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Guitar Musician e-zine 03/30//05
In This Issue:
Bent out of shape from society's pliers, cares not to come up any higher,
but rather get you down in the hole that he's in.
- Bob Dylan, It's Alright, Ma
Little Johnny's kindergarten
class was on a field trip to their local
police station where they saw pictures, tacked to a bulletin board, of the
10 most wanted criminals. One of the youngsters pointed to a picture and
asked if it really was the photo of a wanted person. "Yes," said the
policeman. "The detectives want very badly to capture him." Little Johnny
asked, "Why didn't you keep him when you took his picture?"
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Guitar Q & A
Q What are the differences between spruce and cedar tops?
A To appreciate the difference between the two woods, we have to understand their similarities. When a spruce or cedar tree is felled by a woodcutter who wants to turn it into guitar soundboards, it must be carefully split apart with wedges into large blocks instead of sawn into boards. This ensures that the fibers are precisely aligned. Later, soundboard sheets are sawn off these blocks perpendicular to the rings (lengthwise down the log). The rings will thus be oriented in the soundboard like a series of tiny, rigid beams ("reeds" as luthiers like to call them), separated and kept upright by softer, fluffy fibers in between. This natural architecture yields a soundboard that is enormously strong and stiff relative to its weight. In terms of strength-to-weight ratios, materials engineers rank vertical-grain spruce and cedar among the most efficient structural materials in the world, comparing favorably with aluminum or even space-age carbon fiber laminates. The differences between spruce and cedar are very slight but noteworthy. Cedar soundboards have a reputation for not noticeably improving in tone over time as much as spruce boards usually do. But that may be the stuff of lore, as it is difficult to prove. Subtle structural differences make cedar somewhat stiffer and lighter than spruce and therefore more brittle and fracture-prone. In our repair shop, we often see spruce tops that are dented from a collision with a microphone. All too often on cedar guitars, there are cracks beneath the same sort of dents. And because the fiber between the reeds is softer and fluffier than that of spruce, cedar is considerably less wear-resistant, and fingernail and pick marks tend to accumulate more rapidly than they do on spruce tops. But these same differences also result in a marginally crisper, louder tone from cedar-top guitars. All things considered, spruce and cedar perform equally well as guitar soundboards, whether on low-priced, off-the-rack factory models or high-priced concert-quality instruments.