16:59:43
 
TANúñez

Posts: 2547
Joined: Jul. 10 2003
From: TEXAS

RE: Evaluating soundboards (in reply to estebanana

quote:

Ever go to the Martin website and look at the menu of all gew gaws you can add on to your guitar?


I actually visit this pretty often. I own a couple Martins and I'm always playing around designing my "perfect" Martin. I don't do much with all the razzle dazzle stuff though. Just play around with tonewoods.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 8 2012 17:02:02
 
constructordeguitarras

Posts: 1512
Joined: Jan. 29 2012
From: Seattle, Washington, USA

RE: Evaluating soundboards (in reply to Anders Eliasson

I particularly like the red striping.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 9 2012 1:56:35
 
estebanana

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RE: Evaluating soundboards (in reply to TANúñez

"Does anyone here like bearclaw figure?"



Like bear claw donuts...

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 9 2012 2:00:50
 
TANúñez

Posts: 2547
Joined: Jul. 10 2003
From: TEXAS

RE: Evaluating soundboards (in reply to estebanana

quote:

Like bear claw donuts...


Me too! in the am with a cup of Joe.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 9 2012 2:45:02
 
jshelton5040

Posts: 1500
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RE: Evaluating soundboards (in reply to TANúñez

quote:

ORIGINAL: TANúñez

Does anyone here like bearclaw figure?

Our previous batch of blancas included a "bear claw" top. I thought it was really attractive and it had a good strong voice. We naturally asked and received approval from our customer before using it.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 9 2012 14:05:22
 
Anders Eliasson

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RE: Evaluating soundboards (in reply to Anders Eliasson

I like Bearclaw and use it a lot.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 9 2012 16:16:44
 
Sean

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Joined: Jan. 20 2011
From: Canada

RE: Evaluating soundboards (in reply to Anders Eliasson

I like everything but runout
Wide grain, narrow grain, colour, bearclaw are all fine, a good piece of wood is a good piece of wood.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 9 2012 21:06:19
 
constructordeguitarras

Posts: 1512
Joined: Jan. 29 2012
From: Seattle, Washington, USA

RE: Evaluating soundboards (in reply to estebanana

I use mostly Engelmann spruce which has lots of bearclaw. I like it.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 13 2012 4:46:27
 
Anders Eliasson

Posts: 5780
Joined: Oct. 18 2006
 

RE: Evaluating soundboards (in reply to Anders Eliasson

Just a photo of the soundboard that I shoved above in its "raw" state. Here you have it with a warm yellow finish. The guitar is for sale. 2000,-€. I will record a video soon and upload some photos. The guitar is an absolute joy to listen to and to play. But more about that later.



Images are resized automatically to a maximum width of 800px

Attachment (1)

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 27 2012 21:27:53
 
erictjie

 

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RE: Evaluating soundboards (in reply to Anders Eliasson

3 of 4 of my SC guitars are with bearclaw and i actually like the weird look on top looks like being punch or something
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 28 2012 9:10:02
 
Anders Eliasson

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RE: Evaluating soundboards (in reply to Anders Eliasson

Just in order to not mix up things.
This soundboard that I´m showing does NOT have any bearclawing. But it has a very beautifull silking all over the board. Evidence of being perfectly quatersawn all over the piece and there´s no runout either. The only reason its not a AAAA or AAA soundboard is the red striping.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 28 2012 10:20:07
 
Stephen Eden

 

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From: UK

RE: Evaluating soundboards (in reply to Anders Eliasson

I thought everyone knew already that top grade woods were based purely on asthetics. I don't think I've met a single person yet that would turn down a great guitar simply because there is a some red lines or wide grain. Based on that I've never bought a piece of based on grade before. I am lucky enough to work close enough to a Luthier supplier that I can see wood before it's graded which does help.

I too get emails and phone calls asking for the best wood. Which I can always say of course with confidence because I only stock woods that are suitable for the guitars I build. If anyone mentions wood grading, I am open enough to say I don't work like that.

I remember reading about Friedrich who rarely used spruce because he could never find anything light enough that worked with his style of building. In short all spruce was inferior to him. Probably the same for Smallman. Spruce just won't work for his style.

Seems like a good thread to get some interest in a guitar that might be for sale though eh! [:P]

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 28 2012 16:37:14
 
estebanana

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RE: Evaluating soundboards (in reply to Anders Eliasson

quote:

I remember reading about Friedrich who rarely used spruce because he could never find anything light enough that worked with his style of building. In short all spruce was inferior to him.


This is really interesting to me as I'm thinking about making Friedrich and or Rodriguez style classicals next. I have been thinking about using cypress to make some big bodied classicals, but keeping them very light and working for a classical ringing sound but with a flamenco voice.

A professional guitarist who teaches at the San Francisco Conservatory looked at some of my guitars and then showed me a lattice braced guitar. He said my guitars were too intimate for students who needed guitars to perform thesis concerts with. But I do not like the sound of the lattice braced guitar at all. He was very nice and said my guitars have a that romantic Spanish appeal, but certain types of music require a different chord sound. I've been thinking about this and decided it was better to dig further into what I like rather than try to fit into a niche I 'm not comfortable with.

Another top guitarist said to me several years ago that in his opinion not enough classical players used flamenco sounding guitars when recording the Spanish repertoire. There was a guitar in the room that night that was a flamenco guitar custom built for avery large man. The body was at least a 4 1/4 " deep and the plantilla big, 26-1/4 " scale. A beast really, kinda tough to play. But this guitarist played Bach and Spanish stuff on it and I was really taken by how the flamenco-ness of it completed the Spanish music, even Bach. The rasgueados sounded right, not like cold classical negra, but the big ness of the sound worked to support the classical end if it.

Just curious about thoughts from other makers about this kind of thing. Do you build entirely from your heart or personal likes or do you go outside what you think is your "sound"? What do you think about the acceptance of a cypress classical built on spec?

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 28 2012 19:05:32
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