Fig. 1 (above) and Fig. 2 (below) show the cross-sectional difference between plain sawn (also flat and slab sawn) lumber and quartersawn lumber.
Below, the long, strait and parallel grain of a quartersawn neck is easily discerned on the back of this heavily relic-ed Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster® guitar.
Some high-end guitars and basses have “quartersawn” necks. What does this mean?
“Quartersawn” is a woodworking term that describes a certain specific and non-standard method of milling lumber from trees. Quartersawn instrument necks are unusually strong, straight-grain necks superior to standard necks in almost every way. Quartersawn wood is more expensive than conventionally milled wood; guitars and basses with quartersawn necks are accordingly more expensive.
The vast majority of lumber processed in U.S. sawmills is “plain sawn” (also “flat” and “slab” sawn), meaning that the tree’s annual growth rings are anywhere from parallel to 60°-70° perpendicular to the broad face of the boards, thus highlighting the grain of the wood. It is milled by simply cutting a log into slabs; straight through and one right after another (at left in Fig. 1 and at top in Fig. 2). It is the simplest, fastest, most efficient, least wasteful and least expensive way to cut a log into boards. Consequently, nearly all of the world’s lumber is plain sawn.
Quartersawn lumber, on the other hand, is milled from logs in such a manner that the tree’s annual growth rings are perpendicular to the broad face of the boards (at right in Fig. 1 and bottom in Fig. 2). The resulting grain on the face of quartersawn lumber will be tight, straight, parallel lines that run the length of the board.
It is a milling method used for fine guitar necks and fingerboards because, in addition to being visually appealing, the straight grain makes the board very strong and about 50 percent more stable than a plain-sawn board. Quartersawn wood is less susceptible to wear, shrinking, swelling in width, twisting, warping and splitting. It also provides a better paint surface—all highly desirable qualities in a guitar neck.
Quartersawing a log produces no more waste than plain sawing, but it takes more time, greater skill and larger trees, all of which make quartersawn instrument necks more expensive than their much more commonplace plain-sawn counterparts.