A baked guitar? Really? Yes! Whether you call it baked, roasted, torrefied, aged or VTS: all these tonewoods spent some time in the oven.
The baking of tonewoods for guitars has been around for a long time, but about twenty years ago it took off with the electric guitars of Music Man that had a baked maple neck. That looks great because it makes the grain stand out a bit more and it makes the wood more stable. At the time it was dismissed by some as a hype, but now 'baked' guitars are also embraced by many acoustic luthiers. We think this is a great development, because it really offers something extra.
What is a torrefied guitar?
Torrefaction or the very gentle roasting of wood has been around for years. Even the Vikings did it to make wood lighter and stronger. The furniture and floor industry has also been 'baking' for decades and violin builders turned to this technique ages ago. This torrefying is done at moderate temperatures and without oxygen, making sure the wood gently dries, but does not burn. This forced drying of tonewoods has the advantage that all kinds of fluids that are still in the wood disappear or change composition. As a result, the torrefied wood resembles the wood of instruments that are decades old and that we love so much because of that beautiful sound.
Which guitarbrands offer torrefied guitars?
It was a bit of a niche for years, reserved for exclusive builders such as Bourgeois, Collings and Atkin, but Martin also joined five years ago with their Vintage Tone System
Now we can also add Gibson to this list with their 'aged' guitars and Fender released a Professional Stratocaster with 'roasted pine' this year as a very interesting alternative to the increasingly scarce Swamp Ash.
Does a torrefied guitar sound like a vintage guitar?
Yes and no. Torrefied guitars sound different, drier, woodier, have more mids, are often a bit louder, but they sometimes loose some of the deep basses and crystal clear highs, that 'fresh' guitars still have. So torrefied guitars lean more towards vintage guitars and are a good and affordable alternative. But the same? No, they are not, because they still miss the magic mojo that we often see and hear in real vintage guitars. Those instruments are completely lived through and that makes them different from guitars with a torrefied top.
Just like vintage guitars, torrefied guitars are very suitable for studio work, because they sit nicely in the mix. And they are suitable for the stage, because the wood is a bit more stable and therefore suffers less from changing temperatures and humidity.
Are torrefied guitars more expensive?
Yes, baking the wood takes more time, every once in a while sometimes goes wrong, so there is more risk involved and all of this is reflected in the price. But as more and more luthiers torrefy tops, we see prices are dropping quickly. Eastman, for example, offers a beautiful dreadnougt with a Thermo Cured spruce top for less than 1.300 euros. That was unthinkable a few years ago and this guitar even made it to the top of Fellow Milo’s favorite guitars for less than 2,000 euros
Do torrefied guitars wear out sooner?
Probably not. After many years, wood can 'wear out', but that can take centuries. We have had a Torres Guitar in the store, which was over a hundred years old and still very much alive. Most luthiers try to resemble 'Golden Era' acoustic guitars from around 1940. So the tonewood is not turned antique over night, but gets some grey hairs and turns somewhere around 70. Such torrefied woods can still be great for decades to come and these instruments are also likely to survive several generations. With the greatest advantage that the first generation does not have to wait for that beautiful, dry tone.
What is the best torrefied acoustic guitar?
That's a matter of taste, so it's hard to give a definitive answer. All guitar builders have their own 'recipe' for baking. Dana Bourgeois was one of the first acoustic builders to apply this on a large scale and he still does so with often stunning results. Collings also do magical things in their wood oven. Closer to home, we see that Atkin puts a very different spin on his guitars. Less clean, because besides torrefying he also freezes the wood, aiming to capture that vintage vibe even better.
Torrefying wood has now become an extra part of luthery, in which you can see and hear the master's hand. The best way to find out what suits you best is to just give it a try. When we are allowed to open our doors again, we would like to welcome you in Dedemsvaart and feel free to contact us at [email protected] or +31 (0) 523-232205