Why Spruce Wood for Guitar? Stick around to find out.
If you want to make a quality-sounding guitar, you mainly consider the tonewood you select. Spruce wood is one of the best tonewoods available today and has been a global favorite for making string instruments such as the violin, ukulele, viola, and even the cello.
However, the most globally played string instrument is the guitar, so, Why Spruce Wood for Guitar?
Spruce wood is an all-time favorite tonewood for guitar because it has the broadest dynamic tonal ranges available.
It produces a louder sound than other tonewoods like cedar and mahogany, and its warm, rich mid-range tends to stand out when playing in groups.
To make it even better, the tone of a spruce guitar gets richer with age.
Tone aside, spruce wood is light colored with a straight and even grain pattern, giving it a classic guitar look.
This light look appeals to some people but can be too plain for others. Fortunately, you can stain the spruce wood to give it a darker hue and make the grain pop.
Spruce wood is usually used to make the soundboard/top of guitars – specifically acoustic guitars. It is rarely used to make electric guitars or the sides and back of acoustic guitars for a couple of reasons.
But we will dive deeper into that as we learn more about spruce wood.
Let’s get started!
What Is Spruce Wood?
Spruce wood refers to lumber sourced from the spruce tree. It is a softwood that grows well in boreal and cool-temperate climates, which is common in the northern hemisphere.
The spruce tree grows quickly and can live for more than 300 years if the growing conditions are favorable.
Regarding appearance, spruce wood has a uniform, yellow-white color that slowly darkens with age. It also has tightly packed grain with a consistent pattern but is not fully distinct. For this reason, spruce wood can look somewhat like a blank, cream-ish piece of paper from afar.
On the bright side, it is easy to stain the surface of spruce wood if you want to make the grain more visible and the color a little bit darker. You simply ensure that the stain you use is guitar-friendly, and you’re good to go.
On the physical side, spruce wood is medium-weight, so the items you make will be light. Its fibers are also elastic, allowing it to expand and contract as needed without swelling or warping out of shape.
Unfortunately, spruce lumber is quite soft; therefore, it easily gets dented. It also has an average density of 470 kg/m3, which is pretty low compared to most woods.
Regardless, this wood still possesses excellent mechanical properties; hence, you can still use it to make durable objects like furniture, cabinets, dressers, and bed frames.
Types of Spruce Wood
There are several types of spruces used for different purposes. However, since we’re talking about spruce wood for the guitar, I’ll only discuss the species that make excellent tonewoods.
- The Sitka Spruce is native to the northwestern part of North America. Its color ranges from cream to light yellow with a straight grain pattern. However, some spruce trees exhibit a “bear claw” pattern: fine white lines running asymmetrically against the wood grain.
This spruce species is ideal for making soundboards for acoustic guitars because of its excellent stiffness-to-weight ratio. This means the wood is strong enough to vibrate quickly without damage. The result is always a bright, punchy sound with excellent projection.
- The Engelmann Spruce is also known as the mountain spruce or silver spruce and is native to the western part of the northern hemisphere. It is also light colored with a straight and even grain pattern.
This spruce species produces a smooth tone with a slightly richer mid-range than Sitka’sSitka’s. In general, the Engelmann spruce’s tone is considered warm and mellow.
- The Norway spruce is also known as the European or German Spruce and is native to northern and central Europe. This wood is light cream with subtle yellow and red tones. And like the other spruces, it has a consistent grain pattern and a soft texture.
This wood has a complex overtone profile; hence all its notes sound “full” whether you play them loudly or quietly. Additionally, it has a broader dynamic range than Engelmann, but the tones are shallower than Sitka’s.
- The White Spruce, aka the Canadian spruce, has a pale white color with slightly yellow specks all over its surface. It looks much like the Sitka, but its sound quality is slightly lower than Sitka’s.
- The Red Spruce, aka Adirondack or Eastern Spruce, is light colored with slight red and yellow tones. It was the go-to acoustic soundboard long before Sitka Spruce took the crown.
This species produces a unique sound with rich overtones, but not the kinds that distort the sound. It also has rich mid-range tones and sounds great no matter which style you play.
- The Lutz Spruce is a naturally occurring hybrid of the Engelmann and the white spruce. It is native to British Colombia up to the Alaskan Panhandle.
This species has a creamy white color with slight pink or tan tones. It possesses strength, stiffness, and excellent dynamic range similar to white spruce. It also sounds great with most playing styles, just like the Engelmann.
