Grading for Physical/Mechanical Criteria

Timber for necks e.g – Mahogany or Cedrela, and fingerboards e.g – Ebony or Rosewood, primary consideration is straight and knot & crack free, long grain (i.e – little or no run out), even growth rings and end grain that is vertical (¼ sawn face).

In some cases horizontal grain (flat or slab sawn) is acceptable, e.g – bolt on fender necks. Timber that is neither on the quarter or slab sawn is downgraded:

Wood Grading

All the above applies to soundboards, e.g – spruce and cedar, with special attention to evenness, straightness, stiffness and showing medullary rays.

David Dyke Luthier Supplies

Grading for Appearance

This often includes the previous criteria, as the wood still needs to be free of the sort of defects which would make it difficult to work.

Desirable ‘figure’ includes flame, ripple, burrs, birdseye, spalting and good or spectacular colours, e.g – pale Indian Rosewood is graded lower than dark purple.

As beauty is in the eye of the beholder most of these features are best illustrated by photos, which we are happy to supply upon request.

All grades are cheaper as they fall in size, so it is always worthwhile quoting your finished sizes; e.g – a guitar back at 180mm wide is cheaper than one at 205mm.

Indian Rosewood (Dalbergia Latifolia)

Grading for Appearance Continued…

Some woods, like ebony for instance, require that they be graded not just on colour & appearance, but grain structure as well. Jet black ebony, with near perfect grain structure & direction is now very hard to get hold of, and with that in mind, AAA ebony fingerboards may now include small bits of colour streaks as long as the grain structure and direction are near perfect. Those of you that are familiar with ebony, know that it darkens down under an oil anyway. Likewise, there may be very dark AA fingerboard, but it will have been marked down due to grain structure and or direction.

Am I really saving money by buying a lesser grade?

On the face of it, yes, but it’s not quite that simple. We understand for those building their first instruments that it’s very tempting to buy ‘A’ grade materials. There’s nothing worse than buying a lovely ‘AAA’ back & sides set, or neck blank and for one reason or another the worst happens and the piece is ruined. It always softens the blow if it’s a lesser grade of wood. However, ‘A’ grade materials are ‘A’ grade for a reason. They are still musical instrument grade, but there will be work arounds, imperfections and undesirable features such as knots, un even colour / discolouration and inclusions in the wood, or a set of sides might not be perfectly 1/4 sawn, or have some run out. There might be a wiggle or very uneven spacing in the grain on a soundboard or fingerboard, or a neck blank might be moving more towards rift sawn rather 1/4 sawn. All these things can make a build much more challenging than if you had chosen ‘AA’ materials instead, so it becomes a trade off.

How many Grades do we need?

Experience says three. Any more, and the definitions become even more fuzzy and adding extra like ‘mastergrade’ starts a process of one upmanship. The Indian system keeps to three, but they are ‘C’ ‘B’ & ‘A’. We have been using ‘A’ ‘AA’ & ‘AAA’ for decades and it has proved workable.

N.b – Occasionally if wood like quilted Maple has already been graded 4 or 5A in the U.S.A, we might keep that grade.

N.b – The top grade is not always available, as it is hard to find, but when this occurs we will contact you to discuss options.

Have some more questions?