Picea Sitchensis | Tonewood Profile | “Sitka Spruce”
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Sitka spruce is a coniferous evergreen tree ranging from Western Alaska to California. It is the third largest conifer topped only by the Coastal Redwood and Douglas-fir and is the largest spruce in the world. Heights up to 100m and trunk diameters to 7m have been recorded.
Stika spruce can be long lived with trees over 700 years old documented. However, large size does not indicate age as it can grow rapidly. One individual, the Queets Spruce is 350-450 years old and adds grows more than a cubic meter of wood annually.
Kiidk’yaas (“ancient tree”) also known as the Golden Spruce.
This was a Sitka spruce growing on the Banks of the Yakoun River in Haida Gawii, British Columbia. Due to a rare genetic mutation, it’s needles were golden instead of green in color. Although revered by the Haida First Nation living on the island, it was felled by an umemployed logger to highlight the damage caused by logging companies.
Read more about the Golden Spruce in my upcoming article, Golden Spruce and the Six String Nation.
This is a Sitka spruce tree growing near the Queets River in Olympic National Park. It is the largest spruce in the world with a trunk volume of 337 m³ (11,901 cubic feet) and an estimate age of 350-450 years.
Heavily logged for more than a century, only a remnant of the sitka spruce forest remains along the Northwest coast of the United States.
However, it has been successfully introduced into Britain and northern Europe where it is now widely grown for lumber.
Sitka spruce is creamy white with a pink tinge. It has long wood fibers, great resonance, dimensional stability and good gluing properties. These provide it with resilience and elasticity.
It has a Janka rating of 510 lbf and a spefici gravity of 0.35.
As a tonewood…
Sitka spruce is stiff along and across the grain with a characteristically light weight. This creates a high velocity of sound.
It is currently the industry standard wood and is widely used by most major and small shop companies.
My experience with Sitka spruce is that it has a strong fundamental tone with relatively few overtones. This leads to a direct, punchy tone with great headroom.
Dana Bourgeois wrote:
“Sitka is an excellent choice of topwood, then, for players whose style demands a wide dynamic response and a robust, meaty tone. On the other side of the balance sheet, the lack of a strong overtone component can result in a “thin” tone when played with a relatively light touch-depending, of course, upon the design of the guitar and the other woods used in its construction. The break-in period for a new Sitka guitar can also be longer than that of other spruces.”
Although it’s range is limited, good management and current stands of planted trees ensure a relatively good supply at present.
However to highlight the real scarcity of tonewood within a harvest, Brian Thair says “The tonewood prospectors on the coast of British Columbia will tell you that very little of the overall Sitka spruce harvest is good enough for tone wood. Pretty special trees and maybe just a piece of each of them. When Yamaha, Martin & National come up here, they go straight to the prospectors. Here in my patch of the interior along HWY 16 in BC, the Annual Allowable Cut was 75,000 m^3. Of that, tone wood was less than 2,000. That’s NOT because most of it has already been cut and spooled off into plywood! Somebody in the city of Prince George is cutting tops, I’ve been told that a #1 rough spruce (probably white or Englemann) guitar top is about $50.00. “
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