Redwood topwood?

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Silversorcerer, Aug 16, 2004.

  1. I've been studying the old threads here pretty seriously here for about a month and finally decided to jump in. I've been playing DB for over a year now, EB for many years. My first DB is a plywood 3/4 Lidl (similar to Strunal and made in Luby) and I have decided to upgrade to a carved bass more to my personal specs. This Lidl (little?) bass has felt smallish to me, even though it has the 41.5 inch measure and is about 6' tall without the endpin (which is extended all the way while I'm playing), and I really liked a bigger bass that I played on once and it was a five string 7/8. I also like to build things and when faced with the price of a better carved bass and the relative rarity of basses bigger than 3/4, plus the 5-string preference, I purchased H. S. Wake's book with the intention of building my own, after convincing a local luthier to take me on as an apprentice.

    As I began to look for materials, it occurred to me that building your own can be even more expensive than buying a factory made bass of quality materials. That led me to investigating alternative woods that may not be in such high demand as the spruce topwoods.

    Now to the chase. I've found some vintage redwood with a ring count of 40+ per inch. It's air dried, sawn very close to the quarter (vertical grain for 12 inches out of 18 inches) and 2 inches thick. The price is about what you pay for low grade spruce or good WRC. What do the forum meisters think of a redwood top on a DB? I want to hear from some of the experienced luthiers. I've been looking at your homepages, so I know a little about you guys and I'm very impressed with the basses I see built by some of the fellows who post here and the discussions of subtle principles involved in design and construction, and I see some wood other than spruce and maple discussed here so It appears that we are among open, but well instructed minds. So what of redwood DB's? :)
  2. I'm not a luthier, but my friend Bob Ross,
    carved a redwood top and installed it on an old bass he was experimenting on before he made his first bass. It turned out great and sounded really good. I can't remember the circumstances as to why he used the redwood.
  3. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    Brewster, NY, USA
    Here's my reply in a nutshell: Please tell me where I can get some, too! I've heard from a cello maker of great success with redwood.
  4. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    What's up with you and Ross nowadays? Any new basses? The web site looks like the same collection from quite a while ago, or is he producing those models now?
  5. I have seen one bass that I believe had a Redwood top. It was a rather odd duck though and the top was slab cut. It looked more like an old church-bass than anything else. I found it in an antique store all in pieces but the top was pretty good. I restored that bass with great expectations including removing a hundred screws and strung it up...thud, dead, whimpy! Do you remember that one Paul W?

    Knowing this, I would use Redwood in a minute. I would need to alter the thicknesses though based on the resonace of the piece at hand, which goes without saying, except in a forum ;) .

    There is a local suplier here in upstate Michigan that has some one-piece redwood 2 inch thick pieces that I have my eye on. If you are serious Arnold PM me.

    And I guess I should update those who are interested in the Western Red Cedar that I am working on. It seems that Dan-the sawyer has the word out to the loggers who cut for shingle all day long. He is expecting a 48" +4 log section that will yield 14+ inch faces. He has been close a couple of times but the loggers are kinda one track minded ...Shingles-R-Us! The logs may have some color variation, going from dark to light. But I told Dan I would tolerate variable color and hope for the best. It will be from standing dead timber and will need some time to dry which I told Dan would be fine.
  6. Thank you all for the helpful replies. Nice to hear it's been done before, albeit with variable results. I'm going to try this redwood out. Hopefully with more guidance from my master luthier and those on this forum I'll end up with a nice redwood bass.

    I'll talk to the supplier in the AM. I'm somewhat disappointed because I thought I had the "boards" reserved and was waiting on shipping details and over the weekend a luthier apparently raided the best quarter sawn stock (18 inches wide x 2 inches thick). The supplier said he still has boards that are vertical grain for about 12 out of 18 inches, so I'm going to use that and my thinking, please correct me if I'm wrong, is that I will only have significant run out at the sidemost portions of the lower bouts and I should put the most vertical grain down the center of the arch. If I orient the top correctly, the arch will help a little bit with the grain direction.

    For Arnold (digging that ergonomic!), the supplier is a fellow named Russ, or a fellow named Mike Berg at I don't know how much 18 inch wood is left, but he has plenty of 12 inch x 2 with vertical grain. That could be pieced I suppose? It would make some nice cellos. Of course we should be on the lookout for some nice guitars with one piece tops!

