Grassers: Do you NEED a red spruce top to be heard?

Is a red/adirondack spruce top a requirement to be heard in a bluegrass group?

  • Yes, red/adi does provide noticeably more volume in my experience

    Votes: 2 11.8%
  • No, I'm heard just fine over the banjo with a sitka top

    Votes: 15 88.2%

  • Total voters
    17

JamesAM

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Just like the title says: any of you Bluegrass folks that play out, either in jams or unmic'ed gigs, do you feel you need a red spruce top on your dread to be heard, or is sitka loud enough? I'm not talking about tonal properties or warmth vs brightness or anything, and definitely not whether the value proposition is worth it - just pure volume and cut.

I know David Grier plays a '55 D-18 that's almost 100% sitka, or maybe european spruce, so there's definitely precedent.

Is your sitka-topped dread loud enough to hang with a group?
 

JamesAM

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I think wood species is overrated--compared to techique having a profound effect on volume.
I definitely agree with this. One accepted internet axiom is that "adirondack has more headroom and won't distort playing heavy rhythm." There's definitely some technique to BG rhythm beyond just wailing on the strings, so I was hoping to crowdsource folks' experience with this. For lead, there's definitely a lot of right hand that is going to have way more impact on tone than wood species.
 
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jvin248

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Bracing is more important than top, back, or sides. For both Tone and Volume.

Heavier strings on a bigger guitar bodies were the solution back in the '40s before amps.

Shortly thereafter, amps became more important than bracing :)

(those telling you that wood is the most important feature of a guitar are selling you 'something' that means more profits to them).

.
 

Edgar Allan Presley

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I wouldn't turn down a guitar with a red spruce top if someone offers. But I agree with the posts above that several things matter more than the species of spruce: technique, bracing, quality of specimen and build. I have a D-15m (mahogany top) that is about as loud as my friend's old D-18, because (1) it's a particularly nice D-15, and (2) I'm a badass.
 

39martind18

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As I understand it, my old D18's top is Adirondack spruce. Any difference between that and red spruce?
 

JamesAM

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As I understand it, my old D18's top is Adirondack spruce. Any difference between that and red spruce?

Nope. Adirondack is a varietal of picea rubens (red spruce) that’s felled from - wait for it - the adirondack mountain region of NY. Unfortunately they’ve become synonyms even though some red spruce may come from as far away as Tennessee or the southern appalachians.
 

JamesAM

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I wouldn't turn down a guitar with a red spruce top if someone offers. But I agree with the posts above that several things matter more than the species of spruce: technique, bracing, quality of specimen and build. I have a D-15m (mahogany top) that is about as loud as my friend's old D-18, because (1) it's a particularly nice D-15, and (2) I'm a badass.
Those 15 series are seriously good guitars. I had a 00-15m that was outstanding.
 

39martind18

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Nope. Adirondack is a varietal of picea rubens (red spruce) that’s felled from - wait for it - the adirondack mountain region of NY. Unfortunately they’ve become synonyms even though some red spruce may come from as far away as Tennessee or the southern appalachians.
What I thought, but thanks for the confirmation.
 

Chiogtr4x

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To answer OP question, nope!

I play in a casual ( fun, not purists) bluegrass group, and I play either a Martin D-1 or a Blueridge 000-28 style- both with Sitka tops.

We play Farmer's Markets, jams- sometimes 100% acoustically, but sometimes all amplified too.

But my guitar tone and volume is always pretty full and loud; not as bell-like and chimey as vintage D-28. But more dry, cuts through, with midrange.

I think it's the combination of equal parts of 2 decent budget guitars,
and a pretty strong rhythm and lead right-hand bass string picking technique, listening to a lot of Doc Watson.
He had this authority on his attack, and I try to capture just a 'poor morsel' of that.

But the volume comes out trying to play like that, if the guitar can put out the volume with a good build, is my rambling point...
 

Buckocaster51

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Sitka will work.

