About That Quartersawn Maple.....

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Bruce Johnson, Jan 23, 2017.

  1. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    A client of mine (another Luthier) brought me this board today to make a Fender-like flat-headstock bass neck out of, for a customer of his. I'm milling the board to size and installing one of my truss rods in it.

    The customer ordered the neck to be made from quartersawn maple because, as everyone knows, necks made from quartersawn maple are so much more stable. Right?

    So, my client ordered this plank of expensive, top-grade quartersawn maple from a good reputable supplier. It's a beautiful board, hardly any little flaws, and nearly perfect quartersawn cut.

    But look at how it's twisted:
    This is a clear example of why I don't like to build one-piece quartersawn necks. Theoretically, if a quartersawn board moves, it bends sideways. But in reality, if it has some internal stresses or uneven drying, it will twist like this. Even this beautiful board, thoroughly dried and with nearly perfect vertical grain, developed a nasty twist. If the rings had been less than perfect, at some angle from vertical, the twist would be even greater.

    And the problem is that twist can't be corrected with the truss rod.

    In comparison, if a flatsawn board decides to move, it will usually curve upwards. If the neck is built so that the rings are cupped upwards and aligned evenly down the centerline of the neck, then it will bow forwards evenly, with no twist. The truss rod can handle that.

    Likewise, if you are building a multi-laminate neck, that's why it's important how you cut and align the rings on the strips. Symmetrical as possible side-to-side, straight down the length, and angle cupped upwards. That's how you make sure that any movement will be straight up and down, with no twist.

    Anyway, I milled this board down to flat, cutting away the twist. We're building a neck out of it. But, it's a risk. It appears to be dry and stable here and now. But if there's any more movement, that's how it's going to move. It will twist.

    That's why I don't build any of my bass necks one-piece quartersawn construction.
  2. pilotjones


    Nov 8, 2001
    ...and, no method of splitting, rotating and reassembling will negate a twist. You can split a cambered board and set the cambers to oppose each other, but clockwise is always clockwise and CCW is always CCW (or ACW for the Brits).

    I'm curious, what's the grain like at the far end of the board? Does it have that perpendicular grain orientation from end to end, or was it cut somewhat out of parallel to the longitudinal axis of the tree?
    rickster4003, Bobo and SLivinghouse like this.
  3. Skullie

    Skullie Supporting Member

    Wow, that's interesting. I never thought about the direction of the rings in relation to the truss rod. Thanks for sharing.
  4. SLivinghouse

    SLivinghouse Supporting Member

    Aug 31, 2004
    Meadow Vista, CA
    This is the kind of meat and potatoes stuff that find helpful in this forum. I've read about this in woodworking books, but seeing an example and what an experienced person does with it in context of a build is great. Like, SkulliesBass said before, thanks for sharing and please keep us in the loop with what you do with it.
  5. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    The other end is also almost perfectly vertical, and the grain runs straight down the board. That's what's so disappointing, it's a clean board, cut just as it should be. Worse yet, he got three boards...and the other two are twisted too.
  6. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    Here's how I build up all of my Scroll Bass necks:


    The three strips of maple are all cut side-by-side from the same board of 6/4 flatsawn maple. I blank them out at 1 1/4" square, making sure that the grain runs straight down each strip. The strips all get dated and grouped in sets of three; one with the flattest rings, and two with approximately equal angled rings. Plus one or two spares.

    These strips get put on a shelf for six months to a few years. When I pull them for use, I first inspect them to see how they've settled out. Any that show more than 1/8" of bow or any real twist are rejected and used for other things. I don't have many rejects from the stored strips. Most problems with internal stresses or uneven drying are obvious right away when ripping the 1 1/4" square strips. In most cases, a strip that's straight right off the table saw, will remain straight. The shelf storage is just an extra precaution.

    From the picked set of three, the one with the flat rings becomes the center strip. I trim it down to nominally 3/4" thick and rotate it 90 degrees so its rings are vertical. The other two with the angled rings are rotated and flipped so that the cup of the rings are inwards and upwards, opposite each other. The set of three are marked on the ends.

    The mating surfaces of all three strips are cut to dead flat in this special routing fixture. It clamps the strip by the sides, holding it in its natural shape in the vertical plane. The router makes it flat, following the rails of the fixture. Here, the mating surfaces of a matched pair of the angled outer strips are being cut.


    After facing the surfaces like this, the three strips must lay there together with no gaps between them. I never glue up strips that have to be forced together by the clamps. Here are two sets of strips getting glued up, with West Systems 105/206 epoxy.