    Next question:

    What wood would be the best match to the redwood for ribs and back other than maple, or should I use maple?
  7. Bob is keeping busy doing alot of repairs and basses that I throw at him for restoration. Just in the last year he's restored two great Morelli's for me, both of which are BITCHES. Sold one and another is available. A Killer......
    The last bass he made was that special one for Colorado Springs bassist and TBDBer Marc Neihof. The one with the removable neck and built in fingered C extension.
    Got a call from supreme TBDB luthier Jeff Bollbach telling me he was coming to Monument, Colorado to visit his cousin for some fishing. He and Bob and I are planning to do a hang. These two nuts together should make for a nice post from me at the end of this month! I can't take Ross anywhere....I've gone to parties and social events with him and no matter who's around us, we just talk about basses...and you know how that is since most people don't even know what the **** a bass is.
  8. Ken, yes I do remember that fact, I have the pictures you took of it. It looked like a cartoon bass....the bottom bouts were absurdly huge. Way outsized!!
    Ken used to live in Denver....another poor soul that got the bass weirdness from me....
  9. Silver, Bob put the redwood top on existing ribs. The back was just maple I think. I'm sure any typical hardwood would be fine for ribs and back.
    And of course if you wanna avoid more carving, make it a flatback.
  10. Thanks again Paul, it sounds like maybe the best hardwood might be the most easily available in premilled thicknesses, depending on the availablility. I don't have access to sophisticated milling equipment. If I build it by the book, Wake calls for a bent fllatback, which will be complicated enough for my first bass.

    I'm hoping I can just bump the proportions up a few percentage points to make the 3/4 plans into a 7/8. Given the width of the redwood (18 in. face) I could make that lower bout reach clear from Houston to El Paso. Of course that doesn't necessarily make it a good idea;- could end up like that cartoon one you mentioned. Believe it or not, Pollmann makes one like that.

    The fingerboard dimensions in the book seem plenty generous for a five string, with a width at bridge end of 10cm and 5cm at the nut. I've been searching through the old threads here collecting bits and pieces on radius, scoop, etc. I've looked at all the in progress photos I can find and I've got you guys and my local luthier, and a good local wood-working tool store, so as this thing progresses I'll set up a page with some in progress photos.

    - Ken M.

    Ken, I'll be hunting you down for the details on how to proceed at that point. That part is still somewhat mysterious to me, but it sounds like make it or break it knowledge. Wake doesn't cover that in this book. Thanks for the encouragement. Keep us posted on how the WRC bass comes along. I'm thinking that some color variation might not be too flashy. I saw a guy with a Road King last night. Pretty sharp, but the yellow / red variation of cedar, bookmatched; now there's naturess own one of a kind custom flame pattern. :)
  11. Since you are building your first bass, may I suggest that you also buy the doublebass building book by Bob Hitchings, an English doublebass player/maker. He uses the basic Harry Wake method, but explains the details more fully and has many photographs that are missing from the Wake book. IMO Harry Wake left out many details that the first time maker needs to know to be successful.
  12. "Ken, I'll be hunting you down for the details on how to proceed at that point. That part is still somewhat mysterious to me, but it sounds like make it or break it knowledge."

    I'll be glad to help but keeping it in this forum will get you some real experts!

    Generally speaking though Redwood is touted to be less stiff and should be altered by making it a little thicker. At least that is general wisdom in the guitarmaking crowd. What is really important is the relationship between the cross grain and longitudinal stiffnesss. Some top wood is real "floppy" across the grain and makes for bad guitars IMO. Luckily with guitar wood, being thin, it is easy to flex and get a read before the braces are put in. This is species independent! But with a violin type instrument since the wedge varies from thick to thin from the supplier, it is hard to do the cross grain check. Not until you get into carving is this felt by the hands maker while flexing. Bla, bla bla don't get me going.

    I agree with Bob 100%. Harry Wakes book is a good book for a lot of reasons but I don't know if a bass was ever made using the plans included. Trust me when I say this, you will be better off designing a bass that you will be happy with before you start. Careful planning will get you far. Draw every detail on paper, as detailed as possible. There are plans out there that are supposed to be good. Search for Chandler who also wrote a book. I don't have it but looks pretty good.
  13. The Chandler full size plans are excellent, but the book is somewhat spotty in places because of Peter Chandler's somewhat unorthodox (from a luthier's perspective) self taught methods.
  14. bwulf


    May 15, 2004
    Eureka, CA
    My day gig is as a log truck driver here in northern CA. There is plenty of old growth (8 growth rings/in. or better) that was left years ago. Some of it has been on the ground for 50 years or more. It is still good. It is usually taken to a split maker but if someone is interested, I can check on having it sawn to specific dimensions.
    I have a couple slabs in my basement of old growth redwood about 2-3 inches thick and about 3-4 feet in diameter.
    There is also an abundance of spruce in this area. It is sad, but most of the big spruce are being chipped. The ones with knots smaller that 3" are hauled to Oregon and peeled for plywood cores. Some of the spruce that is chipped is 4' or better at the butt. I hate to see it wasted like that. I'm not sure of the species of spruce. I don't know if it is the kind desirable for basses. I would sure like to see it put to good use however.
    If someone on the list could provide more info, I could get more info on this end.
    Redwood in this area is about as scarce as sand. Although it, like many things, is getting expensive.
  15. Hi Bob,