What Is Guitar?
A Guitar is a fretted musical instrument that typically has six strings. To play guitar, you must hold it flat against the body and then pluck or strum the strings using your dominant hand.
There are two types of guitars; acoustic guitars and electric guitars. Their most noticeable differences lie in the instrument’s build and how it projects sound. Let me tell you about both.
This type of guitar has a hollow, wooden body with a sound hole placed directly in the center of the soundboard. This positioning helps to create the kind of vibration, resonance, and volume needed to produce the instrument’s sound without amplification.
The body of an acoustic guitar is thick and a little bulky; however, it tends to be light because of its hollow body.
It has a thick neck; therefore, its strings are spaced far apart, and there is a considerable distance between the strings and the fretboard. For this reason, you must press down harder on the strings to fret a note.
Acoustic guitars are great for playing musical styles that require a soft instrumental touch. A few good examples of such styles are folk music, country music, flamenco, and bluegrass.
These guitars are made of solid wood attached with specific electrical mechanics (pickups) that project their unique sound. The attached mechanics “pick up” the vibrations from the strings and convert them to electrical sound signals projected by an amplifier.
Contrary to the acoustics, electric guitars have thinner necks. Therefore, there’s less space between the individual strings and between the string set and the fretboard. This arrangement makes electric guitars easier to play because you don’t have to press down hard to fret a note.
This guitar can withstand various playing styles, including strumming and plucking. For this reason, musicians commonly use it to play Hard rock, Punk, Grunge, RnB, Indie Rock, and even Blues.
There are two types of electric guitars: Solid body and Semi Acoustic electric guitars.
- A solid-body electric guitar does not have a resonating chamber. Its body is made of solid wood, and any holes or hollow spots exist to house the instrument’s electronics and hardware. Furthermore, it is the most common type of electric guitar and can be used in various musical situations, such as large live concerts or simple small events.
- Semi-acoustic electric guitars have hollow points in their bodies, giving them a warmer and more dynamically responsive sound than the solid types. However, they still rely on an amplifier to project their sound – they cannot produce a usable sound if you play them solo acoustically.
Despite this technicality, the amplified sound of semi-acoustic guitars feels more rounded, which may explain why blues and jazz musicians favor them.
On the downside, semi-acoustic guitars are prone to unwanted feedback. The feedback distorts the instrument’s sound, making it challenging to use in live situations.
Which Is Better Spruce or Mahogany Guitar?
Both spruce and mahogany woods are excellent guitar making-materials, but which one is better?
There is no straightforward answer to this query because everyone selects guitar tonewoods for different reasons. Some people choose wood because it is beautiful; for others, the tone quality of the wood matters more than appearance.
Some people don’t care much about appearance or tone, provided the instrument is playable and its cost is within budget.
So, I will compare all the features of spruce and mahogany guitars to guide you to the material that best suits your needs.
Mahogany is a dark-colored wood with a very distinct grain pattern. This makes it visually striking, perfect if you want a bold-looking instrument.
If you purchase an all-mahogany guitar, the soundboard, back, and sides will all have the beautiful mahogany color making it stand out even more.
On the other hand, spruce wood is lighter in color, and its grain is straight and more subtle. This gives the instrument a more “classic” acoustic guitar appearance.
Furthermore, since spruce is used chiefly for the guitar top, the rest of the instrument will be made of hardwood like mahogany or rosewood.
These other woods are darker, which is a big contrast to the light spruce. This color difference gives spruce top guitars next-level aesthetic charm.
Mahogany guitars sound warmer, and their tone is smoother than spruce-top guitars, which are crisp and sound brighter. The reason is that mahogany wood has a higher bass and mid-range emphasis, while spruce has more emphasis on treble tones.
Tone range aside, spruce top guitars are louder than mahogany guitars. For this reason, they sound better when strumming, while the mahogany guitars are better suited for fingerpicking.
Mahogany guitars are more expensive than spruce guitars because of their lasting durability from being hardwood. They can withstand heavy use and are less prone to denting because of their hard surface.
Furthermore, mahogany has a beautiful dark color and a distinctive grain pattern.
The beauty and durability of mahogany have made it popular, increasing its global demand. As a result, obtaining the wood is a little more complicated, so naturally, the price hikes.
The cost of spruce guitars will vary depending on the material used to make the back and sides. For instance, a spruce top guitar with a mahogany back and sides will cost more than one with a laminate back and sides.
