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The Recovered "Old World" - "Sinker" Bald Cypress as a Tone Wood

The Gulf Coast Bald Cypress has been unavailable as a construction material for many decades, because it grows mainly in environmentally protected coastal wetlands. It is against the law to cut down a living Bald Cypress. Even if it was available, it takes many centuries to grow and would no doubt still be a rare and exotic wood. Fortunately, The Bald Cypress has now  emerged in the home wood flooring market.  "Recovered" sinker logs are being dredged up for "Pecky Cypress", the rustic looking near rotten, discolored and termite holed decorative wood. The saw mills buy those "recovered" logs for upwards of $1,000 a log looking for the pecky wood. Strange as it might seem to the reader, the clean, clear, and unblemished cuts (many of the quartersawn) sit around while the cuts "with more character" are eagerly sold at high dollar for hardwood floors and wall paneling. Seems that folks don't quite know what to do with the straight grained, no knots, no pecky wood so it just sits around waiting for a buyer who is looking to build outdoor furniture.

I have been asked many questions about the "Sinker" cypress that I use for my builds. The hardest question to answer though is "what is it comparable to?"  The best way I can explain what this remarkable wood is like is to compare it to other types of wood which are in the same Cypress Family.

The redwood [sequoia semprevirens], the Mediterranean cypress [cypressus sempervirens],Port Orford Cedar, Alaskan Yellow Cedar, Western Red Cedar, and the Gulf Coast Bald Cypress are in the cypress family. Clearly as the easier and vastly more available members of this family are notable tone woods, I figured I would give my non-pecky recovered bald cypress a try.

Western Redcedar has continued to gain in popularity, especially among classical guitar makers. Today many high quality nylon string guitars are made with Cedar. Cedar is softer, and not as strong nor as elastic as Spruce, but it is more stable with changes in moisture content. It is liked for its warm color, straight grain, and clear crisp tap tone. The color ranges from light to reddish to chocolate brown.

California Redwood, Tonally, compares to Cedar but possesses more of the qualities associated with Spruce - so expect a bolder, crisper, punchier tone than Cedar, but with all the rich, strong overtones intact. These tops are much stiffer than you might expect for Redwood.

Port Orford Cedar (actually Lawson Cypress) is one of the most amazing tonewoods we know. Port Orford Cedar - Chamaecyparis lawsoniana - also known as Port Orford White Cedar, Oregon Cedar, Ginger Pine or Lawson Cypress, is a rare variety of Cypress that evolved in a very limited range along the Pacific Coast, from far northern California into southern Oregon. Despite harsh conditions, these trees have existed in the Pacific NW for over 50 million years and can grow to 180 feet and live to be over 500 years old. Port Orford Cedar soundboards and Port Orford Cedar electric guitar bodies are very light weight, highly resonant, tough and stable. They finish to a glass-like smoothness with the appearance of antique ivory. Port Orford Cedar guitar necks are a perfect choice as well. Acoustic and solid body electric guitars made entirely of Port Orford Cedar are some of the most amazing guitars you will ever build or play.(Sounds a lot like the Gulf Coast Bald Cypress)
Alaskan Yellow Cedar, also called Canadian Cypress by some, belongs to a genus very closely related to the true cypresses. It is one of the most stable of woods in terms of dimensional change due to moisture content change and so is more immune to cracking than any of the other soundboard woods. Tonally, the wood is especially well suited for flatpicking steel string guitars when a strong tone with a bright attack is desired (its specific gravity is close to Sitka and Adirondack Spruces). Some classical and flamenco guitar builders report that it imbues the instrument with a chimey, clear, articulate tone with great sustain.  

I can tell you that there is a strong family resemblance to these tone woods in the Gulf Coast Bald Cypress. 

Views: 2621

Comment by Randy S. Bretz on November 21, 2012 at 6:40pm

Well i know that the 2 old cigar boxes i have from the 20`s are western red cedar and the sound that comes out of them is awesome. I`m sure that since the wood as aged a bit since it was first cut and made into these boxes as helped in that sound.

Comment by Ted Hartman on November 22, 2012 at 7:49am


Comment by mr2kewl on January 5, 2013 at 9:35am

great information!

Comment by Bobby Ratliff on February 10, 2013 at 7:15pm

I enjoyed the info!


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