    So glad you have joined this thread! I was wondering when I'd hear from you. I have read so many of your threads. By the way, I want that paper on AO/BO. I've looked at and downloaded (some time ago) all of Hitching's web pages, which are the best on-line photo documentary I've seen for this. I'll probably get his book as well and perhaps the Chandler book. The Chandler designs I have downloaded in small scale. I may look into some more of Wake's books also. Much of what was not in this one may be in one of the others. Wake interests me quite a bit because he was also an engineer and probably as such would avoid structural design flaws in his basic plans. By my reading this is a very basic "how-to" book, not a "why-because" book. It appears that Hitchings stuck fairly close to the Wake design from the photos, so there is at least one instrument made (roughly) from Wake's plans.

    My teacher, Jean, a guilded maker of Renaissance lutes and theorbos as well as members of the violin family, reviewed the Wake book as being an acceptable "shop manual";- he will be the method teacher locally. He has never built a double bass, but seems to have a thorough knowledge of top graduation, nodal pattern research, etc. Most likely I will be using some of his more specialized tools, or buying others based on his, yours, or other forum members' recommendation.

    Ken's idea of designing my own is certainly tempting, and if I build this thing right it might be my dream bass; or perhaps I indavertently break some ancient design formula respected by Wake's or Chandler's designs and end up with a big wooden box? If I have these larger boards should I take advantage of that? These are not wedges, they are 2 inch thick slabs. Is there such a thing as too much arch in the top? Too big a lower bout? (such as when it no longer fits in a sedan) How much leeway do I have in departure from a recognized design like Carcassi, Panormo, etc., before I'd be trying to re-invent the wheel?

    I tend to favor the old gamba shape with slightly sloping shoulders. I definitely want the BB string plus the other 4 and I want an instrument able to compete with a couple of unamplified guitars, banjos, or a sensitive saxophone without breaking strings. Something slightly bigger than the average 3/4, but comfortable. Even though I may never use it in an orchestra, I want it to sound good with a bow, which is becoming my favorite mode of playing. So the aims are high... perhaps ambitious. Indeed, I've been researching DB, bass viols, etc. for about 1.5 years. I have pictures of historical baroque instruments, early and late renaissance, classical era instruments and even a painting of Dragonetti with his wierd-looking coping saw bow. And a photo of an early bass instrument that has squiggly f holes similar to those on Bob Ross's bass with the removable neck!

    So, to Ken mainly (pardon me for addressing Ken and Bob both, Ken and Bob;- it saves space!) for the moment I put off starting on the Wake mould to design this bass from the endpin up so I'll be happy with it. The wood for the top is on the way. It offers a rough surface area of 48x36 to work with, 2" thick. So for starters, let's say we build the maximum body height allowed out of the 4 feet (perhaps 45") and put a very generous lower bout on it (28, 30, 32?). Any harm in taking advantage of the full 2 inches available to the arch? Anything created there that will be horrible to deal with? I'm trying to get you started, Ken!

    Oh, and we want one of those endpins that can be offset to better balance the instrument by placing the floor contact behind the center of gravity.
  16. Amazing, Bwulf,

    Keep your eye out for logs with high annual ring count, which typically occurs at higher elevations where the growth is slow. I think the range for instruments starts at about 20-25 annual rings per inch and goes up. If you happen up on something like that, that is a better bet. I'm not an expert, and redwood use seems pretty rare anyway, but 8 annual rings seems too low and the wood might be overly soft. Look for the close grained stuff.
  17. First, if you want the A0/B0 paper, you will have to send me an email address that can accept a 2.6Mb document. My email address is

    As far as getting more of the Wake books, let me offer a little more advice. At the time Harry Wake wrote his violin, viola and cello books, they were excellent. The bass book is really just a rehash of what he wrote in the cello book and like Ken I doubt if Wake actually built a bass like the one in his book. Most of the Wake books were written over 40 years ago and are IMO rather out of date now. A better choice would be to get the excellent books by Henry Strobel. Like the late Harry Wake, Henry Strobel was an engineer prior to becoming a full time violin maker and author. Mr. Strobel updates his books as new developments occur in the violin making world. I am currently using Strobel's basic cello mould design for for the mould of the bass I'm in the process of building. I can highly recommend all of his book as well as his 3 tape video on how to make a cello. Much of what he shows in the cello making video can be adapted for bass making. FWIW, in addition to publishing his own books, Henry Strobel is also the publisher of the English language version of Prof. v.Reumont's book on vibration dedamping as well as several other books that were previously not available in English.
  18. When I advised you to design your own I meant within the limits of what is usual and normal. Don't by any means go making the bass unusual such as a wide lower bout or a very high arch. You are unlikely to get a better bass that way. Take the things most important to you and alter an existing design. For example string length, height of fingerboard projected to bridge, neck width at nut, string spacing at nut and bridge, angle of neck heal in relation to the top of the body. Some are 90 degrees and some are less. How much slope in the sholders, does the back have a bend at the upper bout resulting in a taper, does the top bend also?

