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Torrefied Wood




As you all should know, Yates Banjos is committed to research and development. I have often said, regardless what we have, there is always something better and we will continuously try to find it.  This time, it is called torrefied wood. It is a technology that has been around for a while, but has only recently been applied to the crafting of musical instruments, and I am the first to apply it to the inner workings of the banjo.


When a tree is cut down, water and sap runs out and the wood starts to dry; this moisture is called free water. The wood can be stored until it naturally dries, or it can be run through a kiln where the process is sped up in a controlled operation. In both cases, when the wood becomes stable, it is then ready to use.  Both processes leave bound up water locked in the cells and it takes a very long time for this water to dry out naturally.


It has been proven that old wood sounds better, but why is this? Let's say you just pulled your instrument out of  a bucket of water where it has been soaking; it would be water-logged.  You can easily see where it would play and sound like a pumpkin. As it dries out, the sound starts to come back, and it gets better and better until it is completely dry again. That is what water can do for you in the wood of an instrument.


So, if only time can remove this bound water, then how long does it take?  Let me first say that if an instrument was a "dog" eighty years ago, then it will be "dog" today.  If it was a fine instrument then, it will only be a better instrument now.  That is just to say that time in itself, is not everything. I can tell that a banjo starts to take on the aged sound in a short time.  As time is added, more of the age effect can be heard.  That says that the prewar banjos are still aging and getting better; that is as long as time does not destroy them. Could this shed some light on the old Stradivarius violins? You bet it does.


The torrefication process is a little different than air or kiln drying. It is a process that removes the bound water almost completely. Let's think about the hard grains where the water is mostly bound up. It looks a bit like the rosin that you use on your fiddle bow. Bow rosin contains water. If you were to sit it on a shelf for eighty years, you would likely come back to find it as a small pile of crystals. This means that the bound water has been mostly removed.


We are now offering torrefied rims and resonators in our banjos. It costs a little more, but it is worth it. Is it necessary? No, because Yates builds great banjos; they all sound good!  Just for a fair warning though, if you have the "bug" for great banjos, don't stop by the Morgan Music or by the Yates Banjo shop. YOU WILL BE SICK. It will make you weak in the knees!


Warren Yates