    These details, in the positioning of the rings and making sure that there are no internal stresses, are the key to building stable necks. My Scroll Bass necks have been very stable. In 20 years of building them, I haven't yet had one develop any noticeable bow or twist. Only a few of my customers have ever needed to adjust the truss rod, and then, just once after a dramatic geographic move.

    And I don't need no stinkin' carbon fiber bars!
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2017
  7. Sharp5


    Dec 6, 2014
    Eastern NC
    To echo what other have said thank you so much for willingness to share your knowledge.
  8. Scoops

    Scoops Why do we use base 10 when we only have 8 fingers Supporting Member

    Oct 22, 2013
    Sugar Creek, Wisc
    So a laminated neck will be more stable. Makes sense.

    What I would like to know is this twist in 1 out of 10 boards?, 1 out of 100? 1 out of 10000?

    My thought is that if 1 board twists, they dont all....do they?
  9. Scoops

    Scoops Why do we use base 10 when we only have 8 fingers Supporting Member

    Oct 22, 2013
    Sugar Creek, Wisc
    So then my next question would be, does Newtons first law of physics indirectly apply here?

    Said another way, if a board is known to twist, it will continue to twist. If a board is known not to twist, it will not twist.

    Just an early morning thought
  10. HaMMerHeD


    May 20, 2005
    I've never worried about quartersawn wood, because I've never been able to find it locally. Even online, the stock is gone almost as soon as it's made available. So almost every neck I've ever made has been made with laminated flatsawn wood. I've actually done just one with quartersawn wood, and that was mahogany, which I reinforced with carbon fiber tubes and a thick flat-sawn katalox fingerboard.
  11. Most likely you have a board cut from a tree with spirol grain orientation. In many cases a tree grows in a slight to great spirol twist and lumber milled from these trees can never be made straight. Not a fault of using one piece blanks. Spruce spirol grain is common.
    Manton Customs and smithcreek like this.
  12. The client decided to use the board anyway? They must have been dead set on having a quarter sawn neck. What are the chances it will eventually continue to twist after the steps you took?
  13. My opinion is it will NEVER stay flat. Twist is in its DNA.
    Scoops and Beej like this.
  14. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars

    I am so glad you posted this, as I have been saying it for years. Nobody every believes me when I tell them that the only problems I ever had with my necks twisting are from quartersawn necks. Flatsawn necks are much less risky.
  15. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    Ive seen it go both ways. I've seen them twist a bit and reach an equilibrium where they will be stable from that point forward, and I have seen them continue to twist. I would be leery of it continuing to twist if the neck is going to be shipped to a different climate.
  16. Ellery


    Mar 25, 2015
    This is why I consider a luthier an artist not a scientist. I had suspected "quartersawn" was a fancy buzzword for sales pitches, after this guy who was trying to sell me a bass kept going on and on about it, "don't you know, don't you know, everybody knows quarter-sawn is the best" like he was talking to the last person who thought the earth was flat.
  17. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    I agree, Larry. That's almost certainly the problem with this board.

    And I certainly agree that not all quartersawn maple is bad. But, in my experience, whenever I get quartersawn maple that has some degree of movement, the movement almost always includes some degree of twist. That just makes it too much of a risk. And I haven't seen any evidence that quartersawn, on average, is any more stable than flatsawn, on average. Stability comes down to the individual board: Does it have residual internal stresses, and is it dried properly?
    MovinTarget likes this.
  18. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    Yep, we're going ahead with it. The client, my Luthier buddy, basically agrees with me and would rather use normal flatsawn maple. But, the customer wants quartersawn, because he just knows that it's better, wants the look, etc. The board appears to be stable now, and will probably be okay. But, there's a good chance that it will develop a small twist over the next few years.
  19. scuzzy


    Feb 15, 2006
    Troy, MO
    i love the luthier's corner. you guys are great, respectful, respectable, and I lurk here all the time. you make me want to build my own...

    to the topic at hand, the builder of my customs doesn't even have an option for a one piece neck. if you want all maple, the minimum is a 3-piece laminate. he just said it wasn't worth the risk, although he acknowledged that many one piece necks were non-problematic. the necks are rock solid on mine, so I have no gripes!

  20. RichSnyder

    RichSnyder Columbia, MD Supporting Member

    Jun 19, 2003
    Well, you may have just changed my mind on quartersawn being *the* way to go for neck construction. Actually, no "may" about it. Mind changed.