Western Red Cedar

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Ken McKay, Apr 16, 2004.

  1. Hi all, and a special hello to Paul W. (who got me started in this crazy obcession) I have been lurking a while have learned a lot.

    This is regarding tonewood for double bass. I contacted a tonewood sawyer who I got some cedar guitar top wood from, about splitting me some bass top wedges. He doesn't usually prepare wood this large but expressed some interest. If he cuts a couple cants (48 inch long sections) he can get 20 or so tops from them. His cedar is from standing dead and fallen dead trees so this is ecologically sound harvesting. Is there anyone out there besides me that wants to use cedar? It should be AAA wood and probably considerably less $$ than spruce.

    I have NO association with this suplier so this is not a solisitation.

  2. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    Brewster, NY, USA
    I'll bite, depending on price and quality.
  3. Okay, seems there is some interest, I got some private emails also.

    Just to make sure we cover all basses, what size requirements do you have. Presently Dan Minard from Raincoast Tonewoods [rctonewoods@shaw.ca] is on the lookout for a log that will pruduce 48 inch long, and 14 inch face wedges. Anyone wanting wider stock should speak up now. Or feel free to contact him yourself if you like.

    Any one made a bass top from WRC?

  4. Jeff Bollbach

    Jeff Bollbach Jeff Bollbach Luthier, Inc.

    Dec 12, 2001
    freeport, ny
    I have and after comparing sitka, engelmann, and wrc using the same bass form it is my favorite.

    Are you a maker?
  5. mpm


    May 10, 2001
    Los Angeles
    Sign me up too!
  6. Yes, I am a making one now, I had the corpus done and decided I was not satisfied with the way the top turned out. I then thought I'd try WRC.

    That is reassuring to hear that you prefer it to Sitka and Engelmann. Of course there is a lot of variability in wood of a given species. I don't really have a good understanding of what can make good BASS violin tonewood. There has been a lot written on violin and even cello tonewood and choosing it based on the damping, resonance, speed of sound, stiffness, density, specific gravity, stiffness to density ratio, stiffness parellel versus stiffness perpendicular to the grain and on and on... but not much on bass violin tonewood characteristics. My feeling is that much of the scientific info that applies to violin acoustics is invalid if applied to the bass. After all we are dealing with a whole different part of the musical spectrum.

    Jeff, what about relative thickness/stiffness of WRC versus Engelmann. How do you treat it differently? My feeling is that a good luthier can make any wood sound good but volume is effected by the weight/mass of the vibrating area of the plate and that makes it really hard to achieve both loud and good quality. The density of WRC is slightly less than engelmann on the average so I was going to make the top slightly thicker than the englemann one. The stiffness parellel to the grain can be controlled to some extent by the bass bar while the perpendicular stiffness across the grain can be controlled by thickness alone. This is assuming a similar arching is used. So my theory is that the stiffness of the wood across the grain is a primary determining factor of the overall quality and volume of the finished bass. What I mean by this is if the wood is stiffer accross the grain the plate can be made thinner and still be strong. Of course arching can be big factor in stiffness across the plate but I plan to make this a constant.

    Any thoughts?
  7. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    Good to see you over here, Ken! I'd love to see how some of these WRC basses turn out.
  8. Would you care to give specific examples where the what applies to violin accoustics does not apply to basses? As a long time CAS member, I have found quite the opposite.
  9. Hey Marcus! Yea I would be great to hear a selection of different models made with similar top wood! The great WRC experiment of 2004.

    Well I am just trying to figure this thing out myself, and I have read some of the CAS papers although I am not a member. I am sure there are many similarities and I look forward to learning more. especially from experienced bass makers.

    The reason I said this is by looking at the wild variability of fine basses. Tonewoods, from pine to poplar to willow to spruce, cherry, flat sawn, straight grained, etc and their relation to quality is a poor indicator. Size is also all over the map as is arching and the type of back, flat or carved. There are good and great basses of all types. The violin is variable in milimeters and fractions of milimeters.

