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Thread: Customer selecting specific woods for custom build

  1. #1

    Default Customer selecting specific woods for custom build


    First time posting here, but I've been lurking through the forum archives for a while.

    I'm hoping to ask the many builders on this forum what their opinion is of customers requesting specific woods on their builds(IE Port Orford top, Red maple back ect).

    In particular, I was reading this very old post from 2005 where someone was trying to purchase the piece wood to be used in their mandolin build, going beyond just asking for a specific wood species. Both both the builders and the wood suppliers agreed that this wasn't a good idea :

    Is there a big difference between a customer asking for a specific species of wood and actually buying the very piece of wood to be used in the build? Assuming the wood is bought from a reliable supplier.

    Do builders generally prefer to select the wood on client supplied characteristics like wanting a warm tone, or a cutting tone, a Monroe sound and so on and find specific wood requests unwelcome?

    I'm not planning on having a custom mandolin built myself anytime soon, but I am curious.

    Thank you for your time.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Customer selecting specific woods for custom build

    We collect wood for years and know, or at least think we know, the characteristics of our wood in the stash, and we learn to shape and graduate the raw materials that we have to our best benefit. If you want us to make something out of wood that we don't know and haven't used before, then it can be difficult to get the results that you want, and we want.

    Best to let the luthier use what they think is their best materials. Try to play enough of a luthier's instruments to see if there is a "sound" that they have, as in Martin Guitars have a distinctly different sound from a Gibson. Find the sound that you like, play enough of their instruments to trust that you like that sound, then order one.

    Then, you have to play it in...

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  4. #3
    Timothy Tim Logan's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2017
    Shutesbury, MA

    Default Re: Customer selecting specific woods for custom build

    The luthier who recently made my octave mandolin was totally amenable to my selecting woods. First we discussed the tonal qualities of all the woods that I was curious about until we decided on a specific type of wood. Then he directed me to a very reliable supplier whose website showed specific back and side piece sets with pricing. I chose the figure that I liked the most and then the luthier ordered that specific piece of wood. He knew the quality and reliability of the supplier and I knew the "look" I wanted. When it came to top wood I felt it was best for the luthier to hand pick and tap a piece that he believed would be best for my objectives. This collaboration worked very well for both the luthier and me. I was over-the-hill pleased with the results. I will post a picture here of the wood I chose as it was sold by the supplier. The builder was Paddy Burgin of Burgin Guitars.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    ďThere are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.Ē ― Albert Schweitzer

    1925 Lyon & Healy Model A, #1674
    2015 Collings A (MT2-V)
    2020 Burgin Shanghai Octave Mandolin

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  6. #4

    Default Re: Customer selecting specific woods for custom build

    Wow! That's a great looking piece of wood and sounds like you got really involved and had fun in the building process.

    It's also a great point that maybe certain parts of the wood on the mandolin, such as the top, might be more important to have directly controlled by the builder who knows their stock, as luthier88 said.

  7. #5
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2003

    Default Re: Customer selecting specific woods for custom build

    luthier88 said it well.
    A builder developed a characteristic sound, with enough experience. He/she can vary that sound to some extent, but few can comply with "I want it to sound like mandolin X" built my someone else. Part of that characteristic sound comes from experience with wood; a private stash, a reliable supplier or other consistent source.
    If you like a builder's characteristic sound and want that sound in your instrument, let him/her choose the wood. If you want something else entirely it might be best to go to a different luthier.

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  9. #6
    Registered User Timbofood's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Kalamazoo, MI.

    Default Re: Customer selecting specific woods for custom build

    In the custom jewelry world people come in with all sorts of parameters they have to have. Then reality hits! I had one guy that asked about a 2 carat natural (non enhanced, think, torrefied) green brilliant cut diamond. Yes, I could have found one, yes, I could have designed the ring he wanted, he didnít have three kidneys to sell to cover the cost. He still ended up buying a beautiful ring, just had no clue that what he was asking for was a unicorn beyond his means.
    Commissioning a custom instrument is not quite the same as that but itís certainly similar, a customer may ask for something without understanding anything about the characteristics of the material. There starts the teaching aspects of what a luthier (or a jeweler) sees every day. Teach what the materials properties are and make informed, careful, well founded choices. If the material is walnut from their childhood home which they want for an instrument, thatís a little different story but, I think Iíve made my point. If someone wants specific material that may not be a good Tonewood choice, they need to be informed of that, if they are asking for informed and wise choices they are rare and I hope they have spent wisely.
    Timothy F. Lewis
    "If brains was lard, that boy couldn't grease a very big skillet" J.D. Clampett

  10. #7
    Registered User j. condino's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Asheville, NC

    Default Re: Customer selecting specific woods for custom build

    Don't expect any kind of warranty when you bring your back of Home Depot dumpster diver wood and ask someone else to build something from it!

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  12. #8

    Default Re: Customer selecting specific woods for custom build

    Thanks for the replies so far guys, very interesting to read all this.

    Sunburst do you normally let your customers have input, after giving them your thoughts on what different types of woods sound like/achieve, on the types of woods to be used in one of your builds? Or do you like to take full artistic control and build towards a clients general descriptors (Warm, bright, ect) with your own selection of wood?

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