Luthier Tips du Jour Mailbag - Redwood

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In this episode, Robbie O’Brien answers a viewer’s question about using redwood as soundboard material.

Video Transcription

[on-screen text reads: Luthier Tips du Jour Mailbag]

Mailbag question: Is redwood a good soundboard material?

Robert O'Brien: Today's Tips du Jour Mailbag question comes to us from North Carolina. "Dear Robert, I'm considering using redwood as a soundboard material on my next guitar. Is this species a good choice? Thank you for all your videos, Roger in North Carolina." Actually, Roger, some of the best instruments I have ever heard have used redwood as a soundboard material. So yes, redwood can be an excellent choice, and can give you excellent results.

Redwood trees vs sequoias

Now, don't confuse the redwood tree with the giant sequoias of the Sierra Nevadas. There are some differences. For example, the giant sequoias are the largest tree in volume in the world, and they have an immense trunk. These trees are quite impressive, and some of the oldest living things on Earth. Now, the redwood tree is the tallest tree in the world, and it has a somewhat slender base, although they are still quite large.

Here's a redwood soundboard I got recently from LMI. LMI mills and sells quite a lot of redwood to us luthiers, and I'm really looking forward to using this on a guitar in the near future. In general, redwood's going to give you a warmer sound to your instrument. I like to compare it to cedar.

[Robert is holding a redwood blank up in the air and tapping it with his finger]

My preferences when working with redwood and cedar

This piece of redwood has a very nice ring to it, a nice tap tone to them. I do tend to stay away from the figured redwoods. There's some very nice flame, curly type redwoods out there. There's also sinker redwoods out there. Now, not to say that these don't make great instruments, they do, it's just not my cup of tea. I prefer the straight grain and the uniform color. Also, when working with cedar and redwood, as a general rule, I like to keep it about 10 to 15% thicker than I would with a spruce top, because it's softer, there's more give to it. But it does make a very, very nice instrument. So, Roger in North Carolina, I hope this information helps, and send some pictures of the guitar when it's done.

[on-screen text reads: More Luthier Tips and online courses available at www.obrienguitars.com. Private and small group guitar building and finishing instruction available.]

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Robbie O'Brien

Luthier and Instructor, Lutherie Academy