Cheapest wood for guitar back and sides?

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Forum topic by Marn64 posted 10-20-2016 07:13 PM 1989 views 0 times favorited 27 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Marn64's profile


296 posts in 934 days

10-20-2016 07:13 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question guitar

Hey everybody,
So I finally found a person to help me bandsaw that cedar top for my guitar! Now its time for me to consider the backs and sides. As a high school senior, money is a bit of an issue for me so I am wondering which wood would be best for me for backs and sides of the guitar and spend as little as possible. The guitar is a classical style guitar by the way, if that at all influences which woods I should use.

-- Benjamin, Milwaukee

27 replies so far

View TheFridge's profile


10353 posts in 1634 days

#1 posted 10-20-2016 07:17 PM

An acoustic guitar typical has a lot of spruce for the tonal qualities. I believe.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View gargey's profile


1013 posts in 924 days

#2 posted 10-20-2016 07:21 PM

You should google around and try to find someone that makes or repairs guitars in your area. So you’ll have some idea of what you’re doing.

You should also consider that you may regret focusing on the cheapest wood in the long run. You don’t need the most expensive wood, but choose one that is right for the job.

View TheFridge's profile


10353 posts in 1634 days

#3 posted 10-20-2016 07:26 PM

Cheap wood will probably equal cheap sound.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View AZWoody's profile


1404 posts in 1372 days

#4 posted 10-20-2016 07:37 PM

I have a classical that has maple back and sides. It’s highly figured but it doesn’t have to be. That is probably one of the cheaper woods you can find that will work. Mind you if you buy it as a set for guitars, it’s still going to be pretty expensive..

Once you get into luthier quality woods the price goes up.

View OggieOglethorpe's profile


1276 posts in 2259 days

#5 posted 10-20-2016 07:41 PM

I’m not a luthier, but I do play.

There isn’t a ton of wood involved, so I wouldn’t cheap out. The amount of work you’re doing on an acoustic guitar suggests it’s well worth scratching together the bucks to use decent or better materials.

View Kaleb the Swede's profile

Kaleb the Swede

1861 posts in 2118 days

#6 posted 10-20-2016 07:42 PM

Hi there ben. That is an awesome endeavor you are undertaking. I am a classical guitar teacher and player so i have spent quite some time with these instruments. The back and sides should be made out of a hardwood to capture the sound and “throw” it back out thr vibration of the top. I have seen ash, maple, walnut, rosewood, etc.

This is a great site for guitar making things. These are for a dreadnought style guitar but you should be able to adapt them.

-- Just trying to build something beautiful

View Gaffneylumber's profile


103 posts in 977 days

#7 posted 10-20-2016 07:42 PM

I used to sell Taylor guitars and am a guitar player. You want a softwood for the top like spruce or cedar because it resonates well. For the back and sides you want a hardwood to project sound. Maple would probably be the cheapest. Maple makes loud guitars but lacks in warmth of sound (more treble,less bass). Rosewood is the most desirable sounding wood and it produces a well balanced sound. It is also very pricey. Another good option would be mahogany, although it will be more expensive than maple. It’s a great sounding wood that is known for its warmth. It’s great for finger picking. Sapele is almost identical in sound too if you can find it cheaper. So there is my 2 cents.

-- Grayson - South Carolina

View Kaleb the Swede's profile

Kaleb the Swede

1861 posts in 2118 days

#8 posted 10-20-2016 07:46 PM

Sorry it didn’t come out correctly with the link. Here it is again

My college professor for guitar is also a builder and I will happily ask him if you need it too

-- Just trying to build something beautiful

View Texcaster's profile


1287 posts in 1822 days

#9 posted 10-20-2016 10:51 PM

Walnut and Cherry work very well. So much depends on the top and the bracing of the top.

Antonio de Torres, the father of the modern classical guitar once made the back and sides of paper mache to prove his point about the importance of the guitar top.

Jeffery Yong has used Monkey Pod ... ” it taps like cardboard ”, with very good results.

But most QS, timbers with a good tap tone and resonance will preform well.

-- Mama calls me Texcaster but my real name is Mr. Earl.

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3796 days

#10 posted 10-20-2016 11:54 PM

Mahogany is a good all-round choice for a first
steel string. It can be got cheap, quartersawn
and works pretty easily, finishes well without
too much trouble. Maple is cheap but brittle
and reversing grain may drive you nuts in smoothing
the back. Also you’ll probably scorch the sides
a bit and a darker wood will be easier to scrape
out the scorch marks on.

My first steel string was cheap, copper-colored
African mahogany it it turned out pretty well
in terms of sound.

I build flamenco guitars with Alaskan yellow cedar
backs and sides. It’s easier to work with than
maple and has a similar creamy look.

The biggest bump in sound performance if you
want the guitar to sound highly resonant imo is
to go with a “rosewood” or something recommended
by LMI as a rosewood substitute.

