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-   -   Birch - availability and substitutes? (https://www.acousticguitarforum.com/forums/showthread.php?t=535863)

Dino Silone 01-25-2019 01:22 PM

Birch - availability and substitutes?
 
Iíve been sort of obsessed with the sound of the old Stella and other birch parlor guitars lately, and the used ones available are either going for silly money, are in need of full neck resets, or both. I know there are other, newer parlor guitars available that get a pretty vintage sound, though probably not the characteristic ďall-birchĒ sound.

But lets say I wanted to make an all-birch parlor guitar. Where would you find tops, and back/side sets. Iíve searched the usual suspects, and havenít seen any.

If itís not available, what would a close substitute be (for tops and for back/sides)?

gr81dorn 01-25-2019 02:09 PM

We stock two kinds of birch here where I work (one of the largest hardwood manufacturers in the country). We stock 2 kinds of Birch and both are readily available, but modern birch doesn't really look much like older birch and I would expect there would be a heckuva time getting great tonewood birch in usable sizes to make guitars, certainly at any volume that a manufacturer would need to make many guitars.

Birch are some of the skinniest trees around. Back when Harmony (etc) were using birch, it was used because it was locally(ish) sourced, readily available, inexpensive and it was 50 years ago, so they had a lot more old growth birch trees that were probably 2-5 times thicker trees than anything left standing today that would be forested for lumber.

All that is to say, you'd have a really hard time finding high grade birch in widths to make tops, even makes and sides in some cases. That's not to say you couldn't find some and it might even be fantastic, but it's not on the radar because the supply is terrible for making stuff like that.

We have a standard spec on anything over 4" wide that it may (likely will) have to be edge-glued to meet the width...and this is plainsliced. guitar tops (often the rest) use quartersawn, which effectively takes your width in half from the start.

Ultimately, it's not the same resource it once was. There is some out there that you could use and someone just might. Given all the move toward using domestic woods, I woudn't be surprised if some folks started doing it again, but I can't see it working as a mass offering unless we let the trees grow another 50 years and start then.

Jimmy Caldwell 01-25-2019 02:10 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Dino Silone (Post 5959822)
Iíve been sort of obsessed with the sound of the old Stella and other birch parlor guitars lately, and the used ones available are either going for silly money, are in need of full neck resets, or both. I know there are other, newer parlor guitars available that get a pretty vintage sound, though probably not the characteristic ďall-birchĒ sound.

But lets say I wanted to make an all-birch parlor guitar. Where would you find tops, and back/side sets. Iíve searched the usual suspects, and havenít seen any.

If itís not available, what would a close substitute be (for tops and for back/sides)?

Try RC Tonewoods for the birch. I think he has some in stock.

gr81dorn 01-25-2019 02:17 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Dino Silone (Post 5959822)
Iwhat would a close substitute be (for tops and for back/sides)?

Birch and Hard Maple are pretty similar in many ways and definitely in the ways of hardness, density, etc that impact its use as a tonewood.

Cherry is a little softer, but similar structurally in many ways.

Hickory looks super similar to some birch, but is way harder, denser, etc.

Dino Silone 01-25-2019 02:49 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by gr81dorn (Post 5959879)
Birch and Hard Maple are pretty similar in many ways and definitely in the ways of hardness, density, etc that impact its use as a tonewood.

Cherry is a little softer, but similar structurally in many ways.

Hickory looks super similar to some birch, but is way harder, denser, etc.

Hmmm. I have some non-figured quartersawn maple I could experiment with...

Thanks!

Dino Silone 01-25-2019 02:51 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by gr81dorn (Post 5959867)
We stock two kinds of birch here where I work (one of the largest hardwood manufacturers in the country). We stock 2 kinds of Birch and both are readily available, but modern birch doesn't really look much like older birch and I would expect there would be a heckuva time getting great tonewood birch in usable sizes to make guitars, certainly at any volume that a manufacturer would need to make many guitars.

Birch are some of the skinniest trees around. Back when Harmony (etc) were using birch, it was used because it was locally(ish) sourced, readily available, inexpensive and it was 50 years ago, so they had a lot more old growth birch trees that were probably 2-5 times thicker trees than anything left standing today that would be forested for lumber.

All that is to say, you'd have a really hard time finding high grade birch in widths to make tops, even makes and sides in some cases. That's not to say you couldn't find some and it might even be fantastic, but it's not on the radar because the supply is terrible for making stuff like that.

