A garden tree, so only yields small sizes, rarely anything bigger than a guitar fingerboard. Also good for small tunery. Laburnum is part of the same family as Rosewoods (Leguminosa) and even more valuable, as it is the solution when we want to have a non-tropical dark hardwood. Limited supply.
I have been collecting wood for over 50 years, which is why Luthiers Supplies is a kind of (untidy) museum of wood, most useful, but some just collected out of interest. The woods listed are the regular repertoire of what is needed, so it’s always worth asking for unusual things. Some come and go, and some like Tasmanian timbers have just arrived!
We often photograph what is unique or difficult to describe, also bear in mind that we convert much of our stock here, so offer a custom cutting, planing and sanding service.
The timber descriptions which follow are based on my experience. Consequently there is much more to be discovered by further reading.
Please do bear in mind that timber has a surprising/annoying facility for not conforming to descriptions or expectations.
Timbers like Mahogany and Indian Rosewood are sufficiently valuable, and endangered, to have been replanted, sometimes outside their original range. There are big differences between the old growth timber, usually both denser and deeper in colour, and faster grown plantation timber.
In some cases two samples or pictures, are necessary. Timber that shows strong medullary ray figure e.g – London Plane looks very different when tangentially sawn or flat sawn, drab and almost featureless, but when radically ‘quarter sawn’ (known as ‘lacewood’) it can look spectacular.
A Database of our stocked woods
London Plane (Lacewood)
Quite tough to saw and plane, but worth it when it is quarter sawn, with a very showy, medullary ray figure. Uses similar to Maple.
We usually see Madrone only as a burl or burr, valued as decorative veneer or guitar facings. It is difficult to dry so is ‘cooked’ or steamed to ensure stability.
Understandably a favourite for centuries. Great stability and working properties. Big old growth material yields the best timber for necks, but supply now is from old stocks from 20 years or more. Honduras Mahogany can be less dense, whereas what is known as Cuban Mahogany is super dense, only available when salvaged from antique furniture.
Mahogany – African Mahogany (Khaya)
Not true Mahogany, but material from bigger trees yields wide stable boards and is more widely available. Good for necks and solid bodies, but not so fine or as stable as true Mahogany when cut for back & sides.
N.B many timbers are Mahogany colour, e.g – Luan, Utile & Sapele, most are inferior to true Mahogany, though Utile can make very straight strong neck material. Sapele is best avoided as the alternating stripy grain is difficult to plane and bend.
Works well for a dense wood. Finer, closer grain than Mahogany. Good for backs & sides, but limited supply, and can provoke an allergic reaction.
Tough and hard but easy enough to work. It can move drastically when re-sawing thick material, as kilning tends to lock in tensions, both cupping across and bowing along the length are likely. This is the Maple that sometimes produces bird eye and ‘curly’ figure. Nearly always flat sawn, so quarter sawn has to be a special order. It also looks good when thermally treated, which stabilises and produces a lovely mid brown, although this process tends to make the timber more brittle. Close even grain, straight material, with no re-sawing, results in a cheap strong neck. The pragmatic Mr Fender made necks so simple by using 1” material and scooping out a bit.
Maple – Big Leaf Maple
Light, fast growing and duller than hard maple, unless it produces the ‘quilt’ figure which transforms it into spectacular 3D patterns. The quilt grows a narrow band around the tree, so is flat or slab sawn with usually no more than 2” of quilt being produced.
Maple – British Field Maple
Very similar to US Maple, lovely close smooth texture, but often small dimensions and not common. Sycamore is therefore our most important Maple which seems to thrive almost anywhere.
Maple – Red Maple
Has the widest range in the USA, typically softer than Rock Maple and shows brown flecks. Useful in making solid bodies but not often imported into Britain.