Species and Attributes
Welcome to the source for information, photos, and details on tonewoods - even rare or obscure ones. We have nothing to sell, just information to give. We hope it proves useful to you.
All woods are below, in alphabetical order. First the complete list, then their descriptions.
OR - use the Sub-Pages (above, under "Species & Attributes") and save yourself some scrolling. That has the details.
Click on any underlined wood to take you to a Photo Sub-Page in which pictures are arranged similarly.
Adirondack Red Spruce
Australian Blackwood (Black Acacia)
Big Leaf Maple
Black Limba (Korina)
Black Locust (Acacia)
Bois D’Rose (Pallisander)
Bubinga (African Rosewood)
Butternut (White Walnut)
Englemann Spruce (also Italian, Alpine, European, Silver)
Goncalo Alves (Tigerwood, South American Zebrawood)
Grenadillo (Mexican Rosewood, Macacauba)
Imbuya (Imbuia, Brazilian Walnut)
Ipe (Brazilian Walnut, Lapacho)
Jacaranda (Indonesian Rosewood)
Jatoba (Brazilean Cherry)
King Billy Pine
Madrone (Strawberry Tree)
Makore (African Cherry, Douka, Baku, Cherry Mahogany)
Maple (Birdseye, Curly, Flamed)
Monkeypod (Rain Tree)
Morado (Bolivian Rosewood, Pau Ferro)
Movingui (African Satinwood)
Myrtle (Pepperwood, Bay Laurel)
Narra (Amboyna, Angsana)
Osage Orange (Bois D'Arc)
Palo Escrito (Mexican Rosewood)
Pau Ferro (Morado, Bolivian Rosewood)
Port Orford Cedar
Primavera (Spring or Paradise Wood)
Red Myrtle (Myrtle Beech, Tasmanian Tiger Myrtle)
Silver Oak (Silky Oak)
Snakewood (Letterwood, Lacewood, Amourette)
Tasmanian Blackwood (Black Acacia)
Tasmanian Tiger Myrtle
Walnut (Claro, Black)
Western Red Cedar
Yellow Cedar (Alaskan, Canadian Cypress)
Yellow Heart (Pau Amarello)
Began as a private project, I was asked to make this available to others. For my own use, attribution was not a particular concern - which of course I regret now. If you see something you said or a photo or yours is in there, please first allow me the opportunity to properly credit it - or to remove it if you object.
Much of what has been said is highly subjective. We can post your experiences as well. My own are limited enough that they are best kept to myself. Two pieces of wood may exhibit very different characteristics; this is part of what makes wood so fascinating. And two luthiers may have differing opinions, based upon the wood they use, their techniques in handling it, and the level of their expertise. The more information that is gathered, the easier it will be to draw conclusions which help us all.
A click on each underlined wood takes you to a Sub-Page where photos are arranged alphabetically by wood.
*Adirondack (Red) Spruce North America Picea Rubens
Also known as Eastern red or Appalachian spruce, Adirondack defined guitars of the pre-WWII era. Its availability is beginning to increase slightly, as another generation of trees matures, although they’re still considerably smaller than their old growth forebears. Current supplies of Adirondack tend to lack a certain aesthetic purity of look (they tend to be wider-grained and more irregular in color and grain patterns). Tonally, Adirondack is even more dynamic than Sitka spruce, with a higher ceiling for volume. The payoff is the ability to drive an Adirondack top hard and hear it get louder and louder without losing clarity; it’s hard to overplay it. It has lots of headroom to strum the guitar aggressively without distorting. It also has a high Overtone content. For strumming and flatpicking you can't beat Red Spruce. Another sonic nuance that Bob Taylor loves about Adirondack is “an undeniable sweetness in every note, especially in the mids.”
Adirondack Spruce was popularized by Martin on many of their “prewar” guitars and remains a revered tonewood by players and collectors alike. Its use was all but discontinued due to over-harvesting of the resource but has recently been reintroduced, both thanks to 50 years of regeneration and to the legendary status that this traditional tonewood has attained. The small size of most logs and a shortage of wood conforming to market preference for even color and regularity of grain conspire to keep the price of red spruce extremely high.
Exceptionally good Adirondack Spruce soundboards are hard to get and come at exorbitant prices. However, they do build very fine instruments. Cosmetically, Adirondack soundboards tend to have wider grain spacing than Sitka or Englemann, and their color occasionally has striping that goes from creamy to light tan.
Creamy white in color, it is called both Appalachian and Adirondack spruce. Similar to Sitka, it responds well to either a light or firm touch, but has higher resonance. Interesting grain color variations make this another visually desirable top.
Red spruce is relatively heavy, has a high velocity of sound, and has the highest stiffness across and along the grain of all the top woods. Like Sitka, it has strong fundamentals, but it also exhibits a more complex overtone content. Tops made out of red spruce have the highest volume ceiling of any species, yet they also have a rich fullness of tone that retains clarity at all dynamic levels. In short, red spruce may very well be the Holy Grail of top woods for the steel-string guitar. If players and builders were able to overcome phobias about unevenness of color, grain irregularity, minor knots, and four-piece tops, many more great-sounding guitars could be produced while the supply of potentially usable red spruce is still available.
African Blackwood Dalbergia Melanoxylon, it is a true rosewood
Strikingly different from other rosewoods in that it is black in color, and often with sapwood showing up in the guitar pattern, African Blackwood trees are quickly becoming harder and harder to find large enough to make two-piece backs. It has a tight, but robust sound. Not as deep as Brazilian Rosewood but not as tight as Mahogany. The heartwood is dark brown to purplish black and is sharply demarcated from the yellowish white sapwood. It has a straight grain, and very fine texture with an oily surface. It has a high tolerance to climate fluctuations.
