I’m currenly in the Octave Mandolin market, and several options have been presented to me concerning which wood I should choose. I’m currently planning on Maple or Black Walnut, but I really do not know the difference between them. Could someone please enlighten me and perhaps give me a suggestion?

Re: Tonewoods

I’m a fiddle player and I don’t know much about wood for mandolins, but I found this discussion that may be helpful:

In any case, it’s probably the soundboard that really matters most; the hardwood probably doesn’t matter nearly as much as the skill of the maker.

Re: Tonewoods

Thanks Screetch, I guess I just forgot to search before I posted

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Over at they talk about such things for hours on end!

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That’s your back and sides, now what about your options for the rest? For information on tonewoods there are some sources worth looking at, such as ~

Luthiers Mecantile International, Inc.

Touchstone Tonewoods

Craft Supplies

& there are others. There is also a site somewhere, which I haven’t managed to remember yet, that features woods of all sorsts and has information, from density to uses…

Luthiers would be a good search term, singular or plural, or adding supplies or wood or woods.

You are also asking about ‘families’ of trees and woods when you mention maple, and then ther is the question of whether it is figured or not, and what kind of figure. All of this affects the tone. Lacewood is a lovely alternative, both for figure and for tone. Black Walnut also comes in different grades and figure… If you get into the term ‘Mahogany’, there are over 300 species. There used to be a display of a load of them in Dublin, but I can’t remember the exact name of the place.

Your best bet for informing yourself would be luthiers, people in the business of making. They know what they work with, both customers and materials, and if you gave a luthier some idea of what is most important to you, cosmetics or tone, or a balance between the two, that is a good start. Most of us have a luthier within say 100 miles of us, and I’ve never known them not to be characters. That can and often does come with its challenges, but if you are passionate and can find the right button to push, they will usually open up and offer help or some direction.

For the top, your choices tend to be softwood ones, spruces, of which there are a number to choose from, and, gulp, mahogany…

Best of luck… But you are already ahead in that category, as you are going to get an instrument made for you and you get to choose the wood. How wonderful is that? It’s fantastic!!! 😎

Re: Tonewoods

& someone who has been a good contact and source, if I problems here, out and out tragedies, meant I’d lost contact:

These are good people. A particularly lesser known tonewood I’m quite fond of is ‘Honduran Rosewood’ and is available from them, and you will, once the new website is up, be able to see the wood you order. They have a lot to choose from. The new website is supposed to be open for December. I was in the process of making an order when things went bad on our side, cancer…

You can still email them and I’m sure they’d do their best for you or your luthier of choice… There are also some great native hardwoods in America, different maples and walnuts. I have seen figured walnuts that rose goose bumps it was so beautiful, and the same for figured maples…

Re: Tonewoods

Other native North American timbers ~

Osage Orange
Rock Maple
Sequoia/Redwood ~ I’ve seen some beautiful things done with this, but I haven’t heard the results. Some people have spoken very favourably about it as a tonewood, for the soundboard rather than sides and back, but it has been used for that too…

Another favourite of mine is African Blackwood, which is now being sustainably grown in South Africa…but would be prohibatively expensive for you there unless someone already has a stock of it and is offering it at a reasonable price.

Re: Tonewoods & tree hugging

Oh yes, and the Walnut/Butternut/Pecan family… There are others and one dark and beautifully figured one I can’t remember, also from your general area… But, as said, best to talk to a local luthier and figure out what you like in the way of tones. Also now more available than before, and for your size of an instrument probably a good chance of a quality choice ~ Adirondack or red spruce… I love the stuff and don’t care about perfect grain it is that nice a tonewood… I also prefer European spruce to Sitka, but Sitka is widely available for good prices… Cedar is another option, and again there are different types… With an octave mandolin considering the discussion amongst guitarists and guitar makers is another wise move…

Sorry to rattle on, I’m excited for you… I never did find that link, but I have a whole massive area of this hard drive given over to just this subject…wood!!! I love trees… We are blessed on this little rock in a massive universe for the variety of life sustained here, but trees are amongst my favourites… Yes, I guess you could call me a ‘tree hugger’… 😎

Re: Tonewoods

wow, ceolachan, thanks a lot
You seem like somewhat of an expert

Re: Tonewoods ~ tap, tap, tap tones ~

No, just a wooden head, like Pinnochio… I’ve loved trees and wood and music and the things that make it so, people and instruments, as far back as I can remember… The consequence of such madness is that I’ve pursued information and understanding and in that have had the fortune to apprentice or work with some really knowledgeable folk, pursueing further these passions ~ asking lots of questions… There are some great books on the subject as well.

Some of my best nights sleep have been amongst trees, beneath the stars. One of the nearest experiences I’ve had to religious ecstacy was walking into and being within a first growth forest. It was magic, and there are so few… For me, when I love something, I just have to know more about it…

Best of luck with your decision, and, as tempting as it might be, don’t rush it… My wife loves maple, the really hard stuff, especially birdseye…and I mean tonally too… However, one bias on her part, she’d have it all white wood and then died blue… But she’s not sure if she’d prefer a bright blue or a powder blue… Whatever, the figure would have to show through… 😉

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Thanks for that link Ceol
I have my eye on that nice little ten string with the cletic sound hole she… er , sorry , it looks hot !
Better not mention this to flutey she has her own little Breton brown unique keyed machine

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I have built four guitars and have learned a lot about wood, and I think my favorite is walnut. Maple will be very much brighter and punchier. It depends what you want. The walnut is rich and warm but also projects well…. though that has a lot to do with the top wood and bracing thickness and other subtle things.

Honduran or Honduras as some call it rosewood is much like Brazillian at considerably less cost. Indian rosewood is nice too. I love the lush rich warmth of the walnut though. I have built two from it. One with a sitka top and one with italian spruce. Both pretty much the same.

i am about to start a 00 guitar, and haven’t decided on the wood yet, but since it will be a small body I want the wood to really resonate. The walnuts are pretty loud though and really ring.

Re: Tonewoods

I like walnut, too. I’ve had the opportunity to compare several walnut instruments with other woods built to the same design and, in every case, the walnut was strong and clear and had a certain sweetness to the voice that was different from rosewood or mahogany. I think it may be the best all-round wood for backs and sides on guitar-size instruments.

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Bob…. Walnut is really cheap too, compared to rosewood. I got my back and side set on ebay for something like $45, and it was nicely figured. It also finished really well. I don’t fill pores on my guitars, and do a French polish, though it takes a few weeks to put on right. I like to see and feel that wood grain. Didn’t fill the rosewoods either. I like the woods to retain as much of their nature as possible, yet with some protection.