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  #61  
Old 03-01-2023, 05:23 AM
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Originally Posted by Dustinfurlow View Post
Sorry to hijack the thread everyone but I am LOVING this guitar! Holy sh**!!!

Thank you Mark for making this by far the most enjoyable and responsive build I've ever had land here at the studio...the tone and harmonics are outright insane. Bajeezus!

Will have a few studio clips of this little Brazilian bird in the next episode of “My Favorite Luthiers” on my YouTube channel in the near future - as well as several others I had the pleasure of playing while visiting the shop in Vermont. Can't wait to visit again, if Mark can put up with me drooling all over the ole' wood stash.












Dustin, if you keep writing like that you can hijack any post, any time!
It was a pleasure working with you on this guitar and the results of a good collaboration speak for themselves!
I look forward to hearing what you can do with this instrument.
Mark
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  #62  
Old 03-02-2023, 11:39 AM
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Default Master Grade Tops

There has been a thread bouncing around on this forum discussing the general opinions on master grade tops. I try to stay away from these general discussions where the subject is so full of variables and nuances.

I've started working on a new guitar where the top chosen was a Master grade top over a not Master grade top. I'd like to go through the specifics of this choice and bring the Master grade discussion up to a level of resolution that makes sense discussing, which is two tops, in hand, one top to be chosen.

Here are the halves of the two tops:



They are both "Tunnel" tops from the same tunnel. They are both old growth Redwood. The top on the left is a Master grade top. The one on the right is not. I paid twice as much for the Master grade top and I up-charge 50% more for it. You can see it is a cleaner finer grained top with beautiful silking.
This is where the discussion starts, not ends when choosing to pay more for this one.

So what are you getting besides looks? And what are looks anyway?

We tend to prefer well quartered fine straight grained top wood. It looks clean but it is also indicative of a stronger, stiffer top that is less likely to crack. It is also indicative of a top that has more cross grain stiffness. Sound travels faster with the grain than across the grain. More cross grain stiffness helps even up that difference if you are not paying too great of a price in weight to get it.
If the top has really good cross grain stiffness that means I can cut away more wood off my cross braces when I am voicing the top.

The cross top stiffness is basically where you are getting mids and trebles. The less I need to do to optimize the top with braces to get what I want tonally the better.

Since we have the tops on hand let's go deeper:



The Master grade is on top the not Master grade below. I burned them a little on a dirty sanding belt to visually bring out the grain lines better and make it possible for me to count the grain lines per inch on the Master grade top.

I get 18 lines per inch on the not Master and almost seventy on the Master top.
It makes me want to speculate what was it about these trees that makes these so different. I'd say it is likely that the Master grade was from a tree that was in dense forest, maybe in a shaded gully or more likely the north side of a mountain. It obviously grew much slower the the other tree did. It doesn't look like it had such a wide environmental swing between seasons. The dark grain is softer and the light grain is harder than the other tree. The closer in density between the light and dark lines the easier sound can travel across those lines.

That silking, also known as medullary rays. It sure is pretty but should I pay more for just because they are pretty? That depends, medullary rays are also indicative of increased cross grain stiffness and maybe better mids and trebles.



Let's look closer. Here is a close up of the not Master grade top:



You can almost see some short little rays in there. Most trees have them to some degree. They are what brings sap and nutriments out through the trunk to feed and protect the outer layers.

Here is the Master:



No problem picking out the robust rays here! Think about how they might easily be stitching the top grain together for stiffness and reduced chance of splits as well as helping sound spread across the grain lines.

So the Master has all this extra stuff going on and it would be all for naught and just for looks if it weighs twice as much. Since we have them on hand I can measure the density.

And the numbers are:

The not Master top is 8.21 grams per cubic inch

The Master top comes in at 6.7 grams per cubic inch

So the not Master top is 22.5% heavier than the Master top.

Now it comes down to stiffness. They are not the same size or thickness so I can't just deflection test them. However, my hands tell me that they are not even close and the Master top is much stiffer. This will be confirmed when I am setting up the top and voicing it later.

