Why isn't poplar more popUlar?...

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Claymore, Oct 23, 2020.

  1. Claymore


    Nov 10, 2019
    Rhode Island
    This question is directed at people who believe (like myself) that body wood affects tone. Not trying to feed into that ongoing debate over whether body wood matters or not here. The only bass I've ever owned that is made of poplar just happens to be the most resonant and has great tone. Acoustically, it is loud and it's a solid body. I realize that it's a cheaper wood but the only downside I can see is that because of the softness, the screws tend to strip their holes a little easier. This can easily be remedied, though. My question is, being that it's so cheap and sounds so good, why do you suppose more instruments aren't made out of it? It there a stigma of some sort against poplar among luthiers? Just curious.
    Thanks for your input.
    GlennRH and Guild B301 like this.
  2. Bloomfield


    Jan 21, 2020
    Nova Scotia
    Yes, stigma I think. Poplar is a great wood; seems stable and quite resonant. Screw holes do tend to strip out in end grain though as you say. It's my usual choice for paint-grade work, and I've even finished it clear, why not?
    Claymore likes this.
  3. Gilmourisgod


    Jun 23, 2014
    Cape Cod MA
    Its a superb paint grade wood, but not great for any clear finish. You get a lot of green or even black streaks in it. Its hard, machines nicely, and is closed grain, so pretty much perfect for a paint finish. The added benefit is you can get it in almost any Big Box store, though a little harder to find thicker stuff like 6/4 or 8/4 for guitar bodies.
  4. I have made a couple of bodies out of poplar. I have no issues with it at all.
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  5. dwizum


    Dec 21, 2018
    Seems like many custom builders are aimed more at showy woods (especially for basses) versus solid painted bodies, and poplar is arguably great for paint but a little ugly under a clear finish - at least if you're going for showy figured woods.

    Meanwhile the types of people who like painted bodies are typically fans of "traditional" styles (like, early Fenders or whatever bass they had as a kid in the 60's) and hence are interested in the woods used in those instruments, which were more likely to be swamp ash or alder.

    I know I'm stereotyping here a bit but I feel like it just doesn't really fit well with either of the two major camps: people who are in to showy clear-finishes over fancy woods, or people who like solid painted bodies over whatever Leo used. So I think I need to frame challenge your perspective - I don't think people are really ever making "tonewood" decisions based on solid facts about tone, more just based on whatever looks pretty, or whatever wood was used in instruments they like (which may have been chosen for non-tone reasons, i.e. whatever the manufacturer could get cheaply at the time, for instance.) If Fender had used pine, or walnut, or box elder, or whatever, people would probably think those were the best tonewoods.
  6. T_Bone_TL


    Jan 10, 2013
    SW VT
    And to confuse the issue further (well, it's normal for wood, sadly) the poplar of the lumber trade, with a propensity to be green, is yellow tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera) while the poplar (or cottonwood, which is either closely related or the same, depending who you ask) tree is (Populus.)

    Due to having some huge ones and having a bandsaw mill in to cut the "good stuff" I actually have some Populus Alba
    grandidentata (?) lumber - it's widely despised as "trash wood" being only good for pulpwood, as it's rather weak and rots easily, but it's also a very white, soft, easy to cut/carve wood - not unlike basswood, which is not generally despised.
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2020
  7. Claymore


    Nov 10, 2019
    Rhode Island
    That is very interesting. Did not know any of that. Glad I asked! :D
  8. JW56789

    JW56789 Guest

    Feb 18, 2017
    The late EVH preferred it for its resonance in guitars for his own use.

    I grew up in East Texas where pine trees are grown in farms for use in paper and lumber. Most homes are framed in pine lumber, so that tells me it's obviously strong enough, and Pine has surfaced in several Squier re-issues of Fender Classics. It's just fine for me, though you can run into balance issues where a hard maple neck with 4 or 5 big tuning keys may weigh more than the body.

    Gee, maybe Fender will do a cross-promotion and sell 'Yellawood' Strats !
  9. lyonaudio


    Apr 16, 2019
    Oh, you mean Linden...:D
    mikewalker likes this.
  10. T_Bone_TL


    Jan 10, 2013
    SW VT
    Or lime, not to be confused with a citrus of the same name...
    Drredplate and Beej like this.
  11. Gilmourisgod


    Jun 23, 2014
    Cape Cod MA
    I don't get why Ash became popular over poplar for guitar bodies, it's heavy and has a really coarse open grain, and you have to grain fill the heck out of it, which Is why Fender hosed them down with Fullerplast. Meh. I did a Warmoth Frankenjazz with Ash, and that sucker is HEAVY.
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2020
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  12. wmhill

    wmhill Inactive

    Aug 20, 2012
    upstate NY
    MTD basses endorsed artist Bartolini pickups emerging artist TECAMP bass players gear endorsed
    I would say there is some great stuff happening with poplar (or "popple" if you're from northern NY) right now.

    Michael Tobias Design: MTD USA & Kingston
    23h ·

    This is an MTD USA handmade custom 635-24 #bass with a purple-burst poplar burl top, swamp ash body, flamed maple neck, ebony fingerboard & titanium inserts.

    Warm, growly, strong bottom & crisp piano-like top end.


  13. Arie X

    Arie X

    Oct 19, 2015
    from a processing aspect, it's a bit of a small diameter tree guitar wise. takes some more work to get useable pieces from it. tonally it's fine. ascetically, it needs paint or an acquired taste for nature's "happy mistakes". back in the day it was the premiere choice for low to mid grade mass produced acoustic guitars even rising to the lofty heights of being chosen for lamination on top of more inferior timbers.
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  14. nilorius

    nilorius Inactive

    Oct 27, 2016
    Riga - Latvia
    The answer is in Your question. There are less people who think that poplar is enough good to become a very popular wood for guitar bodies, than thos who prefer other woods. Somehow it has become that way.
  15. ruju


    Dec 9, 2017
    My Jackson is Poplar. Walnut stain. It has a really nice satin/semi gloss feel to it. It also feels really solid. The bass sounds really good. Nice balanced tone. I'm really happy with it. Polish_20201021_073430245.jpg
    Asperger67, GlennRH, Supadope and 9 others like this.
  16. I've owned poplar basses that sounded incredible. Personally I found them to be very very heavy though, and I no longer own them as a result (my spine is gradually giving out due to a life long illness).

    But yea, amazing tone, ugly, but lots of ugly woods out there that sounds great just need a solid finish or a veneer on top to look pro, so nothing wrong at all with poplar imho for most people.
  17. aaand, with the pics from posters above, I see it can look good too! amazing!
    Count Bassie likes this.
  18. MegaSwing

    MegaSwing Your Obedient Bassist® Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 26, 2002
    Baltimore, MD USA
    My experience with poplar is that it dents easily. But that can be improved with a beefy finish. I have no issues other than that.
    M0ses likes this.
  19. jnuts1

    jnuts1 Inactive

    Nov 13, 2007
    really? so when i buy poplar from say menards its not really poplar? everyone keeps talking about how hard it is but I made some built-in cabinets to paint white and it was so soft
  20. Both Poplar and Pine get my vote as great timbers to work with and build basses from.

    I also like European Lime, not much call for American basswood here in Scotland. I tend to stay away from "accepted" woods,last build was Poplar and one before Paulownia.

    Next build is using Utile, get that out the way and hopefully the stickered/stacked Larch will be seasoned for work in 2021.