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PostPosted: Sat Sep 23, 2017 6:16 pm 
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Koa
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I don't use Mahogany much in my builds anymore. But I still run down to buy some for headblocks and tailblocks every time I run out. I am starting to ask myself why.

If I laminated some Birch Ply together I should have a strong and stable piece that will machine well for a mortise and take screws or inserts. Does anyone here use Birch Ply? If not, why not?

On a related note, what woods do people like using?


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PostPosted: Sat Sep 23, 2017 7:04 pm 
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I have been using Birch Ply for my tail-blocks for years (and I know a number of other builders that do as well). It is strong and will not crack if a guitar is dropped on the end pin/jack. I use an "L" shaped head-block which has a support piece extending from the block under the fretboard extension. I make the extended piece from birch ply as same as the tail-blockl. There would be no issue with strength when using the ply, as it is very strong. The only down side I can see is that it is more difficult to rout than Mahogany, and it will look different than most other guitars that have solid blocks. But if you don't mind those things you should be fine. Structurally I can't see a problem.

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 23, 2017 7:07 pm 
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Josh H wrote:
...The only down side I can see is that it is more difficult to rout than Mahogany, and it will look different than most other guitars that have solid blocks. But if you don't mind those things you should be fine. Structurally I can't see a problem.


You can always switch to a slightly thinner piece of baltic, and cap it with some mahogany. Nobody would know the difference.

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 23, 2017 7:30 pm 
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Be sure its Baltic Birch, not the orange box stuff. Most (all) of my jigs are made out of Baltic Birch ply. More expensive than "regular" Birch Plywood? Definitely. But certainly worth it.

And yes, i use it for head and tail block on ukulele. Head block is a bolt-on M&T.


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PostPosted: Sat Sep 23, 2017 7:46 pm 
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Don Williams wrote:
Josh H wrote:
...The only down side I can see is that it is more difficult to rout than Mahogany, and it will look different than most other guitars that have solid blocks. But if you don't mind those things you should be fine. Structurally I can't see a problem.


You can always switch to a slightly thinner piece of baltic, and cap it with some mahogany. Nobody would know the difference.


Don, I like how you think!


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PostPosted: Sat Sep 23, 2017 8:12 pm 
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All day long for tail blocks.

I have used it for bolt on neck head blocks.. I decided I like more glue joint area for the top and back than end grain plywood can offer. Otherwise - it would be about perfect.

Something to think about.... There are plenty of woods that will do just fine. 8/4+ flat sawn cherry, soft maple, african mahogany, poplar, aspen, beech, walnut and a whole host of others are fine woods for the head block. And flat sawn stock is pretty easy to locate.. I have even used red oak. Besides being hard to work - its a great head block material.



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PostPosted: Sat Sep 23, 2017 9:43 pm 
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Been using 1/2 BB for tail blocks for 10 years. Decided on my latest one to use it for a headblock too. Made a right angle with it for support of the fretboard. Added some dowels to the right angle joint to lock it together. And added a flying carbon fiber tube for rigidity and a carbon fiber bar reinforcement along the edge just for grins.

Attachment:
IMG_0016.jpg


The sides and linings are laminated too so there is sort of a theme with this one. It is for a Gore falcate OM style.


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PostPosted: Sat Sep 23, 2017 11:22 pm 
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"You can always switch to a slightly thinner piece of baltic, and cap it with some mahogany. Nobody would know the difference."

I make up a length of head block material out of two half inch thick pieces of baltic birch and one half inch thick piece of mahogany, and then veneer the sides with mahogany veneer. Using the 1/2 inch mahogany face allows me to chamfer or radius the outside face to reduce any stress riser and not expose plywood. Assembling a length or two and cutting them to length as I need them saves some labor over making them one at a time.
I use bolt on necks so I don't have to worry about steam in the joint.


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 24, 2017 5:30 am 
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I wouldn't do it.....

Maybe for tail blocks I might have tried it but I didn't. The neck block though is particularilly where the neck couples to the body, vibrationally.... and as such I would be very hesitant to use anything with higher dampening than good, ole Honduran Mahogany or even Maple. I've always envisioned the neck block as the heart of the instrument and that's also why I built with rather massive neck blocks.

I can also hear Zero Mostel in my head singing the tune "Tradition...." ;)

Can I prove that vibrationally speaking plyw**d is inferior to Honduran Mahogany? Nope nor would I attempt to, it's not an issue important enough to me what others do for head/tail blocks. But for my own stuff I always, always, always used and wanted to used Honduran Mahogany.

PS: To me material selection is every bit as important as how we put things together. I see lots of imports daily and they are crafted with plywood. Do you think that Chinese instruments use plywood because it's superior or because it's all they can get?



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PostPosted: Sun Sep 24, 2017 6:40 am 
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Martin has used plywood for neck and tail blocks on some of their low end instruments, and Taylor uses the material in their NT neck joint for the upper block, so you would be in good company using the material in the neck block area.

The positives would appear to be that the material is quite stable and mills cleanly, provides some additional face grain gluing area in cutaway guitar neck joints, and has very good bearing strength for use with bolted fasteners. The negatives appear to me to be the additional weight of the material (about 60% more than mahogany), some reduction in the face grain gluing surface on the top and back joints (assuming solid wood neck block grain direction alignment with the sides), and the negative view of engineered materials use which some buyers - and some repair people, to judge from Mr. Breakstone's comments - will have with regard to employing plywood in primary structure for an acoustic guitar. As an example of the last, you need only look to the extraordinary stretching of the truth which manufacturers engage in to avoid saying 'plywood back and sides' in advertising copy.

With those pros and cons taken into consideration, if the instrument is built for your pleasure and education, perhaps a little experimentation is in order.

