It is not difficult to save money on tonewood, especially once you understand how wood is graded and sold. A expensive piece of wood does not necessarily mean a better sounding piece of wood. In the hands of the right craftsman, any piece of wood can sound amazing, no matter the price.
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Save Money on Wood by Knowing What You are Buying
Wood is graded on appearance, nothing else. The grading systems used by the major wood sellers focus on grain lines per inch, straightness of grain, color variations, and evenness of grain line spacing.
All of these factors are aesthetic, with the exception of the grain lines per inch, and grain line evenness. These have a slight effect on sound.
More grain lines typically mean a stiffer board. A stiffer board does not require as much bracing to maintain the same level of strength. Thus, a lighter soundboard can be made, with similar strength to another board with less grain lines per inch.
The evenness of the grain lines also plays a role in top density, and this refers to how much variation there is between the grain line density in one area versus another.
Too great of variation can mean stiffer and weaker areas on the same board. Both of these factors are something that can be accounted for when making a top, and a board with wider lines or differing line spacing does not mean a poor soundboard.
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Wood is Sold on How it Looks, Not How it Sounds
To save money on tonewood for tops, look for pieces in the middle range. The lowest quality pieces can still be made into an excellent guitar. However, a premium board can also be made into a terrible sounding guitar. The middle range is typically where a luthier supplier will work with you on what is the most important.
For example, if grain lines per inch or evenness of grain density is the most important to you, put that in the notes on your order, and most good places will select a board that meets that criteria. You may end up with a piece that has some color variation, but the main factor you are interested will be the best it can for the price.
Buying an alternative species to the standard will help you save money on tonewood, and achieve a similar sound in the finished guitar.
Another thing that you can do to save money on tonewood is to look for back and side sets that are not traditional. Rosewood, and Mahogany are the two main back and side species used on acoustic guitars. The Rosewood will be more expensive than the Mahogany, and contributes to more of a ringing tone.
There are other species of wood that have similar properties to Rosewood, and for far less money. Bubinga, and Padauk are both woods with a similar density to East Indian Rosewood, with the African Padauk being just a little less dense. These are both inexpensive species, close to 1/3 the price of Rosewood. Both are striking to look at, and they make excellent sounding guitars. I have made several guitars from Bubinga, and a couple from Padauk, and they all sounded great. Try these out. You will be impressed by the results.
More Helpful Advice
My book, Acoustic Guitar Making: How to make Tools, Templates, and Jigs explains tonewood, as well as many other acoustic guitar making topics. With over 500 pages and 1600 images, it is loaded with information. It also explains how to re-saw boards in the shop with smaller tools. This allows you to use any species of wood you desire.
For more on guitar making, browse my Guitar Making category. Inside I explain my favorite jig. Its called the Fret Slotting Jig, and you can make it for free with scraps. This jig allows you to cut perfect fret slots without measuring.
Have any questions about saving money on tonewood? Leave a comment and I will be glad to answer them. Happy building.
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