I'm writing all this because many of those things we find as "pretty" when we look at a top are indicative of a superior top. Not always though, that is why this conversation needs to be done with the two tops in hand!

m
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  #63  
Old 03-02-2023, 01:00 PM
Kenny B Kenny B is offline
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What a great discussion and education on guitar tops. In general, are we able to extend the premises to other top woods? Does the same hold true for Adirondack? German? Sitka?
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Old 03-02-2023, 02:02 PM
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Thank you Mark. Your explanation of the differences between those two tops is fascinating as well as helpful. I greatly appreciate it!
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  #65  
Old 03-02-2023, 02:11 PM
Dustinfurlow Dustinfurlow is offline
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This is incredible, I remember tapping the redwood tops at your shop and listening closely to the differences and that they were definitely not subtle.

Remember when I was having trouble choosing between LS and the old Italian? I think we made the right choice, but now G.A.S has once again reared it's ugly head
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  #66  
Old 03-02-2023, 07:35 PM
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Thanks for sharing all that amazing knowledge Mark!

The silky one looks familiar, have we met? LOL
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Last edited by rule18; 03-02-2023 at 09:11 PM.
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  #67  
Old 03-02-2023, 08:25 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dustinfurlow View Post
This is incredible, I remember tapping the redwood tops at your shop and listening closely to the differences and that they were definitely not subtle.

Remember when I was having trouble choosing between LS and the old Italian? I think we made the right choice, but now G.A.S has once again reared it's ugly head

It sneaks up on you…GAS, when you least expect it….me too!!
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  #68  
Old 03-02-2023, 10:06 PM
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Most Excellent! I have not seen this done before.
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  #69  
Old 03-03-2023, 05:31 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kenny B View Post
What a great discussion and education on guitar tops. In general, are we able to extend the premises to other top woods? Does the same hold true for Adirondack? German? Sitka?
Generally yes to different degrees. Adirondack, for instance, tends to have harder light grain and so it tends to have less of a density difference than, say Sitka, which tends to have large difference in densities between light and dark grains. So these things I'm talking about should be considered when comparing one top to the next and then really checked and accounted for when setting up and voicing a top.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Treenewt View Post
Thank you Mark. Your explanation of the differences between those two tops is fascinating as well as helpful. I greatly appreciate it!
Thanks for following along. I'm glad folks are interested.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dustinfurlow View Post
This is incredible, I remember tapping the redwood tops at your shop and listening closely to the differences and that they were definitely not subtle.

Remember when I was having trouble choosing between LS and the old Italian? I think we made the right choice, but now G.A.S has once again reared it's ugly head
Thanks Dustin. I thought about including that Lucky Stripe top in this post just to show how variable all this stuff is and how it really needs to be looked at the level of the woods you have in hand (or the hands of your luthier)

The fact is that Lucky Strike Carter Redwood looks more like the "not Master" top than the Master one and it is one of the best tops I have. It came form a husband and wife woodcutter couple who had an agreement with the National Forest Service that they could take Redwood wind falls. They supplied some of the largest guitar makers like Martin.

Through the decades in business they found 5 trees that were so exceptional that they named them. Lucky Strike, Singing Tree, Truly Awesome, Tono Basso and Fine Arts
Out of thousands of trees your going to find a couple stand outs and they may or may not show all the indicators I'm talking about and still are exceptional sounding tops.

Quote:
Originally Posted by rule18 View Post
Thanks for sharing all that amazing knowledge Mark!

