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Wood for bass tops

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by Matthew Tucker, Jun 21, 2005.


  1. Matthew Tucker

    Matthew Tucker Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2002
    Sydney, Australia
    Owner: Bresque Basses, Sydney Basses and Cellos
    My father has a large piece of slab cut huon pine (3" thick, 24" wide and nearly six feet long) which has been drying in his shed for 25 years.He has offered it to me.

    Huon pine is a very rare, golden, soft, oily, fine grained wood only found in old rainforests in Tasmania.

    I'm wondering whether this lovely piece of wood has potential as a bass top. Anyone had any experience with this wood? Thoughts?

    Another wood I have access to is Silky Oak, otherwise known as Lacewood. We felled a dead tree at my work about 6 years ago and the logs have been cut and drying since then. Lacewood is quite highly prized in guitarmaking as far as i can work out, for its lightness, strength, figure and ability to sound "played-in" as a new instrument.

    Any ideas on Lacewood as a bass tonewood?
     
  2. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    Given the cost of woods and thus the cost of experimenting, I think the bass world is going to need YOU, Matthew Tucker, to build a bass out of this stuff and tell us how it goes. Especially that lacewood...
     
  3. Heres some info on the silly oak:
    http://www.exotichardwoods-southamerica.com/lacewood.htm

    I photographed (and heard) a dulcimer with a lacewood top made by Archie Smith of Banner Elk, N.C. (This appears to be a later photo). It had a louder somewhat brassier tone than some of Archie's other dulcimers, with very good projection. Archie's dulcimers are some of my favorites. He used many different woods for tonewoods and carves each peg. I have one of his bowed psalteries from wormy maple and walnut.

    I couldn't find much on the huon pine, except that it is good for boat building. You might ask Aaron N. because he builds boats and basses.
     
  4. 1st Bass

    1st Bass

    May 26, 2005
    Forest Grove, OR
    John Greven (check his website) builds acoustic guitars of lacewood, and finds it to be a very good choice...says exactly what you mentioned, that it sounds played in from the beginning. Never heard of the other stuff, but if I were in your shoes, the shoes would be carrying me toward building a bass. And I'll bet it is a great bass when you are done...besides being gorgeous in appearance.
     
  5. Matthew Tucker

    Matthew Tucker Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2002
    Sydney, Australia
    Owner: Bresque Basses, Sydney Basses and Cellos
    you are right, my shoes ARE carrying me in that direction, and huon pine IS gorgeous wood for all sorts of reasons.

    But before I spend the hours planing away at this very valuable rare large hunk of pine, on my first built bass, I need some reassurance that the instrument won't end up sounding like a damp sponge. (I suppose, though, if you can make basses out of plywood that sound OK, then at worst I'd have a gorgeous bass that sounds ... OK)

    I suppose a more rational alternative might be to sell the wood to craftsmen selling dinky bowls to the tourists or make it into furniture, then use the proceeds to buy some spruce.

    I did find this page http://www.noyceguitars.com/Technotes/Articles/T2.html
    but I can't really make head or tail of it other that note that the numbers for spruce and huon pine are quite different. And the scientists will say this is important, and the artisans will say its not important but you must use the RIGHT wood and have 20 years experience, and others will say just "have a go".

    I can't do anything about it anyway for 6 months or so cos going overseas, but its food for thought.

    Damon how's your luthier vocab in french? fingerboard, F-hole, tailpiece, purfling, set-up etc? I'm going to need to find out soon ...
     
  6. A few years ago I brought back lots of bits of wood from Oz, amongst it a piece of Huon pine big enough for a violin front. And that's what it ended up as. It was nice to work with, but a lot harder and denser than spruce. The sound was totally different and as it was a violin, totally unacceptable. I've since spoken to various Australian violin makers and the concensus was that huon pine was better suited for backs than for fronts, it is too hard and to heavy, with it being quite oily, the sound transmission along and across the grain isn't working very well. You can't work it as thin as plywood to make it a stable top, so you might end up with something that looks good but sounds like a wet sponge.
    As for the numbers in the link, the important ones are c and d, c being the speed of sound transmission it's 3410m/sec in huon and 5202m/sec in sitka spruce, so considerably faster in the spruce. That will influence the way your bass will sound or rather not sound. D is the density, and you see that huon is at 512kg/m3 considerably heavier than sitka at 387kg/m3.
    If you compare huon to poplar you get similar density and it is similar hardness. Now poplar is quite popular to make backs out of, and it works well. If I were you I would use it as a back and see if you can't find a nice piece of Norfolk pine or King Billy. The latter is quite similar to western red cedar in density and workability. Quite brittle compared to spruce and very light, you'd need to leave it a fair bit thicker than a spruce front or else it will distort very quickly.
    Hey, and if you're in Europe, why not call in?
    Cheers
    Toby
     
  7. Matthew Tucker

    Matthew Tucker Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2002
    Sydney, Australia
    Owner: Bresque Basses, Sydney Basses and Cellos
    Thanks Toby I might just do that. Where is Viersen? Anywhere near the french border, or deep in darkest deuschland?

    Your information on the pine is interesting, thanks. Might save me some expensive waste of time. I'll keep gathering information like that.
     
  8. Matthew, Viersen is near Duesseldorf, not really near the French border, but close to the Dutch one.
    Then again, in Australian terms it is just around the corner from Paris ;-)
    Does that cat of yours blink or am I going crazy?
     
  9. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    How's this?

    Le fingerboard.

    La piece de tail.

    Le purfling.

    I better quit while I'm ahead. I'm an anglo guy in a bilingual land; I've got so-so French but luthiery and its arcana are beyond me.
     
  10. Matthew Tucker

    Matthew Tucker Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2002
    Sydney, Australia
    Owner: Bresque Basses, Sydney Basses and Cellos
    yeh, hep cat blinks

    I'll try and come for a visit. I'll be staying near Metz/Forbach for while

    I'm serious about the french luthier vocab. Can anyone help me out? Dictionaries are LE hopeless.

    cheers mt
     
  11. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    There's a fellow in the Phillipines -- Jacques Gagnon -- who I believe is an ex-pat French Canadian. His company is called Cremonasia and has a web site. Jacques is a 2xbasslist participant and can probably help you out with vocabulary.