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Thread: Rosewood necks: the importance of grain?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2005

    Default Rosewood necks: the importance of grain?

    Original post by Bruce O'Donnell:

    It's not just rosewood necks, it's any wood. The straighter and more consistent the grain, the more stable it is going to be. Alot of manufacturers will saw a neck blank in half lengthwise and reglue the pieces back together. It relieves internal stresses in the wood, and like any laminate makes it stronger than the original. Carlos apparently insists on this for his BRW necks - and I'd only heard it as rumor, but as Reu pointed out in a BRW thread yesterday, Carl W managed to get a BRW Santana that was made for Carlos but he rejected (color?), and you can see the seam in the neck where it was split. But I digress. Luthiers love riftsawn wood - every piece has perfect symmetry, but as you can see in the pic, there's alot of waste and that means it costs more. Most luthiers spec quartersawn - PRS does for their IRW neck blanks, and virtually every IRW neck has beautiful vertical grain running from headstock to heel, with very uniform striping indicating very consistent growth from year to year. But when it comes to BRW, it's not so easy. As far back as the 1950's nearly all BRW was flatsawn (plainsawn in the pic) to maximize yield of an expensive resource. The wild figure you often see in BRW is the result of cutting parallel along growth wings. You don't get that in rift or quartersawn because the cuts are made perpendicular to the growth rings. Also notice that the center boards for a flatsawn log are essentially perpendicular to the rings, so it's as good as quartersawn and why some BRW has the characteristic vertical striping of quartersawn blanks.

    The issue is stability - how is the wood going to react to changes in temperature and humidity over it's life under the tension of the strings, which is not uniform from low E to high E - the tension wants to twist the neck. The more symmetrical the wood is, the more stable it will be. It makes little difference, IMHO, on solidbody guitars. PRS must concur, because they keep cranking out BRW necks and I have never, ever heard of a single issue. No warping or bowing, no frets popping up, no semi-annual truss rod adjustments, nada. There's just way too much wood, and the wood way too oily, to be affected by humidty. PRS also scraps alot necks, which says alot about their quality control.

    It makes a huge difference in acoustic tops and backs, because the thickness of wood in proportion to the length and width makes it very susceptible to splitting as the wood expands and contracts with the seasons. This is why you rarely, if ever, see one-piece tops on acoustic guitars. The stresses have to be equalized across the top and the best way to do that is bookmatching, as each piece is a mirror of the other. Even so, cracks in the top and backs of vintage Martin guitars are a fact of life. Taylor has had some problems with cocabola (a type of rosewood) backs splitting. Gorgeous wood, but the wild figuring is the result of localized stresses during the tree's growth. It is also common for vintage Martin's to split along the edge of the pickguard due to the pickguard plastic reacting with the lacquer and shrinking/buckling. It's not uncommon to have the necks of Gibsons or Martins reset due to these types of problems, particularly those with no adjustable truss rods.

    From a tone standpoint, IMHO it doesn't really matter on solidbody guitars. Way too many variables to be able to gauge the affect of quartersawn vs. flatsawn. While the ME might not be everyone's cup of tone tea, I've never heard of a dud. I don't think PRS would let one out the door that was. I have 4 BRW necks and 3 IRW. Every BRW neck I have was likely flatsawn, and two have the figuring to prove it. My favorite are the dark, almost pitch black with little visible graining. They tend to be smoother. Everyone of them sounds mahvelous, which is why I keep them.

    Value is in the rarity, and as far as the dreadnought acoustic guitar goes, it's the tone standard for back and sides along with Adirondack Spruce tops. If none of that matters to you, IRW is the way to go. I've stated many, many times that I can hear no discernable tone difference between my IRW and BRW neck McCarty's. For me it's about the rarity, beauty, and being the most prized tonewood on the planet. I'll pass them down to my grandkids - by that time they'll be having the same discussion about IRW. There's no tone reasonn why 2003 R9 Custom Historics sell for $7000+ with a BRW board and $3500 with an IRW. It's strictly the fact that original 59 Les Pauls had BRW boards, and Gibson only made 673 R9's before Henry J's eco-conscience tapped him on the shoulder and he made them switch to IRW.

    For that matter, I hope this stumpwood issue becomes a selling point. That will increase the value of my old growth, blanks bought from Martin, BRW McCarty's, which have been playing second fiddle to the ME's.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Upper Brackley, of course..


    The primary reason for the classic Martin pickguard crack, Eiichi-san tells me, is that Martin moved away from the soft glue they were using to affix pickguards pre-60's to a hard-setting poly-based item in the 70s? When the plastic pickguard shrinks over time, the hard glue doesn't allow for it, and thus the wood cracks to compensate.

    And he should know. He's regarded as one of the world's top experts on restoring pre-war/vintage Martins. He certainly did a fantastic job of splicing the crack and replacing my HD-28 guard. It's VERY hard to see...

    Very informative stuff, Gry. Thank you.
    If helicopters are so safe, how come there are no vintage helicopter fly-ins?

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