The silky one looks familiar, have we met? LOL
Why yes, you have

Quote:
Originally Posted by canuck7 View Post
It sneaks up on you…GAS, when you least expect it….me too!!
I can help you guys with that

Thanks for the comments!
Mark
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  #70  
Old 03-03-2023, 05:34 AM
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Originally Posted by The Bard Rocks View Post
Most Excellent! I have not seen this done before.
Thanks. Glad I found a rock you haven't already turned over!
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  #71  
Old 03-08-2023, 03:56 PM
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Hey Mark, the cedar top on my Greta is better than “Master” grade….it is “Perfection”! Thanks.
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  #72  
Old 03-09-2023, 05:38 AM
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Originally Posted by ukejon View Post
Hey Mark, the cedar top on my Greta is better than “Master” grade….it is “Perfection”! Thanks.
Thanks Jon, yes it is. It was ten years ago when we built your cedar and rosewood Greta:



It has a beautiful french polished Western Red Cedar soundboard. At that time I was mastering how to brace a cedar top to extend headroom without giving up the lighter dynamic response or adding weight.

That was also when Western Red Cedar became my personal favorite top wood.

Mark
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  #73  
Old 03-09-2023, 06:29 AM
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Originally Posted by Mark Hatcher View Post
Thanks Jon, yes it is. It was ten years ago when we built your cedar and rosewood Greta:



It has a beautiful french polished Western Red Cedar soundboard. At that time I was mastering how to brace a cedar top to extend headroom without giving up the lighter dynamic response or adding weight.

That was also when Western Red Cedar became my personal favorite top wood.

Mark
She remains my primary acoustic…always will be. The French Polish is a bit scuffed and worn, but as we planned from the start eliciting responsiveness from this light cedar was the goal.

Still love having her name at the 12th fret, the 13th fret body joint, and the solidity/sustain from the rosewood neck. Plays like a dream. You truly designed and built the perfect 6 string for me.
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Last edited by ukejon; 03-09-2023 at 06:37 AM.
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  #74  
Old 03-09-2023, 04:41 PM
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I'd like to add my thanks to this thread. It is such a pleasure to have someone share their expert knowledge (says the retired teacher of 33 yrs).

Of the two tops in this discussion, when does the tone tapping come into play? Do you know already that they both are worthy of being one of your builds?
Dustin mentioned, but I'm not sure it was these two, that the tap tones were significantly different. (Not necessarily "bad", just different, right?)
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  #75  
Old 03-10-2023, 09:12 AM
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Originally Posted by ukejon View Post
She remains my primary acoustic…always will be. The French Polish is a bit scuffed and worn, but as we planned from the start eliciting responsiveness from this light cedar was the goal.

Still love having her name at the 12th fret, the 13th fret body joint, and the solidity/sustain from the rosewood neck. Plays like a dream. You truly designed and built the perfect 6 string for me.
Thanks ukejon, I’m always glad to see the satisfaction for one of my builds stand the rest of time!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Naboz View Post
I'd like to add my thanks to this thread. It is such a pleasure to have someone share their expert knowledge (says the retired teacher of 33 yrs).

Of the two tops in this discussion, when does the tone tapping come into play? Do you know already that they both are worthy of being one of your builds?
Dustin mentioned, but I'm not sure it was these two, that the tap tones were significantly different. (Not necessarily "bad", just different, right?)
We could write a book on tone tapping. In fact there are books written on it. If I were to write that book the chapters would read like this

Tone Tapping while:
1) Shopping wood
2) Splitting wood
3) Resawing wood
4) Drying wood
5) Aging wood
6) Classifying and separating woods
7) Matching wood selections to models, goals, etc
8) Examining the rough profile cut out
9) Monitoring the thinning process
10) Examining after first round of braces
11) Examining after second round of braces
12) Examining after mounting in tapping mold
13) carving braces, carving braces, carving braces (this chapter would have to be broken up or be addressed in the next book)
14) examining the glued on top
15) examining after the purfling and binding are on.
16) examining after finish is on
17) examining after the bridge is on
18) examining to see if you have that clamping caul still in the guitar
19) examining after strings are on
20) setting up to ship
21) examining the guitar any time you see it ever again.

I guess I could have said “all the time” but that would in no way convey the importance tone tapping plays.
It is one of the most important senses a builder needs to develop and learn to apply. It is more important then a left eye (unless you already lost your right!)

m
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Last edited by Mark Hatcher; 03-10-2023 at 01:07 PM.
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