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Pros and Cons of Pine

Arlo's Pinecaster2a
Pine conjures up an image in my head of a house frame. You know 2 x 4’s all nailed together forming the skeleton of a house under construction. Never in the 35 years I have been a guitarist did the term Pine give me any thoughts of building a guitar from this soft wood. I mean I literally buy bags of the stuff to use for kindling in the winter.

That was until a friend of mine Chris Hancock called me one day and said “Arlo have you seen this Glendale guitar site? The guy makes Telecaster body’s out of Pine!” Chris and I met on a forum. We were members of a WWII Submariners forum. We were posting about U-Boats and found out that each of us lived in Maine [The Pine Tree State]. Immediately the two of us hit it off and although never meeting face to face we talked almost daily on the phone. One day Chris mentioned that he played guitar and I proceeded to tell him that I did as well and from that day forward we were very good friends. We had a lot in common and we didn’t even know what each other looked like. Sound familiar?

Forums, what a cool invention indeed. They can be loaded with a wealth of knowledge and on the flip side of the coin a lot of stupidity. Forums are a strange unforgiving world of words. You post make friends, acquaintances, enemy’s, call some members, talk and learn from each other. Joining a good forum can be a serious eye opener. For me it was becoming a member of the TDPRI that opened up the world of guitar building and specificaly the use of Pine. At first I was bursting with questions about Pine. Was it too soft? Does it have good tone? How to paint it?

I found the TDPRI Googling for Pine Telecasters. Chris and I had made a bet to see who would be the first to own a Pine Telecaster. We were very competitive in many ways. Unfortunately my dear friend Chris died before either of us had the opportunity to actually meet face to face. Ironically it was an email from a friend of Chris’s that informed me of his death. This thing called the Internet is complex and yet so incredibly informative.

After joining the TDPRI and asking how to find a Pine body I was directed to a guy in upstate N. Y. by the name of Marty McClary. He had 3 completed Pine Telecaster body’s for sale at the time and all of them looked superb. So I bought em all. They were all Eastern Pine which is commonly found here in Maine and the North Eastern provinces. Two of them were straight grained and quarter sawn and both were one piece.  The third was a reclaimed barn Pine two piece and said to be over 100 years old. One of the quarter sawn body’s became my beloved Ol’ Piney.

Chris and I had a plan to have a Pine Telecaster with no finish. That is why Ol’ Piney never got a coat of paint. I simply used Howard’s Feed n Wax as a preservative. That guitar is fragrant like Pine to this day.

The Pros of building with Pine.

It is a very beautiful species of wood. It is from the same family as Spruce and has an elasticity that according to my good friend Bill Lawrence propagates sound waves very well. It can be finished in a number of ways. And probably one of the biggest reasons people like it is it’s weight is usually very light. This of course depends on the species. Not all Pine is created equally my friend.

The Cons of building with Pine
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It is soft and can dent very easily. There are some people who use wood hardener. I personally have never used a hardener. Ron Kirn has an ingenious method of removing a dent using a steam iron and cloth. Some species of Pine like Southern Yellow are very heavy. I have used a species from California called “Digger Pine” that is a heavy species. Excellent for a bass guitar with a long neck or a baritone guitar. The weight helps counter balance the long neck.

There is a certain stigma that follows the word Pine. Pine used to make me think of junk wood. You know like “If your going to build a tree house in the back yard for the kids you might as well use a cheap wood.” Cheap wood usually means Pine. Easy to see why it is not considered to be a superb wood for an electric guitar. But not everyone will agree with that line of thinking at least in some circles. I am not just a Pine believer I am convinced.

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Comments

28 Responses to “Pros and Cons of Pine”
  1. I would have never even considered using pine on a quality electric gutar until I saw Mr. West’s posts about his pinecasters, and the vast testimonials of people like Marty who have built numerous pine bodies. Since reading that first post, I have built three pine guitars, and I must say they all have had great tone. So do I know consider pine a tonewood, you bet! Let’s remember, swamp ash wasn’t a tonewood either, that is, until a guy named Leo Fender started building guitars from it. Let the creative possibillities flow. Don’t saddle yourself with limitations just because of tradition. When it comes to guitar bulding it is my honest opinion that it is better to just build the guitar like you want, then present it to the public and let your work speak for itself.
    Keep up the good work Arlo,
    Colt W. Knight

  2. olaftheholy olaftheholy says:

    Check out http://www.rebelrelic.com from american luthier Luke in Amsterdam (netherlands)
    This guy builds the darndest Barncasters out of 200 year old Oregon pine.
    Been there seen em played em… so sad i didn’t brought the credit card that day ;o(
    Will build a pine guitar in near future and it’s Arlo’s fault! :O)

    cheers,Olaf

  3. caytele says:

    …i agree with the accolades about pine…if you want one hell of a raucous tone macjine…and light to boot…
    GET PINE!!….put a bomb can finish on the lil girl..and don’t worry about bumps and dents!!..adds to character..

