Everyone grades wood differently, and while there are some universal standards, grading an acutal piece of wood can be subjective. Here you can see how we grade ours so you know what your getting when you place your order.
The standards of grading a soundboard are well known among luthiers. The first quality to look for is a good vertical cut. Looking at the end grain, 90° is ideal, with anything leaning 15°-20° still qualifying as vertical cut. Tops are graded according to their Lines per inch (LPI), with the best wood having a lot of narrow lines, evenness of early wood to latewood. A higher LPI is better, with actual numbers varying depending on the species (yellow cedar can have a much higher LPI than Sitka Spruce for example). Master Grade Tops will have a very consistent LPI across the entire board; lower grades will tend to widen out as they move from one side to the other.
Both the vertical cut, and the LPI of a soundboard will contribute to it's natural stiffness.
Finally, consistent color is traditionally desireable by luthiers, though this can be a matter of personal preference. For example: our AAA Red cedar tops have a consistent color, where some of our AA Red Cedar tops may have a AAA LPI count, but have streaks of light and dark colors.
Master: The best wood available, very consistent stiffness and color, best for skilled builders who will be able to work it precisely so as to not over-build it.
AAAA-AAAAA: Sometimes a board isn't quite Master level, but is far better than AAA, So we will simply use more "A's". Not unlike throwing up a bunch of '!'s" to really emphasize written word.
AAA: This is a good quality soundboard. Nothing fancy, 20-25LPI on the tight side lowering slightly as it moves to the outside.
AAH: These sets are not quite AAA but nicer than AA (the H is half an A)
AA: These are still vertical cut, however they either have lower LPI (aka 'wider ur uneven grain). Perhaps waves in the annular lines, or a streak of color varience or a sap pocket. *NOTE: none of these imperfections will make the top unworkable. In most cases they reduce the overall stiffness of the wood. As many luthiers will attest, the work of the craftsman has the most influence on the quality of an instrument. Using lower quality wood does not bind you to the fate of a low quality instrument.
We have 3 main grades for our tonewood. Tonewood is not always vertical cut as the cell structure of the wood is different and often a quartersawn board will be necessary for the best figure. Some Tonewoods (mahogany, padauk, etc.) will not have any grades as the sets would be considered AAA and there is very little variance between sets.
For Wood that has extremely varied figure, we will elect to price each set individually so that you can choose exactly what you want.
AAA: Flawless boards (flaws may exist on the wood but will be in a place where they will be cut off from the instrument itself). Best figure.
AA: Flawless boards (same as AAA) with a less vibrant figure. This is more of a diminished aesthetic appeal, rather than a sound quality degredation.
C: If we list any of these sets they will have a flaw or imperfection that cannot be cut off and will have to be dealt with by the builder. Some of these sets will actually be of very high quality with the exception of the flaw that needs to be dealt with. On the whole we do not usually list these sets.
Our necks are all Vertical Cut unless stated otherwise. The same goes for our heel blocks.