Cedar vs Spruce for guitar tops, which way should you go? When you’re choosing a guitar, the top is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. The material it’s made from will affect the sound of your instrument in a major way. Cedar and spruce guitar tops are two of the most common types of wood used for soundboards, so we’re going to take a look at the pros and cons of each one. Which one should you choose for your guitar? Here are my findings from over 10 years of working with the materials.
What is Cedar?
Cedar is a type of wood that comes from the cedar tree. Cedar trees were initially from regions like North America, South America, and the Caribbean. They grow in a variety of climates, from humid tropical forests to dry mountain ranges. The ‘Cedar of Lebanon’ was introduced to Britain around 400 years ago and it can now be found scattered around parks in the UK. The distinctive features of cedars include their needles, which are bluish-green and tend to hang from branches in clusters. They have big cones that resemble barrels and grow upwards on the limbs of the tree.
The most popular Cedarwood used on tops is called Western Red Cedar, it often grows slower, and therefore has tighter grain lines, meaning it has more strength. Also because they are large trees, it is easy to get perfectly quarter sawn tops from the tree. With a lovely dark red / brown to their final colour, these trees are mainly grown in North America.
Does Cedar make a good guitar top?
Cedar is a lighter-weight wood than Spruce, which helps to make it more resonant. However, when subjected to force, cedar can be less robust. Cedar trees are very large, thus the soundboards they create are of high quality. They’re always exactly quarter sawn and have straight grain. On a new guitar, the color of cedar guitar tops will be a light reddish-brown. With age, it will darken to a rich honey color. Cedar Guitar tops are known for having a very responsive attack and being particularly well-suited for fingerstyle playing. They have a clear, warm sound with lots of overtones.
Personal thoughts on Cedar for a guitar top
Because the wood is highly resonant, I try to make it thicker than Spruce as it is highly resonant. This helps eliminate unwanted overtones, which might otherwise result in notes getting lost among other sounds and preventing the guitarist from playing different parts at once. Leaving the top thicker than the typical spruce top also adds to the wood’s strength. Given the stress exerted on a guitar top, this is always a big help! So hopefully this gives you a bit of an insight into my thoughts when it comes to Cedar Guitar tops and Cedar vs Spruce
What is Spruce?
There are many forms of Spruce, but they all have similar characteristics. A typical guitar top material: Sitka Spruce initially Originated from the west coast of North America. After being introduced to Britain in 1831, it has been grown in plantations with the specific conditions required to keep this tree alive. There are also Norway Spruce trees (Picea Abies) which have been grown in the UK since around 1800.
The bark of mature trees (over 80 years old) is dark purple-brown with cracks. The twigs are orange-brown, grooved, and hairless. Spruce are known for their many sharp needles.
Does Spruce make a good guitar top?
Spruce is frequently regarded as the superior of the two kinds of wood in the guitar world. It’s whiter in color, although it does acquire a more tanned hue with time. It’s seen as a greater versatile wood, allowing you to play a wider range of colors. Playing around the 12th fret with your right hand can sound very warm, but it the tone sharpens as you move up the fretboard. It often has slightly wider winter growth, which adds to its strength along the grain. However, this does mean you have to work hard to bring out its best resonances.
Personal thoughts on Spruce Guitar Tops
To make a Spruce guitar top resonant you have to work fairly hard to bring out its best tones. Meaning sometimes it has to go quite thin. But since the winter growth is quite strong, the wood allows you to do this.
My favourite Spruce to use, is Italian Alpine Spruce. You will find this on 99% of my spruce top guitars. For me, it is the most resonant and has the right amount of strength required to create a top quality guitar.
In short Cedar vs Spruce?
Cedar is a softwood, which means it’s not as strong as spruce. It’s also more porous, so it doesn’t hold finish as well. However, these qualities give cedar a warmer sound than spruce. Cedar tops are usually found on classical guitars, although they’re sometimes used on steel-string acoustic guitars as well. If you’re looking for a rich, warm sound, cedar is a great choice.
Spruce, on the other hand, is a much harder wood. It’s also less porous, so it can be polished to a high shine. Spruce tops are the most common type of top used on steel-string acoustic guitars as well as classical guitars. If you’re looking for a bright, versatile, punchy sound, spruce is the way to go.
So which one should you choose? It really depends on the sound you’re going for. If you’d like to talk it through with me, contact me here. Or give me a call. I’d love to talk it out!