    The method of free plate tuning holds as a basis that the lower vibrating modes of the violin plates, mostly the top, determine the voice or timbre of the instrument. If the maker can get modes 1,2 and 5 all lined up an octave apart and mode 5 is approximately the frequency of the open lowest string of the instrument that will get him a strad :rolleyes: Applying this to violin or viola and the frequencies are within reason for all 3 modes but as the instrument gets bigger and the lowest string gets lower, modes 2, and 1 get pretty low. For example the cello mode 5 target is 135 to 145 hz and that gets down to around 35 hz for mode 1. The bass would need to be around 20 hz! Now that is pretty low and I wonder if it could even be done. I have never measured glitter patterns on a bass free plate but I think you'd need to go paper thin to get to that target.

    Lets put this in a different perspective. I am certain the old masters were aware of the stiffness of the plates but did not call them modes or have a scientific name for them. Set the plate on a flat table and press in the center around the area where the bridge sits and this is mode 5. The easier it is to flex, the lower this mode. Hold the plate and twist and that will get you the relative frequency of mode 1 etc... I wonder and doubt that a single method can apply to all members of the violin family.

    Do you have any data or thoughts on free plate tuning?

  10. Free plate tuning represents a very small area in violin family accoustics. It is simply a method to do the same thing that violin and bass makers have always done (measuring plate resistance and twisting). I have used mode 2 and mode 5 matching of tops and backs with reasonable success on basses, but it is just another tool I use . I don't mess with mode one simply because I don't see the need - for me. CAS has never said that you will get a great instrument if you follow a particular set of mode interaction. It simply reports what other researchers have found worked for them.

    The problem with all free plate tuning is that the free plate mode frequencies go out the window once they are solidly glued to the ribs. More recent CAS studies have delved into the area of the modes of fixed plates. This is the area where a lot of the current violin accoustics research is going. Unfortunately, I don't have the room or equipment to do this kind of testing myself. For the present time, I leave that to the big boys with lots of high price scientific testing equipment.

    Now if you would like to discuss A0/B0 matching in basses, I would be glad to share my experiece. A0/B0 matching has absolutely nothing to do with free plate tuning and is definately a part of violin family accoustics.
  11. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    Brewster, NY, USA
    My understanding is that cedar is actually pretty stiff across the grain. Sitka is very flexible across, yet quite stiff in the direction of the grain. Engelmann seems somewhere in the middle, as does European. The cedar tops I've encountered were carved a bit thick and had a lovely, sweet tone, and were especially strong in the upper register. I've not made a bass with cedar, but if I did I'd probably combine it with a lower-density spruce bassbar, i.e., Engelmann.
  12. Now if you would like to discuss A0/B0 matching in basses, I would be glad to share my experiece. A0/B0 matching has absolutely nothing to do with free plate tuning and is definately a part of violin family accoustics.[/QUOTE]

    I would love to hear anything you have to say about making basses!

    AO/BO, let me guess, matching the resonance in the box i.e the helmholtz or bottle resonace with the resonance of the whole body. Close??
  13. but if I did I'd probably combine it with a lower-density spruce bassbar, i.e., Engelmann.[/QUOTE]

    Thanks Arnold I will definately keep that in mind.
  14. Close. It is actually matching the resonance frequency of the air in the body with the resonance frequency of the neck/scroll/fingerboard assembly. As everyone who has been around TB for any length of time knows, I wrote a paper on matching A0/B0 in basses which was published in the Michigan Violin Makers Assn Journal in 1997. If you will send me a PM with your email address, I will send you a PDF copy (it's about 2.5 mb) of the paper. It's more of a "how to do it" rather than theory behind it type of paper. The nicest thing about A0/B0 matching is that it is one of the very few things you can do after a new instrument body is assembled and varnished or to an older instrument that can make a noticable difference in the accoustic behavior of the instrument.
  15. This may be a little bit off topic, but I was wondering if any of the luthiers had tried using wrc for soundposts? I've made all of my own soundposts for years, but I have not had occation to try wrc. If any of you guys have any cutoffs from wrc tops, send me some and I'll make some posts and share them with you.
  16. I recieved the article and read it. I found it very informative. I will definately use this technique of matching BO/AO. Thanks!

