Adirondack Spruce vs. Sitka Spruce

Adirondack Spruce vs. Sitka Spruce- Revisited:

When a person buys or acquires a guitar, they’re getting a finely crafted instrument that was made from various materials, including wood. Oftentimes, guitars are made using wood from spruce trees.

Spruce trees are coniferous evergreens with needles attached singly to their branches in a spiral fashion. They’re large, often growing upwards of 60-230 feet. Generally, you’ll find spruce trees in different parts of North America. Two in particular, the Adirondack Spruce[Red Spruce from the Adirondack region of upstate New York] and the Sitka Spruce, are beloved by guitar makers as they produce the sound of the instrument rather well.

Adirondack Spruce[Red Spruce] grown in Upstate New York in the Adirondack Mountains, as well as elsewhere in the Appalachians. Before World War II, Adirondack Spruce was the main type of wood that pretty much defined the guitars of that era. With so many trees having been cut down to make guitars and other products, only recently has Adirondack Spruce made a comeback as a new generation of trees have matured.

Today’s Adirondack Spruce tend to be wide-grained and somewhat irregular in both their color and grain patterns. What they lack in “looks,” though, they make up for in tonal quality. Some say the soundboards from this specie are able to offer a higher ceiling for volume And that  Adirondack Spruce can be played loudly without losing clarity, and therefore it’s found on custom-made, specialty guitars. For aggressive players who want a certain sweetness in their notes, Adirondack Spruce is a fine choice.

But lets compare the actual properties of the two species. We would have to be general, as I know that old growth Sitka has quite a range of density and hardness. I cannot comment on the range of Red Spruce. We do have information provided by The Wood Database at wood-database.com, that provides average properties from test results.

 

Red Spruce Sitka Spruce
Dry Weight 27lb/cu.ft 27lb./ cu.ft
Specific Gravity @ 12%MC .37, .43 .36, .42
Janka Hardness 490 lbf 510lbf
Modulus of Rupture 9580 lb/sq.in 10,150 lb/sq.in
Elastic modulus 1,560,000 lb/sq.in 1,600,000 lb/sq.in
Crushing strength 4,870 lb/sq.in 5,550 lb/sq.in

 

We see the weight is the same. Specific Gravity is a of measure of density, and The Sitka spruce Wins in this category. Sitka edges out red spruce in hardness, so it won’t scratch as easily.  Modulus of rupture is bending strength- Sitka wins this test. Elastic modulus is the wood stiffness with the fiber- Again Sitka is the stiffer. Crushing strength doesn’t have very much influence to tonal properties, but is an attribute that is measured by wood testing labs, and would be of concern for flooring application of wood.

In conclusion; What I gather from these tests  regarding tone and the 3 most influential attributes of wood in regard to tone, Is that the Sitka Spruce, though the same weight as Red Spruce,  out preforms the red spruce, With the least density and highest stiffness. Plus the Sitka is stronger and can therefore be made thinner. Maybe some soundboards made with Sitka, were over built and left to thick to Really move and be able to create the sound as it is able. And Sitka Spruce looks GREAT, generally having more than 200 yrs of recorded history within its slow growth, fine, close grain texture in 1 board of a book set. Old growth type fiber that one doesn’t get from younger tree forests of eastern North America.

Sitka Spruce, which Alaska Specialty Woods supplies to guitar makers worldwide, comes from the coastal rain forest of Southeast Alaska. It’s considered to be the tonewood standard of today. Did you know, for example, that Sitka Spruce is used on almost 90% of the guitars that Taylor makes? This is because Sitka Spruce works well on all styles of guitars, and pleases the majority of players with its broad and dynamic range. Whether a player wants to strum aggressively or do some finger picking, Sitka Spruce tonewood has a strength and elasticity to it that produces excellent articulation.

28 Responses

  1. Martin has almost 200 years in the top echelon of the worlds guitar makers, and does not belong to your interest group. Martin *STILL* knows what they know and they have forgotten what Taylor has yet to find out about making the instrument. They still buy he D-4 quality Adirondack spruce, possibly for reasons that have nothing to do with hardness or crushability or any of the catagories Sitka wins in. Sitka is a fine wood, and many beautiful sounding instruments are made of it, but in the end it comes to tapping on a board. Hearing what others may not hear. The taste test.
    Adirondack is only now once again cutting into your industries pie. Nobody is pressuring them to buy it but people are. The taste test will continue, even if Adirondak is more expensive.

