Has anyone tried building a balsa wood Tele?

Discussion in 'Telecaster Discussion Forum' started by Pete Galati, Mar 22, 2008.

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  1. Pete Galati

    Pete Galati R.I.P.

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    Has anyone tried building a Balsa wood Tele?

    Just curious. The subject of Balsa being used as the center block in the "Lite" series of Les Pauls came up at TGP. And someone was saying, that it's not really inexpensive wood, and finding it in large sizes is a bit rare.

    It did do a couple quick searches, and it doesn't seem to be difficult to find in pieces that're 2" thick, and 4" wide. Which would seem like a good starting point for building a Tele blank.

    One place: http://www.nationalbalsa.com/balsa.htm

    And Wiki says that Balsa's an Evergreen tree (hey, I never knew that!) and seeing as Pine is relatively popular for Tele bodies these days, I figured that maybe Balsa would be good too.

    Has anyone tried the stuff? What'd you think? Is it hard enough to hold hardware & screws? Does it have a good acoustic tone? Or is the stuff just too soft?
     
  2. Fatmanstratman

    Fatmanstratman Poster Extraordinaire

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    Dunno about guitars - might be too soft and too light.

    But it was great for building those little hand-launched aeroplanes when I was a kid......:cool:
     
  3. tuuur

    tuuur Friend of Leo's

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    I read once that ZZ Top had some of balsa guitars and basses, don't know if they had teles...
     
  4. Scotland

    Scotland Poster Extraordinaire

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    Can you say "neck heavy" ?
     
  5. WisconsinStrings

    WisconsinStrings Tele-Afflicted

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    I'm not sure I'd trust balsa to hold a bridge or neck with standard screws. Maybe with bolts in the neck and longer screws in the bridge...

    It's not very interesting wood (grain wise) either. You could always put a quarter inch of pine on top to help hold hardware and keep it from dinging up as much.

    Sounds like an interesting project though.
     
  6. sha4096

    sha4096 Tele-Meister

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    I built a guitar in abachi/obeche which is a very light wood and I was not convinced by the sustain and whole tone. These light woods tend to quickly dampen the sound waves. If I had to use balsa, I would use it as a sandwiched thin layer between two "trusted" and more dense wood pieces such as ash or maple.
     
  7. Dan German

    Dan German Doctor of Teleocity

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    Well, it is a hardwood (!!). Gibson used it as the center block in the ES-135, but quite quickly changed to mahogany (I think) and called it the ES-137. My understanding is that customers were not happy with the sound/sustain of the balsa model.
     
  8. rogerzilla

    rogerzilla Tele-Meister

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    I remember learning it was a hardwood (basically this just means it's from a deciduous or flowering tree) back at primary school.

    I don't think I'd use it anywhere structural.
     
  9. Pete Galati

    Pete Galati R.I.P.

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    Right....

    Sustain is definitely a concern. So's being neck heavy.

    This other Balsa place lists a few densities.

    http://www.specializedbalsa.com/balsa_blocks.php

    I suppose I should sit down with a calculator and figure out approximately how many cubic feet a Tele body usually is. I'll have to do a search though, because someone's probably already done that, and I'm kind of rusty at calculating things.
     
  10. Pete Galati

    Pete Galati R.I.P.

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    Reading through this thread has me thinking that maybe one way of sidestepping possible problems would be to use a Balsa body, with a Maple cap laminated to it. But at the same time, I'm thinking that might just completely offset the possible warmth of the soft wood. Maybe a cap made out of something softer than Maple, but harder than Balsa.
     
  11. nasonm

    nasonm Friend of Leo's

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    These were built out of Balsa

    [​IMG]
     
  12. WisconsinStrings

    WisconsinStrings Tele-Afflicted

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    Pine? Poplar?
     
  13. WisconsinStrings

    WisconsinStrings Tele-Afflicted

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    Ah... so the key to working with Balsa is to cover it with shag carpet! :)
     
  14. Pete Galati

    Pete Galati R.I.P.

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    Or even Alder or Ash. I was thinking Birch, but it's early, and I couldn't remember how to spell it.

    Now, that's soft Balsa. Even shag is harder!

    I remember seeing those in a video, but it probably wasn't a live performance.
     
  15. boris bubbanov

    boris bubbanov Tele Axpert Ad Free Member

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    Perhaps you could build a harder wood shell of eighth inch material around it, and have a block of walnut or maple extending from the neck pocket to the bridge mount area only.

    Balsa is exceedingly strong for its weight. My Dad has used a section of balsa with 3/16th inch square spruce on all 4 corners for his model airplane fuselages, and they withstand terrible abuse, sometimes hitting the ground under power. Amazing how often the fuselage doesn't even require repair.
    He's worked carbon fiber and s-glass into the stressed areas of the sandwich. Really resilient stuff, and somewhat dent resistant given its feather weight.
     
  16. telbert twang

    telbert twang Tele-Holic

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    heh, i remember balsa mostly from my aircraft-modelling days :)


    i wouldnt ever come to a thought to prefer this spongy stuff for guitarbuild, but who knows, probably there are different grain/density available as well



    tt
     
  17. Pete Galati

    Pete Galati R.I.P.

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    This should save me some time. A post by guitarbuilder in the recent thread "Sourcing Swamp Ash"

    http://www.tdpri.com/forum/1129769-post7.html

    "Tele body is 1.85 board feet"
    "A board foot is 144 cubic inches"
    So that'd make a Tele body 266.4 cubic inches​
    My conversion program says that 266.4 cu. in. is 0.1541667 cu. ft.

    So with Light Balsa at (6-10 pounds per cubic foot), 1.54Lbs. for the high side.

    Medium Balsa at (10-14 pounds per cubic foot), 2.158Lbs. for the high side.

    Heavy Balsa at (14-19 pounds per cubic foot), 2.929Lbs. for the high side.

    So, if I didn't make any mistakes, and I assume that guitarbuilder is correct, then the heaviest Balsa available would make a body that's less than 3Lbs. unpainted.

    I guess paint adds some weight, but made out of Balsa alone, A Tele would probably too light weight.
     
  18. WisconsinStrings

    WisconsinStrings Tele-Afflicted

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    I don't know... pretty heavy. Better chamber it. :)
     
  19. Pete Galati

    Pete Galati R.I.P.

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    I'd be afraid Air Gibson would sue me. It's a Lifestyle you know!
     
  20. billys balsa

    billys balsa TDPRI Member

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    Billys Balsa

    Balsa works fine for Billy and Dusty
    Two world tours Afterburner and Recycler-13 instruments.

    Just a matter of how you use it.
    Now working for 20 years at Gibson Guitars.
    Been building for 34 yrs.
    Worked for Ivor Mairants in London, Bill Lawrence, Gruhn Guitars and Gibson.

    M Klein
    TN
     
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