    For all those interested in the WRC tops, here is a quote from the sawyer:

    "When you get a moment, please confirm the size of the wedges for your soundboards... Is yours a standard size, or is there a possibility that some folks will need larger boards.
    My suppliers are on the lookout for wood that will split nice & straight at 48" length with a 14'+ face.
    Wish us luck!, Dan"

    So if anyone needs bigger, speak up NOW.

    I will keep you posted.

  17. I wanted to bump this to the top and give an update and also a heads up for those looking for the ever evasive bass top wood.

    Dan, my contact for the WRC has had trouble getting the big log for us. But he has sent an email saying:

    Hi Ken;
    Yeah... we're still alive & kickin'
    Are you still in need of Cedar bass tops? We are just now moving into a new area which has never been salvage logged for Cedar before. There are lots of old monster trees which have been standing dead for nearly 100 years. (completely sap dry & ready to use after a couple of months aclimatizing to your work area)
    I'm pretty sure i FINALLY have the co-operation of the falling contractor to custom trim for bass tops if there is still a demand.
    How did that soundboard from Alaska Specialty work out for you? Was it cut from handsplit stock? Or did they cut it from a large timber?
    I am really intruiged by the idea of Cedar double basses & would love to be part of the process.
    Cheers! Dan

    Also another sawyer from Alaska is seems to be quite a character and is hand splitting bass billets and carrying them out on his back. He has Sitka.


    Read this email

    I am trying to send pictures to you but I am afraid they are not going
    through. I have four of the 51 inch DB's left and will split off probably
    4-5 more in the next few days. I have sold 2 to a guy in England and 6 to a
    buyer in Spain. I have one side of a log that is perfect for double bass
    bolts and when ever I hit that type of wood I split 51's off it because that
    straight of a split is very hard to fined with a 15-16 inch face on it. Its
    pretty good wood and I am having my brain-box cleaned out this next week and
    should be able to send you all the pictures. Right now I am having trouble
    down-loading the pictures but will keep trying. John in Ketchikan, Alaska.

    And even more interesting:

    Wondering if them dam pictures went? One never knows in this computer age. I
    will stick to the woods, saw, and ax. I have worked in the woods 45 years
    and see no dam reason to change now. I have lost 70 pounds in the last six
    months and feel like I could almost chew them logs into. Well its time to go
    to work and wondering if I will see the local wolf pack that lives in back
    of my house. Curious bastards sometimes. Stand there and watch me like what
    the hell you doing on our land again. Over the four years on this blow down
    patch they have come to accept me. Sometimes the Alfa male I call Big Jake
    escorts me off his property by following me in the woods at a save distances
    just out of sight almost but I am not sure what he is up too. Big devil of
    about 180 pounds and has wild looking big Yellow eyes that never leave me
    for a second. They come here to have their pups. So they must feel safe
    here. I sleep in their dens sometimes because it is always dry there and
    with 230 inches of rain a year. A good dry place in the woods is hard to
    fined. It is always dry and clean inside their dens and big enough for the
    whole pack to sleep in at once. It rains all the dam time here. John

    This is the only photo that he was able to get sent, Ha, ha, poor guy just knows how to cut wood, computers.....pia

  18. I will get the photo up later, can't do it at work.
  19. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    Standing dead wood can be chock full of worm holes, and some tonewood cutters/dealers won't mess with it. I am curious as to what this fella has exactly...
  20. Nick,

    Dan is a seasoned tonewood sawyer/dealer. I have a stack of his WRC guitar tops in my shop. He will not deliver wood with worm holes. That would surely kill his reputation. He already cut a log and when he opened it he discarded it because of defects, so I trust him.

    As for the Alaska splitter, I don't know, but I doubt he would deliver with wormholes. But Caveat emptor.