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Old 02-20-2021, 05:04 PM
lskeeper lskeeper is offline
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Default How to tell the quality of wood set?

Hi AGFers, I'm entering a custom build with a Japanese luthier and I got a noob question: how can I tell the quality of the back/side woods just by looking at the picture?

I'm interested trying African Blackwood and I have attached the picture that the luthier sent me. Any thoughts or comments? Thanks in advance!
Attached Images
File Type: jpg abw.jpg (26.5 KB, 278 views)
File Type: jpg Screen Shot 2021-02-20 at 9.11.00 PM.jpg (23.3 KB, 229 views)
File Type: jpg Screen Shot 2021-02-20 at 9.11.26 PM.jpg (23.2 KB, 230 views)
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Last edited by lskeeper; 02-20-2021 at 11:19 PM.
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Old 02-20-2021, 05:21 PM
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Of course there is only so much you can tell by a picture, handling the wood and checking tap tones etc is the best. However, from the picture that appears to be very quartersawn material with very straight grain and no evidence of it being flat sawn. Personally, for what it is worth, I think that looks like a great set of wood.
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Old 02-20-2021, 05:42 PM
Hanter Hanter is offline
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Tom is right. The wood looks straight grained and almost perfectly quartersawn, which equals stability over all else. In African Blackwood, trees grow extremely slow and they also do not grow very tall, therefore its not easy to find perfectly quartersawn sets as what's shown. Look in the market for African Blackwood and you will find it a challenge to get anything near this quality. Luthiers who have it stored in their inventory will not be modest about upcharges.

That said, flat sawn wood can be stable too. In fact, flat sawn wood is definitely more beautiful (in my opinion) than quartersawn.

You won't be able to hear the tap tone, which is also very important to assess the raw qualities of the wood, but I'm sure the luthier will be happy to provide a commentary on what he hears.

A lot then depends on what you're after in terms of aesthetics and what the luthier feels would be suitable to achieve the tone you are after.

Japanese luthiers are great! Those who are at the top of their game are building some of the top guitars right now. Excellent craftsmanship always. Do you mind sharing who you are looking to order a custom guitar from?
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Old 02-20-2021, 06:15 PM
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Thanks Tom and Hanter a lot for the helpful inputs! Iím new to custom builds and Iím ordering the guitar from Sugita Kenji since Iím a big fan of Satoshi Gogo who plays the Carrera model.

The dealer told me the wait time is 4-5 years
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Old 02-20-2021, 08:24 PM
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Wow first custom build and you are starting at the pinnacle! 4-5 years is a mighty long time, good luck waiting!
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Old 02-20-2021, 09:25 PM
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That is a nice looking set of ABW. Although undoubtedly straight grained, that does not guarantee that it is quartersawn, and close is not the same thing. If you could see the wood, or had a higher resolution picture, you would want to look for medullary ray display, sometimes called “silking”. Silking rarely appears if the wood is not within a couple of degrees of true quarter. I say rare because, although I have heard others say it does, I have never seen it. Other important factors include how dry it is and fiber alignment to the surface. Documentation from a reputable cutter seems like a No brainer, but it is quite rare to have any, and honor is rarer that I once thought. Best is to educate yourself and handle the material, unless you have a qualified relationship with an actual expert.

Many people are building with wood I would not even consider using, and at least in the short run, their results are better than tradition suggests it should be. Because I am in for the long haul, and have some hope that my legacy will be beyond positive, I cleave to the traditional Tonewood grading values as much as possible. As I have gained experience I have come to understand why they are as they are, and there is serious method to them.
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Old 02-20-2021, 11:13 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bruce Sexauer View Post
That is a nice looking set of ABW. Although undoubtedly straight grained, that does not guarantee that it is quartersawn, and close is not the same thing. If you could see the wood, or had a higher resolution picture, you would want to look for medullary ray display, sometimes called ďsilkingĒ. Silking rarely appears if the wood is not within a couple of degrees of true quarter. I say rare because, although I have heard others say it does, I have never seen it. Other important factors include how dry it is and fiber alignment to the surface. Documentation from a reputable cutter seems like a No brainer, but it is quite rare to have any, and honor is rarer that I once thought. Best is to educate yourself and handle the material, unless you have a qualified relationship with an actual expert.

Many people are building with wood I would not even consider using, and at least in the short run, their results are better than tradition suggests it should be. Because I am in for the long haul, and have some hope that my legacy will be beyond positive, I cleave to the traditional Tonewood grading values as much as possible. As I have gained experience I have come to understand why they are as they are, and there is serious method to them.

Thanks for your tips Bruce!

