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rexjames

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Reply with quote  #1 
Hey guys, we put this video together for a customer that wanted to hear the difference between black walnut and African mahogany for the back and sides of our S-12 harp guitar.  I know which one I like, but everyone is a little different.

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Steve_Farmer

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Reply with quote  #2 
Both sound great! But I think the Mahogany has a little more (deeper?) sustain. I like that.
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stijn

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Reply with quote  #3 

What I can tell from a youtube movie: the mahogany ! It has a deeper, fuller sound. With a lot more character.

The Walnut sounds more like a box with strings, compared with the mahogany.


s.


p.s. not easy to explain sound when English is not your main language...

Michael

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Reply with quote  #4 
I can't tell which is better. They both look and sound beautiful of course.  In my builds the focus is on the choice of wood for the top. I have built with koa, maple, walnut, African mahog and Honduran rosewood. The tops are all lutz spruce and the tone seems to vary more from the heaviness of the bracing and the shape of the guitar than the side and back wood. I sense you like the Mahog better. 
Michael

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DavidWhite

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Reply with quote  #5 
Scrolling backwards and forwards between the two I'm not hearing a lot of differences - but I bet you hear more in the flesh as it were. To my ears the main strings on the walnut guitar have a little more clarity and separation and a slightly brighter edge to them than the Khaya . They both sound like Tonedevils though.
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tevieray

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Reply with quote  #6 
Nice instruments!  It's hard to tell from a video, but based on this little clip, I like the sound of the mahogany one better.
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SeanWoolley

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Reply with quote  #7 
Hi all. This is very interesting...I'm going against the grain! I and my two kids listened and decided that we prefer the black walnut. To me, I hear a more balanced sound between the bass and trebles. Through my lo-fi computer speakers the khaya hg seems to "bloom" more. I use khaya, and I  can't say that those guitars "bloomed" as well. So perhaps its something else, much like Michael said... Thanks to you. Sean
thetonedevil

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Reply with quote  #8 
David White really hit it on the head with his comment, Sean and his kids as well. that is what we noticed too. in fact i think i prefer the walnut, with more sustain, clarity and balance. i look forward to hearing how it "blooms". thanks for your comments fellas. 
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FredCarlson

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Reply with quote  #9 
Tone and Dave,

Cool....thanks for the test. 

Of course, the first thing one always has to acknowledge is that there are a lot of things in between us, the listeners, and the instrument and player...microphone, recorder, transmission lines, computer, speakers.  One nice thing about digital is that the sound really shouldn't suffer too much through all the digital parts of that journey; still, there's the player, the microphone, the speakers and the listener...all flesh and blood or analog.

That being said, it seems pretty clear that most of us are hearing differences, and to a large degree are agreeing on some of those qualities.  This kind of renews my faith in humanity!

Those of us that build with those materials, or have instruments of them, probably have our prejudices all ready and waiting....hard to leave those things at the door!

I have used black walnut a lot, and I admit I use it because it's beautiful and I have a lot available, not because it's necessarily my favorite tonewood for back and sides.  For tonal effect, I generally find I prefer mahogany (which I don't use much for a variety of reasons), I like the warmth and color it can lend to a tone.  Walnut is a more neutral wood, in my experience....even a bit "dead" (for example, most walnut I've handled, and that's quite a bit by now, doesn't exhibit much of a strong tap-tone...it doesn't seem like a musical wood, like some woods do i.e. mahogany, Brazilian rosewood, redwood....those are all woods that can have strong musical tap tone just as lumber).  It turns out, that this neutrality of tone can actually be a really nice thing, it can allow you to focus your voicing work on the top, without fear that some strong quality or flavor entered by the back will screw it all up.  Another aspect of that neutrality of tone is that it can help make things clearer, better balanced.  Unlike a wood that adds warmth and bassiness, like mahogany, which can make things a bit cloudy or indefinite.

I would also point out that even in two very, very similar instruments, there will be tonal differences introduced due to many factors in the building process, as well as the other woods (especially, of course, the topwood, which is the most important factor in tone, at least in material choices) used, finish, strings, set-up and so on and so on!

My preference in these two examples?  I think I'm hearing a lot of what others are hearing...I hear more "happening" with the mahogany, more life, more juice, more "stuff"...which does, yes, equal a bit of "mushiness".  I've always liked mushiness, I guess....I eat mush for breakfast every morning!  And the black walnut seems a little lacking in a way, because it is clearer and a bit "drier" sounding.  But actually, surprise, surprise, I think the walnut maybe works better for this instrument, which already has a lot of "stuff going on with the subbasses and the bigger, more echoey box.

I guess that doesn't quite say which I prefer....I like them both, and would use them for different reasons, as a musician.

Thanks again guys...got the ol' brainwaves cranked up, there!

Fred

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thetonedevil

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Reply with quote  #10 
FC 
i gotta hand it to ya.
you really have hit the nail right on the proverbial head with your comment. i agree with you 110%, and seem to have the exact same opinions. i recently build a 6 string small bodied guitar with maple B&S and sitka top. i read that maple is very tonally neutral and noticed exactly that. i am very happy with the minimal over tones of the guitar, it is very focused. i believe that walnut is quite similar in its neutrality. i look forward to using more of it in the future. thanks for your comment. it was a treat to read.
...Fred has been one of the greatest inspirations to my continued lutherie.   

