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Poplar

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by AaronHuff, Mar 23, 2011.


  1. AaronHuff

    AaronHuff Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Oct 31, 2009
    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    Is poplar considered a soft wood, like basswood? Compared to alder or swamp ash, that is. I've often heard that the softness of basswood makes it less durable, and I'm wondering if poplar is the same way.
    I've also heard that poplar is similar to alder in many respects. I'm trying to find places to cut some costs on an upcoming build without sacrificing quality...
     
  2. gbarcus

    gbarcus

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    Owner of Barcus Basses barcusbasses.com
    For the most part, it is soft, kind of like pine. For the few $$ you would save by going with poplar, it really isn't worth it. IMHO :) With all the work you will put into a build, it's worth it to get something you would be proud to say what it's made from.
    For me, I put poplar in the same class as pine; just not something I want to use.
    A lot of mfg use basswood, then coat it with a rock hard shell for durability.
     
  3. Musiclogic

    Musiclogic

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    Southwest Michigan
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    Owner/Builder: HJC Customs USA, The Cool Lute, C G O
    Micahel Tobias uses poplar for many of his instruments. Poplar is a softer hardwood, not a softwood like pine. Basswood is also a hardwood, not a softwood, but is also softer. Poplar is almost identical to Alder in weight, workability, and density. The green and or tan colors it can develop makes less knowledgable woodworkers shy away from it, but it is a great wood to work, and would be a good substitute for any of the commonly used woods. See Bruce Hoadleys books "encyclopedia of wood" and. "Understanding Wood" for more information on species and uses.
     
  4. Kev2007

    Kev2007

    Joined:
    Mar 4, 2008
    Location:
    Great White North
    Some double bass sides and backs are made of poplar, a realm usually reserved for maple. Willow and cherry have also been very sucessfully use by master luthiers. It's probably more a case of getting a sufficiently 'hard' piece. By that I mean something with tight, straight grain. I think it would be a fine choice for a body blank if you're going to paint. I find pure 'white' poplar to be boring as a wood, but if you're going to be painting it, it takes paint, really, really well.
     
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  6. gbarcus

    gbarcus

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    Owner of Barcus Basses barcusbasses.com
    Learn something new every day.
     
  7. HaMMerHeD

    HaMMerHeD

    Joined:
    May 20, 2005
    Location:
    Norman, OK
    I've been using poplar 1x3s to practice neck shaping, and while I'm not sure I would use it as a bass neck, it seems like it'd be a fine material for a painted body. Compared to the red oak I was practicing shaping with before, poplar is very nice to work with.
     
  8. bass12

    bass12 Fueled by chocolate Supporting Member

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    Jun 8, 2008
    Location:
    Montreal, Canada
    One of Mike Tobias' most popular wood combinations has consisted of a tulipwood (poplar) body and a wenge neck and fingerboard (see Norm Stockton's blue 535).
     
  9. HaMMerHeD

    HaMMerHeD

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    May 20, 2005
    Location:
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    Tulipwood is sometimes referred to as yellow poplar or tulip poplar, but is not actually related to poplar woods. Tulipwood's botanical name is Dalbergia frutescens, whereas poplar is a many-varied kind of wood with botanical names starting in Populus, having many many varieties.
     
  10. bass12

    bass12 Fueled by chocolate Supporting Member

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    I had no idea - thanks for pointing that out!
     
  11. Musiclogic

    Musiclogic

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    Tulipwood is a true Dalbergia, but Tulip poplar is a generic name for red poplar and sometimes yellow poplar. Tobias uses Tulip Poplar in his bass bodies, not Tulipwood, although, he might use Tulipwood for a top or fingerboard. this mis phrasing is quite common due to lack of knowledge, usually by those marketing the instrument. I can gaurantee michael knows the difference...LOL
     
  12. FBB Custom

    FBB Custom TalkBass Pro

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    Well, the tulipwood Mike Tobias uses is not the rosewood (dalbergia). He uses yellow poplar from the Liriodendron genus. This is not to be confused with the poplar you see at Home Depot for $2 a foot. That is in the genus Populus.

    Common names often straddle genera, which does not make things any easier.

    edit: I think Musiclogic got his post in a few seconds before mine. ;)
     
  13. Musiclogic

    Musiclogic

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    this is a helpful piece of info.
     
