Figured Backs

Have you ever noticed how many hardwood suppliers have jumped on the bandwagon and entered the instrument wood market? Many of these suppliers have been in the business for years and no doubt know their wood. But perhaps in some cases they are taking advantage of those luthiers who are willing to sacrifice stability for the sake of appearance.

Some of this highly figured wood is absolutely smashing. And I would be the first to admit to having the temptation to build an instrument using it. Nonetheless, I am staying clear of this eye-candy and sticking to more conservative stock in the interest of stability.

Several years ago I purchased a truckload of walnut logs which I hand split and then stacked to air dry for about two years. I was able to get a fair number of quarter-sawn billets out of those logs. While none of it truly matches the beauty of some of the figured wood I’ve seen offered, there is some pretty nice stuff. No doubt it will make some very fine steel string guitars. I may use some of it to build some classical boxes. There were a few crotches that had some promise, but it moved like there was no tomorrow when I resawed it; into the fire pile it went. The wood was nowhere near as dry as it should have been and I did expect a bit of warping, but nothing like I experienced. The quarter-sawn boards from the same log were relatively stable after they were resawn, which is what I expected.


  1. Pierre330


    There are guitars that one looks at in amazement at the beauty of the wood grains and patterns. It’s hard not to be attracted to the sheer natural beauty. However, if the sound is lacking or if the integrity of the instrument is compromised, there’s no real point.

    Though they make for great ice breakers when hanging on the wall as a decorative piece. That’s pretty much what my electric guitars have become since my exploration of the classical / fingerstyle guitar world.

    1. Chuck


      You might be interested in reading my post on Back and Side Laminations, which I believe gives me the latitude to use some of these wild wood with sacrificing integrity.



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