Selecting Tonewood for a Hand Built Guitar

Selecting the tonewood for your own hand crafted guitar is an exciting prospect. The process of tonewood selection and then having your dream guitar built by a luthier who is in tune with your needs, can be both incredibly intense and satisfying.

There are a number of key considerations when selecting tonewood to build a hand crafted classical or flamenco guitar. These points are by no means exhaustive or discussed in any particular order but address most of the issues inherent in any tonewood selection process.

Most people don't buy or commission hand luthier crafted guitars very often and for some it is a once in a lifetime opportunity, so what issues are important to consider before jumping in and placing the order? What do you want your guitar to look and sound like? This is a verypersonal and subjective area and is probably the most important area to understand in the entire process. Do you already have fixed views about the look and sound you want or are you less certain and therefore need more input from your chosen luthier?

What is your luthiers experience with particular types of woods, both traditional (rosewoods and cypress) and other less traditional domestic or exotic alternatives and how might choices in the latter reflect in the look, sound and feel of the final creation?

Once the choice and general direction of the build has been agreed, more specific areas may need to be considered, such as how easy the tonewoods under consideration are to work with and what effect will their weight and density have on the desired sound of the final instrument?

Will the wood be correctly dried, what does it smell like when worked and will the smell continue after completion of the guitar. Some guitar tonewoods have quite a perfumed smell that is likely to be apparent every time you open the guitar case and this may not be to everyones liking.

Will the wood split, as may be the case with rosewoods like Amazon, Brazilian or Madagascan and how easy is the wood to work with, is it oily and will it bend and glue easily? What kind of finish is required and how will that be achieved with the wood selected?

As some woods are more stable that others, will the chosen tonewood be stable or will it be affected by changes in humidity?

In the event that the wood is regulated under CITES or controlled by the Lacey act, how easy will it be to ensure certification, will there be a premium to pay for using a protected wood species and how important are personal environmental concerns?

If you are even vaguely thinking about having your own guitar built as opposed to one of the mass manufactured models, careful consideration of the above issues will help ensure you achieve the best result possible.

Have fun with your selection and good luck.

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