Red Spruce Tops

This is the place where I get my guitar tops. The below is an excerpt from a post on the Unofficial Martin Guitar Forum by my friend John Arnold. Link to full post here:

Once again, the Hampton brothers (Nathan and Matt) and I are back in the woods of Western NC cutting red spruce. There are hundreds of red spruce trees on this 300-acre tract, which is above 5000 feet elevation. The challenge is to find trees that are suitable for instruments. One of our most useful tools is an increment borer, a hollow bit that is screwed into the tree, taking a pencil-sized sample. We first began cutting here in 2013, harvesting two trees. The quality of that wood was so good that we again cut red spruce there last year.
This location is about 4 miles from a paved road, and the access is difficult. The narrow single track road to the site is severely eroded, and the only practical transportation is by four-wheelers.

This is Nathan with the landowner at the site. His wife inherited the land from her grandfather, and before our trip in 2013, the last time red spruce was cut in here was in the 1920’s.

Clearing a path through the rhododendron to get the wood out.

Matt splitting billets from the 24″ long blocks.

Matt and Nathan, with the last block from that tree. This particular one was about 27″ in diameter at breast height, and about 22″ where we stopped cutting on it. Though the diameter was still adequate, the heavy limbs (knots) made the upper section unusable for instruments.

Carrying billets. We also have pack frames to carry wood over longer distances. This was only maybe 60 yards to where we could put the wood on the four-wheeler, but the footing on the side of the steep hill is treacherous.

This is an exceptional 29 1/4″ red spruce. It may turn out to be one of the best in the whole tract. It is also the furthest down the mountain from the logging road, so it will take the most effort to bring home. The core sample was very nice.

Nate with the increment borer.

Checking out the sample.

Here is the ‘monster’…one of the largest red spruce trees I have seen on private land. The diameter is about 35 1/2″ . Nathan found this tree week before last.

Here they are finished transporting the wood up to the logging road. Just tidying up the gear. This photo shows the slope of the land, in the valley of a small creek. On either side of this little valley, the slope is greater.

The wood is loaded on the small flat bed trailer, to pull behind the four-wheeler. At this point, it is 3.1 miles to the truck, and another 0.8 mile to the highway.
It is slow going….taking maybe 45 minutes to get to the truck.

Loading up the big trailer for the trip home.

We brought home 26 billets. Considering that much of the time yesterday was spent scouting for trees in the ‘laurel thicket’, I think it was a very productive day.


Jim Hays Interview

Jim Hays Interview

For Jim Hays, finding a guitar that suits his style can be a little frustrating. The Athens resident plays the guitar left-handed and finding quality lefty guitars can be a challenge.

However, it’s a challenge that Hays, 69, isn’t afraid to take on. The retired technical manager, who had previously worked on such projects as the first IBM laptop and Saturn rocket, decided to build a guitar for himself. “It’s not rocket science,” he said, adding that although it’s tedious, it’s pretty plain and simple.

Building hand-crafted guitars allows him to create his own vintage sounds. The guitar builder has produced 18 guitars in the past four or five years. “I started real slow,” he said. “It was a hobby. I needed something to do after I retired.” Hays built his first guitar in 1983 from a Martin kit. “I had done a little repair work when my brother, Don, had a music store, but that was the first time I had ever built one,” he said, referring to the Jefferson Street Library of Music, which was once located across the street from LuVici’s in Athens.

“About four or five years ago, I started tinkering around with it again,” he said. Hays credits guitar builder John Arnold for a lot of what he has learned. “He is a very good luthier.” Hays recalled catching a television special where Arnold and another man cut a huge Adirondack spruce tree and followed the process of guitar building from beginning to end. In the special, Lynn Dudenbostel, a well-known acoustic guitar and mandolin craftsman, was the luthier. Hays saw the special and decided to give Arnold a call. The two became friends. “He gave me old guitar patterns,” Hays said . “We just hit it off.”