the playing in of cedar top versus spruce soundboards on a classical guitar

Okay luthiers,

I have heard that a new cedar top guitar takes a shorter while to open up than a spruce top. And I have heard that what you hear is what you get with cedar. Which is it?? I know that spruce does change for the better in the first year or so but my cedar one sounds great right now.

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There are lots of rumours about  cedar and spruce and adirondack for that matter . Cedar is said to be the exact same when new as years later, with no break in period at all. Spruce takes sometimes upwards of 1000 hours hard playing to break in, and adirondack can take up to 2000 hours. 

 There are many folks here on this site much more experienced than me, so hopefully they will speak up.

Quote:"I have heard that a new cedar top guitar takes a shorter while to open up than a spruce top. And I have heard that what you hear is what you get with cedar. Which is it?? I know that spruce does change for the better in the first year or so but my cedar one sounds great right now."




Not that many of us are privileged to own the same name as a famous Hit Record, or indeed a Guitar, but it appears, you are distinct in regard to both.

I'm wondering whether your interest in this subject is somewhat academic as it is clear that you have already chosen a Cedar Top Guitar, maybe you are questioning your choice? Perhaps you are looking for Justification or Authoritative Validation for your Choice?

With complete respect, I'm also wondering that perhaps you are thinking about this matter and therefore questioning about it, from what could be regarded as a completely wrong, underlying, fundamental, standpoint. Don't feel bad about this, because it's a very common, entirely human occurrence that appears in many differing guises, with respect to many different issues.



When purchasing a Guitar,

Regardless of whatever raw material it is fabricated from.

Refrain from trying to prophesy, foretell, and anticipate, precisely how it will mature, unless you are a Guitar Builder, selecting Raw Wood Material. Projecting forward in your imagination, creating an entirely mental expectation as to how it may or will possibly "Sound" in the future.

Judge the Finished Instrument simply. In terms of its "Volume of Tone", on how it "Projects" and "Sounds" to you, right now! Today, right in the very moment you are making a decision, and decide whether you like what you hear. It may be that Standing Back and Listening to someone else Play it,  may help. When you Play it yourself, you are of course Hearing its Sound, Off Axis to the Direction of its Tonal Projection. Listeners in front, hear a slightly different Tonality.





Don't be like the Bride arriving on her Wedding Day.

Who looks down the Aisle, looks at the Altar, and then looks at the Bridegroom.


And thinks..

Aisle, Altar, You.


Someone that thinks they will grow into something ideal, they are not. This is the approach many people unconsciously and consciously take to Instruments.

If an Instrument is not all that you truly want from the get go, pass on till you find what you really want. Enjoy the ride along the way and learn all you can from the experience.

Its takes a lot of learning to truly find out what precisely you prefer, and what aspects you definitely don't like. Because I experience and use lots of different Instruments, I have learnt to adapt myself.

Guitars, like Snowflakes, like People, and strangely enough also like Trees, are singularly individualistic. They demandingly require to be assessed, evaluated and judged as definitely possessing, distinctive identities.

Because all Guitars are slightly different, and are made from raw material drawn from Trees, which are also, all distinctly different. You will therefore understand that a Special Uniqueness is as it were, in the very DNA of every Guitar.

Every one is just a little bit different, regardless of Brand or Model, so look for and purchase the Guitar that especially "Speaks" to You, that has the "Voice" that moves you, the one that "Stirs your Emotions" and Draws you deeply to it. Such an attraction will embrace, all of its many features, including its looks.



What you should look for when buying an Instrument is for a Great Marriage. A Symbiotic Relationship between your Potential as a Creative Musician, and the Responsiveness of the Instrument to Translate and Convey your Inward Emotions, Projected Outwardly.

So that those who hear its Voice, will be beguiled, falling under its Spell, being Inwardly Moved too, as you were when you First Created the Sound. The Guitar Soaks up into itself, all your Thoughts, Feelings and Emotions and Speaks Them Out; Impassioning, Amplifying and Extending Everything you Felt.

Giving your Music and Songs a Stronger, Greater, Clearer Voice and Meaning as it Declaims them to the World. Guitars made as they are from the Wood of Trees, are uniquely capable of this feat.