  4. Mandopicker Mandopicker says:

    Check out LSL Guitars for some really great relic’d Pine Tele’s. They are excellent.

  5. Linsolv says:

    Funny thing about coming across this post; I had some time on my hands, and I was just thinking about picking up some pine to mock up a guitar body design that should’ve been “normal” but looked huge on paper. Then I asked myself, why not just try to build it out of pine? Even if it comes out being trash sound-wise, I’ll have a neat-looking thing.

    And then I read this post, about how pine’s cool.

    (P.S. — I got kinda sidetracked by being sad about Chris dying. I felt like I was missing the point, but I couldn’t help it.)

  6. Arlo…..Great blog…..Good info……

    All started with that plank Leo used as really a test bed for pickups and rewinds of customers pickups from lap steels…….They would come into his shop….Hear and see that plank and thought how freakin’ cool…….The more I searched and talked with the Ol’skool guys and when they made mention of that first plank being pine…..I couldn’t believe it……..No way……WHY ?

    So I started more investigating and that brought me to Arlo West and some YOUTUBAGE……..that lead to my first Army Green Kustom telecaster and on to some other builds….

    I’m hooked……NO GRAIN FILL OR THICK FINSIHES…..NO RULES or YOU CAN”T DO THAT……..

    Its easy to “throw it out there” ……..Players making claims that a pine body won’t hold a screw or that it dents and dings if ya even look at it……………Army green tele Kustom is going on 2 1/2 years…….used everyday…..WEDS for Youth Worship practice and Sunday for 2 services…….NO ONE PROBLEM…..she shows some scars sure…….but thats a upcharge in most shops !!!!

  7. bmgblues bmgblues says:

    I have built several pinecasters and I agree whole heartedly that pine is a great tonewood. Marty does make the best pine bodys. Try it, you’ll become a devotee for sure!!

    • Giove says:

      Hey, do you have, or know about, problems (and how to solve them) with pine resin? I heard that pine can “sweat” after long years. Thanks!

  8. JimmyJam JimmyJam says:

    For me, Squier opened my eyes to it first in their CV tele.
    After reading the specs, it occured to me that I had never seen a pine guitar.
    I came across TDPRI in my research of using pine in guitars.
    I saw some of Arlo’s threads about pine. It convinced me to get the CV, then joined TDPRI.

    So, this is a kind of “thanks” to Arlo documenting his pine-work, and to TDPRI for being a knowledgeable and great community.

  9. Arlo Arlo says:

    ~Pine the other tone wood~

    Linsolv – I only mentioned Chris because he was the person who literally turned me on to Pine Tele’s. I also thought of the connections and bonds that we all share as members of this forum. We may never actually meet face to face but as members we do care about each other to some degree. And finally how the Internet has opened so many new ideas and information sharing. I think we can all relate in some aspect to Chris and I and that Internet friendship we kindled.

    I don’t think I would be typing this if it weren’t for Chris. I don’t think I would have ever built a guitar if it weren’t for him opening my eyes to the Pine Tele.

    Maybe this was the paragraph that I should have included in my article.

  10. msuguitarman msuguitarman says:

    I’m currently in a Pine Build. My wood is East Texas Virgin Pine that was recovered from the Texas State Capitol Building when the Senate room caught fire back in the 1980s. The Texas capitol building was erected in 1888, so you can imagine the important political leaders that have all touched my guitar for the last 120 years!! ETVP, to my knowledge, has been endangered and illegal to mill since the 1920s, just to add a little more to the value. I’m really excited about this build. It’s turning out SO NICE! It will be a true “Tex-caster” in every way!
    Thanks for the well written article!

  11. LuvN Guitars LuvN Guitars says:

    I’m just starting my first pine Tele thanks to you guys here. I agree with the comments about the perception of pine as “cheap” and unsuitable for guitars other than certain types as soundboards for accustics. I knew Leo made his Tele prototype from pine and Framus made pine/spruce solid body electrics years ago and had the idea to try pine one day, but never got arround to it. It’s funny, despite knowing that there are many woods suitable for guitar bodies other than the usual suspects, (living in Australia I’ve used a number of different woods that are native here over the years) I never got arround to trying pine of any type. I’m not sure about what to finish my first pinecaster with yet, but am leaning towards shellac, which has become my prefered finish over recent years.

