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Cheap tonewood options?

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by Ortonomics, Apr 14, 2010.


  1. Ortonomics

    Ortonomics Guest

    Apr 6, 2010
    Hi everyone,

    I am planning the long-term project of building my first upright. I have built a few instruments so far but a bass is going to be the biggest challenge yet, not just because of it's size. I am beginning with Peter chandlers excellent book on the subject but since I have a lot yet to learn, and likely plenty of mistakes to make, I would like to find a cheaper alternative to quality tonewoods for the carved top.

    I want the freedom of working on this first instrument without the fear of possibly ruining expensive wood, but I also don't want to put all my time and effort into an inferior instrument.

    There is a guy in northern az who has slab cut alligator juniper that has been air dried for nearly a half a year. The boards are straight, knot free, and of suitable size for the project, and affordable for my beginners budget.

    Any thoughts on trying this wood out for a bass top? Also any other recommendations would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!
     
  2. Ortonomics

    Ortonomics Guest

    Apr 6, 2010
  3. George700DL

    George700DL

    Jan 9, 2009
    Maryland
    I used the GAL article "Low-cost Bass Viol" as an inspiration. You can search for that here. Laminated back and sides, carved top. The top is a glue-up of 16-18 spruce 2x4's, then carved. It served its purpose, as I had similar goals and concerns as you have. I wanted to stay focused on the process and not worry about ruining an expensive piece of wood on my 1st bass.

    George
     
  4. Ortonomics

    Ortonomics Guest

    Apr 6, 2010
    Thanks George, but... How did it play?
     
  5. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork Supporting Member Commercial User

    Sep 30, 2007
    asheville, nc
    Generally speaking, my advice is usually to ask someone else for advice, but....

    I'd put my concentration on a nice piece of spruce for the top and then use lowere grade materials for the back and sides- perhaps a basic maple or something simple, if you are on a budget. The lack of figure should be easier to carve also.

    The reality of how much work you'll be doing on this first build is that you'll spend a LOT of time carving the top and back- so much that the idea of trying to save money in materials is almost irrelevant to how much time you'll spend. Besides- carving a nice piece of spruce by hand is one of the most peaceful and satisfying endeavors you'll ever get a chance to undertake. Why would you want to miss out on that????

    j.
    www.condino.com
     
  6. George700DL

    George700DL

    Jan 9, 2009
    Maryland
    It plays awesome, and it's quite loud - louder than some plywood bases I've compared it with.

    If anything, I would look more toward getting better at carving/graduating. That is, I think it has less to do with materials and more to do with lutherie skills. For my first bass, I'm pretty sure a 2 piece top would end up sounding just the same as a 16-piece top.

    But certainly turned out better than I ever expected.

    Also, I agree with what James said in the post above, it's just not the angle that I took on it. I REALLY wanted to make a bass out of 2x4's :)

    George
     
  7. Ortonomics

    Ortonomics Guest

    Apr 6, 2010
    Thanks James, good advice from a self proclaimed "spruce geek"! Whats the least I should expect to pay for spruce tonewood, and can you recommend a supplier? I have checked around locally and the woodworkers supply places in Phoenix don't deal with softwoods. In fact they won't/can't even order it in for me, which I thought was strange.
     
  8. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork Supporting Member Commercial User

    Sep 30, 2007
    asheville, nc
    In the past, I've paid over $600 for a nice top and as low as $175 for the top used in the thread, "james' bass build". It really just depends upon the market availability. Without a doubt, Bruce Harvey at Orcas island tonewoods is always my number one choice when I'm shopping. If he doesn't have it, he'll track one down for me- usually at twice the grade and half the price of anyone else.

    For a little bit of footwork and the cost of a $20 forest service firewood permit, almost any one of us here can get a lifetime supply of spruce if you are willing to work for it the old way. I just spent the morning cutting some truly amazing near master grade red spruce... for the cost of about $8 in fuel and a nice afternoon in the forest, I filled up the back of the car- probably about $15-20k if I bought all of it from an expensive supplier in the city....:hyper::hyper::hyper:;)

    Even though some folks make this out to be some kind of majical process, most of us can do it. There is great spruce of many different varieties all over the country. You should be able to get nice Engleman spruce not too far from you- up around Flagstaff and further over to New Mexico- call up Bill Bussman- he should be able to help you locally. There are a couple of nice suppliers over in Colorado- and you can harvest your own there as well. Head up to the Northwest coast for an abundance of sitka at firewood prices....

    If you are in Phoenix, go poke around over at Roberto Venn- if they give you a hard time, ask for Wm Eaton and tell him I sent you. They'll know some nerdy old fellow right in town who has a boatload of spruce at fair prices who needs some help cleaning out his horse barn or such....

    j.
     
  9. Ortonomics

    Ortonomics Guest

    Apr 6, 2010
    James, thanks that is all very helpful!

    Since you like to get your materials raw, what is your technique for drying/aging the wood after it has been rough cut?
     
  10. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork Supporting Member Commercial User

    Sep 30, 2007
    asheville, nc
    My favorite way to get woods is from near dead old guys or formerly near dead old guy's widows after they have dragged it around for 30 years or so. That just takes a lot of asking around.

    The newer stuff takes a bit of patience. When I used to live in the high desert, I was amazed at how well wood would season in my barn. In the late summer afternoons, it was like a kiln. Things will dry out pretty fast where you are, but you will still need a number of years; a decade for bass tops is nice...

    j.
     
  11. Ortonomics

    Ortonomics Guest

    Apr 6, 2010
    Does kiln drying speed the process? I'm sure there must be someone in town who can do that if I were to bring them rough sawn lumber...
     
  12. yes,by months,and many times, years.
    find a hardwood broker in your area,they can be a good source for providing the names of local woodfolk who have a small dry or de-humidifying kiln.
    whatever wood you end up with, even if it is dry check the moister content and plan overlength before drying.
    kiln schedules vary from species to species,the size of the charge and thickness of the material.
     

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