This page shows some examples of some of the material that we use for tops. All top material is hand selected for its acoustic properties by holding the plate in a certain location and tapping it with the other hand in another special location. The resulting "tap tone" gives us an indication of what the end product will sound like. Since this is one of the most important elements of the guitar, it deserves a great deal of attention...


We have commented on the properties on the various tonewoods. These are generalizations and there can be much variation within a species and even within the same tree for that matter.





Sinker Redwood


There are a wide variety of shades and striping in this material. One thing they all have in common though is a stunning sound.


Many have commented on its good balance from bass to mids to trebles. The sound of Sinker redwood has been termed "complex" because of the richness of its overtones. Pluck a string in a quiet room and listen carefully. It is as if a choir shows up and is singing along. It has rich and strong overtones similar to Western Red cedar and crisper, punchy treble frequencies reminiscent of spruce.


Because of its light weight, it is very responsive. Sinker redwood is softer than Sitka Spruce and requires slightly more care. Also, use light gauge strings only.




Redwood is very similar to Sinker redwood in every way except the color. Like sinker, this old growth redwood has a responsive, three-dimensional brilliance that fingerstyle guitarists really love. Again, use light gauge strings only.



Sitka Spruce


Since Sitka spruce is the most commonly used top material on steel-string guitars, it has become the basis of comparison for other tonewoods. For its weight, its one of the strongest woods in the world. It is usually best if medium gauge strings are used but good for light gauge also. It has a strong fundamental but also good midrange brightness.


This material tends to have the best headroom, that is, it retains clarity and definition when played hard. Shown here with Bearclaw figure.

European Spruce

Also known as Silver spruce and German spruce, this is the top of choice for many classical guitars. It works excellent on steel-string guitars as well. It has a lighter color than Sitka and a wonderful harmonic complexity. People comment on its fullness at the lower end of the dynamic range.


This material responds well to a light touch and hangs in there well with more aggressive techniques.

Engelmann Spruce

This spruce is lighter in color and weight than Sitka or European. It has a more homogenous look to it, you can barely see the grain lines.


That said, it produces a noticeably broader and stronger overtone component. Engelmann is a good choice for players who require a richer, more complex tone than can be obtained from most Sitka tops. This is particularly true when the guitar is played softly.


Adirondack Spruce

Also known as Eastern red spruce and Appalachian spruce, this material was used by American guitar manufacturers before World War II. Because of over harvesting, it fell into disuse until recently thanks to 50 years of regeneration.  


The new generation of Adirondack spruce has retained the same wonderful properties of the older one but even the best tops have more variation in color and grain than before.


Like Sitka, it has strong fundamentals, but it also exhibits a more complex overtone component. Tops of this material probably have the highest volume ceiling of any species. The great thing about this spruce is that it has a full richness of tone that retains clarity at all dynamic levels.



Western Red Cedar

Western Red cedar ranges in color from honey brown to light chocolate. It has a quickness of sound that exceeds any of the spruces, a higher overtone content, lower fundamental content, and lower stiffness along the grain. Additionally, cedar tops require a significantly shorter break-in period than spruce tops, a phenomenon that a few dealers of new guitars are beginning to pick up on.

Cedar-topped guitars are characteristically lush, dark-toned. They are often less powerful in projection than their spruce cousins, however, and they tend to lose clarity near the top of their dynamic range. Having enough bottom end is never a problem for a cedar guitar, although preventing the sound from getting muddy sometimes is. Because of its pronounced weakness along the grain, I find cedar to be used to its best advantage in smaller-bodied guitars or with non-scalloped braces. Redwood is usually darker in color than cedar and often displays the same general tonal characteristics, leaning slightly toward darker tones, less definition in the bass, and lower velocity of sound.


Rick Micheletti

19590 Shafer Ranch Road

Willits, California  95490

(707) 459-0820