    1. Walter Brinkman, I don’t know you, and you certainly don’t know us. I believe you have read much more into the blog post than is there. It sure has you feathers rougheled up.
      1. Alaska Specialty Woods is a major supplier of CF Martin Guitar, for moist of their High Grade Sitka Spruce soundboards.
      2. We are not at all concerned or worried that Adi/Red Spruce is purchased and used to produce guitar tops, and that the use “cuts” into our industry.
      3. The Red spruce used today, though the same specie, is a far different fiber type than 200, or even 100 years ago.
      4. Much of what is called Adi today is not from the Adirondack Mountain region, but is most likely Red Spruce, A specie that has a range in Eastern North America from North Carolina to Canada.

      I’ll write up a post about old growth and the fiber type difference between old growth forest fiber and just an “old tree” type fiber.
      The reality is, not many people know very much about trees/and wood, that that includes luthiers. Sure many may be able to identify species quite well, and some know of cutting techniques. Point is 200 years ago, instrument builders used what was available to them, wherever they be. This comment is not meant to disparage anyone, but it is true that for everyone, including me, the more we learn, the more we find we don’t know. Sitka spruce was not even available to anyone commercially building instruments until about 100 yrs ago, and only a few at that.

      1. I didn’t think Walter came off as having his feathers ruffled at all. He agreed with much of what was in the article and gave one alternative opinion. I enjoyed the read, and Walter’s comment as well. Happy New Year.

  2. Brent. Walter is correct. Sometimes we dont know what we dont know.
    There is a vast difference between a Martin and a Taylor.
    We dont want to go round shooting down the learned opinions of others.

  3. Hi Brent, really appreciated this article. Sitka is drastically under-rated. I guess there are some die-hard traditionalists that are/will be sensitive to differing opinions and that can’t be helped. But what can be helped is the quality wood you guys are producing. Keep up the good work!

    Alex (from Australia).

      1. I am a builder of resonator guitars and have used both Sitka and Adirondack. In the resonator guitar that works differently than an acoustic guitar as far as vibration goes personally am not a dan of either but I do have clients that do prefer one over the other . I have also used your yellow Cedar . I really liked it . Is the yellow cedar a denser wood ?

        Jerry, I don’t see how to reply like there used to be. I used to see a-separate box in my admin section to reply.

        Yellow cedar is near the same density as sitka. Of coarse there are ranges of density in all species of wood, from tree to tree, and even some parts of the tree have higher density fiber than other parts. The Butt is usually higher density that further up the tree. However I have seen just the opposite as well.

  4. Great read. Seeing the mass properties of the two tonewoods is very helpful. However the ears are the ultimate test. I urge everyone to go to a store and play the guitars you are interested in, and purchase the guitar that sounds best to you. Resist saving a few dollars buying online. If you take your time and play some guitars, you will find the best sounding guitar for you. The internet if full of lightly used big box store buys because nobody fell in love with these guitars before they were purchased. I own both Sitka and Adirondack Martins and love them both. I particularly like the sound of older guitars..

    1. This is the truth. Why has that open box 000-18 been sitting at henry’s guitars for 3 months without selling? It’s a dud.

      1. I’m not sure what your saying in regards to this article. It is true that a guitar built with any specie of wood can be a dud. That may and may not be caused by the soundboard itself. There are so many factors that go into instrument building. This article points out the physical properties of 2 species of spruce; nothing more.

  5. (Sorry!) Forget about these and get ahold of some old-growth, narrow-grain Engelmann spruce. (Ok yes, it is hard to find nowadays. Kill if you have to; it’s worth both the guilt *and* the risk.) Engelmann is just a little less dense than Sitka and most European (much less than Red, though) and for equivalent quality needs to be left about 10% – 15% thicker. I think it’s actually better on all counts (ok, *almost* all) even than the best of the European stuff we’re seeing from Transylvania nowadays. After an early fling w/ Sitka I settled down to a 50+ yr.happy-ending with it. Never a regret…

    1. Well this post is about Sitka and Red Spruce. But since you took time to chime in, I am happy to let you know that we at Alaska Specialty Woods Inc have Old Growth Sitka that is as light a density and responsive as engleman, but still the hardness and toughness of Sitka. it’s called and listed in the store as our Ultr-light sort. It is quite rare To find this type of fiber in old growth sitka. You ought to give it a try.

