Domestic woods in guitar building

Duesenberg Starplayer TV in the test apparatus

The Dresden University of Technology and Duesenberg Guitars present the results of their joint research.

At the latest from the time when regulations around the CITES topic massively influenced guitar building and trade, time is pressing to look for alternatives for the woods that have dominated guitar building for decades. The clock is ticking faster and faster for species such as mahogany, ebony and other endangered woods, and for Brazilian rosewood it has already expired.

Various Fretboards

What makes the search for adequate alternatives fundamentally more difficult is the fact that these must not only fulfil the constructional, optical and tonal properties of e.g. rosewood, but must also be obtained as sustainably as possible so that they can be a real alternative in the long term. In addition, it would be desirable to be able to integrate especially domestic woods into guitar building, so that species-appropriate reforestation and logging not only becomes more transparent for all those involved, but also leaves as small a CO2 footprint as possible due to short transport distances.

Fingerboard blank
The modal analysis

With this high approach as its goal, the Professorship of Wood Technology and Fibre Materials Engineering at the Technical University of Dresden, in collaboration with Duesenberg Guitars, researched indigenous wood species such as beech, oak and robinia to investigate their suitability as fingerboard wood and thus as a high-quality and at the same time sustainable rosewood alternative.

The focus of the analyses was on the one hand on the strength and stiffness and on the other hand on the acoustic properties of the individual fingerboard blanks (sound absorption behaviour, frequency spectra etc.) as well as their colouring and grain. The explicit aim was to establish analogous properties to Indian rosewood (Dalbergia latifolia ROXB.).

Since the investigated native wood species beech, oak and robinia are only conditionally suitable for use as fingerboard wood in their original state, because they show, among other things, a high swelling and shrinkage behaviour under climatic fluctuations and cannot offer the constancy necessary for guitar building, a special combined process technology developed by the TU Dresden was applied to modify the density and colour of the woods over the entire wood cross-section. Among other things, the wood structure in the form of the wood cells was permanently compressed and the structural components in the cell wall of the respective wood were modified.

The raw material in the press

Various destructive and non-destructive tests were then carried out to characterize the mechanical and acoustic properties of the modified woods and in particular to compare them with those of Indian rosewood. Colour matching and - if necessary - colour adjustments were also carried out.
In these extensive material tests, preferred variants of the modified wood assortments emerged, which were most similar or even better than Indian rosewood in terms of mechanical properties, acoustics and appearance. From exactly these material variants fingerboards in the usual dimensions were then manufactured and installed on several exactly identical guitars (Duesenberg Starplayer TV).

Preparation for gluing a fingerboard to the neck Gluing the fingerboard Device in which the strings are strummed and the signal is measured The attack is generated mechanically.

These guitars were subjected to mechanical strumming tests to determine the attack and sustain of the guitars as objectively as possible. On the other hand, an experienced guitarist played the various Duesenberg test guitars blindfolded in order to be able to compare and evaluate subjectively perceived characteristics such as attack behaviour, sustain, timbre and sound volume from a musician's perspective.

The test guitars: Duesenberg Starplayer TV with beech, oak, robinia and rosewood fretboards As a result of this series of tests, we were able to clearly establish that it is indeed possible to replace the good old rosewood as fingerboard wood with domestic wood species - and that without having to accept disadvantages in terms of sound, appearance or construction. However, the use of beech, oak or robinia requires that these woods must be subjected to a process engineering as developed by the TU Dresden and described above before they can fulfil the desired tonewood properties.

So this is positive news for all guitar manufacturers and musicians, because the research work of the TU Dresden has not only proven that there are adequate alternatives to Indian rosewood as fretboard wood, but also that these alternatives can even be obtained from local forests and woodland!

The Professorship for Wood Technology and Fibre Materials Technology at the TU Dresden, which is part of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, focuses its research on wood processing, wood modification, wood-based materials and composites.

The research project was funded by the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy Germany (Project Management Agency: AiF Projekt GmbH) on the basis of a resolution of the German Bundestag (funding reference numbers: ZF4474501SU7 and ZF4100922SU7). We would like to thank you very much for your support. 

An equally warm thank you for the immensely exciting and friendly cooperation goes to the Professorship for Wood Technology and Fibre Materials Technology at the TU Dresden and the ZIM (Central Innovation Programme for Medium-Sized Enterprises). It was a great honour for us to have been given the opportunity by the Federal Republic of Germany alone to do intensive research and work on this project.

Hannover, June 2020

Ingo Renner
CEO and Co-Owner
göldo music GmbH / Duesenberg Guitars


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