For Trees in Forests, can and do Communicate, Talking to Each Other, Calling and Answering. Grown Up Trees, just like People and Animals.

Also look after their Young.



Watch This wonderful Professors, TED Talk!



'A Professor of forest ecology at the University of British Columbia's Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences in Vancouver, Suzanne Simard studies the surprising and delicate complexity in nature.

Her main focus is on the below-ground fungal networks that connect trees and facilitate underground inter-tree communication and interaction. Her team's analysis revealed that the fungi networks move water, carbon and nutrients such as nitrogen between and among trees as well as across species.

The research has demonstrated that these complex, symbiotic networks in our forests -- at the hub of which stand what she calls the "mother trees" -- mimic our own neural and social networks. This groundbreaking work on symbiotic plant communication has far-reaching implications in both the forestry and agricultural industries, in particular concerning sustainable stewardship of forests and the plant’s resistance to pathogens. She works primarily in forests, but also grasslands, wetlands, tundra and alpine ecosystems.'




It is widely accepted if the Instrument features a Spruce Top, then if it "Sounds" great today to your ears, then tomorrow and in the coming months and years, it will "Sound" better and better to them and generally Improve Tonally with Age. 

I deliberately write "Improve Tonally" and do not write "Speak Differently", or "Fundamentally Change the Character and Personality of its Voice". If that appears to happen for a short time, then changes back, it's pretty safe to say that there is a periodic, temporary reason.

Though the reason could be due to temporary Temperature and Humidity Changes, it's also just a possible that your own Ears and Brain have temporarily been affected for some reason, such as tiredness, illness, or even your hearings, temporary threshold shift. (Temporary threshold shift is a safety shut down mechanism that happens to your ears automatically under certain circumstances).



Archibald T Davison of Harvard University taught Choral Conductors to understand that Fresh, Young Voices, make for the Best Singing.

However, no one can miss the fact that the Truly Greatest Singers, as far as Solo Voices are concerned, largely Improve With Age as they Hone and Fine Tune their Vocal Abilities, to a Greater far more Sophisticated Degree.

We do not expect their Vocal Qualities to Suddenly Change Radically. They are still the same Singers, they still have their own "Sound" and are easily identified as to who is Singing, as soon as they are heard, but they are simply Better Matured Versions of themselves, perhaps like a Great, Aged Whiskey.

In regard to Whiskey. A friend of mine Engraved a Set of Glasses and Decanter for the Queens Jubilee. He has held a Royal Warrant (which means he is an Official Supplier to the Queen and Royal Family, (as are Companies which I have been associated with) since 2009, and has etched images of wildlife from the Royal Estates of Sandringham and Balmoral on 120 tumblers as part of 60 exclusive Scotch Whisky Sets.

Featuring 60-year-old John Walker & Sons Whisky, each Crystal Decanter comes in a Cask of English Oak from Sandringham and are accompanied by two tumblers.  The sets cost £100,000 each, with at least £1m going to the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust (QEST).

It aims to further British Craftsmanship by offering Grants to Fund Education in Modern and Traditional Crafts and Trades. One of the sets was presented to the Queen, with two kept in the John Walker & Sons Archive.

The salient point of this Whiskey Analogy above is, the Rare and Costly 60 year old Whiskey, fit for a Queen, is something very special indeed.



Similarly, its often (though  not always) the case that Vintage Instruments..

Made from the Best Possible Raw Materials have Special Qualities about them and have Matured in Tone and Feel by Virtue of their Years spent in the experienced and demanding hands of Great Musicians.

My Engraver pal, who like me has worked on Gifts for the Queen of England, like you Lucille, Plays the Guitar, and writes Songs too. Below is link to one of his Songs, if you are interested.



So with Spruce.

We are talking about a Wood that will Improve with Age, for as Long as Possible and go on Improving with Age, the more you Play It.

Many, including myself will feel there is no better wood for a Stringed Instruments Top. This is why it is so ubiquitous in a wide variety of Stringed Instruments. Guitars, and its many Variants, the Violin Family of Stringed Instruments, even Piano Soundboards.

