As I was researching the Seagull SWS Series (I'm thinking of getting the Folk or Mini Jumbo sometime in the near-ish future), I stumbled upon this:

Does this sort of thing happen commonly with mass produced guitars? The only time I've seen bearclaw spruce before this was as an optional "premium top wood" on custom luthier-built guitars. If I could find a Seagull SWS with bearclaw, that would be awesome.
It is not common, but it certainly does happen. Most likely this shot was taken of a custom built one that was made for this specifically.

Most production guitars don't get a bearclaw top because the condition in the wood is fairly rare, and because the luthiers/factory runners pull the wood from making guitars as soon as they see it. This is because the bearclaw pattern is caused by grain runout, which can actually make a very tonally odd and bad guitar. Many people talk about the superior tonal qualities of bearclaw spruce as a top wood, and they are correct that it does get more tone. The trick though, is to get the correct amount of runout.

Too much grain runout (severe bearclaw) makes it so that the guitar has a very odd, overly woody, and sort of choppy sound, as well as becoming weak compared to straight-grained wood which has a very solid and strong shape/grain. So when a luthier is making a guitar that utilizes the unique tone of a bearclaw spruce soundboard, they don't just pick one that has grain runout. They painstakingly search for ones with the correct amount of runout to maximize the tone without sacrificing too much strength in the wood.

For this reason, mass produced guitars hardly ever show up with bearclaw because as soon as grain runout is noticed in a tone wood, no matter what degree, it is normally pulled from the production line immediately because its possible that it could yield some bad guitars that would break easily because of too much of the bearclaw pattern.

So to answer your question: no it's really not that common :P

EDIT: Also, I should point out that not everyone agrees that bearclaw patterned woods, to any degree, sound better. Some people maintain that it is just how the wood would have sounded even without that grain pattern, and its just the construction of the instrument. Personally I think that any change in the wood's grain, humidity, size, makeup, or anything like that would change the tone, but then I only know what I have read in books. I have never played a bearclawed guitar...but it would be interesting to do a tonal analysis on many different specimens and see if there are specific tonal characteristics that are similar throughout models. Almost all the literature that I have read on the topic have been very vague as to the "increase in tone" that they report, and so I don't know exactly how it sounds different.

It does, however, look pretty
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Last edited by ReChord at Jul 18, 2009,
Wow. Thank you for that very informative reply. I didn't know that bearclaw could actually make a guitar sound worse. From what I read, I thought the bearclaw itself had no impact on tone, but that because it usually occurs in older trees it could be a sign of stiffer wood that would yield a tonal advantage. I never even knew that the grain could affect the sound of a guitar.

And yes, it does look pretty. That's why I'm in love with it.

EDIT: I think I got my "info" from the posts in the following thread made by "taylorman", in case you want to take a look:

EDIT 2: What is your opinion on silking? I've noticed that on quite a few guitars.
Last edited by i_don't_know at Jul 18, 2009,
Well, again, not everyone is in agreement on whether bearclaw really effects tone...but because it DOES effect stiffness, grain, and strength of the wood, I would assume that those who say it does effect tone have a better argument because the stiffness of the wood effects the tone. There are alot of collectors and custom guitar enthusiasts who really hunt for a really good bearclaw top because they swear it sounds better. Honestly, I dunno

And silking is something that generally luthiers (from what I've read) agree is a good thing because it indicates a stiffer top, which means more strength on the sound board resulting in a better tone. Silking itself is when you can see the medullary rays (the things that help transport nutrients in the tree) in the wood. This is something that is documented and agreed upon to have a better tone. Realize that silking is not a process, not something that is done to a guitar. It is instead something that happens naturally when you quartersaw a wood, and quartersawn wood is essential for a good soundboard. So its really only when these rays are most noticeable (because they are large) that it is considered to be "silked."
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Last edited by ReChord at Jul 19, 2009,