It has a Janka rating of around 3500 (?) and a specific gravity of 1.8. It contains quinonoid constituents which may be the cause of an allergic contact dermatitis in woodworkers exposed to African Blackwood. It has been championed as a substitute to Brazilian Rosewood although it’s rarity and pricing is similar to BRW. It holds a finish very well but is difficult to work with, hard but brittle. Traditionally, it has been the choice for woodwind instruments where it’s ease of turning + stability are fully utilized. It provides a dark and bell-like overtone content with a slow response.
John Mayes says “I’ve used it as well and it’s very nice. Powerful. Crisp, but robust. It’s also heavy. I prefer Brazilian, but AFBW is nothing to sneeze at.”
Kevin Gallagher says: “My experience has been that it bends very well in most cases, but there has been an occasional piece that can be stubborn. Tonally, I would say that it can be as good as a great set of Brazilian when matched with the right top and allowed to make its contribution to the overall tone of the guitar that it’s used in. It has that nice quick bottom and great harmonic blanket that Brazilian lends to the final complexity of the guitar in tandem with the contribution of the top and the builder’s work to maximize it.”
Not listed on CITES but is being over-harvested.
Afzelia Afzelia xylocarpa , Makamong
Afzelia is a relatively dense wood that ranges in color between yellow, orange, and brown. It is often compared to Koa in appearance. Tonally, Afzelia has an even tone with rich basses, clear mid-tones and crisp trebles. It is known for a very punchy, hard, low end and clear highs. A complete sounding tonewood.
Alder Alnus Glutinosa
Alder is a rather plain , light-coloured wood, tending into red. It is very stiff in comparison to its weight and is also very resistant against twisting and warping. Because of these qualities it is a very good alternative wood for necks, especially for maple-instruments, whose color it closely matches. Used in solid bodies and for necks and interior parts, it has a rich and full sound, good warmth and sustain, cutting mids, good bass, but lacking in trebles.
Angelique Dicorynia guianensis
Angelique is medium brown colored wood, which has been widely used as a teak substitute outdoors and for flooring. It is used in parquet patterns where it uniquely reveals an almost 3D depth, yielding a brown color when viewed with the grain and a lighter tan color when viewed across the grain.
Color Range: Angelique has a medium range of color varying from a tan nut brown color through to medium browns, some of which, when freshly milled reveal a purplish cast.
Color Change: Angelique exhibits a medium degree of color change with the muting of the varied browns to a medium/dark brown over time.
Stability: average, similar to Red Oak.
Finish Issues: (for site sanding/finishing only) - none known at this time
Safety/Allergic Reaction Issues: Angelique has been known to cause both contact dermatitis and respiratory allergic reactions so care must be taken when coming into contact with Angelique sawdust.
Strength : In the green condition Angelique is similar to teak in most strength properties and clearly superior to white oak. In the air-dried state, Angelique is superior to teak in most mechanical properties.
Drying and Shrinkage: Although Angelique is a moderately difficult timber to season, it does dry rapidly. In weight, Angelique is about 3 pounds per cubic foot heavier than teak at 12% moisture content. It is comparable to white oak in its shrinking values and double that of teak. Uncoated Angelique does develop hairline checks when left to weather. However, keeping the wood treated with marine oil prevents checking.
The State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry rates Angelique as durable to very durable to white rot fungus. Soil block tests show the heartwood of Angelique is somewhat superior to teak and considerably superior to white oak in resisting white rot fungi. Its marine borer resistance is excellent. Timbers of Angelique exposed for 15 years in the heavily infested waters of the Canal Zone have undergone only insignificant teredo attack.
Ash Fraxinus sp
Ash is considered by many to be the premier firewood, and not of much further use. Steam benders who make snowshoes or lacrosse sticks know better. It is fairly heavy and may require filling of the grain. Luthiers primarily use ash for electric guitar bodies. The sapwood of ash is light brown, while the heartwood is brown to grayish brown. White and Oregon ash have lighter heartwood than the other commercial species. The width of the sapwood is 3 to 6 inches. It is ring porous, with the latewood being composed of parenchyma which surrounds and unites the latewood pores in tangential bands. It has no characteristic odor or taste.
Ash is straight grained, heavy, hard, strong, stiff and wears smooth with high shock resistance. It machines well and is better than average in nail and screw holding capacity. It glues moderately well. Black, green, Pumpkin and Blue ashes have lower specific gravities and lower strength properties, but are still moderately strong, hard, and stiff compared to other native hardwoods. They also split easier, shrink more, are average in workability and perform less well in service.
White Ash Was utilized on a limited but extremely popular run of D-16A Martin guitars made between 1987 and 1990. It provides a surprisingly loud and bright tonal character, with a strong midrange and a crisp and warm bass. White ash from swamps varies in weight.
COLOR: Heartwood is light tan to dark brown; sapwood is creamy white. Similar in appearance to white oak, but frequently more yellow.
GRAIN: Bold, straight, moderately open grain with occasional wavy figuring. Can have strong contrast in grain in plainsawn boards.
VARIATIONS WITHIN SPECIES AND GRADES:
Sometimes confused with hickory; the zone of large pores is more distinctive in ash, similar to that of red oak.
DIMENSIONAL STABILITY: Above average (change coefficient .00274).
DURABILITY: Elastic, hard; excellent shock resistance. Remains smooth under friction.
SAWING/MACHINING: Good machining qualities.
SANDING: Sands satisfactorily. Ggood resistance to splitting.
FINISHING: No known problems. Stains well.
Australian Blackwood Acacia melanoxylon, also called Black Acacia
Aussie blackwood is a kissing cousin to koa. Both are acacias. Blackwood isn't black at all. Similar in tone to Mahogany, woody, but maybe a bit brighter and with greater sustain; yet several others have said it was more similar in sound to Rosewood, also in its working characteristics. Bends well. Fairly stable. It has been called something like pinkish koa in appearance and can be highly figured, 3 dimensional in fact. Suitable for various playing styles.
