The craft of making string instruments is a gift and a fine art. From guitars to violins, the responsibility of constructing the instrument falls on the luthier, a skilled expert who makes and repairs string instruments. Founded in the Renaissance time period, string instruments are constructed of fine wood, which varies depending on the type of instrument.
In order to do their job properly, luthiers require the best quality and appearance of lumber, but finding such lumber that also meets the specification of the instrument can sometimes be quite difficult. Take guitars, for example, one of the most popular types of string instruments. Guitars need different sizes and types of lumber for the body, neck, and heel of the instrument. Each part needs to be very specific in width and thickness, and if it is not constructed out of the perfect lumber, the instrument can be “off” in terms of sound and sensitivity. Therefore, lumber is of the utmost importance. Four of the most common lumbers used in string instrument manufacturing are walnut, mahogany, spruce, and maple.
Walnut lumber is typically darker with ash-like grains. Walnut wood is dense and adds extra weight to an instrument. This extra weight adds more sustain to the instrument’s sound. With a bright tone, walnut lumber offers a complex midrange that compresses some frequencies and adds dynamism to others. Walnut wood dictates the tonal signature of a string instrument and dominates the sound compared to other types of wood. It is a popular and excellent choice in constructing a string instrument.
Mahogany lumber is typically open grained with large pores. This allows for a uniform grain pattern and sound. Mahogany instruments are consistent, and many mahogany instruments have a similar sound from piece to piece. Mahogany-made guitars produce high notes that are thick and rich, which is ideal for a solo artist, and a guitar made out of mahogany lumber will dominate with upper mid-range frequencies. Mahogany lumber works well for the musician craving a rich and heavy sound.
Spruce lumber is soft in nature and provides a musician with a heavy finish. With a unique construction, spruce wood offsets any compressed sound that may come through the neck of the instrument. It is also capable of reproducing extended lows. Typically, spruce-made instruments are soft but not “mushy” in tone, and they tend to produce powerful and dynamic midtones. The wood also adds to distinct, clear highs and lows. Spruce lumber is an ideal wood for a soft and solid string instrument.
Maple lumber is typically the most commonly used wood to construct string instruments. A stable and strong wood, maple does not suffer from environmental changes. It carries a highly reflective tone with energy and emphasis, and the lumber is known for its higher overtones, bass harmonics, and variations in pick. Maple-made instruments produce low notes with sharp attack and excellent sustain. It’s easy to see why it’s such a popular wood to use while constructing musical string instruments.
When a luthier constructs a string instrument, they have a wide variety of lumbers to choose from. They must often sort through supplier after supplier in order to obtain the type of wood that best expresses the sound and material they are looking for. McIlvain Company, one of the nation’s oldest and most reputable lumber dealers, prides itself in being able to supply luthiers with the choice cuts and impeccable quality wood that they need for their craft. With over 200 years of experience in the lumber industry, no other lumber wholesaler is better equipped to help meet your needs. For more information on all McIlvain Company has to offer, visit them online today, or check out the following selections from their blog: