Tonewood Cedar

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    Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata) comes from Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest of the United States. It is by far the most popular cedar used in guitar soundboards.  It is common to classical guitars and is used in a strong minority of steel-strings. Coloration runs from light (almost as light as Sitka) to a very dark reddish-brown. It has an extremely open, played-in sound, and will have rich harmonics and a crispness that is somewhat lacking in a brand new spruce-topped guitar. It is warmer and sweeter than the spruces, with more overtones and a weaker fundamental.

   Below is a ranking of most common topwood species, arranged from the most flexible to the stiffest species -the greater the number, the further it will flex.

Common Name

Botanical Name

Average Weight

weak -> stiff


thuja plicata

185.0 grams


Douglas Fir

pseudotsuga menziesii

215.5 grams



sequoia sempervirens

200.0 grams


Engelmann Spruce

picea engelmannii

195.0 grams


Caucasian Spruce

oicea orientalis

214.0 grams


New Sitka Spruce

picea sitchensis

215.0 grams


Lutz Spruce (Sitka & White hybrid)

picea X lutzi Little

219.5 grams


(old 1959) Sitka Spruce

picea sitchensis

226.5 grams


Red (Appalachian) Spruce

picea rubens

238.5 grams


European Spruce picea abies 233.5 grams .062"

Chart by Tim McKnight of McKnight Guitars


Western Red Cedar   

(Thuja Plicata) 

Port Orford Cedar 

(Chamaecyparis Lawsoniana) 

Alaskan Yellow Cedar 

(Chamaecyparis nootkatensis) 

   United States, particularly the Pacific Northwest. 

   Western Red Cedar has long been utilized as a soundboard material by classical guitar makers for its vibrance and clarity of sound. It is extremely light in weight compared to spruce and the tonal result is generally a slightly louder, more open response. Balanced, warm and rich with bright trebles. What is most characteristic of Red Cedar is that it sounds broken-in, even when new. Exceptional sound for light to very firm techniques. Coloration runs from light (almost as light as Sitka) to a very dark reddish-brown. 

   The largest growing member of the Cypress family ( not a true cedar) it has the characteristic peppery smell of Cypress. It is a native to North America and Japan.

   Similar in appearance and scent to Alaskan Yellow Cedar, Port Orford Cedar is stiffer, lighter and thus more suitable for soundboards. Indeed, it is highly sought after for the bold, robust, responsive tone that it imparts on an instrument. It is very even textured, with a slight golden-white color and tight, even grain. A great advantage to the builder is that this wood is more immune to splitting than absolutely any other soundboard wood.  It is an excellent choice for both classical and steel stringed instruments. 

Alaskan Yellow Cedar, also called Canadian Cypress by some, belongs to a genus very closely related to the true cypresses. 

It is one of the most stable of woods in terms of dimensional change due to moisture content change and so is more immune to cracking than any of the other soundboard woods. Tonally, the wood is especially well suited for flatpicking steel string guitars when a strong tone with a bright attack is desired (its specific gravity is close to Sitka and Adirondack Spruces). Some classical and flamenco guitar builders report that it imbues the instrument with a chimey, clear, articulate tone with great sustain. 

   western red cedar.jpg (70671 bytes)  western red cedar map.jpg (20448 bytes) Port Orford Cedar2.jpg (143878 bytes)   Chamaecyparis Port Orford Cedar.png (84290 bytes) Alaskan Yellow Cedar.jpg (1590 bytes)   yellow alaskan cedar.jpg (28328 bytes)