Black Acacia- is one of the most highly valued tonewoods. A distant cousin of Hawii Koa. But in the words of a lot of luthiers Tasmanian Blackwood has more density and has a better tap tone than Koa. Really good alternative to Rosewood with a punchy bottom end, but the mid and high ends of a mahogany, Blackwood produces a beautiful lustre, fiddleback and quilted available on a small scale, the variety of tonings range from light golden browns to deep browns, sometimes a reddish tint and occasionally showing black streaks. Stable and easy to work, acoustically it has warm woody tones similar to that of Mahogany and the brightness of Rosewood. Blackwood is an all around excellent tonewood well suited for various playing styles. Blackwood also makes an excellent Soundboard.
The heartwood is golden to dark brown, sometimes with reddish tints and with darker growth rings. The sapwood will range in colour from straw to grey-white and shows a clear demarcation from the heartwood. It is usually straight grained but may be wavy or interlocked and quartersawn surfaces sometimes produce a nice fiddleback figure. The wood is lustrous, has a fine to medium texture, is fairly easy to work, and can be brought to a very high quality finish even though at about 45 pounds per cubic foot, it is only a moderately dense wood. It has a low to moderate movement in service.
Wade Hampton MIller - "My impressions of Aus. blackwood can be summed up as: looks a lot like slightly pinkish koa, sounds a lot like rosewood. Although it's an acacia like koa, Bob Baker of Blue Lion told me that it was a lot more like rosewood in terms of its density and working characteristics. And the tonal results I got were much the same as I got from Indian rosewood in the same body sizes."
Gregg Gwaltney - "Aussie BW makes a fantastic sounding guitar and it's beautiful to stare at too! I will say that when holding/tapping/flexing this wood, it's a bit different than most rosewoods, not as dense, lighter, doesn't ring quite as well, but it does manage to offer plenty of characteristics that allow a luthier to create a beautiful looking/sounding instrument in it's own, unique way."
Janka scale - 1100-1270, specific gravity of 0.6. Grows fast, so although it is getting rarer, there should be some supply in the future.
Balsamo myroxylon balsamo or Santos rosewood
A southern American wood sometimes used as a substitute for Brazilian Rosewood.
Basswood Tilia americana
Ho-hummm.. well, it’s light even if it isn’t interesting or sturdy. Used in Japan. Easy to use because it is so soft, which leads to less lows, mids and highs. Therefore it gets used on electrics where you use a mike to get the sound. Not stiff either. The sapwood of basswood is white to cream, while the heartwood is pale to reddish brown, with darker streaks. When dry, the wood has no characteristic odor or taste. The wood is soft and light, with a fine, even texture.
Bastogne Walnut J. hindsii x J. regia, bostogne walnut
Perhaps the rarest Walnut in the world, a cross between English and Claro Walnut which occurs less than 1 % of the time. Only a few of these trees exist. The colors and figuring are stunning. It's substantially harder than other Walnut varieties, similar to Rock Maple or old growth Brazilian Rosewood. Bastogne Walnut is highly prized for tonewood, gun stocks, and fine furniture.
Known to make very good guitars, and the figured material is as beautiful as any wood, almost all of the U.S. hand builders and factories offer some sort of a walnut line of guitars. Bastogne is fairly heavy, it's hard and it's stiff. It's rather porous, but it does finish nicely.
Bastogne Walnut can vary greatly in color, texture, grain and density. However, it is generally the densest of all walnuts and often displays a green hue and broken fiddleback figure. The most common color contrast is with the colors of Claro and the dark streaks of English Walnut.
Air drying takes long but it is stable in service once dry. As a tonewood, it is comparable to Claro walnut in how it works. It produces a striking guitar. Tonally it rivals the best Indian Rosewood in terms of overtones but it retains a stronger mid range and a fundamental. The projection is within the realms of a mahogany guitar.
George Lowden again: “Because of the hardness it gives a very defined clear sound, great for most playing styes except perhaps flat picking where you might prefer to use a rosewood for that ‘thicker’ lower mid range. I love walnut as a tonewood, particularly good with redwood tops and sitka in mid sized, and cedar in large guitars. In small guitars it works well with cedar also.“. Bob Taylor once described walnut as “rosewood on steroids”.
Janka rated 1000-1500, it’s the densest walnut, a hybrid that does not produce naturally, yet you can get it.
Specific gravity of 1.
Big Leaf Maple Western North America (Acer macrophyllum)
Cream in color this domestic hardwood gives a very tight and quick sound. It has sharp midranges and high ends but lacks the depth of Rosewood. A dense hardwood, maple’s tone is like a laser beam — very focused — and dominant on the fundamental. Often described as having a “bright” sound, maple has fewer overtones than other medium-density woods, resulting in quicker note decay. This makes it a preferred guitar wood for live performance settings with a band — especially with bass, drums and electric guitar — because it cuts through a mix well, allows the acoustic sound to be heard, and is less prone to feedback issues. It has some midrange, and a lot more treble sparkle than rosewood.
Bigleaf maple is a western states maple and grows in California on up the coast to Canada. Not too long ago it was considered a "weed tree" and was priced accordingly. Of course, being a weed tree meant that it wasn't sought out in a big way, either, so that costs as a function of supply and demand weren't all that appealing. But for a wood as striking as this maple can be, the costs are very fair.
Goes Well With Live band performances, recording, lead players who like clean articulation and note definition, 12-strings, players with dark bone tone. Maple's tap tone is rarely a ringing one, but it can't be denied that plenty of wonderful sounding guitars have been made from it, and even a few violins! In fact, many choose the wood as a first choice for creating the sound they seek. John Greven, whose steel string guitars have a very big sound, and who counts many "stars" as clients, prefers the maple sound.
