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choice of spruce

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by Matthew Tucker, Mar 13, 2008.


  1. Matthew Tucker

    Matthew Tucker Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2002
    Sydney, Australia
    Owner: Bresque Basses, Sydney Basses and Cellos
    In this thread
    http://www.talkbass.com/forum/showthread.php?t=64216

    Sitka was described as a chore to work with compared to Engelmann, Bud.

    Can anyone elaborate? I am looking to buy some spruce for a change, maybe from Alaskatonewood. He has Sitka and WRC. I've been using WRC until now. Will I regret Sitka?

    Jeff? Arnold? Anyone?
     
  2. Jake deVilliers

    Jake deVilliers Commercial User

    May 24, 2006
    Crescent Beach, BC
    Owner of The Bass Spa, String Repairman at Long & McQuade Vancouver
    Sitka's fine to work with Matthew, but what's with the link to the slab building thread? :)

    It can be harder or have more variance through the piece but its not 'hard' to work with.

    It should be noted that I haven't yet carved a bass top - my experience with these woods is limited to guitar and mandolin tops.
     
  3. Matthew Tucker

    Matthew Tucker Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2002
    Sydney, Australia
    Owner: Bresque Basses, Sydney Basses and Cellos
    Whoops wrong thread. Fixed now :)
     
  4. 1st Bass

    1st Bass

    May 26, 2005
    Forest Grove, OR
    I have used both Englemann and Sitka...and my house is nearly entirely built of Western Red Cedar (an old Lindall Cedar Home). I have yet to make a top of Cedar, but I intend to do so someday...it will be a 3/4 size violin, as Michael Darnton says WRC is great for fractional size violins.

    Englemann is what I used on the one bass I have completed...I bought Sitka for the second and third, but have not done anything with it yet. I have used both for violins, and my feeling is that the Sitka is more dense and stiff, and probably has a brighter tone as a result, but that is strictly subjective...I have no numbers or tests to cite, just personal observations.

    Both Englemann and Sitka seem to vary in personality a great deal from one piece to another. I have used Englemann that was quite soft, and other pieces that were closer to Sitka in character.

    I will be interested to hear your impressions of the wood, after that next bass is done.
     
  5. Jake deVilliers

    Jake deVilliers Commercial User

    May 24, 2006
    Crescent Beach, BC
    Owner of The Bass Spa, String Repairman at Long & McQuade Vancouver
    Thanks for fixing that link Matt - I thought you'd lost your grip for a sec!

    That's a much more interesting conversation about top wood. It seems that the basic characteristics of the wood hold true whether the instrument is carved or a flat top like a guitar.

    To my ear, Sitka tends to emphasize the fundamental more, whereas German, Engelmann, and Adirondack Spruce have a more complex and interesting overtone series, as does Cedar, by which I mean Thuja Plicata.

    I'm not familiar with Alaskatonewoods but I do know that Bruce Harvie at Orcas Island has a really good grasp of the qualities that make a great and musical top. He knows its not just about the grains per inch....:)
     
  6. +1
    From my experience, Englemann is whiter and a bit "softer" than Alaskan Sitka Spruce, but Sitka is not difficult to work with. Some of the best tops I have ever carved were Sitka from a one man (Larry Trimble) company in Alaska named Wood Marine . He salvages big logs that sunk while being floated to the mill 40 or more years ago. The wood was literally sopping wet when it arrived at my house and I let it dry in my attic for 5 years before I was able to start using it. The freight from Alaska was over $600 for a dozen tops and that was in 1990. I have one of those tops left that I've been saving to use on a bass for me.
     
  7. From what I've read, David Wiebe prefers Engelmann, Dan Hachez prefers Sitka and Al Jakstadt uses Sitka. I initially was afraid that my first bass would be thin and bright sounding because of using sitka, but those fears were completely unfounded. My bassbar was Engelmann and was wonderful to carve. I could definitely see where some Englemann would be easier and more consistent to carve for a top. Depending on the grain direction and runout, parts of my top were easy to carve and other parts took significantly more work. No regrets though.
     
  8. Matthew Tucker

    Matthew Tucker Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2002
    Sydney, Australia
    Owner: Bresque Basses, Sydney Basses and Cellos
    Thank you for your comments.

    the Cedar on the top I am now working on responds quite well to a scraper; the previous cedar top I could not touch with a scraper without the wood tearing in all directions. It's fun working with wood, there's personality involved.
     
  9. Darren Molnar

    Darren Molnar

    Nov 6, 2007
    saskatoon Saskatchewan Canada
    humble instrument maker
    I didn't realise eng. was available large enough for a bass. My experience with sitka vs englemann is the same as everyone else here. Sitka denser, heavier, and a bit harder to run a gouge through. It'll probably be harder to carve than the cedar you're used to, though.
     
  10. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    New Mexico. USA
    Sitka is quite flexible across the grain, yet quite stiff with the grain (compared to the other spruces). As a result, it has a tendency to sag at the edges or around the bridge if you don't treat the graduations differently.
     
  11. 1st Bass

    1st Bass

    May 26, 2005
    Forest Grove, OR

    Just by making it a little thicker in those areas? This is good information...first I have heard it. As expensive as a bass top is, I would not want to make an error that resulted in a major sag later on. I only knew it was "stiffer", and had not noticed the cross-grain flexibility.

    Would you offer any graduation suggestions? (Beside "Pomp and Circumstance", please...:) )
     
  12. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    New Mexico. USA
    "Gonna Fly Now" from the first Rocky movie.

    Sitka tops should, IMHO, have a little more meat in the areas prone to sagging, and/or should have a little higher arch.
     
  13. 1st Bass

    1st Bass

    May 26, 2005
    Forest Grove, OR
    Okeedoke-- I can do both, and start with extra, then back it down a bit, as seems appropriate. Thanks.
     
  14. ctregan

    ctregan

    Jun 25, 2007
    Syracuse N.Y.
    I was impressed with the size of the spruce billet that arrived for my project.
    Could probably make a 4/4 bass with 60 ml arching from this chunk.
     
  15. I like Engelmann myself. I don't have a reason except I am used to working with it. All of the guitars, violin and bass tops I have made were from it (except one guitar top that I ended up trashing). I would take what I can get though and make it work.
     
  16. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork Supporting Member Commercial User

    Sep 30, 2007
    asheville, nc
    Matthew:

    Generally sitka is a bit rougher to carve and more dense than than engleman, but it still is pretty forgiving. I just carved a bass top out of it last week entirely by hand and still had enough left in my arms to get in several nice music sessions and give a few lessons that same week. One of the nice things about sitka is that the trees grow very large in the pacific northwest and there are still a lot of them around, so they are pretty easy to find and very reasonably priced (depending on your supplier). Bruce Harvey at Orcas Island tonewoods is a great person to do business with. He knows his stuff, is a great musician, and an all around good fellow.

    Try finding a bass sized billet out of eastern red spruce- most of the trees we have left are just too small. Carving Tenessee red or adirondack spruce is a LOT more work. I make a lot of mandolins out of that and it generally fights back much harder and is very difficult to find in bass sized billets. 'Gets that mad bluegrass thunk though....

    j.
    www.condino.com
     

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