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Grading Sitka Spruce

Since 1996 Timbre Tonewood has shipped millions of acoustic guitar and mandolin soundboards

Sitka grades


Master Grade:

This is the highest grade available. Every criteria used to grade a soundboard will score in the highest range. If a "stand back" evaluation is made of a master grade board, virtually every Luthier would agree it is a magnificent specimen. The board is perfectly quartered, it is very stiff, there is no apparent run-out, color is superbly uniform, medullar rays are long and pronounced, grain lines are tight and evenly spaced alternately a very even and pleasing progression with close spacing at the edge of the lower bout, no knot shadow is evident, grain lines run straight and grains at glue up edge are perfectly parallel. It is our experience that at best one in one thousand soundboards we produce are true master grade soundboards. If we do not have this quality on hand we will not ship a lower grade. Our grading is uncompromising. If you desire the highest quality soundboard in every respect, select this grade. Warning! Do not complain about the price, it is too low.


AAA Grade:

thumbnailAAA grade soundboards are very close to master grade. They have been down graded for a slight visual feature that is not quite "perfect". The most common down grade feature is that the grain spacing cannot be considered exceptionally even as a master grade board. Structurally, the AAA soundboard will have virtually the same high qualities as a master grade ie: very well quartered, stiff across the grain and run-out not apparent. In a "stand back" evaluation it will be difficult to distinguish a AAA from a master grade. A close evaluation of the criteria and comparison with a master grade will reveal a slightly lower quality.


High AA Grade (HAA):

High AA grade will exhibit very good stiffness, it will be very well quartered with very little apparent run-out. Grain spacing will be good and very pleasing to the eyes. The high AA grade may have slightly less regular grain that the AAA or some very slight localized wiggle in the grain. Standing back from this board it is very difficult to distinguish from the upper grades.


AA Grade:

AA grade represents an industry bench mark.

AA grade is the highest grade commonly purchased wholesale by larger guitar manufacturers. Grades higher than AA grade are purchased mainly for limited runs by large manufactures, by smaller high quality builders and by private and custom builders. AA soundboards maintain a very good "stand back" evaluation. The color is virtually uniform, grain uniformity is pleasing to the eyes, the boards have firmness across the grain, only slight and localized deviation in the grain is allowed and run-out is minimal. AA grade soundboards present very good visual quality and very good tonal structure features. They are not AAA grade boards for subtle features.


Low AA Grade (LAA):

Low AA grade is to AA grade as AAA grade is to master grade. LAA retains many of the eye pleasing features of the AA. This grade will exhibit ONE of the following features yet retain overall eye pleasing symmetry and consistency.

Faint color

Slight symmetric winter growth at lower bout

Light run-out

Localized deviation in grain

Progression grain, up to 10 grains per inch at lower bout only

Light knot shadow

Very slight curve in grain


Select A Grade (SA):

Select A grade is the grade highest in demand by large manufacturers. This grade has been developed so that the soundboards in this grade will exhibit eye pleasing visual qualities and at the same time be reasonably priced for large manufacturers producing quality low to medium priced guitars. The features listed in LAA grade may be present in the select A grade. These features will be limited to one possibly two and may be slightly stronger. The grain spacing in a select A board may be more open however, a "stand back" evaluation of a select A board will be good.


A Grade:

thumbnailA grade represent the "low" bench mark standard. The A grade has been developed to provide soundboards for large manufacturers that want an acceptable quality soundboard on a lower priced yet quality instrument. Color in these soundboards may be judged as "moderate". Commonly the pinker wood of the Sitka tree found just inside the sap wood will be positioned at the glue up line. This feature is very common in guitars built by North American builders. Color in A grade tops will not be high contrast color or racing stripes. Grain spacing may be irregular or even, winter growth may extend away from the lower bout toward the middle but will retain some symmetry and consistency, boards will vary in stiffness & degree of quarter within normal standards, knot shadow will be light to moderate, grain may have some light wiggle or slight curve.


Low A Grade (LA):

Low A grade will have one or more of the following features:

Highly contrasting color

Moderate knot shadow

Irregular grain

Open grain (widest grain: 8 grains per inch)

Winter growth anywhere on the board

Moderate run-out

Light curve in grain

Some wiggle in grain

Light compression wood


All low A grade soundboards are structurally sound and graded so they will accept a transparent finish.


B Grade:

B grade tops are often referred to as paint grade. B grade tops will include features that many manufacturers cannot use. In some cases the soundboard that is graded as a B grade board will only have one feature that will down grade it to a B grade. In some cases the board would be a much higher grade board if not for a defect such as a pitch pocket or pin knot. In other cases the board will have two or more B grade features. A potential purchaser should be aware that B grade tops have the greatest amount of variance. Features that cause boards to be graded as B grade include:

Presence of small tight pin knots

Pitch pocket(s)

Strong A-symmetric color(s)

Moderate and stronger knot shadow

Wavy grain

Wide grain

Compression wood

Strong winter growth

Soft across the grain


All B grade boards are structurally sound and will accommodate a dreadnought or classic template depending on the format.

We specialize in two tonewood species growing in Western Canada; Sitka Spruce and Western Red Cedar. Every tonewood log is handpicked.


Are you are a custom builder striving to build the perfect guitar with a true Master grade soundboard? Or a major guitar company requiring thousands of single "A" grade guitar soundboards? Timbre Tonewood can offer consistent quality at every grade and price level.