As to alternative solid wood choices, I have seen what appeared to be spruce, poplar, and birch all used for neck blocks in budget or war years instruments built in the first half of the 20th Century. I am certain the other repair people can weigh in on these instruments, but from what I have seen, spruce and poplar would be reasonable choices for neck blocks which will not have to endure a dovetail neck reset. Once again, the buying public might see these alternative woods as characteristic of an instrument built with less than optimal materials, but for a personal instrument, why not experiment and share your results with us?

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 24, 2017 9:29 am 
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Baltic Birch plywood will have much greater split resistance than solid wood. I have seen enough split headblocks to think that this is an important advantage of plywood.


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 24, 2017 8:21 pm 
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Some builders are using double sides because they take less energy from the top. How much vibration coupling do we really want with the neck and body?
Can we make the same arguments for reflective vs. active for the neck/body as for top/back?


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 24, 2017 8:33 pm 
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Not to difficult to make a three ply mahogany head or tail block that'll resist splitting, and hold your hardware of choice.

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 24, 2017 9:34 pm 
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My layperson's guess is that a block made of 3 layers of a wood would have very different resonant qualities compared to a solid block of the same species. Wiser heads than mine will need to comment on whether a birch plywood block is in fact acoustically different from a mahogany 3-ply block, or if birch plywood is acoustically a lot more like mahogany plywood than either of those compared to solid mahogany.

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 24, 2017 11:36 pm 
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Every pre-war Martin and other very valuable vintage instrument including arch tops, L-5's, D'Aquistos, pre-war dr*ads, OOO-28's etc, too many to list that we've worked on were all solid head blocks.

I think it's fine for folks to always do what they wish but I also don't see splitting head blocks including on a nearly pre-civil-war restoration Martin that we did an issue. What I do see is folks wanting that traditional, vintage tone and that also usually means not being all that keen to have plywood in their instruments.

This is the ole wood worker vs. Luthier argument and is highly dependent on one's perspective. If you see guitars as tools for musicians you may also find yourself a traditionalist. If you see them as a wood working project variation may interest you. I think folks should always do as they wish.

For me though certain things require tradition and I'm also not looking for solutions in search of a problem. I've never seen a split neck block and this includes over 5,000 guitars in the last five years.



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PostPosted: Mon Sep 25, 2017 2:19 am 
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Hesh wrote:
I've never seen a split neck block and this includes over 5,000 guitars in the last five years.


That's strange, I've had a few on the bench, and I don't even do repairs for a living, so I haven't worked on nearly that many. Yes, these were traditional one piece blocks, dovetails and all, so in my experience they do crack from time to time. However, these were guitars that also had other extensive damage, so certainly not something you on a regular basis, on otherwise healthy instruments. FWIW I usually use mahogany one piece neck blocks and plywood end blocks on my own instruments.

I think it would be quite difficult to find out what the different materials in this position contribute to the sound of the instrument, my hunch is that it doesn't make a whole lot of difference, as this is a pretty dense part of the construction. I'm much more concerned with its geometry in regard to the structural integrity of the instrument, getting good glue joints, serviceability of the neck joint etc.

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PostPosted: Mon Sep 25, 2017 3:20 am 
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Alex Kleon wrote:
Not to difficult to make a three ply mahogany head or tail block that'll resist splitting, and hold your hardware of choice.

Alex


+1 That's what I do.

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PostPosted: Mon Sep 25, 2017 7:12 pm 
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What if it was a solid piece of birch? I recall Gibson subbing birch for maple in some of their mandolins. Wonder if the acoustic properties are that bad.


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 25, 2017 8:05 pm 
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Birch is a fantastic tonewood... Its also tremendously stable and resists cracks well... It got a bad rap because many poor quality guitars were made of birch.. But that was due to horrible workmanship and bad designs - not a wood problem.

Birch red heartwood is often sold as cherry (DAMHIK)... And the white sap wood is often sold as soft maple..


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 25, 2017 9:27 pm 
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Attributing tonal qualities to the headblock material is pretty funny.



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PostPosted: Tue Sep 26, 2017 2:34 am 
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printer2 wrote:
What if it was a solid piece of birch? I recall Gibson subbing birch for maple in some of their mandolins. Wonder if the acoustic properties are that bad.


Lots of vintage Gibson mandolins and guitars had birch back, sides and necks, the ones I have tried and worked on are generally fine sounding instruments. The early 'teens mandolins are on the heavy side, at least compared to some measurements I have seen for 'Loar period' instruments, but they sound sweet and thick, albeit not as loud as the later ones. Birch is common in these, but I suspect the difference in construction has more to do with the sound than the wood.

I have made a few (European) birch mandolins, IME it it quite similar to our maple, which is considered a soft maple in the US, similar to big leaf, red maple etc. US (hard) sugar maple is closer to yellow birch in density, of these I have used only the former, but I would expect their sonic properties to be similar. It can be difficult to tell them apart, but quartered maple has more pronounced ray flecks, and if its flamed it tends to have a tighter curl than birch. European maple is lighter in color than our birch.

In the past I have used European birch for headblocks for both guitars and mandolins, the instruments have held up well and sound good to me, their owners seem to like them. I doubt they would have sounded much different with another type of wood for neck block, but hard to know.

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 26, 2017 6:17 am 
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When is a three ply neck block a 'laminate' and when is it plywood? The definitions I find mention 'two or more layers of wood glued and pressed together with alternating grain direction.' The boss offers that while plywood is a laminate, there are wood laminates which are not plywood.

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 26, 2017 1:45 pm 
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printer2 wrote:
What if it was a solid piece of birch? I recall Gibson subbing birch for maple in some of their mandolins. Wonder if the acoustic properties are that bad.

And


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