From the Forests to the Sawmill~
Kazuo Yairi imports more than twenty different kinds of wood from all over the world. As many as ten different species may be used in the construction of one guitar.
Resilient, sensitive spruce and cedar for tops and bracing are imported from Canada; hard, smooth ebony and rosewood for fingerboards, and bridges from Africa. Mahogany from Honduras, Africa, New Guinea and the Phillipines is used for necks, backs, sides, blocks and kerfling; jacaranda and rosewood for the backs, sides and bridges comes from India, Africa and South America and all of this wood must be of the finest quality.
Logs are shipped to Mr. Yairi’s factory where they are cut into planks, graded and then stacked for seasoning. Buying in large quantities and processing on the premises saves tremendous cost in shipping and handling. The large inventory assres a plentiful supply of seasoned wood on hand for production; so Mr. Yairi never has to use inferior materials in his guitars and his productin is never affected by shortages or shipping problems.
Only after four years of curing will any wood be utilized for guitar consstruction. The planks are inspected again and rough cut to size and shape. Some parts are kiln dried for proper moisture content; others are cured or aged further to insure stability. Then the tedious hand work begins-cutting, shaping and sanding for accurate joints and fits. This unusual care in selection and preparation of wood is one of the reasons that Alvarez Yairi guitars are so outstanding in beauty and sound.
Two types of rosewood are commonly used in classical guitars and so-called flamenco negras: Brazilian rosewood (dalberia nigra) and Indian (dalbergia latifolia) rosewood. Both woods are dense, resinous, and very handsome. Brazilian has highly figured grain, and many consider it the more beautiful of the two, but it is more brittle and difficult to work than Indian rosewood. By contrast, Indian rosewood tends to be straighter-grained, and often contains purplish streaks. Brazilian rosewood has become increasingly expensive and rare. In the mid-1960s the Brazilian government, with the aim of diverting more work to their sawmills, banned the export of logs. In 1992 dalberia nigra was declared an endangered rain forest tree, and requires a CITES license, and so is no longer being exported period. Indian rosewood, on the other hand, grows on plantation, and so remains plentiful. Indian rosewood also has the advantage of being dimensionally more stable, and of being less affected by changes in humidity and temperature than Brazilian rosewood.
Tonally the woods have slightly different characteristics. Brazilian rosewood is less fibrous, and a somewhat harder, denser wood, and so tends to reflect sound more, and thus produces a bit brighter sound than does Indian. This difference, however, can only be perceived by playing identically made instruments by the same maker. Or, to put it slightly different way, there are much greater differences in sound between makers using the same woods than between different woods by the same maker. A well made Indian rosewood guitar may be infinitely better than a fancy-expensive Brazilian rosewood guitar by a luthier of lesser talent.
Adding to the confusion, many species of dalbergia (botanically “true” rosewoods) from Brazilian and elsewhere that are marketed as Brazilian rosewood. Slab-cut, these rosewood from Brazils are very similar in appearance and character to dalbergia nigra and include dalbergia stevenonii (Honduran rosewood), dalbergia retusa (Cocobolo), dalbergia cearensis (kingwood), dalbergia frutescens (Pau rosa, Jacaranda Rosa). In this family of similar woods from Brazil, we also find Machaerium spp. (Caviuna or Fau Ferro), and Dalgberia palo-escrito (Palo escrito). In fact, there are literally hundreds of species of dalbergia worldwide. Because of this confusion and hype over Brazilian rosewood I prefer simply to call these species rosewood from Brazil, and to refer to true Brazilian rosewood as Brazilian rosewood or Dalbergia nigra.
Woods used for the guitar production vary widely and each has its characteristics. Here show typical ones for top and side with brief comments.
For top part: acicular trees grown in the colder region in the high latitude are chiefly used. Among them, typical ones are spruce (a kind of native spruces) and cedar (American cedars).
Most of materials are cut out from large timbers that aged over a century and have over 1 meter in diameter.
Sitka Spruce (Canada, North America): Among these kinds, this has the highest elastic coefficient and the most favorable characteristic for the top material of acoustic guitar. As times go by, the color turns into light brown and fascinates fans. High quality materials are seldom available. This is the de facto standard for the top of stringed instruments.
