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Looking at Bracewood Choices

How a guitar is braced, and how bracing affects a guitar’s tone and stability, is a widely discussed and debated topic in lutherie. We will be looking at some of these discussions in the following week’s emails and blogs. This week we look briefly at the material choices LMI makes available.

Currently, LMI offers eight species of bracewood. Among the hardwoods we have Honduran Mahogany, Spanish Cedar and two “Mahogany substitute” species; Sapele and Khaya.  For softwoods, we have four Spruces: Sitka, Engelmann, Adirondack, and German. We also have Western Redcedar.

For the guitar’s top, the common thinking is that it is best to use the same kind of wood for the braces as is used for the soundboard, however, there are two divergent opinions. Some believe that with the more brittle woods like Cedar and Redwood, better reinforcement is achieved with a stiffer material such as Sitka Spruce. For some, it is generally preferable to use the stiffest material possible (most agree that this is Adirondack Spruce) no matter what the soundboard material is. This is selected so that the braces ‘footprint’ and overall mass can be less while still providing the requisite support.

On the back, where vibration is somewhat less critical and where there is no need to ‘brace against’ the pull of the strings, the wood choice is more open-ended. Still, more often than not hardwood is selected as it is assumed that over time it will ‘move’ at a rate closer to that of the hardwood back material thus providing a measure of assurance that no gaps or cracks will appear over time. Mahogany is the standard choice, prized for its excellent stability. On the other hand, some feel the weight is of paramount importance and so choose spruce or a similar (lightweight) softwood to reinforce the back. Cosmetics are also a concern as the back braces are clearly seen through the soundhole.