Guitar from reclaimed wood

Sinker and reclaimed wood – Back to the beginning of time

During my time as an artisan and luthier I have gotten acquainted with numerous species of wood. Usually when I’m examining and tone-tapping certain pieces of wood I know well beforehand what kind of woods result in a high-end instrument. Mainly widely known and easily available wood gets used in instrument building in general, such as alder, swamp ash, mahogany, maple, rosewood and ebony.

During my time as an artisan and luthier I have gotten acquainted with numerous species of wood. Usually when I’m examining and tone-tapping certain pieces of wood I know well beforehand what kind of woods result in a high-end instrument. Mainly widely known and easily available wood gets used in instrument building in general, such as alder, swamp ash, mahogany, maple, rosewood and ebony.

Less often used wood species also help to build great instruments. I have made bodies out of pine, poplar, bibolo, red cedar and walnut. As topwoods I have used cocobolo, spalted and flame maple / birch, walnut, ebony and different kinds of root burls. The neck wood must be an especially stable kind but it doesn’t always have to be maple or mahogany. Laminating process (glueing together many pieces), adding carbon fiber or titanium reinforcement rods and machine radiusing the neck underside (“fingerboard veneer”) also help add stiffness to the neck.

In recent years I have specialised in particularly old wood, starting from 100-200 years old reclaimed wood (from old buildings, furniture, floor boards, tables etc.) up to thousands of years old sinker woods (e.g. Arctic sinker pine). The age of the sinker wood has been radiocarbon dated to hold true, hence the oldest trunks are from the actual calendrical beginning, some even older.

Reclaimed floorboards from Finnish sniper battalion officers’ barrack building. The building was completed in the 19th century. The trees have been ca. 200-400 years old during the time of logging.

Reclaimed floorboards from Finnish sniper battalion officers’ barrack building. The building was completed in the 19th century. The trees have been ca. 200-400 years old during the time of logging.

 Recently it’s been highly fashionable to also use heat-treated (e.g. “roasted”) wood in guitar building. The goal is to get the same kind of effect that the natural aging of wood brings about but only artificially. During the heat treating process the wood will dry out, get lighter and more stable, also the color will become darker. This way it’ll be able to withstand changes in temperature and humidity much better, which actually is a desired quality for an instrument. Heat treated wood and authentic old wood has been thoroughly examined under a microscope in various contexts. It’s been detected that by using the heat treatment a certain similarity is obtained in the wood’s cellular structure but in reality nothing can substitute authentic naturally aged wood.

 When it comes to super old wood one could really call it a rare treat with availability that’s based merely on good luck. Typically the old growth sinker wood is laying deep at the bottom of rivers and lakes for example sunken during timber rafting in the past or as a collapsed forest strip due to a landslide. The Arctic cold waters, oxygenless sludge and high water pressure have protected the wood from decay, preserving it exceptionally well.

2000 years old sinker pine. Dived up from the bottom of the lake in the 80’s. These trees that were originally taken down by the storm could be found from the bottom of the deep rocky water systems. 

During the long years under water the minerals have colored and patterned the wood in many unique ways. Also lignins and ethereal oils get dissolved from the sinker trunks over time, so it’s as if the water rinses the wood’s cellular structure open. This doesn’t happen at all during the air drying of wood. Very limited availability and many special characteristics have greatly appreciated the sinker wood during the recent years. The sinker trunks originate from a time when the trees were growing much slower than nowadays. The density of a hundreds of years old pine can be ten times more compared to the new growth equivalents. For example I’ve calculated over 50 growth rings in one centimeter’s distance. The different structure and density can’t but affect the sound characteristics of the wood significantly. Such high-quality wood is not available anymore literally anywhere, that’s why it’s especially suitable for instrument building.

Circa 400 years old sinker wood from the waterfront of the city of Oulu. The wood is so dense that you can’t even calculate the annual rings with a naked eye.

When the sinker wood gets dried correctly it can’t properly absorb water from the ground or from the air anymore. The cellular structure has been changed and this has given the wood a moisture repelling character. Consequently, the wood is lighter and the humidity derived shrinking and swelling are practically non-existent. With the correct surface finishing (e.g. a breathing nitrocellulose lacquer) the wood will continue to dry out in the form of an instrument and only gets better with time and playing.

Fender made the first electric guitar bodies out of pine. There’s a very special odour in the old sinker pine as well that fills the workshop in the middle of the rumble emanating from the woodworking machinery. The old wood radiates something very special, and these instruments tend to have totally their own sound, feel and character. As the cellular structure has been changed during all the years spent underwater, hence the wood has aged not only by its age but in it’s composition as well. A finished new instrument is basically already “vintage” and you don’t have to wait another 50-60 years to get the same result.


Mahogany neck blanks from at least 200 years old Honduran tabletop.

There’s a common belief in Japan that every tree possesses a spirit. I’ve come to the conclusion that the Japanese might not be completely wrong when stating this. It’s actually a moving experience for example to play an instrument made from over 2000 year old wood, it’ll give a very unique perspective into the passage of time and to life overall. What kind of things have happened during this time and what the wood has experienced through its lifetime? These kinds of questions come to mind often for example with the wood and instruments made from reclaimed wood from old buildings and furniture.


There’s quite a good selection of these old treasures available at the GAS Guitarworks shop relative to normal situations – that’s why the topic is very much current. The sinker wood selection at any given time is largely dependent on the drying process of various wood species and the batches, and when it comes to reclaimed wood it depends on the overall availability. The old woods have really made a great impression on many players both locally and internationally. You are welcome to check out the woods and the ready-made instruments at the GAS workshop in Tampere, Finland.