TNAG Connoisseur, Tonewoods

Tonewood Tours: Cedar

In the latest installment of the Connoisseur's Tonewood Tours series, Dave Hunter takes a closer look at cedar, perhaps the most "arguably under-appreciated" soundboard wood.
He chats with luthiers Richard Hoover of Santa Cruz, Dion James, Ben Wilborn, and David Mathis of Gallagher Guitars, tackling cedar's strengths and misconceptions. Though most often associated with fingerstyle guitars, all agree that it shouldn't be pigeon-holed. Read below for a few of our favorite quotes from Dave's fabulous overview.
Dave Hunter says, "Sonically, cedar might be somewhat related to spruce in the broad sense, yet it tends to be warmer and a bit more attenuated in the highs in particular, with its own dynamic template. As such, cedar can produce a little more volume than spruce when a lighter touch is applied—all else being relatively equal—but also runs out of headroom more quickly, and usually can't be driven past its comfortable point of responsiveness. Rather than negatives, however, these characteristics enable cedar's use in instruments with very specific purposes that will maximize these qualities. As such, most makers agree that cedar should by no means be considered a "lesser" tonewood than spruce, but one that works toward certain well-defined sonic goals. Many reputable luthiers, in fact, contend that cedar can go toe-to-toe with spruce to achieve virtually any sonic goal."
 
Dion James of Dion Guitars in Canada says: "For my personal playing I love cedar. It has such nuance even at low volume. [But] cedar can really vary in its quality, much of it too weak to build guitars with. I have an amazing stack of western red cedar from the estate of a deceased guitar maker that I bought up about ten years ago, which is very stiff and very light, closer to Lutz spruce in its material properties, though lighter weight. It makes for a very responsive guitar with as much headroom as most spruce."
 
Richard Hoover of Santa Cruz stated: "What cedar and redwood both do, they respond quicker with more volume to the same amount of energy imparted to the strings. It's a real tonewood—it's not completely specific to just fingerstyle, but it sure is an answer to that. And I think that's one of the successes of George and Flo Lowden with their instruments, that they really captured the hearts and minds of the Celtic players with the open tunings that the guys in the UK would use.'"
 
David Mathis, owner of Gallagher Guitars, shares: "I have designed a steel-string guitar in which we have paired rosewood with western red cedar. That pairing is ideal for small-body guitars such as an OM shape, which we refer to as a Grand Auditorium, but I'm very pleased with it as a dreadnought guitar as well. Why did I want cedar? Cedar is a less dense wood than spruce. While not having as much attack response and headroom as spruce, cedar provides a balance to the boomy lows and metallic brights of East Indian rosewood that results in warm, more nuanced, sweet sound with soft play, perfect for fingerstyle."
 
Ben Wilborn of Wilborn Guitars in Reno, NV says: "I love cedar. It is softer and less dense as a rule than spruce, but can be remarkably stiff. It is not used too often on steel-strings, but that is due, I think, to an inaccurate perception that it lacks the headroom to play aggressively on. I just have not found that to be true."
 
What's your take on cedar? Be sure to get the full story by downloading the TNAG Connoisseur app!
 
Check out all the cedar guitars we currently have in stock below.
 

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