The first luthiers to extensively use Western Red Cedar for soundboards were Spanish builders of classical guitars. In recent decades, makers of western steel string guitars discovered that cedar is a less expensive choice than spruce, and it also has unique and fine qualities of appearance and sound.
Cedar is softer and less dense than spruce, which means that the sound is well developed without a "break-in" period (unlike Sitka Spruce). However, because it is softer, improperly cut cedar tops are much too flexible. We take great care to saw them extremely close to "true-radial" (perfect "on-quarter"). Cedar tops - cut properly - have a balance of stiffness and flexibility that produces a crisp and full-range of sound.
Western Red Cedar is not to be confused with "aromatic cedar" that is traditional for cedar chests. Western Red Cedar has a distinctive but very mild odour, and is not oily or resinous. Because cedar trees grow to extremely large sizes, finding uniform and tight grain is not difficult.
On the other hand, consistent colour is unusual. For this reason, the grades of cedar tops are based mostly on colour uniformity. Those with consistent colour (not "smudgy" or "streaked") qualify as #1 and #2 grades, while #3 and #4 grade tops can have equal good structural quality (and equal ability to produce great sound), but are less desirable, purely on an aesthetic basis.
We take extreme care in purchasing only the best Cedar tonewood, but after it is cut and dried, the colour variations can become apparent. Consequently, we must produce many times more low grades (#3 and #4) than high grades (#1 and #2). This cannot be entirely avoided, and these lower grades must be sold far below our cost.
If you intend to produce painted top guitars, or you are not fussy about appearance, #3 and #4 cedar are the best-value-for-cost top woods! We encourage our customers to take advantage of this situation. Indeed, at least two or our biggest customers (huge guitar manufacturers) use more cedar than spruce on their guitars!
We currently produce more than 150,000 cedar tops in a year.