Spruce has lots of "Headroom" for Improvement, or "Potential" to Mature in a  Musically Pleasing Manner that Fine Musicians will appreciate, as the Instrument is used from Day to Week to Month to Year. It gets better and better the more you use it, and by the way, Sounds Good from the Start, too. So be clear about that, expectation.



You love its "Sound" today? Tomorrow you will love it even more!



How it will Mature, and how Long that will take will be highly dependant on the particular Instrument and its Environment.

I'm always a bit wary whenever people talk with a seeming huge authority about "Break in Periods", not that I would ever question whether they were right or wrong. Car Engines, Loudspeakers, usually need a  short period of careful handling. So I'm not arguing with anyone, I'm just saying that I'm a little wary..

It's not just Guitar Tops that are involved here either because Amplifier Manufacturers, Speaker Manufacturers, Headphone Manufacturers, and a great many others, often tell customers don't worry if you don't like some aspect of the Products Tone, it will break in after a while, and then all will be well...

There may well be a break in period, so a degree of truth to what they are saying, but should there be a compete difference in Tonal Character and Personality? I think not, and I'm a still a little wary.... This is because they always, without  fail, miss out what I feel is an essential element in the overall equation. The simple fact that the Ears and Brain of the Player, are gradually becoming more and more accustomed, to the Tonality, that is said to require, this break in period.

It is stated that the Instrument or Product is Changing (usually Mechanically, but sometimes in regard to the effect of Temperature on Electronics), and that indeed may truly be completely the case, but here's the rub. It appears to be an unspoken assumption that we ourselves are a complete and utter constant, not varying in any way, and are not influenced to any degree by what we have been exposed to. I think that's a false (and usually an unconscious but real) supposition and basic assumption to work from, and doesn't concur, with all the available evidence and experience.

I guess I'm really saying that people often think things, but don't really think through what they are thinking. That the Coin has another side to it if you actively choose to look for it. People like myself that have spent a  lot of time Working on Recordings, know that if you listen to something long enough, your Ears and Brain Acceptance of Tonality, is Directly Influenced and Readily Changes, with how Frequently you Encounter That Tonality. And it's that effect, which is not quantified, or even ever discussed, that makes me wary.

When Taylor Guitars came out (A Great Guitar Manufacturer) people complained they didn't "Sound" right! It was because the Recordings of Guitars they were used to Hearing all their lives were of Gibson's and Martin's, and so their Tonal Perception was discombobulated upon hearing a slightly different Tonality. A learning curve of hearing Taylors on more Recordings was required, before they Sounded "Right"! Today they are far more widely accepted, with good reason. So our hearing adjusts subconsciously to what we hear.

Some Tonalities that literally Shock you at first hearing, can become utterly acceptable to your Ears, far more quickly than you realise, if you listen to that Tonality, enough. With Mastering Recordings, experience counts for an awful lot giving the ability to Immediately Analyse what is wrong and needs to be corrected, without requiring repeated listening. That's how we get around this Familiarity Phenomenon, that could lead us down lots of Blind Alleys of Adjustment.



If you think about it, many Luthiers of Old, made their instruments a little bit different with each new Instrument, basically experimenting with materials and bracing then evaluating What and How any Change came about, and whether it was an Improvement.

To make things even harder, it's a Scientifically  proven fact that our Short Term Memory of Sound, and our Long Term Memory Storage of the Same Sound, is Enharmonically Different. It's a  minefield, that can make fools of many.

Experience, and lots of it, count for a great deal. Trying lots of Guitars with no pressure to buy, learning what you like and don't like, this is where Experienced  and Helpful Luthiers and Dealers, Beat Box Shifters, every time.

Truly. What you can get for nothing, very probably, isn't worth having at all.



An Industry Colleague who was Chief Mastering Engineer at a very Famous Record Label, said "you only get one chance  to hear something, for the first time".

I have learnt to assess and judge "Sound" at the very first hearing, almost by instinct. It's very valuable ability to develop, especially to be able to discern, precisely what is right or wrong with a Sound, and more than that, TRUST your Judgement. Engineers tend to be good at this, so do experienced Guitar Builders and Luthiers with access to plenty of Good Tonewood as I described earlier.

