Tonewood Spruce

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   Outside guitars, spruce is probably the most used topwood of all, because it is the least flexible hardwood. There are several species, and a complictaed history of its use. There are several species, and notable arguments about sub-species in various locations. Certain stocks have been over-used and become unavailable, others in Europe have suffered from acid rain. There are also stories of seeds being transported from Europe to the U.S. and back again..... a veritable maze. I hope what is below is a reasonable summary of the most important facts.....

   Where the climate is suitable (oceanic temperate rainforest, with mild winters and cool summers), spruce can grow very fast - young trees at up to 2 metres per year, and up to 40m tall in 40 years.

   Below is a ranking of most common topwood species, arranged from the most flexible to the stiffest species -the greater the number, the further it will flex.

Common Name

Botanical Name

Average Weight

Deflection
weak -> stiff

Cedar

thuja plicata

185.0 grams

.096"

Douglas Fir

pseudotsuga menziesii

215.5 grams

.090"

Redwood

sequoia sempervirens

200.0 grams

.090"

Engelmann Spruce

picea engelmannii

195.0 grams

.089"

Caucasian Spruce

oicea orientalis

214.0 grams

.088"

New Sitka Spruce

picea sitchensis

215.0 grams

.081"

Lutz Spruce (Sitka & White hybrid)

picea X lutzi Little

219.5 grams

.070"

(old 1959) Sitka Spruce

picea sitchensis

226.5 grams

.064"

Red (Appalachian) Spruce

picea rubens

238.5 grams

.063"

European Spruce picea abies 233.5 grams .062"

Chart by Tim McKnight of McKnight Guitars

 

European Spruce (Picea Abies) Sitka Spruce (Picea Sitchensis) Adirondack (red) Spruce (Picea Rubens) Englemann spruce (Picea EngelmannII)
(Germany or Italy)

   Also called Alpine, German, silver, white or Italian Spruce. Very white in colour, it is perhaps the best all woods for classical instruments. The characteristic of this wood is to contribute a noble tone with shimmering trebles and good strong basses. This wood does however take time to play in and can slowly mature over years until it matches anything Cedar or Englemann can do and excel them.

(Canada and Northwest Alaska)

  Chosen because of its consistent quality as well as its straight uniform grain, (trees grow to nearly 300 feet in height), longevity, and tensile strength, it is probably the most common wood used for steel-string guitar tops. Extremely vibrant , bright and loud, providing an ideal “diaphragm” for transmission of sound on any size and style of stringed instrument. It is a very tough wood that resists minor dings and scratches very well. Color is creamy white to light pink or brown heartwood. Weight is about 27 pounds per cubic foot.

(E. United States and Canada)

Characteristics similar to high elevation European alpine spruce. Red or Appalachian spruce was abundant in the 1930s. Its extraordinary tone, prized for its projection and tonal clarity, has created a resurgence of demand for “Adirondack” spruce. It has one of the best stiffness to weight ratios of all spruces and is very hard. It is softer than Sitka and requires a bit more care, but this slightly softer wood results in a top that is less stiff and offers a quicker response, with more snap to the note. It is also slightly lighter in weight than Sitka Spruce, weighing approximately 26 pounds per cubic foot. Adirondack has been unavailable since the mid-1940s and stock has only recently become large enough to be used again.

(W. United States and Canada)

Prized for its similarity in color to European spruce as well as its extreme lightness in weight which seems to produce a slightly louder, more projective or “open” sound than Sitka spruce. Very light in colour.  It offers a middle ground between Euro Spruce and Cedar. It plays in very quickly and gives a spruce like treble. It is a softer wood and will yield good basses right away also. Lighter in weight than Sitka Spruce (weighing approximately 23 pounds per cubic foot)

german_spruce.jpg (26512 bytes)  spruce%20distribution.jpg (48892 bytes) sitka-spruce englemann.jpg (72416 bytes)  Picea_sitchensis_map_small.png (409315 bytes) Airondack Spruce.jpg (4673 bytes)  Picea Rubens Distr. map.png (35910 bytes) englemann_spruce.jpg (23363 bytes)  Picea EngelmannII Map.gif (8080 bytes)