      1. Brent is spot on correct. It’s a discussion of wood And it all depends on what the builder does. I’ve been building over 50 years, in the 60s you couldn’t get spruce you couldn’t find it. You either ripped pallets up or bought from constantines in the Bronx ny. Or begged the us forestry service to turn you on to a wholesaler that would part with a small order. There were no suppliers. In fact there were no boutique builders. Low demand at many mills except for Martin and gibson. You were on your own In my experience, Brent’s wood Selection blows the doors off any red spruce period. What‘S hilarious in the 70s you couldn’t Even give Sitka away. Anyone building wanted European, why? Because jimmy D’Aquisto used it. I asked jimmy once why European? He said because that’s all that’s out there and no one is supplying quarter sawn Sitka it all went to pulp. Brent has been doing this a long time and the quality of his timber is 10 times better than he advertises No marketing hype it’s simply outstanding quality he deserves a lot of credit. Thanks Brent!

        1. Wow, thank you for the kind words Mike! We do our best with what the forest gives us through natural attrition. We don’t cut green living trees. And after 24 yrs of full time soundboard production, we know our fiber and our forest.

  6. I own an ’07 410 ce Taylor and a HD-28 Martin Adirondack I bought new a few year ago. The Taylor sparkles and projects well. The Martin has a distinct wonderful tone with lots of bottom. The Martin projects better all around but I’m not sure how much of that is due to tone wood vs.string gauge, construction, cutaway, etc. They both sound great.

    1. There are so many things that contribute to how any instrument sounds. We supply CF Martin with thousands of Sitka tops. Even so, i’d just bet that 10 Martins with 10 Sitka tops or 10 red spruce tops would all sound minutely different, that may only be detectable electronically with some computer. So I spose one can only use data in a general sense. In both species there are lots of variables from one tree to another, and even 1 quadrant of a log to another.

  7. Hi, this is a great article and although l didn’t really get the answer l was looking for it got me thinking about the sounds you described. l’m not a musician but have two guitars! A Crafter TA050/AM (parlour) with Sitka Spruce top and a Tanglewood Java (standard size!) with a Cedar top. The Crafter is about 12 years old, the Tanglewood 3 years. Because l can’t read music l rely on Tone and Rhythm. With the same strings on both guitars the Sitka Spruce sings more beautifully and seems to have a much better range of tones and projection.. The Cedar is far more reserved in tone but the sound when played less aggressively can be more subtle and delicate. Also, l use phos bronze on the Cedar and my fingers seem to travel around the strings more smoothly
    The point l am trying to make is that massive differences in Tone can be achieved by using different types of strings and also the gauge of the strings when ‘paired’ with different types of wood on the guitar. For example, l have tried most types of strings and gauges on my guitars and in my opinion D’Addario 80/20 Bronze EJ13-3D Custom Lights are unmatched when played on the Sitka Spruce top. The same strings on the Cedar top sounds awful. If you ‘mix and match’ different strings ie, bronze and phosphor bronze on the same guitar matching the gauge sizes as best as possible, the results can be really surprising and worth experimenting with. When a string breaks (usually G) and l don’t have a spare, l remove it and move the B and A strings up and am happy to play with 5 strings! It simply produces a different strumming sound……why not? If one of my nails break (l use acrylic nails on all four fingers and don’t use my thumb) l simply avoid using it and can now strum using any combination of fingers. My ‘pinky’ often leads!
    So if you have a half decent guitar and want to improve its tone and projection, try experimenting with various types of strings and gauges and you should eventually get closer to the perfect partner for the sound you are trying to produce. If not, it will encourage you to buy a better quality guitar and continue to improve your knowledge and performance. It’s an amazing journey, full of discovery and challenges that keep life interesting. Who knows, one day l might even learn a note or a chord, but in the meantime l’ll just enjoy strumming.

  8. Mark, your suggestion of trying different types and material of strings is excellent. I have a few guitars that require a mix/match process, different gauges than the standard sizes in a packaged set and maybe “different” manufacturers. (Some years ago, I did a little research and found that only two manufacturers supplied most of the strings in the U.S. regardless of the brand name on the package.)