Bigleaf maple usually display a a wider curl than the European or hard maples do. It is also the only maple in which the quilted figure is found, although it is rare, averaging about one tree in a thousand.
Birch Betula sp.
Long ago, makers used a lot of birch, especially in smaller instruments such as fiddles and mandolins. It was the cheapest hardwood available at the local lumber yard. It works, acts, and looks much like maple, though curly birch normally has a much larger curl than curly maple. Tear-out may be a problem. Not so popular any more. I would think yellow birch would be the best.
COLOR: In yellow birch (B. alleghaniensis), sapwood is creamy yellow or pale white; heartwood is light red- dish brown tinged with red. In sweet birch (B. lenta), sapwood is light colored and heartwood is dark brown tinged with red.
GRAIN: Medium figuring, straight, closed grain, even texture. Occasional curly grain or wavy figure in some boards.
VARIATIONS WITHIN SPECIES AND GRADES: Yellow birch, sweet birch, paper birch. Paper birch (B. papyrifera) is softer and lower in weight and strength than yellow or sweet birch. However, yellow birch is most commonly used for flooring. Boards can vary greatly in grain and color.
SIDE HARDNESS/JANKA: 1260 (yellow)
DIMENSIONAL STABILITY: Average (change coefficient .00338).
DURABILITY: Hard and stiff; very strong, with excellent shock resistance.
SAWING/MACHINING: Difficult to work with hand tools, but good machining qualities.
SANDING: Sands satisfactorily.
FINISHING: No known problems.
Black Acacia Acacia Melanoxylon
With Koa prices escalating rapidly and quality on the decline, it’s nice to know that there are limited quantities of beautiful Black Acacia back and side sets - at roughly half the price of Koa. Known as Australian Blackwood to many because of the tree’s bark, this not-to-distant cousin of the koa tree (Koa is itself another acacia) offers many of the features of the popular Hawaiian wood. With many highly flamed sets available, the only difference between Black acacia and koa that you are likely to notice is that the color of the Black acacia is one shade lighter (more of a honey brown or gold brown) and the grain generally runs straighter. An excellent alternative to the rosewoods, it has a luminescence and depth similar to mahogany. The tap tone is roughly the same as Koa, and some say it makes a better sounding guitar. Though the tree grows well in northern California and many other places such as Africa and India, the best sets are imported from Australia where this wood has been a mainstay for most of the fine builders there. Other adherents include classical and Flamenco guitar builder Kenny Hill and Steel string builders Mike Baranik and McPherson guitars. The wood works and behaves very much like Mahogany.
Black Ebony Diogyros sp.
It makes a striking guitar! About 15 years ago it was popular among the classic makers of Spain, when it was easier to get, and the price was not so dear. This is Indian ebony, not so brittle as the African ebonies, and it bends quite well. Excellent sustain, clear and articulate. There are so many subspecies that the various ebonies are often confused. True ebony is getting harder to find and the trees grow slowly. No fillers needed, glues easily, finishes to a sheen. Your tools need to be sharp! 65lb/ft3
Black Hearted Sassafras Atherosperma Moschatum
Few woods on the market match the striking color contrasts found in this species. A native Tasmanian timber, the dark, variegated colors in the center of the log are caused by a fungus which fortunately, does not disturb the stability of the wood. The wood is light in weight, easy to work, bend and to finish. Tonally it falls into a category that might also include Myrtle, Walnut and Maple, so expect an open sound with nice separation and sparkling highs.
Of all Tasmanian timbers, sassafras has the most variable and dynamic coloring. It is a beautiful and pale creamy gray to white normally but can be streaked with rich browns and black heart, distinctive golden tones, dark browns, black and even green streaking running through the wood. Few woods on the market can match the striking colour contrasts found in this species. So, it is available in two major groupings; Golden Sassafras and Blackheart Sassafras. Finishing to a gray and golden tone, golden sassafras is particularly attractive as a veneer or as a solid timber with knots providing figure. If the tree is infected with a staining fungus it produces Blackheart sassafras. Blackheart is a timber with distinctive dark brown, black, and even green streaks running through the wood. While the wood is light and strong, it is rather soft and easily worked. Sassafras grows as an under story species in lower altitude wet forests throughout Tasmania. It is not related to the timbers known as sassafras that grow on mainland Australia. It is an aromatic evergreen tree with some quite distinctive qualities; the bark, sap, and associated oils are highly aromatic and smell like cinnamon, while its leaves have a strong sarsaparilla scent. The leaves are dark green, turning yellow as the tree ages. The best trees are found in gullies where Sassafras may reach 45m in height and almost a meter in diameter. Sassafras is a component of wet eucalyptus forest and young rain forest where it may live for up to 150 - 200 years. A strikingly dramatic Australian timber with a cream-colored sapwood and wild reddish brown heartwood. Light strong and easily worked. Bends easily with little to no springback.
Easy to work, bend and finish, light and strong. Expect an open sound with nice separation and sparkling highs. Tonally in the range of mahoganies and walnuts, with the characteristics of both, good balance across the range with a slightly pronounced high end, the figuring is caused by a fungus (fortunately) not affecting the woods structure.
Black Limba Terminalia superba, Korina
I've read that korina and limba are from the same tree, that korina is the thick sapwood and black limba is the heartwood. Of course, korina is the wood that went into the '50's Flying V's and Explorers made by Gibson. Both were made from white limba, which for some reason Gibson referred to instead as Korina (maybe limba didn’t sound sexy enough). Guitarists might drool at the mention of guitars made from Korina, but if you go to a lumberyard and ask for Korina, most managers will respond with a blank stare, followed by a comment like “Never heard of it….” Limba comes from Africa, and is somewhat difficult to come by here in the states (again, Limba is not the same thing as African mahogany). It produces a beautiful, warm rich tone, similar to mahogany, but with maybe just a touch more resonance. It’s a personal favorite for guitar bodies and necks. The tone is great and it’s lightweight. Limba is usually classified as either black limba or white limba, depending on the coloration of the grain. Black limba looks much more interesting, is slightly more lightweight, and is easier to find for sale; while white limba is the traditional choice. The distinction between the two is not a matter of different species, like the difference between Philippine and Honduran mahogany. It’s simply the difference in grain pattern caused by mineral deposits. Black Limba is generally from older trees. There are opposing opinions as to which sounds better, but in a blind tone test, it’s doubtful anyone could recognize any difference.