Nevertheless, the all-mahogany guitar will always be more expensive.
Is Spruce a Good Electric Guitar Tonewood?
I do not recommend using spruce as an electric guitar tonewood mainly because of its delicate nature. It is better to use hardwoods like mahogany, maple, and redwood if you want a durable guitar.
Don’t get me wrong. Spruce wood has an excellent weight-to-stiffness ratio, so it holds up well to the tension caused by the strings. However, it is also softwood, so naturally, its surface is soft and easy to dent.
So, if you use spruce wood to make a traditional, solid-body guitar, be prepared to take extra care of the instrument. You must play softer than usual, place it down gently, and do any other action that will prevent damage to the wood.
Is Spruce A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?
Yes, it is! Spruce is one of the best woods to use as soundboards because of its excellent tonality. It produces loud and bright tones and gives the guitar a light classic look.
The Sitka spruce is the most popular species for making guitar tops today, succeeding the Adirondack spruce, which was leading in the past. The other species that I mentioned earlier in this article are less popular. However, they are still viable options in their own right.
Spruce make excellent soundboards, but I don’t recommend using it for the backs and sides of acoustic guitars. The reason for this is that spruce is too soft and is likely to dent easily.
In addition, using spruce to make the whole instrument will make the guitar’s tone a little too strong or “punchy.”
Is Spruce or Cedar Better for a Guitar?
Spruce is a better tonewood for the guitar than cedar because it is stronger and has a more pristine tone. Moreover, it is stiff enough to allow luthiers to cut out thin soundboards; hence, you don’t use much wood.
However, this does not mean that cedar wood isn’t suitable for the guitar. Cedar top guitars produce a warm and clear sound, just like spruce. In addition, the wood has a reddish-brown color that turns honey-brown with age, so the instrument will turn out beautiful.
Unfortunately, cedar is lighter than spruce; therefore, it vibrates faster. As a result, the sound from cedar top guitars has many overtones.
One way that luthiers try to eliminate unwanted overtones is to cut the cedar tops thicker than usual. The extra thickness reduces the wood’s vibration rate, muting down some overtones.
So, which is better?
I recommend spruce guitars if you want guaranteed durability and excellent tone quality. Cedar top guitars are the better choice if you want a cheap guitar with a great appearance. However, you will sacrifice a bit of quality when it comes to sound.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Spruce Wood for Guitar
Even though spruce is an excellent tonewood for guitar, it remains vulnerable to typical wood issues. So let me tell you some of the pros and cons of spruce wood guitars.
- Spruce wood is generally lightweight; therefore, the guitars will also be light. This will make the instrument easy to hold, allowing you to play comfortably.
- Spruce wood is beautiful, having a light creamy color and straight grain. As time passes, the light color turns a little golden, giving the guitar a rustic aged appearance.
- Spruce wood has excellent tonality compared to most tone woods, which is why luthiers prefer them to make the tops. They produce a clean sound with rich high-mid range tones. And like the appearance, the guitar’s sound quality will improve as the wood ages.
- Spruce trees grow quickly; hence their lumber is pretty easy to source. This makes spruce wood a more affordable tonewood option than expensive hardwoods like mahogany.
- Spruce is softwood; therefore, its surface is easy to dent. For this reason, you cannot use it to make the neck and body of guitars.
- Spruce wood guitars are sometimes too loud for some music styles and finger-picking. In addition, you will feel the music getting “thin” whenever you play notes in the mid ranges.
How Do You Clean a Spruce Top Guitar?
Like any machine, your spruce top guitar will work at its best if you regularly clean and maintain it. However, you do not just pick up a rag and soap to clean your guitar.
You require some special guitar polishing products to get the job done correctly. So let me show you the correct way to clean a spruce top guitar.
You Will Need
- Fretboard conditioner
- Guitar polish
- Fine-grade steel wool
- Microfoer cloths
- Soft, unused paintbrush.
Step 1: Gather Supplies and Prepare Your Workspace
- Put all the polishing products and work tools in one place, close to you. This way, you won’t have to leave the workspace whenever you need to change cleaning clothes or find some guitar polish.
- Set up your workspace on a firm surface like a table or a floor if you don’t mind working while kneeling.
- Before you place the guitar down, cover up the surface with a soft material to avoid scratching the body.
- Place a wood block to support the neck and prevent the guitar from moving as you clean it.