Most people at jams play too loudly.

I am fortunate to get to jam with one of Bill Monroes banjo players a couple of times a year. The man does not play loudly at all. It is a delight!

When I lead a jam, I make my expectations clear to everyone. If you have difficulty hearing the vocal or lead instrument, you are playing too loudly. It works.
 

knavel

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This is pretty high up there on the YMMV scale...but here goes: I think when you talk about Sitka vs Adirondack it's worthwhile to contain that research to modern guitars, i.e,. something sitting for sale new in a shop or late model.

I find with newer guitars adirondack is much better (TO ME) out of the gate in terms of tone in particular, and perhaps volume, because a duller new sound at least psychologically never sounds as loud.

That said, the loudest acoustic I've ever heard is my 1961 Epiphone Texan which I expect has a Sitka top. It's so loud my children have complained about it!

So from this very non scientific anecdotal experience, I would think over more time than required with Adirondack at least, Sitka comes into its own and can keep up with any banjo playing.
 

JamesAM

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To answer OP question, nope!

I play in a casual ( fun, not purists) bluegrass group, and I play either a Martin D-1 or a Blueridge 000-28 style- both with Sitka tops.

We play Farmer's Markets, jams- sometimes 100% acoustically, but sometimes all amplified too.

But my guitar tone and volume is always pretty full and loud; not as bell-like and chimey as vintage D-28. But more dry, cuts through, with midrange.

I think it's the combination of equal parts of 2 decent budget guitars,
and a pretty strong rhythm and lead right-hand bass string picking technique, listening to a lot of Doc Watson.
He had this authority on his attack, and I try to capture just a 'poor morsel' of that.

But the volume comes out trying to play like that, if the guitar can put out the volume with a good build, is my rambling point...

This is a great data point, thanks! And you’re actually local to me too- do you hit up the local jams at all? The CABOMA jams in Arlington or the frying pan park jams in Herndon are the only ones I’ve tried, but those were years ago (before you-know-what).
 

JamesAM

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Sitka will work.

Most people at jams play too loudly.

I am fortunate to get to jam with one of Bill Monroes banjo players a couple of times a year. The man does not play loudly at all. It is a delight!

When I lead a jam, I make my expectations clear to everyone. If you have difficulty hearing the vocal or lead instrument, you are playing too loudly. It works.
Thank you- this is exactly what I was after!
 

Telekarster

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FWIW I started out playing BG before I got into country music. At the time, the only thing I could afford was a 1970 Alvarez dreadnaught acoustic; Martin's were a dream but not a reality for me back then. Anyway, I never had any issues being heard. That old Alvarez of mine isn't even solid sitka... in fact, if it is sitka at all then it's probably some low grade version of it. The top is plywood. Still, it has nearly as much projection as my Martin does (yes... I own I Martin today ;))
 

Chiogtr4x

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This is a great data point, thanks! And you’re actually local to me too- do you hit up the local jams at all? The CABOMA jams in Arlington or the frying pan park jams in Herndon are the only ones I’ve tried, but those were years ago (before you-know-what).

My short answer is I only seem to have time to play with this one little bluegrass group, and not much other bluegrass.

It's just because I have frequent regular R&R/blues gigs, with a few small bands. So that's just where I am with my time...( it's my income). So this is my one Bluegrass outlet, for now.

But a lot of folks in our little collective go to the CABOMA, Frying Pan Park, and other jams, go to festivals all the time. They love it, know a lot of folks to play with.
I feel like I miss out on some fun jams- maybe I can get more involved this year?
 

PhredE

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I think wood species is overrated--compared to techique having a profound effect on volume.

^This.

Adjust the technique to (whenever possible) don't pluck / stroke across the string (eg; parallel to the top), instead press down at an angle into the top of the guitar; that additional energy will produce a boost in volume at a modest 'cost'. This is the way classical players are taught to use the right hand for volume and projection.
 




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