Because, if you keep listening long enough, the danger is your Ears and Brain will eventually adjust themselves to accept the "Sound" when often in reality, your first initial instinct, perhaps of complete horror, was exactly the  right one, alas. Crucially, where Instruments and Recordings are concerned, it's the same reaction that will mimic, that of most other, Initial Listeners. So this is where it Counts! After all, these people will buy the Record or the Guitar.



This is huge, because many times people that make Recordings can't tell after quite a time has passed, Continuously Processing Sound, what is really going on at all.

Often they are simply endlessly chasing their own tails, looking for improvement, because they couldn't correctly recognise, what they had, when they had had it, and when enough was enough, and they were done Mixing. Such Discernment is a Huge Gift. Can Luthier Builders, Guitar Purchasers  and Owners make the same mistake?

I think it's also why some Artists Work quite slowly, evaluating Small Changes thoroughly before moving on to Change any other, Variable Parameter. The late Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees bought an Oxfordshire house from a friend of mine. He was with the other Bee Gees one day, slowly Mixing a Record greatly to the boredom of everyone else in the Studio.

Olivia Newton John came up to the Console  and asked if "anyone Played Trivial Pursuit"? Their Engineer sarcastically replied "Everyday ma'am, Every Day"! As they only ever changed one aspect just a little, then listened.

A few milliseconds is all the time we have before "the Sound we Heard" and the Harmonically  Stripped Version of what we heard, goes into the Long Term Storage in our Brain.

Learn to assess and judge "Sound" at the very first hearing, almost by instinct.

Know what you Like and Recognise it when your Hear It.

Then, it's possible to be Decisive.

And Work Fast.



Purchase a Guitar that Sounds Great Now.

Tomorrow, if it's made with a Good Quality Spruce Top it with Sound Even Better, and go on getting better, for most of your Life.

There may be a point many, many, years or so on where is Stops Improving, but that may depend upon How Much it has been Played and the Environment in which it has Lived.



With a Cedar Top.

Things are somewhat Different.

It's likely to "Sound"  Good, and fairly close to as it's ever going to "Sound" right from the get go.

It will improve somewhat with Use and Age, for a good number of years, but won't have the same "Headroom" for Continuous Improvement, or indeed the Huge Longevity of that, which a Spruce Top will afford.

Guitarist Julian Bream, one of the most distinguished Classical Guitarists of the 20th Century notes that Cedar Topped Guitars hit their "Ceiling of Headroom" after twenty years. He seems to know his way about Guitars quite well, and for many, many, years always had his own personal Luthier on site at his Home in Wiltshire England.

He started Playing at the age of eleven, and has had quite a few Good Guitars and Lutes of varying types along the way, so probably, as Good an Opinion as you are likely to find anywhere, I would suggest.



Provided you studied the TED Movie above and listened properly, you will have  an insightful understanding of the Special Quality's of Cedar Trees that set them apart.

These have been noted from Biblical Times with 35 References in the Old Testament alone, to Cedar.  Cedar was used widely in those times for Special and Ceremonial Purposes, for very good reasons.

"The righteous shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon", it is written. Cedar Wood has an Aromatic Oil that gives off a strong fragrance which insects who love to bore into wood, simply cannot tolerate. So the bad, invasive influences in the environment that destroy wood, eating it up; leave Cedar Wood alone, and stay right away.

That's why the Cedar Tree is noted to Grow Good and Strong and Uprightly Tall. The unhelpful influences that would eat into it and make it fall sort of its true potential, HAVE to stay away from it. They cannot stand its Strong Aura.

In the Biblical world, Lebanese Cedar (Cedrus libani) Trees were highly sought after as an excellent source of timber for ancient woodworking. The Wood’s high quality, pleasant scent and resistance to both rot and insects made it a popular building material for temples, palaces and seagoing vessels, from Solomon's Temple to the discovery of the so called “Jesus Boat” of the first century C.E. Pictured above.

