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View Full Version : Sycamore as a back/side wood?


cosine
06-27-2007, 12:27 PM
A local woodworking shop offers a series of "build a guitar" classes. They have two kits available, one with mahogany back/sides and one with sycamore back/sides.

I've never heard of an acoustic guitar utilizing sycamore as a tonewood.

How is sycamore as a tonewood? What other tonewoods might it be comparable to in appearance, tone, etc.?

EverythingMusic
06-27-2007, 12:29 PM
I saw some pics of a sycamore back and side set today that was just stunning. No clue about tone though.

dreamincolor
06-27-2007, 12:31 PM
I've not had the chance to play a guitar made with sycamore, so I am curious about it's tonal color too.

Santa Cruz uses it on a select few of their 00-size deep body H13 models. I believe it is also used on classical guitars.

Tim McKnight
06-27-2007, 12:48 PM
Sycamore is about the same density as big leaf or soft maple. It is a high dampening wood which tends to absorb sound. When tapping Sycamore it is akin to tapping a piece of damp cardboard (read ... thud...). You can build a decent guitar from it but if I were given a choice I would select the Mahogany. Having said that, accurately quartersawn Sycamore is gorgeous wood and is easy to work with. I use it quite often for bindings.

astrummer
06-27-2007, 01:08 PM
Isn't sycamore considered one of the more desirable back and side woods for Flamenco guitars ?

napman
06-27-2007, 01:15 PM
Isn't sycamore considered one of the more desirable back and side woods for Flamenco guitars ?


As far as I know, but actually I don't know much or at all about Flamenco guitars even if I've seen one with sycamore s/b.
I also have Yamaha FG750S that has solid spruce top with laminated sycamore S/B that sound very much like Tim explained. I can say it's best for strumming, and funny enough it has very distintive smell that I like too.:D

jyee
06-27-2007, 01:44 PM
yes, sycamore is a traditional wood used in flamenco guitars, but it's usually seen as a lower cost/quality material to the more desirable cypress. i think the selection of those woods is mainly due to regional availability. As flamenco has grown internationally, there have been more flamenco negra guitars built from rosewood.

As for whether the original poster should pick sycamore or mahogany, i think mahogany is a better choice, as it's more versatile for fingerstyle and strumming... particularly if the guitar being built is a steel string.

SongwriterFan
06-27-2007, 01:48 PM
Sycamore is about the same density as big leaf or soft maple. It is a high dampening wood which tends to absorb sound. When tapping Sycamore it is akin to tapping a piece of damp cardboard (read ... thud...).

Hopefully maple doesn't sound the same when tapped?

kenny5060
06-27-2007, 02:08 PM
My Wal bass (yes...I'm really a bassist masquarading as a guitarist) has sycamore facing on a mahogany core. The wood is quite soft and easily dented. The bass sounds wonderful but I can't vouch for it's acoustic quality on a guitar.

http://walbasses.homestead.com/November2003full.jpg

cosine
06-27-2007, 03:58 PM
Yeah, if I were taking the class I would be picking the mahogany kit... alas, I'm not taking the class.

I was still curious about sycamore as a tonewood though.

upper peninsula
06-27-2007, 05:06 PM
I have a Santa Cruz cedar/sycamore F that I really like. To my untrained ears, the sound is kind of a cross between mahogany and maple.
http://i5.photobucket.com/albums/y164/upperpeninsula/Fback.jpg

Brock Poling
06-27-2007, 06:11 PM
Hopefully maple doesn't sound the same when tapped?

Certainly I am in the minority amongst my guitar building buddies.... but I think big leaf maple is a great tonewood. I have had very good success with it. :)

drcmusic7
06-27-2007, 06:51 PM
NK Forster builds with sycamore...here's a link. http://www.nkforsterguitars.com/ check out the model A. There's sound clips too.


I have a Santa Cruz cedar/sycamore F that I really like. To my untrained ears, the sound is kind of a cross between mahogany and maple.

That's beautiful guitar upper peninsula! It looks a lot like lacewood.

gary0319
06-27-2007, 06:58 PM
As Jayee states, Sycamore and Cypress are the most common woods used in Flamenco guitars, with Cypress usually being the higher priced option. I've had 4 Flamenco guitars, 2 sycamore and 2 cypress. The Cypress sems to provide more presence and volume.

A flamenco guitar is also a percussive instrument used to accompany spanish dancers. The whole idea is rapid fire notes with little or no sustain.I would not think that sycamore (or cypress) would make a good choice if you wanted a lot of sustain.

