Old Growth Wood

A LITTLE HISTORY

NORTHERN HEMISPHERE

What caused this type of growth? Climatic conditions. There is a period of time called the LITTLE ICE AGE. This was a period of abnormal climatic cooling lasting from the 14th century until the middle of the 19th century. The Little Ice Age brought bitterly cold winters to many parts of the world but is most thoroughly documented in Europe and North America. In the winter of 1780, New York harbor froze allowing people to walk from Manhattan to Staten Island. The severe winters affected human life in ways large and small. Many spring and summers were outstandingly cold and wet. In North America, European settlers reported exceptionally severe winters. For example, in 1607-08, ice persisted in Lake Superior until June. Obviously, this type of climate promotes very slow growing trees. Some maple logs harvested in the 1800’s were seedlings when Columbus discovered America.

ANTONIO STRADIVARIUS (1644-1737)

World famous violin maker, Antonio Stradivarius, lived during the Little Ice Age. His magnificent instruments were made from locally harvested wood. The colder climate of the time produced trees that were very hard and dense. The superior tone of the instruments Stradivarius created has been partially attributed to this old growth cold climate wood. Climatologist Grissino-Mayer and Lloyd Burcle of Columbia University in New York suggest that dense wood with narrow growth rings may help to “instill a superior tone and brilliance” The researchers wrote that wood grown under fast conditions is less resonant.

THE END OF THE LITTLE ICE AGE

Around 1850 the world climate began warming again and the Little Ice Age was ending. Many scientists believe that human-induced warming may be the reason for the end of the Little Ice Age.
* Information on the Little Ice Age was gathered from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN TO A BANJO PLAYER?

Some of the world’s best sounding banjos have this very type of wood used in the construction of the body. A good tone ring properly fitted on a hard, dense old growth maple rim has a chance to be a tone monster provided it has a quality set up. Many pre-war Mastertone banjos have been found to have very dense hard, close grain wood rims. The big problem, this wood is long gone. Narrow tree rings strengthen and increase the wood’s density. Maple harvested today has much wider growth rings and is less dense.

NOW, THE GOOD PART

MOTHER LODE OF OLD GROWTH MAPLE DISCOVERED BY ERIC SULLIVAN

ANCIENT CACHE OF OLD GROWTH COLD CLIMATE MAPLE WAS IN PLAIN SIGHT FOR OVER 100 YEARS.

A New England factory built in 1875 was being torn down and the flooring was found to be old growth rock maple. This maple was probably harvested locally as much as 150 years ago and has as many as 70 to 80 growth rings per inch. Modern maple has much less. Unlike logs recovered from the Great lakes, this wood was never subjected to the trauma of being soaked in water all those years. In addition, the wood from the factory floor was vibrated by heavy machinery for over 100 years. There is no way to duplicate this. There is nothing else like this available today.

Eric has a keen eye for special instrument wood and knew without a doubt this was a major find. This is the most perfect old growth maple for making Mastertone style three-ply rims we have ever seen. He quickly realized this was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to secure some special tone wood and he acted immediately.
This type of wood was available and used in the pre-war era.

We, along with most experienced banjo builders, have recognized for some time the advantages of a great wood rim coupled with a good tonering. The sound is in the combination along with a quality set-up. We are confident builders using this old growth maple will take tone to another level. We believe a key piece of the puzzle has been found as we have built several exceptional banjos using this old growth wood rim. Master rim builder Jimmy Cox is working closely with us on this project. The secrets are slowly being unlocked.