Tall Trees and Other Stories

All trees have a story to tell. New Zealand Swamp Kauri became submerged and buried 80,000 years ago, and when dug out today is found to be in perfect condition. It didn’t take the same amount of time to try it out in a guitar.  We have a similar story in the UK,  Oak trees buried in fenlands 4,000 years ago are being recovered and recognised as a fine tonewood. In California, Sequoia Redwood trees are enormous, and very very old, with many properties that attract guitar builders. They are quite rightly protected by law, but that law applies even when they fall down - not the best application of thinking green. European spruce has been a mainstay of instrument building for centuries, but sometimes it is impossible to tell the difference between European and Englemann spruce from the opposite side of the world. The lovely Koa from Hawaii is the same family as Tazmanian Blackwood (which isn’t black).  African Blackwood is actually a Rosewood but is often regarded as Ebony. Even Balsa wood has been used for guitar tops. Balsa is the softest of woods, but botanically speaking, it is a hardwood. Confused?

I find that describing sound with words is also very confusing, different people hear different things, and describe them differently. For example, I have noticed that some makers say Mahogany guitars are “bright”, while Rosewood guitars are “mellow”. That is the exact opposite of my own experience, and the difference between Brazilian Rosewood and Indian is usually perfectly obvious “in the flesh”, but so difficult to describe accurately in words. Players are tempted into using more and more words to describe what they are experiencing, :- separation, clarity, pristine, robust, bell like, muddy, crisp , and many more, but there is little or no agreement in what they mean.     

Show the same guitar to two players separately and they will be very likely to offer different opinions.  Put them together for a while, and they will start to agree.
In the descriptions of instruments on this site, I have tried to find situations where the use of a particular timber is most easily explained by reference to that instrument. 

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