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DavidWhite

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Reply with quote  #11 
Tone/Fred,

I think that depends on the species of Walnut, if you can get your hands on some European Walnut (I say European but it's originally from Persia - Juglans regia) give it a try. It's softer than the American walnuts (Black and Claro) and has a surprising amount of overtone content along with the string clarity that walnut brings plus it rings like the proverbial bell when you tap it. I think that this is the root-stock used for many of the Walnuts grown in California and is what you get in Bastoigne walnut cut at the root-stock join.

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thetonedevil

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Reply with quote  #12 
DW,
i seem to recall following your build using euro walnut. i would love to get my hands on some. i assume it is supplied to guitar makers at quite high prices. i tend to look for well cut affordable wood, and have been using black walnut and Af mahog. sometimes i find some walnut with some blond sapwood in it. that seems to be slightly lighter density. i like how it looks too.


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Anthony J. Powell
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DavidWhite

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Reply with quote  #13 
Tone,

It's not that easy to get - you have to wait for an old tree to blow down and check with the wood suppliers. I recently managed to get some nice sets including one for a harp guitar from David Dyke and given its rarity the price was very good too.

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FredCarlson

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Reply with quote  #14 
True, I've mostly used so-called black walnut for back and sides, maybe one or two instruments with "English" walnut from the eastern US.  I've used what I believed to be "Claro" black walnut, which is the native California species (sorry I don't know the Latin name), and I currently have a big supply of what I believe to be black walnut (American but probably not Claro) that came from a walnut orchard being taken down and cut for firewood(!!!).  I got a few figured trunks; the English walnut was grafted onto the black rootstock, and the graft on most of the trees was about 3 to 3-1/2 feet above ground, creating just guitar-size black walnut stock in the trunk.  It's really cool to cut this stuff open and see the actual graft...the change in the wood from one tree species to the grafted-on species....nature is amazing!

Anyway, I haven't used any of this yet, but it seems really similar in all ways to the other "black" walnut I've used.  I don't know what species the "English" walnut I used was; it was softer and grayer in color, less figured.  It had even less tap-tone than the black walnut.  It sounds like what David is calling European (Persian) walnut is something different still, if it has such musical quality.  But then, trees can really differ from one to the next, within a species, as we know...

For a little while I was using a walnut relative that the local lumber yard stocked...I think they called it "South American" walnut, something like that.  Relatively inexpensive, and absolutely huge pieces, both long and wide; clearly from some really big tropical tree.  This wood reminded me more of mahogany, with a color somewhere between black and English walnut.  The grain structure was like mahogany, and it was a bit softer than black walnut and more musical.  I used it for a few necks...very nice for that.  Then, I read an article somewhere about cheap tropical hardwoods ending up in commercial lumberyards, and where they actually came from.  The author made a case that often woods like that lovely "walnut" were harvested by essentially forced labor; natives in very remote encampments in the rainforest living in horrible conditions, working for virtually no pay.  I stopped using that wood, though I'd like to find a source of it that I could verify was coming from good, sustainable practices...it's nice wood.

Maple....my experience there is that it actually does contribute more to the tone (in character) than the walnuts I've used.  It seems to favor clarity and treble; brighter, and rather "dry" sounding, not real warm.  Definitely not mushy!  And there are big differences in the various maple species, too.  I've used mostly the west coast Big Leaf maple, softer than the eastern rock maple, and I think a bit warmer in tone.  But it can really vary, tree to tree.

Woods...magic stuff!

Fred

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thetonedevil

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Reply with quote  #15 
interesting and fascinating experiences Fred. i m quite interested in the south american walnut wood you used that was similar to Mahogany. sounds like quite nice tonewood. i like walnut, in fact it is my favorite wood and i am pleased that it is a commonly used in lutherie, i also think it makes an awesome harp guitar. i agree with your comments on maple as well.
my maple guitar, which is a small bodied guitar, is really nicely voiced for strumming rhythm accompanied by harp guitar. it doesnt rumble with lows and mids and allows the harp guitar to do its work around the chords, say capoed at the 3-5th fret. guitar and harp guitar together seem very versatile for song arrangement. so far we are the most pleased with our walnut harp guitars, especially when installed properly with the Dazzo pickup system and misi preamp. there is a certain clarity and sustain absent with the mahogany instruments. it would be cool to make a maple harp guitar and perhaps Italian poplar. i also plan on making a cherry instrument soon. so many woods... 

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FredCarlson

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Reply with quote  #16 
Tone,

Cherry is one of my favorites!  Smells great, nice to work, nice, even kind of tonal response; a little more warm and musical than maple, I think.  Can be a challenge to find pieces big enough for quarter sawn backs!

I have a lot of woods waiting for me to try....Bay Laurel, Monterey Cypress, mango, all sorts of stuff!  Still looking into cloning myself....

Fred

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