Black limba is about the same as mahogany in weight, hardness and texture. The background color is a light gray. The heartwood ranges from light straw color to having black stripes. Hence white or black Limba. Korina refers to the striped version. It has a straight, close grain which is occasionally interlocked or wavy with an even but somewhat coarse texture. Fine streaks of brown and black make it far more appealing than plain mahogany. Some may have plenty of fine worm holes. The pores are small enough that one can finish the wood without filling it. It can be substituted for mahogany. It is used for back an sides for guitars, where it’s light weight allows it to compare to mahogany. Tim McKnight says: ”I have used Black Limba. It is a drop in tonal replacements for Mahogany.”
COMMON NAMES: generally known in the US as afara, korina, white limba, and black limba. It is all the same tree.
COLOR: There are three colors of limba. A "normal" tree has off-white sapwood and is sometimes yellowish or even pale brown and the heartwood is similarly colored and not clearly differentiated from the sapwood. These two types of limba and are virtually indistinguishable although sometimes the heartwood will be darker brown. The sapwood and heartwood of this version is white limba. The third limba, which is the somewhat more rare heartwood, has varying degrees of irregular black streaking,that can create some beautiful patterns. This is called "black limba". There is no such thing as a white or black limba tree.
Well defined basses, clear trebles, balanced sound throughout the scale and a very lively sound. Bright penetrating trebles. Top notch separation of voices. Rarely used by builders, Black limba is not always available. The figure of most cuts is very beautiful and dramatic in character
The Janka is around 500 and the specific gravity is 0.45.
Black Locust robinia pseudoacacia, Acacia
Black Locust, is a ring-porous hardwood. The wood is a pale yellowish brown to yellowish green. It is native to the eastern United States, but has been to other parts of North America, Europe, and Asia. It is among the hardest and heaviest of the North American hardwoods, very stiff, splits easily, and sharp tools are a necessity. Black locust responds well to ebonizing, and does, in fact turn almost completely black. In the ground, the stuff never seems to rot. The tap tone is similar to rosewood. I have seen Black Locust (there is also a yellow locust and a honey locust - the honey locust is usually too small) sets that had interesting grain, not so homogenous as what is pictured here.
The sapwood of Black Locust is a creamy white, while the heartwood varies from a greenish yellow to dark brown. It turns a reddish brown when exposed to the air. The wood is often confused with Osage Orange (Maclura pomifera). It has a high density and decay resistance. It shows slight shrinkage and stays in place well. It is very strong in bending and is one of the hardest woods in America. It’s shock resistance is almost that of Hickory (Carya spp.).
Bloodwood Brosimum rubescens
Bloodwood is a bolder red color then either Paduak or Bois d’ Rose, but has the advantage of not oxidizing to a warmer color over time. For this reason it is often used as decorative binding and inlay by luthiers and furniture makers alike. It is remarkably dense (about as dense as the harder rosewoods such as Honduran and Brazilian) and tight-grained so it is well suited for fingerboards, bridge blanks and backs and sides. Matt Mustapick brought several Bloodwood instruments to the Healdsburg Guitar Festival and says, ”No bending problems whatsoever. Sands nice. Not splintery. It’s very dense and very hard with a glassy tap tone. The guitar has great volume and a very nice quick response to a light touch, great balance. It’s defining characteristics are its focus and separation and balance.” Very balanced sound, ideal for Baroque music, great volume and very nice quick response, great balance and separation of voices. The guitar makes for terrific looking instruments. Matches marvelously well with Alpine spruce and the looks are simply stunning. It makes for excellent Flamenco guitars as well. If you like the tone red, this is by far the best wood for the job. Oxidizes deeper as it ages.
Not listed on CITES, but limited availability, Janka rating of 2900 and a specific gravity of 0.95
*Blue Spruce Picea pungens
Blue spruce is a rare item but has been used with great success as a top wood by luthiers Mike Baranik, Harvey Leach, Randy Reynolds and especially Don Musser. It is very similar to Engelmann though a bit brighter, and Bruce Harvie has said in the past that blue spruce has often been cut and marketed as Engelmann.
Bocote Cordia Gerascanthus
Bocote comes from the same family as Ziricote (Cordia) and is found in the same region (Central America to Northern Amazon). Less brittle than Ziricote, it is a popular wood with wood turners and has had success as a guitar tonewood, though few builders have created stock models from it yet. It features a tobacco/reddish brown color with distinct, parallel black lines (it does not show the spider-webbing figure that the best grade of Ziricote does). It has fine potential use in both steel string and classical guitars because of its attractive, dark color and rosewood-like tap tone.
Deep sounding basses and an overall BIG sound. Very similar to African Blackwood. Terrific tap tone and a very wide palette of mid ranges that make it one of the best tonewoods. The looks are also quite spectacular with all shades of yellow, orange and dark brown... Construction wise, it is far more stable than Brazilian rosewood because unlike the Brazilian species, it never fissures. This wood is officially classified as either extinct, endangered, rare or vulnerable within its natural habitat in Costa Rica. It offers some beautiful background colors of dark brown, red with multicolored strips that vary from yellow to orange and green to dark brown.
