Knock On Wood Alex Bishop

finds he cannot resist temptation and restocks his timber supplies with piles of maple and London plane


Let’s make this clear from the outset: I am a wood addict, a self-confessed ‘dendrophil­e’. 13 years of guitar making has made me this way compounded by an already unhealthy addiction to playing and collecting guitars, so maybe you’ll be able to relate to my obsession with hoarding timber, too.

As someone who runs two businesses, both making guitars and teaching lutherie, keeping a healthy stock of materials is essential. However, it also gives me a reason to compulsive­ly empty my bank account on a whim every time an opportunit­y to acquire wood presents itself. Such an event occurred not once but three times this month, one of which happened when I was contacted out of the blue by my old design and technology teacher from secondary school, offering some slabs of maple for a price that we both knew I wasn’t going to resist.

I’m not normally a huge fan of maple for back and sides in acoustic-guitar making, since the bright effect on tone is not something I’m particular­ly into: it’s great for the glassy sound of a slide guitar and a go-to tonewood for a jazz archtop, but the scooped low-end is little ‘nasal’ for my usual tastes. That said, it’s not just my ears that I’m trying to impress but my customers’, and besides I’m always excited to navigate the tonal offerings of an interestin­g piece of timber. So, together we unloaded the boards into my workshop ready for processing into backs and sides (known as ‘resawing’).

Before I could even think about firing up the bandsaw, my phone flashed up with a call from my friend Nick, a bass player with whom I had suffered a torrential downpour at a wedding gig the weekend before. We had been taking shelter in an abandoned gazebo when the subject of trees came up, and he shared with me that he was trying to shift a few slabs of decades-old London plane. After the call I agreed to buy it, the gig fee bypassing me completely straight into Nick’s account. On the upside, I was now the custodian of the better half of a London plane tree trunk that I later discovered was (inconvenie­ntly) longer than my car…

Slice Of The Action

When dealing with large slabs of timber for instrument making, the first challenge is to decide how to cut it all up. Is the piece appropriat­e for cutting backs and sides, or would it make better neck blanks? I didn’t want to pass up the opportunit­y to get a few sets of backs and sides from the London plane, but looking at the size of the billet I felt that I was going to do well to cut mostly neck blanks out of it. My suspicion was that this was going to have similar properties to maple (London plane is a hybridised form of sycamore, a type of maple) – strong and straight, ideal for supporting the pull of steel string but with the fine filigree of grain lines characteri­stic of its pseudonym ‘lacewood’.

Most of the maple was just a little too slight for neck blanks, so I would need to slice this up into backs and sides, requiring particular­ly deep, long cuts. By using two pieces of matching wood to form the back of an acoustic guitar, some of the strain is taken out, but the hardest part is keeping the blade cutting straight. The attractive but wobbly grain of flamed maple tends to deflect the blade back and forth, potentiall­y resulting in a wonky cut, creating more waste and less wood – not ideal when trying to maximise the yield from a large (and expensive) slab of wood.

“It’s not just my ears I’m trying to impress but my customers’. I’m always excited to navigate the tonal offerings of an interestin­g piece of timber”

Once I had equipped my bandsaw with a fresh blade and tuned it up, I was confident I was finally ready to go. As my finger hovered over the ‘start’ button, my phone beeped for my attention: it was an email from one of my university tutors asking if I was interested in buying some logs of spruce. Purchased back in 1977, these old-growth quartered logs were now surplus to requiremen­ts and were now looking for a good home. Well… it would be rude not to, wouldn’t it?

 ?? ?? Once the excitement of procuring a new piece of timber has waned slightly, Alex has to decide on its purpose and therefore how to cut it up
Once the excitement of procuring a new piece of timber has waned slightly, Alex has to decide on its purpose and therefore how to cut it up
 ?? ??

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