Wood for Details
My initial attraction to woodworking was the wood. Its many colors, grain patterns, and texture make it a wonderfully interesting medium. Over my career I have experience working with many different species of wood. While studying fine woodworking with James Krenov I really began to understand how to use the material to achieve desired effects.
Jim often said that wood not only has an assortment of measurable properties but it can also make a personal impact on both the maker and the client. He would always encourage us to pay attention to texture, color, grain of the wood and how to use it to enhance the look of things.
The wood you choose for the details on your guitars probably will not contribute much to the sound of the instrument but may have a profound effect on its visual appeal.
The Guitar’s Detail Scheme
For optimal visual appeal your entire detail scheme must be harmonious. A chaotic design scheme that lacks a common thread will not be appealing to most people. The brain is scrambling looking for some cohesion in what it is seeing but cannot find any. Anyone with a discerning eye will pick up on this immediately.
Do yourself a favor and go learn something about design. Design fundamentals are the same whether you are a graphic artist, architect, furniture designer or guitar builder. They all use the same principles. Learn about color, contrast, arrangement and things like that. These things will be very helpful to choosing a scheme that will work.
Traditionally rosettes are mosaics made up of hundreds of tiny pieces of colored wood glued together in patterns, sliced up and inlaid into the sound board. For me the mosaic looks a bit dated. My rosettes still use some traditional motifs such as herringbone and wheat, but usually the focus or background of the entire rosette is a piece of highly figured wood.
The choice of wood for the center ring of the rosette is typically the focal point for composing a design scheme for my guitars. What I look for is primarily its color and grain pattern. Once I figure out what to use for the center the rest of the scheme including purflings, bindings and so on quickly fall into place.
Since chunks of burl wood in the right colors are rarely available I have been using veneer which is then layered with each layer being 90 degrees to the adjacent one to make it thicker, stiffer and more stable. It should end up being about the same thickness as a solid piece which is about .055″. You need to be more careful installing this type of center ring.
Choosing Colors for your Design Scheme
Understanding something about color theory is very helpful when choosing wood for details. The color scheme can make or break the visuals on the instrument. Having a grasp of the three components of color, hue, saturation and value, will help greatly when making these kinds of design decisions. When choosing a scheme think about color (complimentary and tertiary), value (light and dark), as well as things like thickness and arrangement of the components. Obviously there is no right or wrong but a good scheme can really make your guitar shine.
Burls and Spalts for Rosettes and Headpieces
The center ring of the rosette on all J. S. Bogdanovich guitars has some kind of burl, spalt, or crotch pattern in the wood. For the center ring you have two choices for wood. One is to find a chunk of wood with the pattern, and color that suits you and re-saw a piece or your rosette. The problem with using solid wood and re-sawing it for this purpose is that these pieces of wood are hard to find, they can be very expensive, and the colors available are very limited. If you are lucky enough to find a piece bravo, you will have enough for many guitars if cut properly.
The other option is to use commercial veneer. The up side to using commercial veneer for this purpose is that burls and crotch pattern pieces are readily available, comparatively inexpensive, and best of all they are available in a wide assortment of colors and patterns. The downside to using commercial veneer for your guitars rosette center ring is that it is very thin and therefore must be first glued to a substrate for stability and additional thickness, then accurately inlaid into the sound board leaving only about .005 of an inch protruding and sanded flush. The danger being the top layer is thin so excessive sanding may cause you to sand through into the piece beneath. Obviously being accurate is the primary solution here. If you are careful and confident with your ability using commercial veneer should not be a problem.
Guitar Wood Colors: Natural Wood vs Dyed Wood
There are a variety of colors available naturally without resorting to dyed wood but using dyed veneer will definitely broaden the pallet quite a bit. Some colors of dyed wood tend to fade with time. Red is a color which is particularly susceptible to fading. I try to use as much natural wood as possible in my details such as purflings, bindings and rosettes because I like the natural look. I often incorporate dyed woods in my designs to broaden the color pallet in conjunction with natural wood.
Some wood combinations present challenges for selecting colors of the accent details. Guitars with spruce tops is one such example. Spruce is yellowish and very light in color. Browns go well but not browns that have a lot of red in them. Also any details that are too dark make for too much contrast and appear as holes or voids in the instrument. Selecting color schemes and finding suitable wood for details is always a challenge on spruce top guitars but with a little thought some very nice solutions can really make an outstanding guitar visually.