Today, Lebanese Cedar Trees grow mostly in Lebanon and Southern Turkey, with a few found in Cyprus and Syria. In Biblical times, the valuable wood had to be imported into Ancient Israel. Sailing ships used in such regions often featured Masts made from Cedar. Imagine how reassuring it would be to know before you sailed off into the Sea, that no wood boring insects would be able to munch their way into the bottom of the Mast, or worse still laid eggs that will hatch and bore their way out during the voyage.

A relative of mine just Sailed to another Country, (Holland) and then had the Mast of his Boat removed so he could explore the countries canals, under engine power, ducking under the many low bridges in that Country. What  would it be like if a Mast became weakened by Insect Infestation or Rot? The Boat originally was owned by famous Author Arthur Ransom, which the new film "Swallows and Amazons" is based upon. The second Feature Movie made  of this Book. All this is very real to us, and Crossing Notorious Seas, could be extremely serious indeed.


So in a land where wood is not noted to last well, as you will have realised, there are few trees in lands overwhelmingly dominated by sand and desert, the Cedar does very well; but it does so, because of its uniquely special qualities, and thus it's an alternative, likely to be chosen, for all these reasons.

It simply has "less headroom for ongoing continuous improvement" over many decades, which is where Spruce, Aces Everything.



You have to also consider this.

The fact that no two pieces of Wood are the same.

The fact that the Best Woods are getting more Expensive to Source.

The fact that no two Guitars, even of the same Brand  and Model, are exactly the same.

The fact that no two Guitarist are the same, and that from day to day, depending on how well or tired they are, their Hearing will perceive things differently.

The fact that no two days are alike, differences in Temperature and Humidity change the way Instruments "Sound" to our Ears and Brain. It's not just Instruments that are affected by these changes  either.

Famous Recording Engineers claim  that Microphones with a Clearly Recognisable, Widely Known Character of  "Sound", Suddenly can " Perform Differently, in Certain Climates and at Different Altitudes. This is a Proven, Measurable, Scientific Phenomenon.

Many Microphones have a Distinct, Identifiable Sound. Air Temperature, Humidity and thus Air Density changes the Speed of Sound, so changes how we perceive the Microphone Responds. Guitars are affected by such changes, which can also affect the Wood. Guitarists note the easily seen and heard changes in the Instrument, but fail to take into account the effect on the Speed of Sound, which affects our Perception of this Immediacy of Responsiveness of the Instrument, and the Inner Effect, of How, we Now are Hearing. Which has Changed, because of a Change in Air Density.

So I'm not saying a Change hasn't or doesn't occur, but merely pointing out that We Change Ourselves Internally, as well as The Environment around us, as well. That the Changes within us and without us that can Subtly Alter our Perceptions of Sound, happen usually without us ever taking those factors into account in such discussions; where the focus of conversation usually Attributes all such Change, Purely and Solely to the Instrument Alone.

Whilst I can completely understand why that might be, I think it leaves too much latitude for assumption, and in any case think that it's better for some people to realise that on certain days their Hearing may be a little affected for some reason, and not to worry so much about the Instrument, thinking that something is wrong with it.

If it Sounds great a few days later, you know it was fine all along, it was just you, or the weather in general. So let's relax a little and cut the Instruments some Slack.

I think some Guitar Folk definitely need to Learn that Lesson, so  I hope you don't mind me making that point.

People talk about such issues, but don't think about them very much.



Train your Ears and Brain to able to Accurately Judge, Analyse and Understand "Sound" at the "First" Hearing.

Buy the Guitar made from the Best Materials you can Afford, but buy the Guitar that you Drawn to, the one you want to be "Married" To.

Whatever its made from, its likely to be the Guitar that you can Make the Best Music Together with, and the one that you are Going to Moved By and Treasure Emotionally.

Realise that Historically, lost in the Mist of Time in the Birth and Evolution of Classical and Flamenco Guitars, both Spruce and Cedar Tops feature very well by Great Makers, so don't over think this aspect.

But whichever  Type of Guitar Top you already have purchased.

It's a unassailably good reason to Buy Another Guitar. 

You can never have too many of those.

If you Love Guitars.





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