The moon has long been associated with magic, folklore, ancient rituals and superstitions. Observing its cycles is a tradition as old as man himself. All manner of behavior has been blamed on the moon and the way it stirs up our passions and emotions. It was once thought that sleeping in direct moonlight would cause a person to go mad, hence the word "lunatic," which is derived from the word "luna" (or moon) and literally translates as "moon-sick." Like a colossal crystal ball, the moon has been consulted for everything from the best time to conceive a child, to the ideal time to cut corns from the feet so they don't grow back, to the optimal period for castrating livestock so there's less bleeding, to when best to harvest wood to craft a guitar that will yield the warmest, fullest notes. You heard right. That indefinable thing we call "mojo" may very well be the moon’s doing.
Wood that is felled in accordance with the lunar cycle is referred to as "full-moon wood." There are reports that legendary violin maker Antonio Stradivari used only moon wood for Stradivarius instruments, violins that are the most collectible in the world. There are guitar shops in the heart of Europe that specialize in full-moon wood. If you haven't yet heard of it, chances are you will. There are guitars being sold today that boast "moon harvested spruce" as a selling point. indefinable thing we call "mojo" may very well be the moon’s doing.
The gravitational pull of the moon tugs at everything liquid on the planet, including ocean tides, the sap in plants and trees, and the human body itself, which is between 50-75% water. Lunar rhythms, as well as the cycles of the seasons, are cited in historical writings and record keeping as having an influence on the growth, structures, characteristics, and properties of plants. One of the earliest examples of this comes from Pliny the Elder, the first-century Roman naturalist, who offered farmers suggestions about when best to cut plants based on the different phases of the moon. Pliny advised them to pick their fruit just before or at the full moon if they wanted it to weigh more and be more profitable to sell in the marketplace. But for use in the farmer's own pantry, he recommended picking fruit during the new moon when it would contain less water and therefore have a longer shelf life.
Some furniture builders insist on cutting wood during the growing moon to ensure that the moisture content is high since the sap is being drawn up into the trunk of the tree, which makes wood easier to steam and bend. Wood for making instruments, however, must be dry. If trees are felled during the waning phases of the lunar cycle, when the pull from the moon is not so strong, then the fluids will remain closer to the base of the plant, making the wood drier and less susceptible to decay and infestation.
While harvesting wood in accordance with the lunar cycle may smack of hocus-pocus to you, luthiers say there's something to moon folklore. In a fascinating piece for Premier Guitar, professional luthier Ervin Somogyi wrote on this fabled subject, which he likes to think of as "werewood," as in werewolf. Somogyi has spent more than 40 years in the guitar-building business and is one of the leading authorities on the principles of acoustic guitar construction. The man knows his lumber. According to Somogyi, luthiers generally agree that the acoustic guitar's soundboard is the soul of the instrument. They choose a soundboard's wood with care by considering such factors as species, grain count, color, age, provenance, grain evenness and orientation, weight, and stiffness. Some, like Somogyi, also factor in the moon. Somogyi believes that some woods seem different—not because of their different species, as you might expect, but because of when the trees were harvested.
"I've handled planks so heavy that they seemed fresh-felled and still full of water," he says. "And they'd be next to planks that were so light, you could sneeze and they'd practically blow off the pile. But these are woods of comparable size that had been kiln-dried together, so the moisture content would have been the same.
"I assumed this disparity was all normal and natural, until I learned about a European tradition of forestry based on the practice of cutting down woods at specific phases of the moon. This practice of wood felling is built on many centuries of empirical experience and observation, and it yields woods of consistently different density, durability, and working properties."
Somogyi researched the subject and concluded that tree-fellers have noted this since the first millennium. "Woods of any one species cut during the new moon, the full moon, or the waning moon, have consistently and predictably produced different results," he writes. "Therefore, a number of especially advantageous uses for timber—including guitar tops—have been correlated with specific felling dates."
Italy's Lorenzo Pellegrini concurs. He has worked the forest since he was 9 years old. Now 83 and a master tree picker in Switzerland's Risoud Forest for the past 53 years, Pellegrini says there should not be too much water in timber. "The tree's heart should stay dry. That gives the best wood. Solid. Enormous resonance," he says. "Once you have found the perfect tree, you have to wait for the perfect day to cut it down. That day comes at the end of autumn when the sap has sunk back into the ground. When the moon is lowest on the horizon, and furthest from the Earth. On that day, the tree is as dry as it can be."
Wood is never quite dead. It is always reacting to changes in temperature and humidity, always evolving. The next time you find yourself sitting around a crackling fire, strumming the strings of a guitar, give a thought to the snow and the wind and the birds, the sun and the moonlight that live deep within the cells of your instrument. You may never hear music in the same way again.
Image Source:Wikipedia Bluemoon