Slabcut vs. Quarter

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by toman, Jul 26, 2003.

  1. I've seen a few basses lately with slab cut tops; any particular pros or cons to this over quartersawn? It seems kinda odd to me, like the whole piece would be endgrain. Does it crack less easily this way? It seems too like the slab cut tops I've seen have been more pieces than normal, like four or six. Is that just coincidence?
  2. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    New Mexico. USA
    Theoretically, quartered wood is stiffer in the direction of bridge pressure. Also theoretically, quartered wood is less likely to split. But having worked on many fine old basses with slab-cut tops, my opinion is that it doesn't make a heck of a lot of difference. The best-sounding bass I've ever heard has a slab-cut pine top. After about 250 years it was flat as a pancake but sounded great and had very few cracks.
  3. Martin Sheridan

    Martin Sheridan

    Jan 4, 2001
    Fort Madison, Iowa
    Bass Maker
    My experience is the same as Arnold's. Early on I was taught that tops had to be made with quarter cut spruce. Over the years most of the great Italian basses I've seen have been made with slab cut tops. Last week we had a customer come in with a Gagliano from the early 19th century; slab cut top, slightly flamed maple sides, and plain maple back and neck. The sound was fabulous.
    Additionally, many of the old Italian basses will have Lombardy Poplar, mahogany, or even willow backs and sides.
    I have a stock of highly flamed maple and beautiful quarter cut spruce. I may sell it off or use it, but in any case I'm going to try using slab cut spruce in the future, and planer wood for the sides, back and neck. I forget if Arnold mentioned this, but virtually all of the golden age Italian basses have flat backs.
  4. I don't see a lot of slab cut tops in my shop, but I think it is a pretty safe bet to say that the main reason for using slab cut tops (or backs) is cost. Quarter cutting yields far fewer usable tops (or backs)than cutting the same log on the slab. When it comes to buying bass backs, the cost difference really shows. I recently purchased three slab cut flammed maple flat backs for much less than the cost of one similar sized flammed round back (quartered). If you were to use 4 or 6 pieces, the cost goes even lower since you can get the wood from much smaller (and cheaper) logs.
  5. Jeff Bollbach

    Jeff Bollbach Jeff Bollbach Luthier, Inc.

    Dec 12, 2001
    freeport, ny
    This is mostly true. In addition to using "lesser" woods many valued old Ities were hurridly or even poorly made. So this begs the question-does the equation for making a great bass require cheap wood and shoddy workmanship? I don't think I'd like to proceed with that in mind. There are still a few really fine basses out there with great wood and better craftmanship. I believe that many of the basses that are considered great but are of lesser wood and work got to where they are today by 1. They're just old-that's gotta account for something. and 2. If a maker churns out a bunch of basses sooner or later a few are gonna sound good and these may stand the test of time.I'm not saying not to use poplar or slab pine-I think a great bass could be made from any wood. I just believe that if a maker labors over the choice of wood and makes it with quality in mind and not profit, then he/she stands a greater chance of making a great bass.

    ps- Martin, you say you want to sell some of that wood?
  6. My friend, you've hit it on the head again. Survival of the fittest! One has to wonder how many "golden age Italian basses" were tossed on the trash heap after not making the grade.
  7. Interesting info, thanks guys. I just saw another bass with a slab cut top; a prescott that Kolstein has for sale. It's six pieces. I'd be willing to bet that it's a pretty good instrument, so who knows... The idea of so many good bass being made from supposedly inferior wood is interesting to me. It also seems to me that this might be a good way for a less experienced maker (as I hope to be some day soon...) to be able to make more instruments in order to get more practice and increase his odds of making some really good basses at a lower cost, and while still using wood that is well aged, just not the most expensive cuts. Does this seem like a sensible approach to you guys?
  8. On the same topic, and at the risk of revealing my ignorance, how can one tell slab cut from quartersawn just by looking. I assume the grain lies differently, but in what way.

  9. I don't know for sure either, but I would assume that if you looked at the ends of the top they wouldn't have the endgrain like you'd see on a regular top, since the endgrain is essentialy the face of the top. Please correct me if I'm wrong... ;)
  10. mje

    mje Supporting Member

    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    That's it. Slab cut wood has grain running across the face of the wood. Quarter sawn wood has grain running from the face to the back. All guitar soundboard wood is quarter sawn, but these are very thin pieces.

    Since wood likes to fracture along the grain, I wonder if slab sawn wood isn't actually stronger than quarter sawn in this use. Guitar soundboards are heavily braced, so strength isn't as big a factor.

    And speaking of wood quality: Taylor made a series of what they called a "Pallet guitars" to illustrate that construction is more important than wood. The soundboards were made from a slab sawn 2x4 and the rest of the guitar used wood salvaged from pallets. The fingerboards had a forklift inlaid in formica and aluminum. Supposedly sounded great, too. See
  11. Sounds like something I would expect to see on eBay! Did you ever see anyone say "I'm selling this thing because it sounds terrible"?

    Speaking of 2x4's, The Guild of American Luthiers actually has printed plans for building a bass out of plywood and lumber yard 2x4s. However, I doubt if Daniel Hachez is going lose any sleep over this kind of competition.
  12. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    New Mexico. USA
    Speaking of Dan Hachez--what a great craftsman! Hopefully, he's almost done with competitions. He's won pretty much every award out there, so pretty soon he'll be decared "Hors Concours" (whatever that means), and become a judge rather than competitor. At that point I think it's possible that one of us other bass makers could win something. I think I'll wait till Dan is done competing to try it again...
  13. Getting the chance to play, closely examine and photograph his basses this summer was an unforgetable experience. His work may not be perfection, but it's got to be damn close. Daniel Hachez is definately in a league of his own.
  14. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    Is any of his work available for viewing on the web?

    That GAL 2x4 bass plan has always surprised me a bit. Most of their plans are pretty respectable attempts, but that one looks more like it belongs in Popular Mechanics.

    I did run across a guy at a yard sale selling a whole bunch of Sitka 2x4s earlier this year, and that plan entered my mind. But only for a second.
  15. Robertsons has several photos of the Gold metal bass here: