The sound of a guitar is in the wood. I see it as a job of ours to push the boundaries of tradition, to source more sustainable woods and experiment with them: woods which may look and feel slightly different from those traditionally used in guitar building, but that make guitars which are just as good, if not better.
It is so important to me and to all of us at PJD Guitars that we use sustainable sources of wood – all the wood we use is Rainforest Alliance approved and has FSC certification.
Swamp Ash is one of the material traditionally used to build electric guitars. In the past it was readily available but now, not so much. It’s a beautiful wood in every sense – it looks amazing and has fantastic tonal characteristics.
We use Swamp Ash, but, it is getting harder and harder to get hold of in large quantities and, as our business is growing, we need to source more and more raw materials for our guitars.
At the moment we’re using American Ash for our Classic Guitar Range. This is a slightly heavier wood and has different tonal qualities to Swamp Ash, but it’s more sustainable and looks and sounds amazing. I’ve built loads of guitars with it over the past fifteen years and have found it sustains superbly well due to it being slightly heavier.
We have made the decision to reserve our Swamp Ash stocks for our Elite models and we are now using American and European Ash throughout all our other guitar ranges. I’m excited to say that we’re phasing in new woods on our Standard series and currently trialing American Ash on our Standard guitars range.
We’re looking for other sustainable alternatives all the time. Paulownia is one of these. Swamp Ash is light, but Paulownia is another level of light (the core of surfboards is often made from Paulownia). It’s a very sustainable wood and there are already quite a few world-class Luthiers who use it – it’s definitely worth experimenting with. Another is Sugar Pine, Some big manufacturers are using this already and suppliers are catching on really fast, which is great as its really sustainable and gives a great end result.
As a company, PJD Guitars is pushing the boundaries of tradition in favour of the environment, showing that quality doesn’t need to be compromised.
We get really excited about our Limited range of guitars as these give us the perfect opportunity to use reclaimed woods and to build guitars from really interesting, high-end sustainable materials (always ethically sourced). With this range, we repurpose really beautiful woods, such as Mahogany or Cedar that we can perhaps only source in small quantities, enough for up to 100 guitars. For example, we’ve made a few mahogany guitars from an old staircase that we believe used to be part of a school.
I love sourcing new woods for our Limited range and find there’s something wonderful about building a guitar from a piece of wood that has its own history.
For our Custom guitar range, we like to focus on exotic woods such as Cocobolo and Ziricote, both beautiful hardwoods, grown in Central America. We always make extra efforts to ensure the materials have been ethically sourced. I’ll generally pair the body with a Roasted Flame Maple for the necks.
If I was going to build my own dream guitar, right now, I’d use some Brazilian Mahogany – old stuff, preferably a one-piece Mahogany body – I wouldn’t chamber it and I’d put a master-grade Roasted Flame Maple top on it. In terms of neck, I think I’d probably use Roasted Maple again because I love it. I’d finish with an Indian Rosewood Fretboard, as we use for all our guitars.
We use Flame or Quilted Maple on all of our guitars too. They’re both beautiful woods. Flame Maple has the flame pattern of a candle and quilted you can liken to the ocean – ripples in the sea. You can’t create flame or quilted maple: it happens naturally, and every piece is 100% unique.
Here at PJD, we ensure nothing goes to waste. If a piece of wood has a few knots, we don’t throw it away. We make sure it’s structurally sound before becoming part of our instruments. Only about one in twenty of our guitars will have features such as knots in the wood, so, if you’re lucky enough to find one, rest assured it is meant to be there. Knots are part of the natural beauty of the wood and give a unique character to PJD guitars.
All of our guitar tops are Maple, and, as we don’t want to waste anything, this is where the idea of our cavity covers came in – it’s the leftover parts from the top wood – we use these matching maple pieces which give a really high-quality finish.
We use torrefied wood for our guitar necks. Torrefaction is a process of repeated kiln drying and acclimatising, which gives the wood its perfect moisture-content, stabilising it and also giving the wood its lovely caramel colour. Essentially, it’s a modern method of aging materials to mimic old woods that have been stored naturally for a very long time.
When the neck wood comes in to PJD, it sits for a while to acclimatise, releasing tensions and stresses gradually to prevent any movement in the guitar neck. This is a vital part of our production. We do an initial plane of the wood and let it rest again. By the time the neck is shaped, it’s been through all these processes to make sure it will never ever move. Once we have the wood in our woodstore, you’re looking at about a month from start to finish to produce a neck that’s ready for our spray booth.
When I first started making guitars, it was very trial and error with tone woods. I knew enough to get me started, buying any old thing when I was experimenting, but it wouldn’t always look, feel, or sound quite right.
Swamp Ash has been my constant from the start but I’m really excited to be looking at sustainable alternatives. I’ve introduced other woods as time has gone on. I’ve always used Maple for necks, but I only started using Roasted Maple after I moved up to York. I always get excited when we receive a shipment of Roasted Flame Maple, because it’s the neck that makes the instrument.
We’ve actually just bought some beautiful Spanish Cedar – the wood used to make cigar boxes. Spanish Cedar has a very distinct, fragrant smell and I love using it, so watch this space…
Alongside the production of our existing guitars – which is happening at a larger scale than PJD Guitars has ever seen – the coming year is going to be one of experimentation with different, more sustainable, tone woods and I’m really looking forward to it.
And that’s what this is all about, using the best woods to make the best guitars, in a way that is best for our planet.