    Get the Chandler plans and study them.

    One more thing I wanted to say. You don't need a 2 piece back or front. 3,4,5 is okay also. Addng "wings" to make up the lower bout width is fine.

    Concentrate on learning basic tool work also, that will get you far. Consider building a violin first. That is what I did when I wanted to build a bass and it was long road. Each process in bass making has to multiplied by 4 or more compared to a violin. Not to discourage you but it is a big undertaking. Sounds like you got the right attitude and help though. Just tool acquisition can be $$$ and time consumming. Sometimes I pick up and try 3 or 4 tools to find the one that works for the job/wood type. Toothed planes, files, gouges, scrapers, homemade tools... it goes on and on. It is all possible though so don't get discouraged.
  19. Sound advice, all of it, and taken to heart, Ken.

    Some relations specific to the design process that concern me:

    If I make the string longer, should the body be proportionately longer also? I find few period illustrations/intact historical instruments decended from the Oud (guitars being the notable exception) that do not have a 1:1 ratio of string length to (vibrational, excluding end block portions) length of the top. Is there an underlying reason for this? Someone posted a thread about a "4/4" Pollman with a big tall body and relatively short string (40"?) that they felt was weak for such a large instrument. Sort of like putting shorter piston rods in a bored out V8 block?

    If the string is longer (42-43ish), should the fingerboard be wider to keep the strings from hitting each other? Or will the increased tension on a slightly longer string (of the same gauge and material and tuned frequency) adequately diminish the lateral vibration?

    I have observed significant variability of width of the lower bout and less variability in the upper one. Is there a formula for these proportions, some mathematical model to follow? I see significant variability in the arch height too. For instance proportionally, a 1.25" arch and a 1.75" arch are really different, but I've seen both.

    If I change the angle of finger board to top, this seems to have more radical implications because it will alter the ratio of the component force vectors produced by string tension. As the angle over the bridge becomes more acute the component squeezing the top between the saddle and the neck end block becomes less and the opposing component (approx 90 degrees apart) vector that puts downward pressure on the bridge and top becomes greater. Is there an optimal equilibrium angle across the bridge? Does it depend on the stiffness of the top, etc.? How do we determine, other than a tried and true plan what that angle should be? Most importantly, Is it different for 5 strings than 4? Or since the component vectors essentially oppose each other, one squeezing the top and tending to swell it at the bridge and the other pushing it down, does the tension of the additional string cancel out and just affect the rigidity of the ribs, back, and neck? Does making the bridge taller give the strings more leverage on the top?

    I don't plan on making real radical changes, but the 5th string is something that I don't see on any of the "canned" designs, and most of those are also 3/4 instruments, so I definitely need to know what the design ramifications consistent with the 5th string are. That's probably the most significant design change that I would make and it will add approx. 25% more or about 55 lbs. of tension to the instrument. Intuitively, one would think that has to be compensated for somewhere in the structural design. The other change would be the size increase and whether or not I need to increase other dimensions (bouts and arches, rib thickness, top thickness at bridge etc.) proportional to a longer body/ longer string.

    My first impression was to take the 3/4 plans and make all the dimensions slightly larger by the same proportion and not change any critical angles. But when I think about that 5th string, it certainly means a custom peg box, and well, what else?

    I don't expect you to answer all of this in minutia, or simultaneously, but I do want to address as many of these questions and plan this very carefully at the beginning, and since I did get you started, please shed a little more light on the implications of some of these anticipated design changes, particularly the 5th string and 7/8ish body, since the plans available mostly depicts 3/4 4-string instruments. Pretty Please?

    As to practice with tools, I'm currently carving a fingerboard, not for use on this instrument, but for a R&D project preliminary to building this instrument. It is for shape study primarily and I'm using some inexpensive red oak (tough stuff) with a draw knife and spoke shave to get it close. It's tool practice primarily, but I'll probably end up putting the result on a transverse washtub design I came up with last year that will also function as an electric bass without the tub.

    I do have a salvaged cello neck and fingerboard with the pegs, so I could build a cello body first instead of a violin. I'm having trouble getting excited about a violin. Bass bias, you know, but I understand that this is a big project. More like a career change.

    I know too what you mean about the tool$. I think I might sell off some downtown real estate .....
  20. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    Brewster, NY, USA
    To build a five-string that stays together, thicken the top, increase the bass bar mass and thicken the rib linings. Unfortunately, these alterations will adversely affect the depth of tone, unless you make the bass really big. Consider a 4/4 size rather than 7/8; at least a 42" mensur.