My dad had his 75th birthday a while ago and I wanted to give him something special. Since I couldn’t afford a classic wooden yacht, I picked the second choice on my list, a 00 sized handmade acoustic guitar.
He’s been a keen guitar player as long as I can remember, not the kind who has daily practice routines, but rather picks up the guitar when he feels like it and enjoys singing along to some jazzy chords.
In the last couple of years there has been a lot of discussion about tropical vs local woods and with this guitar, I personally wanted to be part of it. It is easier to form your own opinion, both as a listener/player and as a luthier, after experiencing it for yourself and not just reading about it. I think there are attributes in favour of both, but we can’t deny tropical woods are becoming more scarce and local woods might be an untapped source of high-quality raw material. If you fancy reading more about the subject, I strongly recommend you this page where you can find out more about the Leonardo Guitar Research Project’s exhaustive research.
SPOILER ALERT!!! If you find the test details difficult or boring to read, the results would suggest that it was very difficult to distinguish between tropical and non-tropical guitars under blind tests but once the blindfolds were off there was a strong bias towards tropical species. What became absolutely clear, after hearing and seeing many of the guitars tested, is that words like “best” or “bad” simply shouldn’t be used when referring to any of the tonewoods used.
So, to get back to my father’s guitar, I wanted to use local timber and was lucky to find some flamed alder (Alnus glutinosa) that I used for the back and sides. The neck was also made from the same wood but was also laminated with flamed birch to give it rigidity and has carbon fibre strips for the same purpose. The fretboard, headstock veneer and all bindings are also flamed birch. The top and braces are Finnish spruce, air dried since 1993.
For someone used to bigger acoustic guitars it might seem it lacks a touch of bass, but I find it refreshing not having to worry about a boomy low end associated with bigger bodies. In fact, you might not need that high pass filter at all while recording or amplifying this thing. Another important issue is volume. Long gone are the days when guitars had to be as loud as possible just so they would be heard. Advances in miking/pickup technology mean that even a relatively small guitar can have a huge sound, the focus has to be on the quality not the quantity of sound.
I don’t know if I chose the best birthday present ever (I mean, he really would deserve that yacht), but judging by the grin on his face when he opened the case, I think so.