Reasons to Use Sitka Spruce for Your Soundboard

To the average person, a guitar is a guitar. They don’t pay much attention to details. However, for musicians who love their instruments, a guitar isn’t just a guitar, and how each one is made truly matters for both aesthetic and musical reasons.

A guitar soundboard is something music makers care about because it plays a vital role in the look and sound of the instrument. Should the soundboard be made of laminated plywood or quarter-sawn solid spruce?

Purists love Sitka spruce soundboards for their acoustic stringed instruments. Why? For starters, spruce grows outdoors through many seasons. Heavy winter growth rings in the wood help create a bright sound, while softer summer growth rings help create a mellow sound. Sound waves pass through the wood along the grain lines, and there’s a certain natural and wonderful tone that comes from the Sitka spruce’s various grain lines.

Like wine, Sitka spruce improves with age. Ask someone with a Sitka spruce soundboard on an older instrument, and they’ll tell you the sound has become better and richer the longer they’ve had it. Because the wood’s cell walls dry out over time becoming more rigid, an instrument player will notice their soundboard becomes even more responsive to string vibrations. Basically, this is called tonal improvement, and that’s why older instruments are so often beloved by their owners and worth quite a lot of money if and when they’re sold. Spruce plus age equals brilliant sound!

High quality Sitka spruce can be sawed, glued and tapered with a rounded shape to maintain a full body in the mid-section while reducing thickness along the sides. This gives the soundboard more flexibility than other materials offer, along with the added bonus of allowing it to vibrate freely in a way that’s most pleasing to the ear.

Laminated plywood isn’t as good as using Sitka spruce for soundboards because it’s cheap and doesn’t yield the high quality tone and overall sound serious musicians want. The grain lines and a film of glue between layers hampers sound waves rather than enhancing them. Laminated plywood also stays static over the years, never mellowing and “getting better sounding with age” like natural Sitka spruce does.

Brent Cole

4 Comments

  1. Anne on July 25, 2019 at 11:41 PM

    Thank you for your articles, Bruce. You include information I haven’t read elsewhere.
    What is the average age (or range of ages) a spruce must be before it is big enough to be used for a guitar tone board – cut on the quarter round. I am actually interested in this information for violins but knowing it for guitars will help me get an idea.
    Thank you for your time.

    • Brent Cole on July 26, 2019 at 7:02 AM

      We process old growth sitka spruce trees that average over 400 yrs of growth.. If a sitka spruce tree is growing in our old growth forest, in the old growth eco-system, the tree must be a minimum of 250 yrs old to have the girth, and deep enough clear cuttings for a vg cut bookset. However there will be very little recovery of guitar top size boards from a tree that small; a tree I would estimate to be 28’ diameter at breast height and 18’ diameter at 30’. There would be a lot violin size wedge cut sets recoverable from a tree of this size. But if the same tree is growing in a yard or open forest, there probably wouldn’t be much recovery for anything but framing lumber and beams for construction or railroad ties, because it would most likely be very knotty.

    • Brent Cole on September 11, 2019 at 7:42 AM

      Age is not as important as where the tree is growing, and the “form of the tree. A sitka tree growing in an old growth eco-system, is growing under an already established canopy with all the rest of the forest around it, and is growing with just enough sunligtht to sustain photosynthesis and life. That tree will need to be at least 200 yrs old for even just a few 2 pc booksets of guitar tops. A tree growing in an open area, that grows fast with lots of sunlignt and no crowding, will be an oversize christmas tree and a limby grouse ladder and not suitable for soundboards ever.

  2. Anne on September 16, 2019 at 8:38 AM

    Thank you, again, Brent. Great information. I’ve sent you two replies since your first response but they are not showing up here. I hope they reached you somehow. I really appreciate your time.

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