Engelmann Spruce (Canada, Europe): Favored for being pure white color and delicate sounds. Some manufacturers once used this as German Spruce. This is very close to German Spruce similar to elastic coefficient and outlook.
Cedar (northeast America, Canada): Used for top. This has clear wide range and balanced vibrational property. Milder than spruce tones and sings well.
Western Redcedar (northeast America, Canada): Having wide, clear, and balanced coefficient and softer tone than that of Spruce. This sings well in a new instrument. Very fine and straight vein and reddish chocolate color has a unique feeling.
Adirondack Spruce (northeast America): Before WW II, most of high-end American acoustic guitar applied this. This ranks atop with its delicate but powerful sounds. Literally, this only grows in the Adirondack Mountains. Therefore, this is very scare and valuable. (Only selectable in a custom shop)
German Spruce (around Germany): This highest top material has been used for excellent violin and guitar for long. Even in Germany, this is hardly available. Its superior acoustic property and a bit golden white vein fascinate lots of guitar fans. Direct import from Germany. (Only selectable in a custom shop)
Other wood: Materials used for back, for instance, Maple or Hawaiian Koa, can be applied to top for a unique guitar.
For side and back: Tropical broadleaf trees and high altitude acicular trees are applied. Brands vary more widely than those of top materials. Not to mention of beauty of vein, these materials are crucial to make sounds certain by virtue of transferring vibrations from the top, bouncing, and amplifying echoes.
Mahogany (meliaceous), Central America Honduras, Africa: Honduran and African mahogany are mainly used for side, back, and neck parts. Among others, Honduran one ranks a top. Its bright and light sounds are characteristic. This is good for both delicate finger picking and dynamic flat picking.
East Indian Rosewood (fabaceae), India: As Jacaranda being unavailable nowadays, this ranks atop for side and back materials. Deep bass and brilliant trebles are characteristic. This has mostly regular straight veins. Currently, its price hikes and becomes harder to obtain due to various export regulations by countries of origin.
Ovangkol (fabaceae), Africa: Similar thick and warm tones to those of Mahogany. This has beautifully greenish brown stripes.
Lacewood (plananaceae), Australia: Close to Mahogany. This has warm tones with moderate trebles and unique beautiful imbricate vein.
Jacaranda (fabaceae), Bahia region in Brazil: Alias Brazilian Rosewood. This has been main materials for acoustic guitars over ages. Brilliant mellow sounds and beautiful irregular veins have fascinated guitar fans. Currently export and import are banned under the Washington treaty. Only a small amount of lumber trimmed before the effect of the treaty is applied for guitar productions.
Black Jacaranda (fabaceae), Bahia region in Brazil: same as above.
Honduras Rosewood (fabaceae), Central America Honduras: Alias New Jacaranda. This is used as an alternative for Jacaranda for side and back. It is a bit heavier and superior in endurance with high elasticity. Clear-cut sounds are characteristic. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish in vein from real Jacaranda.
Walnut (juglandaceous), America, east Canada: Similar thick and warm tones to those of Mahogany. Rare curly vein are invaluable.
Hawaiian Koa (fabaceae), Hawaiian Islands: This has been applied for bodies of ukulele and Hawaiian guitar over ages. Now, this became a typical wood for guitar production. Crisp and clear-cut sounds are characteristic with abundant color variations. Among others, curly Koa is highly favored for its beauty and scarcity.
Bigleaf Maple, Pacific side of North American, Canada: A big leaf is designed in the Canadian national flag. Few Imbricate veins called “quilted” or curly wood. These are favored for clear-cut sounds and beautiful outlook.
German Maple, Germany: Its harness is between Bigleaf Maple and Rock Maple. This has been used for high-end violin and guitar for its superior vibrational property over ages. Pure white and curly patterns are favored by many guitar fans. Direct import from Germany. (Only selectable in custom shop)
Ebony, Southeast Asia: Used for fretboad and bridge. High quality one is dead black and hardest. Glossy by polishing. This is more endurable than Rosewood so used for high-end products.