  14. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

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    Is that right? I thought the Home Depot stuff was Liriodendron. Certainly the guy who does the hobbithouse site thinks so, because his pics match what I get from Depot, including the greenish wood and the "mineral stained" "rainbow" stuff. His Populus photos don't show any non-tan color.

    Either that or NY Home Depots are different from yours.

    [edit]Hough's samples of Liriodendron also also look like the white / yellow-green stuff I find at HD.
     
  15. fuNKmaster83

    fuNKmaster83

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    Slovenija (Europe)
    poplar gets you that POPular sound every one is raving about!!! heheheh
     
  16. Samophlange

    Samophlange

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    May 26, 2009
    Location:
    Plattsburgh, NY
    Not sure about genus this or genus that, but I've found it to be an excellent wood to work with for a beginning builder.

    It's not super dense, so its easier to learn cutting and shaping techniques without fighting the wood.
    It's a "hardwood" but lightweight, so it makes for a comfortable instrument.
    I've used it as the main wood for the neck on a bass, and it has been super stable. (I'm sure the two CF rods helped too)
    Plus, if you're lucky, it can have some really nice natural pink/yellow/green streaking that can be great in combination with some more expensive wood (wenge/walnut/purpleheart/bloodwood).

    It was a great wood to start with, and continues to be a great inexpensive wood to learn with. I can make a few trial necks or an entire mockup instrument for $20, and then have the comfort and security to chop into the maple that was quadruple the price.

    Just my $.02
     
  17. FBB Custom

    FBB Custom TalkBass Pro

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    Yeah, it could be Liriodendron at Home Depot. Out west it's all aspen/poplar/cottonwood but this way there is more yellow poplar. Home Depot does vary by region and Populus/Liriodendron seems to be about as murky as common names get. Often the lumber dealers are not even 100% straight on what they are selling.

    For those interested, Paul of Hobbit House has a nice description of the "common name" phenomenon with regard to poplar:
    Exotic Wood cottonwood

    I've found the poplar I have worked with (both cottonwood and tulip poplar) to be stringy and smelly and not the easiest wood to finish sand. It is good as an inexpensive and capable body wood for cutting your teeth or in a three piece body, but I would not trust its stiffness for use in a neck.
     
  18. Phendyr_Loon

    Phendyr_Loon

    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2010
    I hear you. The thought of carving, shaping, or planing anything out of red oak makes me cringe.
    I find it's about the same density as ash, but even ash tends to be a bit more forgiving with "tearing out" and such.

    I came across some wild looking poplar with lines of purple and gray heartwood, which could've made a cool top, but nothing beats a figured selection.
     
  19. HaMMerHeD

    HaMMerHeD

    Joined:
    May 20, 2005
    Location:
    Norman, OK
    I actually started my neck shaping practice projects with red oak specifically because it was reputed to be such a pain in the arse to work with. It definitely sucks, but I managed to get some pretty good results out of it. But when I switched to poplar, my first piece came out leagues better than the best I could get out of the red oak.
     
  20. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

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    Nov 8, 2001
    Location:
    US-NY-NYC
    I can confirm a few things about liriodendron yellow tulip poplar.
    - mine sanded up fuzzy, with grits beyond about 280 having no further smoothing effect. I haven't tried scrapers on it yet.
    - the multicolor definitely fades in sunlight
     
  21. fuNKmaster83

    fuNKmaster83

    Joined:
    Apr 3, 2006
    Location:
    Slovenija (Europe)
    enough of my funny stuff.. poplar is as far as a tree and wood goes between birch and alder... its density can very a lot... and it can have green areas in the wood that are very hard cuz they have some sort of minerals inside otherwise its pale white or yellow... as far as physical appearance the wood is similar and some times hard to differ from willow wood... as far as the article on the link goes i guess there are confusions but not in my country... magnolia tree has very different wood than poplar!!! magnolia tree has similar wood to basswood and is very soft and even in texture while poplar is a very strong wood although it can be soft to medium hard (like alder or birch)!!!

    danelectro used poplar for neck wood... but in any case for neck use use good straight quarter sawn wood!!! and as dense as possible!!! these necks had a very thick rosewood fretboard and two steel rods(non adjustable) and those neck where very stable!!!
     

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