Choosing Face Wood

By John Gilbert

Very often I hear or read in print information about face wood, which I know from experience to be incorrect. This misinformation usually pertains to the claim that quarter-sawn wood that shows wood rays is highly superior to wood that doesnít show such rays. This just isnít so. In fact, most of my guitars donít show wood rays (or "silk" as itís sometimes called), and I have never found a bit of difference in the sound qualities of wood with or without silk.

Oh, it might look better, but I put more emphasis on sound and solid construction than I do on appearance. Donít misunderstand me; Iím not trying to build an ugly guitar, but the fact is an audience hears a guitar when they canít tell for sure who made it. So what I stress in the wood I select is that it have no grain runout in the sound producing area (i.e. in the area below the sound hole). If there is a slight runout, I try to place that part of the wood toward the neck where it doesnít matter much and where the change in color caused by light reflection is less noticeable because the fingerboard and rosette separate the face halves.

Another fallacy I often hear is the claim that if the grain isnít the same width all the way across the board it wonít make a good guitar. My own experience tells me otherwise. I have made guitars out of wood that other makers have rejected because of this feature. The guitars have played fine, in fact, in many hundreds of concerts throughout the world.

Consequently, do yourself a favor and consider these three features when selecting wood for the faces:

    1. How much will it weigh when it is brought down to final thickness?
    2. How much strength will it have?
    3. How thick will it be?

In short, donít worry about wood rays and uneven grain. Many guitarists are told to look for this silk and fine grain in any instrument they buy, and this is pure nonsense. What is far more important is the sound quality of the guitar.

John Gilbert is a well known builder of classical guitars. John now devotes his time to the production of his line of tuners while his son William continues the Gilbert tradition of high quality concert guitars. Gilbert guitars have been used by David Russel, David Leisner, George Sakellariou, David Tanenbaum, Frederic Hand, Earl Klugh, Raphaella Smits, and many others.