I plan to order a custom built baroque guitar : they offer me a choice between 2 woods for the neck : cedar or mahogany (fretboard will be ebony, soundboard spruce and sides/back pallisander). Any ideas?
Both are fine, providing they are good examples. Mahogany is usually denser although I have come across pieces of Cedrelo that feel just as weighty. I tend to favour Mahogany but will happily use Cedrelo if it is a dense and well cut piece.
I quite agree with you, Michael, for giving preference to a denser material for the neck. On this very basis I personally wouldn't use neither of these two (if only there was a greater choice given for Olivier) but somewhat denser varieties, such as pear, maple or just some harder exotic woods. Every maker's experience is surely different and I've found that denser neck materials render a somewhat longer sustain as well as giving clearer (cleaner) attack to the sound. Surely there are some more and / or less significant constructional etc factors that define the sound but I still think this one gives quite important contribution too. One of my personal favourites that I use on my 'budget' model of baroque guitar (i.e. with non-veneered, solid wood neck) is bubinga. It is almost as dense as rosewood, and, which is also important, of notably better appearance than both cedar and mahogany ... all things being subjective of course :)
It seems that cedar was mainly (if not exclusively!) used by the Spanish makers (Sanguino, Pages etc) and their followers, from the 1760s onward, on their 6-course guitars. And this is evidently where classical guitar tradition picked it up as its 'default' neck material. However, those 6-course guitars were not strictly speaking 'baroque' and seem to have been mainly aimed to use for strummed accompaniment; also having a rather deep (as in case with Sanguino) body and fixed (not tied-on) frets, in other words not the sort of instrument on which Robert de Visee or Bartolotti would have played.
Anyway, this is not in any way a discouragement from use of the suggested two wood types, just a few personal thoughts ...
Hmmm, where do you source out quartersawn Euro pear-wood? We have pear in the USA, but Ive read its not the same as European pear, (but it looks fine for my upcoming bridge) I am going to go look at some apple wood also, but Im not expecting much.
I would recommend Koa as a back side set also, for its woody sound, but its probably not an option.
I get my pear from the local wood suppliers (which, I believe, comes from Switzerland). You don't obligatory need it quarter-sawn, in fact it's even better if it's cut on the slab for the neck! By the way, I only mentioned pear as one of possible substitutes for a kind of 'furniture' look of mahogany ... well, perhaps it's just personal ;) In the end it's the density that matters, not the actual wood type.