Bois D’Rose Dalbergia maritima, Pallisander
Bois D' Rose (pronounced bwah - duh - rose) is a true rosewood from Madagascar (not to be confused with dalbergia baroni). This is a dense heavy tonewood that to my ear enjoys many of the tonal properties of cocobolo. The color ranges from deep plum purple to eggplant shades. Visually, it goes well with most appointment schemes and top wood selections. Dark purple when cut but fades to a nearly ebony-like color over the course of a year. Can be used for fingerboards.
The wood has an incredibly fine grain and is suitable for musical instrument making, including guitar backs and woodwinds. It polishes almost like glass if sanded finely enough. The pattern of the lines varies greatly from one piece to the next and no two are exactly alike. Avoid oil finishes unless you want to darken the wood to an almost black color. It is one of the rarest and most beautiful types of true rosewood. Supplies are limited. News: Current conditions in Madagascar mean that this wood will become unavailable, as all exports have apparently stopped permanently for those that only buy legal wood.
Brazilian Rosewood Dalbergia Nigra
Though this wood is still in common usage, it has been protected against import and export by the CITES [Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species]. Brazilian rosewood is sought after for its (usually) dark brown color that ranges from chocolate brown, to rust or a warm burnt orange. Finer examples feature fine black line figuring and spider webbing (where the black lines make web-like shapes).
Easily recognized by its interlocking spider web type grain. Although now placed under the CITES Restriction, some high quality sets are still available. It is considered by most to be the premier tonewood for steel string guitars. It offers a loud, warm, and rich tone.
Brazilian Rosewood (Brazil) From dark brown to violet in color with spidery black streaks. Brazilian rosewood is considered extinct and is available in very limited quantities for custom or special limited edition guitars. It produces full, deep basses and brilliant trebles.
First and foremost is the fact that this wood has been placed on the CITES treaty that restricts any post-ban felling of trees or export of new lumber. Beyond the fact that CITES makes it illegal to fell Brazilian trees in the rain forest, the political, humanitarian and environmental issues behind this policy are what is the most important. Even the use of legally harvested, pre-CITES Brazilian rosewood increases the wood's visibility within the guitar-buying public and helps feed the demand for an endangered species.
Secondly, to obtain high-quality Brazilian Rosewood, the cost of the guitar could easily rise by $1,000 to $3,000. That’s a lot of money to shell out, and a lot of liability for a builder, to assume. The extra expense may not provide sufficient payoff in increased quality, at least not for many of us.
And lastly, Brazilian Rosewood is exceptionally prone to severe warping, cracking, and splitting; and at some time over the life of a Brazilian Rosewood guitar, a crack will likely develop and need to be repaired – something that is costly for both the guitar owner and the luthier.
While Brazilian Rosewood will make an excellent-sounding guitar, there are woods available that are every bit as beautiful and sound every bit as good for considerably less money. East Indian Rosewood will produce an absolutely amazing guitar, and Madagascar Rosewood, Cocobolo and Honduran Rosewood are all suitable alternatives. All of these woods will produce much of the same look and sound as Brazilian, if that is what you seek.
Bubinga Guibourtia demeusei, often called “African Rosewood”, but not a true rosewood.
This is a wonderful wood in every respect. It is as hard as the rosewoods, but has a finer texture with no pores to fill. It bends easily (some disagree, especially with the more wildly figured wood) and holds its' shape. The brownish-purple color is close enough to rosewood to look familiar. To top it off, it is red brown with a clearly demarcated lighter brown to white sapwood. It is a hard, durable wood with an interlocked grain which can make bending challenging.
Bubinga is quickly becoming a favorite wood with custom builders, and may soon find its way into large production shops. This wood, which comes from Africa, has a tremendously rich sound replete with warm even tones, a glassy ring, and a brilliant sparkle across the entire spectrum. It provides a slightly dark and woody overtone content with a low to mid end predominance- much like Indian Rosewood! Lots of volume too. It is plentiful and available in a wide variety of cosmetic appearances. Typically Bubinga has a mottled "bees-wing" appearance under finish that is absolutely gorgeous, and also can be acquired with strong ropey curl.
Stephen Kinnaird is a big fan and says :”I have a growing appreciation for Bubinga. Visually, it can be quite stunning, with deep curl, Pomelle figure, bees’ wing mottle, etc. Even the plainer versions when well quartered are attractive. The pinkish mauve color is off-putting to some, though I find it attractive. It is hard, heavy and dense. The interlocking grain, which makes the wood so attractive, also make for an exciting time at the bending iron. This wood can resist you with a stubborn determination. A good night’s sleep is essential before bending. The sound is so close to rosewood, that Bubinga well earns its nickname of “African Rosewood”. That overtone structure one hears with rosewood is equally present in Bubinga, and yet at a reduced price tag. If one wanted a guitar with a traditional sound, but with more visual drama than Indian rosewood, Bubinga should definitely be considered.”
It has a Janka rating of ~2000-2500 and a specific gravity of approx. 0.9.
*Bunya A. bilwillii
Australian Bunya is a large evergreen conifer native to southeast Queensland and New South Wales which used to be plentiful. Heights of up to 50 m have been documented. Robin Russell added: ”A. bidwillii was a sacred tree for the Aboriginal people. The vernacular name is Bunya, Bonye, Bunyi or Bunya-bunya, from various tribes or European variations of the Australian Aboriginal name for the tree. It is also often called Bunya Pine (though this is inaccurate, as it is not a pine). The seeds are edible, are similar to pine nuts, and have been an important food resource for Australian Aboriginal people. They are eaten both raw and cooked. Traditionally they were also ground and made into a paste, which was eaten directly or cooked in hot coals to make bread. Groves of the trees were often under particular tribal ownership.”
Although populations of Bunya have been reduced through logging, dam construction, and historical clearing, large populations are protected in reserves and parks. Bunya has an excellent stiffness to weight ratio and is actually 10-20% stronger than Englemann spruce. It lacks differentiation in annular rings due to it’s sub tropical and tropical habitat provides less seasonal climate variation.