  12. dj92 says:

    Just read this blog and would like to add my experiences with pine.
    Whilst living in Ireland, back in the 80’s, we bought a cottage that had a wardrobe (closet) left by the former owner.
    On examination it was found to have woodworm at the bottom about 12″ up, so out it went panel by panel.
    Once in the workshop the woodworm was cut off the bottom of each plank and burnt, and the good stuff was stored. I then saw a friends Lourde that came back from Portugal and wanted one so I took the pattern from it and started to make one.
    I hade all this pine in the workshop and thought that other guitars I had made in the past were made from spruce, and my mind said to me, pine – spruce all the same family.
    Well since then all the guitars , Lourdes, bazoukis and mandolins I have built have been from pine. all 3/8″ thick panels cut by hand down the thickness to get two matched panels to glue together to make the backs fronts and ribs.
    Tone quality is outstanding and sounds as good, if not better, than spruce, which costs a lot compared with pine.
    I am building an electric / acoustic resonator guitar at the moment and, when finished, I will post pics on the forum all made from pine (what else).
    Next project will be a Fender Mustang copy, with Telecaster hardware and electrics, made from pine as I need a timber that is lighter than ash. My son plays his 67′ tang and loves it and likes the lightness and tone of it so the copy I am making for him has got to be about the same weight (about 2.5Kg) as his Mustang. I will let you all know how it goes.

  13. dj92 says:

    Just a quick one. Just read the blog from LuvN Guitars and would suggest using finishing oil on it. It will take a long time to put many coats on but you can build it up and get a finish that looks really deep. It dries hard and is oil, alcohol, water, sun and just about everything proof. It is the stuff you use on butchers block work tops in your kitchen. Try it you will be surprised.

    • LuvN Guitars LuvN Guitars says:

      Thanks for the tip dj92, I’ll try some test pieces with finishing oil. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing something, or how much you think you know, (and I know I don’t know much!) someone allways has something to pass on that’s worth knowing.

  14. Used to be pine was the cheap wood. Now, it is this mystery “white wood” and pine is the good stuff.

    Just a word of advice, from a geographic perspective:

    Use Northern (or Western) Pine. Having lived and traveled all over the USA and used locally available materials, I can tell you that the group of Pines we call SYP (Southern Yellow Pine) is ordinarily too unstable for an application like a guitar.

    In the same way you do not wanna use Drummond Red or “Swamp” maple, or silver maple, to make a Tele neck, so you wanna be sure and get a species of wood that will hold its shape well through the manufacturing and finishing process, and through the course of time.

    So, if you wanna know why us Southern Boys have fallen behind in the pursuit of pine for guitars, there you have it.

  15. Coal says:

    Hi,
    Great post, and great forum. I am thinking of building a pine telecaster. A couple of quick questions:
    1. Do I want to go one piece or two piece?
    2. If I have access to really old Canadian pine from a barn (or reclaimed from the bottom of a river), can I use this for the body? Does it have to be kiln-dried?
    3. Can I send the wood somewhere to have it cut for the body?

    Please pardon all the stupid questions,
    Coal

  16. ambilevous says:

    If you’re really interested in a quality pinecaster, check out Rick Kelly’s stuff at Carmine St Guitars in the West Village, NYC. He claims to have a store of perfectly kiln dried decades old wood.

    • joeh77 says:

      On Rick’s wait list and trying to decide on neck wood and what Fralins I want to go with. Was seriously considering a true Bowery Pine with Chelsea and Chumley’s wood. Any feedback on the neck size/shape and pickups would be much appreciated!

      Joe

  17. thecreamery says:

    I love pine as a wood to build guitars – takes a while to dry out the sap but the sound is great, a real snap to it with single coils. I’ve built a number of pine guitars and can’t bear to part with them.

  18. lukestleger says:

    A few years ago, I built a guitar with my uncle. It s a fabulous looking thing but I was younger then and tastes have changed… Considering that I am playing a crappy old £50 strat with upgraded pickups and a bigsby, I think it’s about time for a new build.

    I wanted to build the guitaar out of mahogany because I have a (maybe inaccurate) preconception of what it sounds like and it looks mighty fine. Anyway, after nosing around for a suitable piece, I noticed that there was pine everywhere I looked. In skips, by the side of the road, in my basement and in the frame of my house! (don’t worry mom, the roof is staying on…) I consulted the wonderful telecaster.com and I have heard nothing but good things. Pine it is. I’ll let ya’ll know how it goes.

    Anyway, the point of this post is really just to say that you don’t need to buy pine. I found some great planks in a skip the other day. It’s dried out to within an inch of it’s life and is not going anywhere. it’s about 2″ thick and 6 ‘ long so there is plenty of scope for cutting the bad bits off. If you find the wood yourself, you have the satisfaction of making the guitar out of something you have found, you don’t have to wait for the wood to settle and dry, you can sleep soundly knowing that you are saving to planet to some degree and you don’t have to pay for it.

    I live in Bristol in the UK so I can’t speak for other places in the world but I was under the impression that you yanks build all your houses out of pine! anyways… just my 2 cents/pence/whatever

  19. Hoopermazing Hoopermazing says:

    Pine, in the form of a Squier CV50s Tele, is what brought me back to solid-body guitars. Years of playing jazz-boxes has made me intolerant to the prospect of having an anvil hanging around my neck. I love the tone and the lack of mass inherent in pine.

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