Rock on wood: Making fretboards out of plantation radiata pine


Wood and music-making have had a long history together! After all, some of the world’s oldest instruments are made from wood. And while musical instrument designs have changed over the years, a vast array of instruments are still using wood products.


The bodies and fretboards of string instruments are commonly made from tropical hardwood species like ebony, Indian rosewood and African blackwood. Tropical hardwoods are high density, wear resistant, and maintain dimensional stability and hardness, making them ideal for instruments that are handled often and where any warping could affect the quality of tone. They are also used in part for aesthetical appeal, as tropical hardwoods have a distinctive and beautiful appearance.


However, tropical hardwoods are slow growing and have low yields, so supply struggles to meet market demand.


To address this issue, researchers in China and the US have been looking at methods to utilise radiata pine — a more commonly grown plantation wood — for the creation of guitar fretboards.


Their approach has essentially involved creating radiata pine that’s denser, just like its tropical hardwood counterparts.


The researchers have successfully accomplished this by impregnating the pine with furfuryl alcohol resin, a polymeric liquid made from furfuryl alcohol, and filled up the timber’s cell cavities.


Once the pine was impregnated with the resin, it was put through a series of hot-pressing procedures, compressing the wood due to the high temperatures, and making it harder and thicker. The heat also cured the resin, inflating and strengthening the cell walls which, in turn, reduced their ability to absorb moisture and return to the pine to its previous state.


Together, these methods have been shown to work synergistically to strengthen and densify the wood. The resin also darkened the fretboards to be similar in aesthetic to those made from tropical hardwood species.


When suitably treated, radiata pine fretboards were found to have comparable (and in some cases, even better) performance than those made from tropical hardwoods.


Ultimately, this research could be the first step to making plantation wood viable for commercial use and lessening the burden on the tropical hardwood supply.


Source: Industrial Crops and Products