Gary

Tim McKnight
06-27-2007, 08:15 PM
... but I think big leaf maple is a great tonewood. I have had very good success with it. :)

I can vouch for that. Broc builds great guitars and I have played his Maple which is a very good sounding guitar. I didn't mean to come across as being negative against Sycamore. I love the look of it and it does sound very similar to big leaf maple but my [personal] tastes just lean more towards the rosewood family.

brandywine
06-27-2007, 10:03 PM
I have Washburn electric HB 35 (a Gibson ES335 clone) that has a beautiful flamed sycamore body. Because it is a semi-hollowbody electric, I do not believe the sycamore has much effect on the sound of the guitar, but it sure lends a beautiful look to it.

Rejoice Music
06-27-2007, 10:18 PM
I used to own a Yahama APX-20 with sycamore back and sides. I am ashamed to admit that I'm not sure if it was solid wood or laminate. My guess is solid wood.

I agree with Tim here, that it resembles a soft maple in tone. However, the guitar body was too thin to really assess tone quality in comparison to a full-bodied acoustic. It was very pretty though! ;)

P.S. You can't go wrong with mahogany - it would most likely yield a better tone.

SongwriterFan
06-28-2007, 08:32 AM
Certainly I am in the minority amongst my guitar building buddies.... but I think big leaf maple is a great tonewood. I have had very good success with it. :)

I like the way mine sounds, that's for sure.

manonash
02-19-2010, 11:02 AM
This is an old thread, but for the record for any who stumble upon it, there are apparently several very different woods, with very different characteristics, that get referred to as "sycamore". Google "sycamore tonewood". E.g., this from http://www.guitarbench.com/2009/04/17/american-sycamore-tonewood-database/

Sycamore is a term used differently in Europe and America. In the UK, Sycamore is actually the European Maple (Acer pseudoplatanus), whereas in the US, Sycamore refers to Platanus occidentalis/Platanus racemosa. To confuse the matter further, American Sycamores are referred to as Planes. Hence London Plane is Platanus ◊ hispanica. There is a third sycamore, and it is Ficus sycomorus which is the african/middle eastern species mentioned in the Bible and if my memory serves me correctly, Quran. Itís a fig tree so contains latex and although itís used in the Caskets of some egyptian mummies, I think it is rather inferior from a tonal stand point.

Buck62
02-19-2010, 11:53 AM
Yamaha FG750S with sycamore back n' sides...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0l7MXeGq1I

People who own them seem to love the tone...

http://reviews.harmony-central.com/reviews/Guitar/product/Yamaha/FG-750S/10/1

johninmass
02-19-2010, 01:06 PM
My first guitar was a Yamaha FG-750S and it was really pretty, loved the looks. Didn't care to much for the sound, but it sure was pretty. I bought it on looks, it being my first guitar. This being your first build, looks may be more important, sort of like a throphy. You may want to hang it it on the wall like art for people to admire and that isn't a bad thing. BUT, if sound is what your after, go with the mahogany, it will sound better and looks pretty good also.

Glennwillow
02-19-2010, 01:25 PM
Very interesting... Thanks to the luthiers for the great comments here!

- Glenn

D.Kwasnycia
02-19-2010, 03:07 PM
Certainly I am in the minority amongst my guitar building buddies.... but I think big leaf maple is a great tonewood. I have had very good success with it. :)
Iím with Brock on this, I have built with sycamore a number of times and found compared to maple to be as good or better. Iím not sure where it came from but it was paper white and had flame or curl as nice as some of the finessed maple. It had to be stained darker or bursted to look right with even sitka. To bend, well it didn't like to be bent very well with the figure that it had, like trying to bend a potato chip. It in my opinion is a fine wood to make a guitar out of if you want that maple sound.
Again it may not have been the same breed as some other sycamore boards that have been offered or talked about.

jsorell
02-19-2010, 03:16 PM
I have a custom made archtop by Harvey Leach. At his advice I chose Sycamore over maple for the back and sides because of its warmer sound. I'm quite happy with the sound. It has a sweet flattop quality with the archtop punch. I'd upload a picture but I don't know how to do it on this forum.

John Sorell
Bellevue WA

pakhan
02-19-2010, 04:39 PM
Here's an article I prepared on American Sycamore:

http://www.guitarbench.com/2009/04/17/american-sycamore-tonewood-database/

Thanks to manonash for a quote, I hope you find it useful!

Wade Hampton
02-19-2010, 07:19 PM
NK Forster builds with sycamore...here's a link. http://www.nkforsterguitars.com/ check out the model A. There's sound clips too.

The wood called "sycamore" in the United Kingdom is actually a species of European maple, and is not the same species as the wood we call "sycamore" in North America. They have considerably different qualities from one another, from what I've been told.


whm