- Wash your hands to remove natural oils and grease that could get transferred to the guitar as you clean.
Step 2: Remove the Strings
Remove the strings of your guitar to make it easier to clean the fretboard, getting into all the necessary nooks and crannies.
- Loosen the string a little and then cut it off in the middle to make it easy to remove altogether. If your strings are still in good shape, remove them slowly, one by one, and put them aside for reuse.
Step 3: Clean the Neck of the Guitar
The guitar’s neck holds the fretboard and the frets. It is usually the part with the most dirt, so it’s best to clean it first. Here’s how to clean the neck properly.
- Use fine steel wool to gently scrub off the gunky build-up on the frets. You must use fine steel wool to avoid causing damage and wear to the frets.
- Once you finish, wipe off the remaining loose build-up using a damp cloth. Ensure that the cloth isn’t dripping wet to avoid bringing water damage to the neck wood.
- Use a fretboard conditioner to clean and rehydrate the wood if your guitar has a dark wood fretboard like rosewood or ebony. Check the product’s specifications to know where and how to use it properly.
- Apply the conditioner with a clean microfiber cloth. Ensure that you gently rub it into the fretboard and in circular motions to ensure even coverage.
- A dry fretboard will absorb a lot of product, so apply enough conditioner to rehydrate it.
- Ensure you don’t get any conditioner on the guitar body to avoid later clean-ups.
- Let the product sit on the guitar for the manufacturer’s recommended time, and then wipe off the excess.
- Lighter fretboards like maple usually have a light finish on them; you do not need to use conditioner.
Step 4: Clean the Guitar Body
The way you clean your spruce top guitar’s body will depend on how it’s finished. Guitars are usually finished with a glossy polyurethane or a product with a matte or satin finish.
Guitars with a glossy polyurethane finish are the easiest to clean. All you need to do is:
Brush off any loose dust on the body using a soft paintbrush.
Next, use a guitar polish to remove the rest of the stubborn dust. Avoid using standard household cleaning products on your guitar because they are too abrasive.
Spray a little polish onto a clean microfiber cloth and wipe a small guitar section.
Keep spraying and wiping until you’ve cleaned the entire guitar body.
Afterward, buff the newly cleaned surface using a dry microfiber cloth.
Guitars with a matte or satin finish have a dull look and do not attract grease and oils. For this reason, you do not need to use guitar polish to clean them.
Simply wipe the guitar using a dry cloth to remove finger marks and other loose dirt.
If any stubborn grubs are on the surface, dampen the cloth very lightly, then wipe off the dirt.
Here’s a Video On How to Clean Guitar:
Tips and Tricks for Guitar Cleaning and Care
- Wipe down the guitar after every play session to prevent oil and dirt from building up. This will make your deep cleaning sessions much easier and quicker.
- When cleaning your guitar, spray the conditioners or wood polishes on a cloth before wiping the wood. This will help you avoid oversaturating the tonewood with the product.
- Use different cloths to clean different guitar parts to prevent cross-contamination of products and dirt.
- Always store your guitar in a pepper guitar bag to prevent it from accumulating dirt when you’re not playing.
- Wash your hands before you play your guitar to prevent the natural oils in your fingers from dirtying the fretboard.
The most essential part of any stringed musical instrument is the tonewood used to make it. The tonewood determines the instrument’s appearance, tone quality, and cost, so it is not easy to ignore.
For years, Spruce wood has been the go-to tonewood for instruments such as the violin, cello, and even the ukulele. But what most people want to know is,
Why Spruce Wood for Guitar?
Spruce wood is a fantastic guitar tonewood because of its bright and crisp sound. It produces a rich sound with minimal overtones, ideal for playing musical styles like blues that require a soft touch.
Moreover, the tone quality of a spruce-top guitar gets better and better as the wood ages.
Sound aside; spruce wood has a beautiful light color with a straight and indistinct grain pattern. The light color gives spruce top guitars a classic plain look that doesn’t go wrong.
Like the wood’s tonality, the color of spruce wood darkens with age, which can be a good thing if the light color bothers you.
On the downside, you cannot use spruce wood to make the back and sides of a guitar because of its soft surface. It tends to dent easily and may not be able to withstand the amount of pressure that the strings exert on the instrument’s neck.
For this reason, it is standard for luthiers to make guitars with a spruce top, backs, and sides made from hardwoods like rosewood or mahogany or cheaper options like wood laminate.