We have a standard spec on anything over 4" wide that it may (likely will) have to be edge-glued to meet the width...and this is plainsliced. guitar tops (often the rest) use quartersawn, which effectively takes your width in half from the start.

Ultimately, it's not the same resource it once was. There is some out there that you could use and someone just might. Given all the move toward using domestic woods, I woudn't be surprised if some folks started doing it again, but I can't see it working as a mass offering unless we let the trees grow another 50 years and start then.

All great points. And I expect, where once it was a really cheap alternative, nowadays it would be more expensive than many other tonewoods.

AndrewG 01-25-2019 03:31 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Dino Silone (Post 5959822)
Iíve been sort of obsessed with the sound of the old Stella and other birch parlor guitars lately, and the used ones available are either going for silly money, are in need of full neck resets, or both. I know there are other, newer parlor guitars available that get a pretty vintage sound, though probably not the characteristic ďall-birchĒ sound.

But lets say I wanted to make an all-birch parlor guitar. Where would you find tops, and back/side sets. Iíve searched the usual suspects, and havenít seen any.

If itís not available, what would a close substitute be (for tops and for back/sides)?

Russia, they have millions of acres of birch forest!
https://media.gettyimages.com/photos...daur6804000112

charles Tauber 01-25-2019 04:59 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Dino Silone (Post 5959905)
All great points. And I expect, where once it was a really cheap alternative, nowadays it would be more expensive than many other tonewoods.

RC Tonewoods, nice, curly sets, at least some of which is not quartered, $62: http://rctonewoods.com/RCT_Store/birch-curly-c-2_135/

Birch continues to be one of the least expensive hardwoods.

J Patrick 01-25-2019 05:39 PM

..all birch mid century Stella’s are plentiful and cheap...many do need neck resets which is totally doable but some don’t...i’ve bought and refurbished more than 20 of them...(I do “poor mans resets” on them)....(don’t ask I could get cyber stoned for divulging the process)...I have a luthier friend that has gone as far as radiussing the fingerboard and refretting a 60’s Stella...it’s killer...anyhow....i’ve played em in bands...put old magnetic pickups in them...set em up for slide...recorded with them....awesome camping guitars....you’re right...there’s nothing quite like em....also..I expect there’s a bit more to their sound than just the birch..the stamped steel trapeze tailpiece..funky wood bridge/saddle...the 24 inch scale length....

Wade Hampton 01-25-2019 06:40 PM

Birch is actually a nice tonewood. Most of those WWI-era Gibson mandolins have birch backs and sides, and my sister has an old Swedish-made Goya guitar that has solid birch back and sides. Itís a sweet little guitar.


whm

Osage 01-25-2019 07:09 PM

Plenty of vintage Gibson archtops that were sold as maple are actually birch. Although always advertised as maple, they used the two woods more or less interchangeably for years. It's a very good wood in this application. Also, they're clearly tonally similar as Gibson got away with this for like 30 years.

printer2 01-25-2019 08:46 PM

I would expect the majority of birch guitars made back in the day was not quartered. That would defeat the purpose of using a cheap material. And agree that maple could be a substitute.

merlin666 01-25-2019 09:18 PM

Interesting thread. Maybe it's because of the size limitations that birch is often used as a core for laminated guitars and they sound great no matter what the surface veneer that is used.

catfish 01-25-2019 11:19 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by AndrewG (Post 5959935)
Russia, they have millions of acres of birch forest!
https://media.gettyimages.com/photos...daur6804000112

I checked the web sites of the companies who sell tonewood for musical instruments in Russia, none of them carry birch. And, I did not see modern instruments made in Russia made of birch, they use maple for b&s instead, even for balalaika. Globalization.

Black-n-Nan 01-26-2019 01:21 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by catfish (Post 5960292)
I checked the web sites of the companies who sell tonewood for musical instruments in Russia, none of them carry birch. And, I did not see modern instruments made in Russia made of birch, they use maple for b&s instead, even for balalaika. Globalization.


Here in Russia white birch is used mainly for heating wooden houses :)
Try to find Karelian Birch which is pretty expensive but looks beautiful and very similar to koa
But I am not luthier an have no idea is it good as a tonewood.
https://i-h2.pinimg.com/236x/43/9d/0...3acce0bf64.jpg


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