Laurie has been building successfully with the indigenous species of New Zealand for over 25 years. In New Zealand today, considered from an environmental perspective, "indigenous timber can only be produced from forests that are managed in a way that maintains continuous forest cover and ecological balance. Management systems ensure that the forests continuously provide a full range of products and amenities, in perpetuity, while retaining their natural values. Only single trees and small groups of trees can be felled for timber production." This, and the fact that the export of NZ indigenous timber is banned, except in the form of a finished product, means relatively few indigenous species are harvested today. Consequently, many of the species Laurie builds with are recovered mill logs, including NZ riverwoods and pieces that he has been able to collect since the start of his building career. Below are a selection of these tonewoods, along with the stories that accompany them.
Species: Modern kauri (Agathis Australis).
This is the most requested species for soundboards. Its tap tone is clear and bell like. As a soundboard it is alive with rich harmonics and subtleties which, combined with exceptional sustain, gives this tonewood a musicality well suited to solo fingerstyle.
Designated 'modern' kauri to distinguish it from the ancient kauri used for back and sides, this tonewood comes from a tree of around 80 to one hundred years old and was selected personlly by Laurie specifically for use as soundboard tonewood. It is also worth noting all soundboard bracing, irrespective of what species is used for the soundboard, is also made from Waingarara kauri stock.
In 2006, after years of building with this tonewood from salvaged sources, Laurie had the opportunity to select his own kauri tree growing in a private forest in Waingarara. It was a rare opportunity and he personally oversaw the felling and milling of the timber. This project was recorded in a feature documentary called 'Song of the Kauri'.
More on the Waingarara kauri story
Species: Tanekaha (Phyllocladus trichomanoides) – NZ River wood.
The grain is straight and tight with distinctive rings. Its colour is creamy yellow with streaks or dark toning due to it being a salvaged log of some 100+ years in a river. Its tap tone is bright, powerful and direct without being overly complex. Coupled with kauri bracing it produces a wonderfully balanced, bright tone with plenty of volume. My high opinion of this tonewood is such that I have featured it on my 20th Anniversary models with superb results. Unfortunately, stock is very limited.
More on the Paraoanui Sinker story
Back & Sides
There are a wide variety of tonewoods that can be used for the back and sides of musical instruments. Laurie has been building with some of the most suitable and stunning examples available from his native New Zealand for decades. With increasing pressure on the more traditional species, it makes a great deal of sense to use species that are not threatened and are not listed on CITES schedules. All of the following species are excellent examples of tonewood that is suitable for the highest quality instruments as well as offering a rare and unique beauty not found anywhere else on earth.
Species: Ancient kauri (Agathis Australis).
One of the most uniquely beautiful, not to mention oldest (we are not talking hundreds in this particular case, but thousands of years!), is what we, in the Far North, call "ancient" kauri. It is recovered from peat swamps where it has been preserved all this time. However, ancient kauri varies considerably in colour, grain, density and strength, from one log to the next, to sometimes incredible extent, more than any other timber. This makes selection tricky but the more highly figured samples tend, on average, to have a higher density and aside from the associated increase in difficulties bending and working figured woods, it is easily adapted for service as back and sides for musical instruments. Laurie has been building with ancient kauri for many years with excellent results and has arguably the best selection of highly figured examples you can find. His Signature Series instruments feature ancient kauri back and sides along with the neck. Samples can be seen in the L.J. Williams Signature Series section where you can view actual sets available for new instruments. Also see the Gallery for recently finished instruments.
Species: Tanekaha (Phyllocladus trichomanoides) – NZ River wood.
The properties of tanekaha make it a very versatile tonewood. Wood from the Motuhake river wood tree is used primarily for back and sides. As such, it is a rival for any of the rosewoods and offers a more responsible alternative for those who prefer the look of the dark woods. It has a lustre and character all its own. Sometimes it can look almost indistinguishable from rosewood, with a beautiful red-brown, but when you move it and look at a different angle it turns black. Move to another angle again, and you see golden highlights that hint at its earlier days. It is truly extraordinary!
Species: Rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum) – NZ River wood.
One of the most common indigenous species used today for funiture and architectural components. A beautiful smooth grained timber with similar density to mahogany. The heartwood varies in colour from a dark reddish to yellowish brown, and often exhibits irregular streaks. The variety that occurs naturally with standing trees means there is a greater chance of finding some exceptional samples in future years though stock, at present, is limited to the sample shown here. Used for back, sides and necks. Stock levels adequate and more variety to come.
Species: Taraire (Beilschmiedia taraire)
Taraire is an open pored wood similar to rosewood and is about the same density. It is representative of a genus, containing about 40 species, that is mainly tropical. The family to which the genus belongs, the laurel family, is also largely tropical. Taraire is not a commercial species of any consequence as it grows on fertile soil that is now commonly reserved for agriculture. This makes it very hard to obtain. The colour is usually a lighter brown or yellow but it does occasionally have darker colours like the sample here. I acquired a substantial stock of coloured taraire from a section of a log that was milled on private land many years ago. It has reds, dark browns and black spiderwebbing. Coupled with some pale sapwood it makes for a unique and striking instrument.
Species: Totara (Podocarpus Totara) – NZ River wood.
Totara is an important tree to the indigenous Mäori of New Zealand. Close grained and silky smooth, it is easily worked with a carving chisel and is the pre-eminent carving timber of New Zealand, traditionally used for building waka (canoes) and decorative carving. A little difficult to dry but, once dry, is very stable, easily worked, and well suited to use as guitar necks. It makes a perfect alternative to Honduran mahogany and is actually a little lighter in weight. While totara timber is easily obtained today, the colour of the riverwood offers superior colour and character. Clean, straight grain is easily obtained but the addition of dark staining and streaks can add character to an otherwise monotone neck.
See the Signature Series instruments for info on ancient kauri necks