For a steel string mahogany or a domestic hardwood
is going to make a guitar that sounds nice for both
flat-picking rhythm and finger style. It won’t
have the best projection for finger style but it
won’t sound brittle or overdriven when flat-picked
with gusto.

Sets of less figured mahoganies and other woods
can be bought for pretty reasonable prices on ebay.
Some builders may sell off extra sets they decide don’t
have enough visual pop for their own guitars.

View onoitsmatt's profile


395 posts in 1324 days

#11 posted 10-21-2016 02:52 AM

There are a couple of luthier forums on the webs that would be better sources for advice on building guitars than the LJs. Don’t get me wrong, LJ’s is awesome, but guitar building is a pretty specific subset of woodworking where many of the skills, materials and methods are quite different than furniture building or wood turning or some of the other more popular forms of woodworking.

As I’ve been assembling materials and tools for my first guitar build (and am about half-way through a uke build for practice) I have found the luthier forums to be an invaluable resource for information. Many of the people who frequent the forums are quite generous with their knowledge and in some cases their tooling/jigs if you want/need them.

As a high school senior, I understand that money is tight. Tools and wood get expensive really quickly, which I am finding out on my own and have the means to support the idea of building a few guitars. So in your position, I would do what you are doing. Sounds like you have a nice piece of cedar to resaw into a top. Cedar is a great choice for classical guitar tops, so you’re in good shape there. For back/side wood, I would recommend looking at a few of the tone wood seller’s websites. Cheap doesn’t necessarily equate to bad-sounding. Most of the price is based on aesthetics, so you can get a cheap back and side set that will sound great, but may have some slight blemish that wouldn’t be the end of the world in your scenario. I picked up a maple back and side set for $30 which seemed a steal, even though I didn’t want a maple guitar, I couldn’t pass it up. I was buying some tops from the same guy and figured as long as I was paying shipping, I may as well get the $30 back/side set. I think you should be able to find something similar in price if you look.

It is a very slow process, so work with what you have when you have it, and keep looking for deals on what you need and get them when you see them. The thing I’ve found with a lot of the tools and materials is that shipping adds up fast. So when buying wood, I recommend buying everything you think you’ll need in one go, from the same place to save on shipping. If you plan to buy brace-wood, neck blanks, fingerboards, bridge blanks, neck blocks, tail blocks, wood purfling, wood linings, headplates, etc. better figure all of that out in advance and make sure you get everything you need in one order to save additional shipping charges.

One thing I’ve found is that you’ll spend as much time/money making jigs, moulds, forms, radius dishes, gobar decks, etc. to make the guitar as you will actually making it.

Feel free to PM me if you have questions. I’m no expert but have been plodding along getting ready for my first build for almost 2 years now. I have read volumes and am happy to share what I’ve learned. But I really think your best bet is to check out the luthier forums. They are all much more experienced and are really generous with their knowledge. One thing I will say is that the uke build has been an eye opener. I’m glad I started with it because I’ve made a lot of mistakes and am glad to have made them on the Uke rather than on a guitar that I’d probably want to keep forever just because it would be my “First”.

There’s also a kid, though I guess he’s much older now, named Bryan Itzkin over on the Martin Guitar forum that started building guitars when he was about 12. You might look him up and see if he can impart any wisdom on you for things he learned as a young builder. There’s a big difference between being 12 and being 17 or 18, but I think he may be a good resource. I know he continues to build and has built several guitars and other stringed instruments over the last several years. He’s probably about your age.

-- Matt - Phoenix, AZ

View Texcaster's profile


1287 posts in 1822 days

#12 posted 10-21-2016 08:47 AM

“One thing I’ve found is that you’ll spend as much time/money making jigs, moulds, forms, radius dishes, gobar decks, etc. to make the guitar as you will actually making it.” onoitsmatt

As Matt said gearing up is a big part of building guitars. More is needed for a flat top than an archie. You can make most everything you need. This took one week.

-- Mama calls me Texcaster but my real name is Mr. Earl.

View knotscott's profile


8129 posts in 3524 days

#13 posted 10-21-2016 09:41 AM

Sitka spruce

-- Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

View Planeman40's profile


1257 posts in 2909 days

#14 posted 10-21-2016 03:42 PM

Stick with the advice of Loren and Onoitsmatt above, mahogany or SOFT (there is a hard) maple with absolutely no grain and go to the luthier web and forum websites for information. Also, there are some very good videos on YouTube!

Good luck on the build

-- Always remember: It is a mathematical certainty that half the people in this country are below average in intelligence!

View Marn64's profile


296 posts in 934 days

#15 posted 10-21-2016 04:33 PM

Thanks for the responses everyone!
I have narrowed down the project to unfigured Sapele or unfigured Soft Maple.

-- Benjamin, Milwaukee

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