My original picture does have higher resolution but somehow AGF is not properly rendering it. I just took another 2 screenshots and updated the thread. Seems I can't find the "silking" that you mentioned
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Old 02-21-2021, 09:01 AM
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If you are concerned ask your luthier to sand the end grain and take some high resolution pictures. That is a good way to tell to what degree the wood is actually cut in relationship to the face. Another method is to split the wood and examine the split faces but I would not suggest that in this case. Its been mentioned silking would appear if its cut 90* perpendicular to the face but not all hardwoods will exhibit silking even if perfectly cut, at least in my experience. Its much more common to see silking in soft woods.
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Old 02-21-2021, 10:26 AM
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ABW won't show much in the way of growth rings, so an end grain shot may not be too helpful. The ABW I've seen also has very small medullary rays, which are hard to see even when the cut is perfect, so they may not show up in a photo. There may be some 'stripe' figure in those photos, which would indicate that it's close to quartered, at any rate, if that, in fact, is what I'm seeing.
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Old 02-21-2021, 11:28 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lskeeper View Post
Hi AGFers, I'm entering a custom build with a Japanese luthier and I got a noob question: how can I tell the quality of the back/side woods just by looking at the picture?
Honestly, you canít - you can guess, and you can make very educated guesses, but pictures are a very poor way to judge the quality of wood - a great way to judge appearance, but not much more.

That said - even if you had the wood in your hands, how well can an average buyer of higher-end guitars evaluate raw materials? Not terribly well at all, actually. Most fine woodworkers can do a decent job of choosing stock to build a fine piece of furniture, but even with years of experience at that, they still would not be as good at choosing premium tonewoods as an experienced luthier.

This is one of those areas where you put complete faith and trust in your builder - ultimately, it is their reputation on the line, and they will make a lot of effort to make sure the material they start with is the best they can get for the need. Itís also why most builders will tell you they really prefer to not start with material supplied by customers, and if they will consider using it, they wonít commit to that until they actually have it in their hands so they can evaluate it themselves -

That all said, that is some very fine looking blackwood!

My question back at you - with all the incredibly great builders practically on your doorstep in No. California, or even the west coast, why would you choose a japanese builder and wait 5 years? Have you met, and have you played some examples of this builders work? It might be a great decision - Iím not judging - but Iím intrigued with how you would make this choice, since I donít think something as personal as a high-end custom guitar would be something Iíd choose to have built and supported by anyone that far away -
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Old 02-21-2021, 01:36 PM
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You honestly need to trust the luthier that you choose to work with. They chose the wood sets for their acoustic potential and stability in an instrument. They know how it was seasoned and stored in their wood lockers as well.

If it helps, this is what well quartered African Blackwood looks like under bright outdoor sunshine conditions in the raw (top) and in a finished guitar (bottom).



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Old 02-22-2021, 12:02 AM
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Thanks tadol and iim7V7IM7 for the insights! Really appreciate your thoughts and I learned a lot from them (and thanks AGF!).

Quote:
My question back at you - with all the incredibly great builders practically on your doorstep in No. California, or even the west coast, why would you choose a japanese builder and wait 5 years? Have you met, and have you played some examples of this builders work? It might be a great decision - I’m not judging - but I’m intrigued with how you would make this choice, since I don’t think something as personal as a high-end custom guitar would be something I’d choose to have built and supported by anyone that far away -
Yeah I'm of course aware that there are lots of great builders in north California, but I just feel like I don't have the motivation to learn more about their works, although I'm sure I would be able to find a builder that I really love.

For the Kenji guitar I'm ordering, I just kept having the thought of "man, I need to get this" whenever I see my guitar hero Satoshi Gogo plays it. I also researched other video demos like this one



But admittedly, this is still mostly an emotional purchase. 5 years of wait time is indeed prohibitively long, but on the bright side it gives me a lot of motivations to keep improving my guitar playing skills for the next 4-5 years, and I expect I should have many opportunities to travel to Japan after 5 years.

Lastly, check out the video of a Sugita Kenji guitar in action:
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Last edited by lskeeper; 02-22-2021 at 12:41 AM.
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Old 02-22-2021, 12:38 AM
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Well, those are some impressive videos - definitely the modern style sound and builder. Iíd be interested in knowing how they were recorded -

Good luck, and I hope you keep us all included when your build gets started!
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Old 02-22-2021, 07:56 AM
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Those are some beautiful guitars played by a master player. Having never listened to a blackwood guitar before, my first impression is that there is a strong attack response and a lot of high end articulation in the wound strings. Kind of like a Collings or a Telecaster, in short, not too forgiving in the hands of a less than stellar player (like me). Guitars like that really amplify mistakes and sloppy technique. If you're a higher level player, then that's the guitar you need to play that style, go for it!

I would echo two previous posts in saying that you really need to trust builder's judgement when it comes down to wood. If you've clearly communicated the sound you're looking for, he'll know which sets to use to achieve that.

+1 on the thought that with a 5 year wait list, you may want to reconsider US boutique builders.
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