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Ever Wonder Which Wood Is Stiffer? Which Is Harder?


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If you're like me and you like to look up things like a wood's strength, stiffness/modulus of elasticity, hardness, and density, then these four PDF files could save you some time. This data can be pretty useful sometimes, such as when trying to decide what type of spruce or maple to use on a project and wanting to know more than the talking points that luthiers repeat ad nausea. (Example: Peruvian Walnut is not "denser than most other walnuts" as LMII (and now most of the internet) claims, but rather is in fact lighter, softer, weaker, and less stiff than almost every other neck or back/side wood used for instrument making. The data in these sheets makes that pretty clear.)

I've compiled the following data from a variety of websites around the Internet (but mostly from http://www.woodworkerssource.com/wood_library.php?wood= and http://www.wood-database.com/wood-identification/ ). They represent statistical information for average quality pieces of wood. There will always be exceptions, so treat the data as a guide rather than as a hard and fast rule: research shows that wood stiffness can vary greatly within different areas of the same tree (never mind differences from region to region and different growing conditions)! For the most part, I have not included data regarding the wood's texture, grain tendencies, ease of carving, pore size, stability under varying humidity conditions, CITES protection status, etc. That is beyond the scope of these quick-reference-type documents, and most of that data can be found in the above databases for those who want to look into it.

I have listed every wood that

  1. I have seen used or marketed for guitar-building, and
  2. I could find data for.

If it did not meet both of these criteria, I did not include it. If you have additional data to contribute (be it for missing species or to correct/elaborate on data already included), let me know and I'll append it to the current documents to keep them up to date.

Tonal Disclaimer: I won't tell people how to interpret this data as it applies to an instrument's tonal response, as this is a matter of much debate (both scientific, mythical, and marketing-wise). It is only my intention to make the data easily accessible.

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Soundboard Woods

Back & Side Woods

Neck Materials (inc. fingerboards and reinforcements)

Common Solidbody Woods - I realise this isn't the right part of the forum to post this particular data, but it's in keeping with the rest of the post's theme.

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Definitions:

Stiffness: exactly that. It represents the wood's resistance to flexing under load. Stiffness has a cubic relationship to the thickness of the material.

Strength: not quite the same. It represents the wood's resistance to structural failure (irreversible deformation) under load. Strength has a square relationship to the thickness of the material.

Hardness: Janka hardness. The amount of force (in psi) required to push a 0.444" ball of steel up to half its depth into a piece of wood.

Weight: pounds per cubic foot. Easy to understand.

Edit: Yes, I see now that the topic summary says "toneswoods." Whoops.

Edited by B. Aaron
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  • 4 months later...

wow this is awesome! good work! i heard bubinga was the second hardest wood (what im using on my current neck/guitar build), but this shows it as number one! that makes me feel better, and ill probably go make it thinner now because of your page :D

this is fantastic though!

i am on several guitar boards because i love looking at peoples builds. if youre not on ultimate-guitar, do you mind if i make a thread and link those up? giving you the credit obviously :D

i think these would be really helpful for anyone building!

Edited by xadioriderx
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xadioriderx:

I would rather you post a link to this thread than repost the files, as I am not a member at the other forums and thus would be unable to answer questions that may arise. There is no actual copyright issue at stake - I just could not provide clarification on any confusion that may arise from the files.

dpm99:

You are not alone in not having researched this topic. I would reckon that not many guitar builders have studied wood outside the context of "what does my book/the internet say this wood sounds like?" because most builders and players that I talk to will say things like "Swamp ash is lighter than normal ash because it's the part of the tree that grows underwater in a swamp." I am not going to get into all the reasons that this is a stupid idea, but rather will point out that Swamp Ash is actually just another name for Black Ash, which is a lighter-weight species than the usual White Ash we usually see at the lumber shop. Yes, Black Ash tends to grow in swampy areas, but it is lightweight because of its species' characteristics, not because part of the tree was sopping wet all the time.

I think that not many builders or players actually know much about the trees that their instruments were made from, either in regards to the habitat of the trees or their growing habits or to the structural information.

Edited by B. Aaron
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Swamp Ash is actually just another name for Black Ash

Ah, but this is another myth.

Black ash (Fraxinus nigra) is a northern species. It is indeed also known as "swamp ash" as it prefers swampy locations, but many other species of ash have been called "swamp ash" as well.

Don't confuse folk nomenclature with marketing jargon.

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Although, now that I think about it, I suppose there is no more reason to believe that "southern swamp ash" actually comes from the south than there is to believe the "submerged portion of the tree" bit. Actually, a shorter growing season would be more conducive to lighter weight, as the denser summer wood would be in a closer ratio to the porous winter wood.

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xadioriderx:

I would rather you post a link to this thread than repost the files, as I am not a member at the other forums and thus would be unable to answer questions that may arise. There is no actual copyright issue at stake - I just could not provide clarification on any confusion that may arise from the files.

no problem, i will just post it on my page, a link to here, and also a link to the toxicity thread thats on here. its all very good stuff to know.

if i hadnt read your post, i wouldnt have gone back out to my current build and thinned out my bubinga neck more, i would have left it as thick as it was. now i have:

IMG_3836.jpg

3/4" thick! I definitely will be paying more attention to this stuff for future builds, great info!

Edited by xadioriderx
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