- About the Wood -

Old World Tonewood specializes in European Spruce and "Sycamore" Maple tonewood from the Carpathian Mountains of Romania.  We also harvest, in our local Allegheny Mountains, Red "Adirondack" Spruce and figured Eastern maple, as well as a few other species.   To see individually listed pieces, please be sure and visit under each instrument category the YouSelect! categories in the Catalog.  We have many more pieces than listed; however, we try to  keep a good representation on this site.  I always welcome questions about the wood and welcome the opportunity to work directly with you in selection of your tonewood. 

We are often asked if a back includes sides. Yes, all backs come with sides.  For pieces listed individually (YouSelect! categories), the last two digits of the item number indicate the when the wood was cut (e.g. Piece  "V1P00306" was cut Winter 2005-2006); for pieces not individually listed please inquire as to age.


European Spruce - Our spruce from Europe is from the Carpathian Mountain region in Romania. This native spruce of Europe is known in various languages as Sapin blanc du Nord, Epicea de Suede or Epicea de commun, épinette de Norvège, Abete rosso, Abeto rojo, gemeinefichte, jel europeiskaya, and in the USA as Norway spruce. The scientific name is Picea abies  (formerly  classified as Picea excelsa). Even though Picea abies is widely distributed throughout Europe, many luthiers observe subtle differences in its characteristics from region to region - possibly because spruces readily hybridize.  This spruce generally has a low specific gravity (I've measured it from 0.32 to 0.46 g/cc, but most fall about 0.41 g/cc), a very desirable strength to weight ratio, and is creamy white in color.  It is a joy to carve and has a beautiful ring-tone.  Carpathian spruce has a unique character, and one I think you will find very desirable.   Grain can be extremely tight to wide.  Color is usually quite even.  Bearclaw (haselfichte) is not uncommon in this species and a few "swipes" of it may occur on a piece, but is somewhat uncommon to find a tree with bearclaw feature completely covering a piece.    For carved-top instruments, all spruce tops are first cut wedge shaped (cut on the radius of the log) and are re-sawed after seasoning into book-matched halves.   Tops for flat-topped instruments are of course supplied as 2 book-matched halves.

Red "Adirondack" Spruce -  Red spruce (Picea rubens) - aka "Adirondack" spruce - grows in the entire Appalachian Mountain chain.  However, in the southern range it is found only at higher elevations, whereas in the northern range it occurs near sea level.  In our local Allegheny Mountains, red spruce is found at elevations generally at least 4000 feet msl (1200 m.).    All of our red spruce we find within 100 miles or so of our shop.  Red spruce of the quality and size needed for string instruments is very uncommon and therefore our available stock varies from time to time.  For carved-top instruments all spruce tops are first cut wedge shaped (cut on the radius of the log) and are re-sawed after seasoning into book-matched halves.   Tops for flat-topped instruments are of course supplied as 2 book-matched halves.

Spruce Tonewood Grading...

Unlike the lumber industry, there is no standard for grading of tonewood.   Our spruce is graded as "AAA", "AA", "A", and "B" for guitar (Grade B is not offered for carved instrument tops).  Some suppliers have expanded the number of grades to a bewildering number of classes - 4A, 5A, even 7A, and so on!  Because there is no standard, you must understand how each individual supplier grades.  Otherwise, grading is of little objective use to you in selecting wood sight unseen.  We prefer to stick with the four-tiered grading nomenclature.  Regardless of the size of our inventory, we attempt to keep the grading consistent.  Therefore, once you understand our criteria you will know what to expect upon any subsequent order.

Grading factors for spruce are evenness and straightness of grain, blemishes (e.g. color, wave in grain, etc), and stiffness.  In our European Spruce, Grade AAA has very uniform progression of grain width or uniform grain width, no color variation, no discernable runout, excellent cut ("quartered"), and will exhibit a clear sustained ringtone (taptone).  Grade B, the least expensive grade of European spruce and may have wide and/or uneven grain, wide latewood, other blemishes. Many builders find the European "Carpathian" Grade B tops tonally excellent and compare its appearance to much of the Adirondack spruce used in guitars today.  Of course, Grades A, and AA are have qualities between "AAA" and "B". 

Because of the scarcity of red spruce, the factors used in grading are not so stringent as in the European spruce we offer.  We are happy to work with you to select wood you will find both visually and tonally desirable.  Please visit the catalog to view photos of tops representative of each grade and species.


The maple we offer from Europe is Acer pseudoplatanus, which translated from the Latin means “false-sycamore” maple.  And as such, it is sometimes referred to as "sycamore" maple or simply "sycamore" (the sycamore of North America is an entirely different species.)  Acer pseudoplatanus is a relatively low density maple, light in color, carves very well, and is the maple of the violinmaking tradition.  The Eastern North American maple species we cut are primarily red (A. rubrum) and sugar maple (A. saccharum).  We obtain these species locally and provide for the violin family, mandolin, guitar, electric guitar and bass, as well as banjo necks. 

The maple is graded primarily on the quality of the flame and overall beauty of the wood, but also with some deference given to grain quality and density.  Although it is usually impossible to detect minor imperfections beneath the surface of the wood,  visible imperfections (i.e. color, knots, staining, etc) result in a lower the grade.  One-piece maple backs are usually tangentially cut ( aka slab or plain sawn) but occasioannly we offer offer 1-piece radius cut ("quartersawn") maple backs.   To help you with selection of maple backs we have listed some pieces individually in our on-line Catalog.  For these listings, please go to the YouSelect! category for the instrument of your interest to see descriptions and photos of selected maple backs.  All backs include sides (ribs).