    However, inquiring minds need to know this: why go to the trouble (and waste the time) of moving the two strings instead of just keeping spare strings in your guitar case ? As a home musician, time may not be an issue but it definitely is if you’re the rest of the guys on the are waiting while you make those string changes.

    No offense but it just seems to be a strange, unnecessary process.

  9. Wow, wonderful article. I am reminded that Stradivarius had the choice of the worst wood available, after the Navy and furniture makers had first dibs… wood really influences tone, however, it is more complicated than just wood. For many instrument makers it stems from practicality. What wood is available. There is an alchemy to the wood, the size and style of guitar, the thickness of the wood, the string gauge. The wabi-sabi of the age of the wood etc… I think that the magic of guitar making (all instruments for that matter) is that it cannot be distilled down to a reductionist perspective. To paraphrase Hamlet… “There is more to Heaven and Earth Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”.

    1. He may have had the choice of the worst “lumber”, but also the best soundboard material at the same time.. Lumber and sawlog is graded in long lengths, and long/deep cuttings. But a violin that is only 14 inches long, well, one can gleen a perfect pc of wood between knots and defects. We at ASW do a lot of the same.. Our log is 100% salvage sourced old growth, and can have breakage, rot, toredo holes, that make it absolute junk as a sawlog. But we know how to Dissect the log to glean the finest soundboard products in the world from otherwise Pulp Grade Log.

  10. Hello everyone, Again I do not know anyone here nor you do not know me. But the combinations with the wood tops. The top bracing has a lot to do with the sound of the guitars along with wood types.

    1. Yes, that is true. But this post is just a comparison of physical properties of the 2 species of spruce described, and used for soundboards and or bracing. Lets keep the discussion on point without bringing in other species. Maybe another thread to compare other species would be good. Like Sitka spruce and Norway spruce[all spruce growing native in Europe, regardless of country]. However, I really don’t have time to do that.

  11. Sitka is indeed a wonderful wood for acoustic guitar tops. One way to compare woods for tops is to calculate the sound radiation coefficient. R = SQRT(E/ρ^3), where E is the elastic modulus (Young’s) and ρ is the density. This gives you an idea of how well a top will vibrate.

    Taking averages from wood-database.com, for Sitka we have SQRT(11.03E09/425^3) = 12.0. For Red Spruce we have SQRT(10.76E09/435^3) = 11.4.

    So, yes, Sitka is more responsive than Red on average, and if a builder uses the same thickness for both, the Sitka will sound “darker” due to a lower resonant frequency.

    However, if the individual piece of wood is measured and properly thicknessed (as described in the Gore/Gilet book), then the tone can be made the same. But what you can’t change is that the Sitka will still be lower mass, and more responsive.

    You can see values for other species here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tonewood#Mechanical_properties_of_tonewoods

    Of course, each piece of wood is different, and there will be pieces of Sitka that are even lighter and stiffer than this average. That’s why it’s important to thickness properly. Unfortunately, very few builders know how to do this.

    1. So this wiki chart contradicts some of the findings and measurements in the article.

      I wonder what testing sample sizes were for each set of tests?

      The wiki article shows red spruce as harder and denser?
      Am I missing something?

      I bought my first sitka guitar this year. I won’t name the builder. It does seem lighter and more lively in tone than old martins. More overtones and harmonics, less punch in the fundamental.

      Very heavy bracing on this guitar compared to a Martin as well.

      I like the tone on the sitka guitar, it’s not as loud as an old martin, but it has its own “chimey” sound its own thing.
      There was a time in the mid 90s through the 2000s where everyone wanted this.

      I am not as wowed by the sparkly treble anymore I guess.
      And less so recording to digital vs. analog tape.

      One day I will get an old Adirondack spruce Martin though. It’s what I grew up with associating their tone with an acoustic guitar.

      Thank to everyone who responded, and the original poster of the article.
      Good discussion.

        1. Highly informative. Thank you.
          Personally, I have long had a weakness for Engelmann spruce; each to his own, I guess…

          James

  12. Thank you, Brent, for this informative and convincing blog post! I prefer Sitka and Engelmann over Red Spruce any day for my guitars. Not everyone is as enamored with Pre-War, Adirondack-topped Martins as some self-appointed, Martin aficionados seem to think. And yes, they certainly do appear to enjoy getting their feathers ruffled…rarely missing an opportunity to be ruffled.

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