Robin Russell added: ”Bunya was regarded as a viable alternative to spruce for aircraft manufacture & Bunya is used as a top wood by leading Australian makers including Maton and Cole Clark.”
Rapid growth Bunya maintains these physical properties and coupled with less visible annular rings allows for plantation growth of this top wood.
Bunya was pioneered by Bradley Clark during his period at the Maton guitar factory. The story goes that in 1998, Clarke discovered through paper research that Bunya had the lightweight and stiff characteristics of a good top wood. Bunya topped guitars characteristically have a direct, strong sounding instruments with more midrange compared to spruce.
Janka rating of 650 and a specific gravity of 1.3., No CITES listing. Adequate supply.
Butternut Juglans cinera, White Walnut
Also called white walnut, butternut is softer and less likely to be figured than black walnut. It's not really white, but a creamy light brown. I think it is more attractive than Walnut as there is greater variation from light to dark. Definitely much lighter than Walnut and less dense (24lb/ft3), easier worked. Butternut is considerably softer and lighter than black walnut. The heartwood is light tan with pinkish or amber tones, sometimes with darker brown streaks; the narrow sapwood is white. Butternut has a coarser texture than black walnut. It machines easily, but sanding may cause a fuzzy surface unless fine-grit abrasives are used. It finishes well. The figure is virtually identical to black walnut. Flatsawn stock shows prominent lines from the growth rings. I've never come across a quarter sawn butternut. The dust can be dangerous, worse than walnut, which is not good either. It has been used in solid bodies. Its sonic signature is akin to walnut's, albeit softer, and overall the tone could be described as in between alder (smokey, raspy) and ash (poppy, open).
The sapwood of the butternut is almost white and usually quite narrow. The heart wood is light brown, often with pinkish tones variegated with different shades of brown, quite pretty. It displays a satiny sheen. Relatively light weight for most domestic hardwoods, it has a straight coarse grain and is rather weak in bending strength. Once dry, the wood is very dimensionally stable.
Finishing: It is a very easy wood to finish, much like its cousin, walnut. Wiping with a damp cloth, raising the grain and sanding before the first coat of lacquer, might help in attaining a perfect finish faster. Due to its softness, you must be particularly diligent in making sure it does not get dented in the process. You may be successful with an iron and damp cloth, to raise the dent, if this does in fact happen.
Machining: Butternut works easily with both hand and power tools. It has very limited dulling effects. It will rarely leave burn marks but can tear out when routing across the grain. If you do the ends of your board first and then the sides the tear out will usually be eliminated by the side routing. You must be particularly careful to not leav e cross grain scratches and always finish off sanding with the grain. Butternut glues and stains easily. The coarse grain of the butternut requires sharp chisels when turning on the lathe.
Specific gravity from 0.36-0.45. 27lb/ft3
Camatillo Dalbergia congestiflora
Related to Brazilian Kingwood (Dalbergia caerensis), this beautiful Rosewood is rich with vivid purple & violet colors. Though related to Kingwood, the colors in this wood are more intense and the grain more demarcated. No two sets are alike; this is a very diverse and unique wood.
Camatillo comes from Central America where it is selectively logged by hand and harvested from the forest by mules in an environmentally friendly manner. The grain in this wood is rarely straight and generally is figured on backs & sides. There are sapwood centers in most as the tree is relatively small, producing less heartwood than many Rosewoods. This extremely rare Rosewood species holds its purple color better than any other Rosewood.
Cedro Cedrela Odorata
Cedro is a medium-lightweight wood. It is very stiff in comparison to its weight and is also very resistant against twisting and warping. It has a brown-red color without a very characteristic structure. C. looks similar to several Mahogany species. Normally used for necks and for interior parts.
Cha Chen Metopium brownei, Caribbean Rosewood
Cha Chen is not a true rosewood. Beautiful color, fine and consistent, tight grain, heavy and dense, adds projection and volume. Deep, humming tap tone, good sustain, like a lot of rosewoods have.
Cherry Prunnus Serotina
In working properties, cherry is sort of a reddish version of plain maple with a tangy smell thrown in. Seldom found as quarter sawn lumber, it nevertheless makes into fine, if rather plain, instruments. It's useful to examine one's expectations for alternative species. Cherry (and birch) are locally available and cheap. The sapwood is light yellow, while the heartwood is brownish with a greenish tinge, darkening upon exposure to a deep reddish brown with a golden luster. The wood has a mild, aromatic scent, but no characteristic taste. It is of medium density, firm, and strong, with a fine, uniform texture. The grain is generally straight.
Cherry is easy to work, finishes smoothly, and is dimensionally stable. It is easily machined. It can be sawn cleanly, turned well, and planed excellently with standard cutting angles. Screw-holding ability is good, as is gluing, except where gum streaks are present.
Cherry has a density and reflectivity approaching that of maple, producing a rich, projective midrange and balance without favoring the bass or treble frequencies. Similar to maple but less dry-sounding., clean and articulate, with more sustain and clarity than maple, also more bass and mid-range. Better clarity and balance than Honduran. Changes to darker reddish hue over time.
COLOR: Heartwood is light to dark reddish brown, lustrous; sapwood is light brown to pale with a light pinkish tone. Some flooring manufacturers steam lumber to bleed the darker heartwood color into the sap- wood, resulting in a more uniform color.
GRAIN: Fine, frequently wavy, uniform texture. Distinctive flake pattern on true quartersawn surfaces. Texture is satiny, with some gum pockets.
VARIATIONS WITHIN SPECIES AND GRADES: Significant color variation between boards.
DIMENSIONAL STABILITY: Above average (change coefficient .00248).
DURABILITY: Strong, moderately hard; excellent shock resistance.
