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The Domestic Wood Thread

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Beej, Dec 21, 2012.

  1. Beej


    Feb 10, 2007
    Victoria, BC
    So I was chatting with a bandmate the other day and he asked me if it was possible to build an instrument entirely out of domestic woods. I immediately replied yes and gave some examples of woods that could be used, but it got me thinking about it a little more. I don't start too many threads, but I thought this kind of discussion might be useful as a resource when selecting woods for a build.

    I realize this is a fully international website and "domestic" means something different depending on where you live! That said, I'm going to exercise my ethnocentricity and caveat the definition as being woods available in North America. If you have a different definition of "domestic" please share it!

    These two threads already exist and partially cover this topic, but I'm looking to expand the discussion to all "domestic" woods and people's likes, dislikes, preferences, concerns, etc.

    Have you ever built a bass or other instrument using domestic woods? What are your thoughts on the subject? What body wood, what neck wood, what fingerboard, headstock, inlay, nut, etcetera?

    I'm going to upload my list of woods I've worked with here pretty soon too...
  2. HaMMerHeD


    May 20, 2005
    Norman, OK, USA
    North America...

    Northern Ash, Green/Red Ash, Black Ash, Basswood (a.k.a. Linden), Alder, Red Maple, Hard Maple, Bigleaf Maple, Koa, Black Walnut, Claro Walnut, Redwood, Port Orford Cedar, Oregon Myrtle, Mesquite, Shagbark Hickory

    If we include Mexico..

    Katalox, Cocobolo, Bocote, Granadillo, Spanish Cedar

    I'm sure there are many more. You could probably use Oak, but...it's Oak.
  3. Big B.

    Big B.

    Dec 31, 2007
    Austin, TX
    Domestics easily work for bodies and neck but fingerboards is where it gets interesting. Not many domestic woods are hard enough for a fingerboard (this of course excludes maple but a wood that has to be finished before use is a bit different from the hard exotic woods we use for unfinished/oiled fingerboards.) Though there aren't many woods that meet those needs there are a few.

    Persimmon: actually in the diospyros (ebony) family, also called Texas ebony. It's quite hard and if you find an older board the heartwood is nice and dark though not black.

    Hickory, pecan and mesquite are hard woods that also resist abrasion quite well and would make a nice fingerboard.

    Osage Orange: Also called Mock Orange and Bowdark (it was commonly used by the native Americans for bows). As far as I know its the hardest Domestic wood. It's reasonable to work with when its green but once it dries it will throw sparks from a tablesaw blade. It starts out orange but pretty quickly oxidizes to a brown color. As hard as any wood I've worked and it would make a great fretless board.
  4. Konquest


    Aug 26, 2003
    Aren't hickory and pecan the same wood?

    There are a variety of resources to look at this sort of thing: the hobbit house website is my favorite.


    As BigB stated, many builders use domestic woods for everything but the fingerboard. The densest woods typically come from tropical climates, however those are also the ones you want to use sparingly, too.

    I have built with everything from Andiroba to Zebrawood, but as I get into luthierie I will probably only use domestics for everything but fingerboards. Now if you wanted to make your bass 100% domestic, and you had a need for a durable fretless fingerboard, you could always go the epoxy route.
  5. Hooray! Yet another excuse to post pics of this amazing beauty. All domestic. It dawned on me after a month of having her home.


  6. bootsox


    Apr 28, 2012
    Biloxi, MS
    I've played oak-bodied basses and they're generally ok. I had a hickory neck that I loved on one of my old Precisions for a while.

    I've played plenty of cocobolo fingerboards and they work great, but I hate working cocobolo so I'll never make anything for myself with it.
  7. Dave Higham

    Dave Higham

    Dec 19, 2005
    Counting Koa as 'domestic' to North America is pushing it a bit.:)
  8. HaMMerHeD


    May 20, 2005
    Norman, OK, USA
    Well..it's Hawaiian...and Hawaii is a part of the US, which is a North American country...so, why is it pushing it a bit?
  9. Big B.

    Big B.

    Dec 31, 2007
    Austin, TX
    They are very similar, from the same genus but not the same species, and from a working perspective you could intermix the two in a kitchen and in many cases you wouldn't see a difference. Pecan trees and hickory trees produce different nuts and breed a bit differently. I also understand that most Pecan lumber comes from wild pecan trees and not the domesticated type we see often around our homes. The domesticated pecans grow much lower to the ground which means the trunks are often too short for good lumber. The wild trees grow a bit taller and the nuts are more bitter.

    My experience is that generally they look the same but the pecan is often a slight bit lighter in color and in weight.
  10. superdick2112

    superdick2112 Registered Rickenbacker Enthusiast Supporting Member

    Nov 20, 2010
    The Centennial State
  11. HaMMerHeD


    May 20, 2005
    Norman, OK, USA
    ^ Fingerboard is bubinga, yes?
  12. superdick2112

    superdick2112 Registered Rickenbacker Enthusiast Supporting Member

    Nov 20, 2010
    The Centennial State
    Yes, thus Ric's claim regarding the origin of woods - not mine..

    Unless they have some secret underground American bubinga farm I'm unaware of...
  13. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    Bubinga, used for the fretboard, is African. Either Ric is stretching the truth in their ad copy a bit, or someone has been growing the trees here also.
  14. superdick2112

    superdick2112 Registered Rickenbacker Enthusiast Supporting Member

    Nov 20, 2010
    The Centennial State
    Bingo! (see my 2nd post...)
  15. HaMMerHeD


    May 20, 2005
    Norman, OK, USA
    Yeah, either Rickenbacker has made that the best kept secret in American forestry, or they're lying.
  16. 96tbird

    96tbird PLEASE STAND BY Supporting Member

    Hard maple and ash. What's so mysterious about that? The first P bass was exactly that. Leo was all about economy and domestic wood spelled economy in 51.
  17. tjclem

    tjclem Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jun 6, 2004
    Central Florida
    Owner and builder Clementbass
    I have used Mesquite as a fretboard with no issues. I have some Osage Orange but haven't used it yet.
  18. Beej


    Feb 10, 2007
    Victoria, BC
    That's exactly where I first went in my explanation as to "of course you can" because in fact the first mass produced instruments were domestic sourced, it was not until later that makers introduced "exotics". That said, the market is certainly dominated by "exotics" but we do have access to some beautiful woods in NA, hence the thread.

    Hard maple is pretty widely used in necks, along with ash and alder for bodies, and in acoustics, domestics are prized for their tone. What else have people used? I've been looking at roasted birch for fretboards lately - just a little softer than sugar maple and the stock I've seen is pale brown throughout, not unlike lighter coloured walnut...
  19. Persimmon has all the qualities to make a great fingerboard (except for being commonly available) I've heard of Dogwood being used also but I sure don't know where you'd find it
  20. 1958Bassman


    Oct 20, 2007
    Some mills don't separate the two but they are somewhat different. Hammer handles, ladder rungs, old golf club shafts and other items are/were often made from hickory because it's hard, stiff, durable and inexpensive. Different sub-species.