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A guitar with back, sides and headpiece made of loblolly pine, with an Engelmann spruce soundboard.

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A Steinway piano with a yew veneer case.

 

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Uses of Conifer Wood in Musical Instruments

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Nearly all use of conifer wood in musical instruments is concerned with the construction of stringed instruments. Native American flutes and various drums or percussion instruments may also use conifer wood; woodwinds, generally, do not.

Wood used in musical instruments, particularly soundboards, is commonly called "tonewood." There have been quite a variety of changes in wood use for musical instruments over the years; for example, yew was traditional for lutes, but is scarce and hard to work, so is seldom used for that instrument nowadays. Also, there is ongoing adaptation as supplies of many of these woods are very limited. In general, conifer soundboard wood must be quartersawn from exceptionally large trees - often, old growth. Supplies for many species are low and dwindling.

This list is an endless work-in-progress in which I catalogue some of the conifers that are used in musical instruments, and how they are used. Notes are listed below the table.

Species Trade name Uses
Araucariaceae
Agathis australis Kauri Guitar soundboards, backs, headstocks; Appalachian dulcimer headstock; balalaika soundboard; violin soundboard; piano case; organ case. Often subfossil "swamp kauri" is used.
Araucaria bidwillii Bunya Guitar: soundboard.
Cupressaceae
Athrotaxis selaginoides King Billy pine Guitar: soundboard.
Chamaecyparis lawsoniana Port Orford cedar Guitar: soundboard, back and sides; solid body.
Mandolin: soundboard, back and sides.
Native American flute.
Cupressus macrocarpa Macrocarpa Guitar: soundboard, back and sides (flamenco guitars, especially).
Cupressus nootkatensis Alaska yellow cedar Guitar: soundboard, back and sides (flamenco guitars, especially).
Mandolin soundboard.
Cupressus sempervirens Spanish cypress Guitar: soundboard, back and sides (flamenco guitars, especially).
Juniperus virginiana Juniper Guitar soundboard, Native American flute. Species typically indicated by source (eastern US) and red/white wood color.
Sequoia sempervirens Redwood Guitar: soundboard, back and sides; solid body.
Mandolin soundboard and headstock.
Thuja plicata Western redcedar Guitar, lute, mandolin, and ukelele soundboards.
Native American flute.
Taxodium distichum Bald cypress Guitar: soundboard.
Pinaceae
Picea sp. Spruce Picea is, broadly speaking, the preferred soundboard wood for all stringed instruments, including pianos. These days most such instruments, below a certain price point, come from China, and have soundboards of unspecified spruce of Himalayan or Russian origin.
Picea abies European, Italian, Carpathian, or German spruce Bouzouki, guitar, harp, harpsichord, lute, mandolin, piano, ukelele, and violin family soundboards (Stradivarius soundboards). A substantial amount of spruce tonewood from Europe is actually from P. engelmannii, which is widely grown there.
Picea engelmannii Engelmann, white or German spruce Guitar, mandolin, and violin family soundboards.
Picea glauca White spruce Guitar and piano soundboards.
Picea jezoensis Yezo spruce Guitar and piano soundboards.
Picea × lutzii Lutz spruce Guitar soundboards.
Picea pungens Blue spruce Guitar soundboards.
Picea sitchensis Sitka spruce Clavicord, guitar, mandolin, piano, ukelele, and violin family soundboards (Steinway pianos use Sitka spruce).
Picea rubens Adirondack spruce Guitar, mandolin, piano, and violin family soundboards.
Pinus lambertiana Sugar pine Solid guitar body, Native American flute.
Pinus palustris Longleaf pine Guitar: soundboard, back, sides; solid body. Drums.
Pinus ponderosa Pine Native American flutes and drums.
Pinus resinosa Red pine Guitar: solid body.
Pinus strobus Eastern white pine Guitar: soundboard, back, sides; solid body.
Violin soundboard (some Appalachian fiddles).
Pinus taeda Loblolly pine Guitar: back and sides.
Pseudotsuga menziesii Douglas fir Guitar: soundboard, back and sides; solid body.
Mandolin: soundboard, back and sides.
Podocarpaceae
Dacrycarpus dacrydioides Kahikatea Guitar soundboard.
Dacrydium cupressinum Rimu Guitar neck, back and sides; Appalachian dulcimer soundboard; ukelele side; lute soundboard, bowl and neck; balalaika (complete); violin back and sides.
Lagarostrobos franklinii Huon pine Guitar soundboard.
Phyllocladus aspleniifolius Celery top pine Ukelele soundboard.
Podocarpus nubigenus Podocarp Guitar back and sides.
Podocarpus totara Totara Guitar side, back, headstock, neck, and soundboard; Appalachian dulcimer back and side; piano case.
Prumnopitys taxifolia Matai Guitar neck, back, and side.
Taxaceae
Taxus baccata Yew Lute bowl; piano case.
Notes
Violin family = Double bass, cello, viola, and violin.

Last Modified 2017-10-19