SAWING/MACHINING: Good machining qualities.
SANDING: Sands satisfactorily. NAILING: Good holding ability.
FINISHING: No known problems.
COMMENTS: High in bending strength. Light-sensitive; strong color change upon exposure to light.
Janka rating of 950,not listed on CITES. Specific gravity of 0.55.
Claro Walnut Central California Juglans hindsii
(See also Walnut)
Another beautiful hardwood, walnut has a similar density and stiffness to koa, with a similar tightness initially. Like koa, it tends to have a bright top end, but with a more present midrange, somewhere between mahogany and rosewood. Walnut also starts off a little deeper on the low end, initially giving it a slightly woodier sound than koa. The low end will continue to fill out after being played in. Goes well with players who like a blend of brightness, projection and warm overtones. A smaller-bodied walnut guitar with a cedar top would likely appeal to fingerstyle players, while flatpickers and strummers on a larger body with a spruce top will find ample horsepower, low end and crisp highs sufficient to support an aggressive attack.
Claro Walnut is beautiful timber. It’s color varies from black and orange contrasts to the usual chocolate walnut tones. It frequently has prominent curly figure which occurs in conjunction with color variation. A a timber, Claro Walnut is a pleasure to work with as it works well with both hand & power tools, has good strength and bending properties, and takes finishes well.
As a tonewood, guitars built from claro walnut retain the wood’s natural color & figure and has the bonus of being stable in service. Many luthiers and factories offer Claro Walnut as an option, a testament to it’s beauty, wood working properties and sustainability. Warm and earthy with the overtone depth of rosewood and clarity comparable to mahogany guitar, it also tends to impart less color to the bass and treble.
Stephen Kinnaird is a big fan and says: “Claro walnut is one of our favorites. First of all, there is the undeniable beauty of the material. Few North American species can trump Claro visually. Some of the wilder maples have more to offer in the swimsuit competition, but not everyone likes a blonde guitar. Claro’s rich chocolate color helps – for those who listen with their eyes. Second, the workability is a dream. This stuff should be offered to every apprentice when they attempt their first side-bending. It bends itself. Third, the sound. Unfortunately, Claro has gotten the meaningless reputation for sounding “woody”. Every species sounds like wood, and that’s precisely why we like guitars! (Ok, some species sound woodier than others, but that’s a different discussion.) Let me say this: Claro walnut sounds spicy. I think it sounds like it smells, and it smells great.”
It has a Janka rating of approximately 1,000 lbs force and a specific gravity of 0.56.
Cocobolo Central Mexico - Dalbergia Restusa
Cocobolo is a dense, stiff tropical hardwood with a fairly bright tone. Sonically, it’s similar to koa, but resonates a little deeper on the low end, although it doesn’t have quite the full low end of rosewood or ovangkol. Fast and responsive, with moderate note decay, it’s articulate with lots of note distinction. It blends the low end and midrange of the body with the wood’s brightness. Also good for fingerstyle. Goes well with a wide range of playing styles (depending on the body shape). Also, with players who want a brighter rosewood sound with a little less low end and a little more treble zing.
Cocobolo, on the other hand, is readily available from Mexico. This superb tonewood has bold, distinctive orange highlights with plenty of black lines that can often show exciting swirly patterns. Some sets are dark reddish-brown. Cocobolo is a true Rosewood and grows in southern Mexico and Central America along the Pacific seaboard. It’s a beautiful wood, which when freshly cut is a bright yellow and orange-red. Over time it oxidizes to a rich brown-red color with black streaks. It is probably as close to Brazilian Rosewood in beauty and tonal qualities as any wood. These visual and tonal features make Cocobolo a premium choice for many builders, including José Oribe, internationally known classical guitar maker. Cocobolo is heavier than most other Rosewoods, although not as stable, and occasionally more brittle. Because it is usually oily, it can be difficult to glue. Cocobolo also has excellent machining properties and can be worked well with a scraper, which will help keep dust down. For those who can work around Brazilean Rosewood problems, cocobolo is a great favorite for both tone and beauty.
Some people consider cocobolo to be the most beautiful of the rosewoods. With it's many shades of browns, reds, orange, yellow and black colors, it can be very striking. The sapwood is cream colored and desired by some acoustic guitar builders. Freshly cut cocobolo exhibits purple and yellow hues which over a short period of time will oxidize to a rich brown-red color with black streaks. Cocobolo is as close to Brazilian Rosewood in beauty and tonal qualities as any wood and makes Cocobolo a premium choice for many builders. It is expected to become much more expensive and rarer in the future.
Care must be used when cutting Cocobolo, as the wood's oils can induce allergic reactions if inhaled or exposed to unprotected skin and eyes. A dust collection system, coupled with the use of personal protective equipment such as respirators, is highly recommended when machining this wood.
Cocobolo has variable heartwood coloration from bright orange to dark brown and purple. Oxidation darkens the lighter colors and merges them with the darker which can produce a deep red with irregular markings of purple or black. The heartwood is straight grained, occasionally interlocked and with a very fine, oily texture. Cocobolo is a common option in most luthier’s lists, with it’s own beauty and tone. The density and it’s ability to take a fine finish. make it an attractive option.
Chris Bozung is a big fan and writes: ”Cocobolo is probably closer in tone, color and figure to the finest-grade Brazilian Rosewood used on the classic guitars of yesteryear than any tone wood available today, and for far less money than the inferior-quality Brazilian currently available. Cocobolo offers everything Brazilian Rosewood offers, and more: increased power, increased sustain, increased volume, along with beauty of color and figure not available in Brazilian Rosewood for years. “
Cocobolo back and sides characteristically have an abundance of low overtones resulting in a complex bottom end and strong upper register. The overall effect is also a bell like tone with clear, slow decaying harmonics.
Bruce Sexuaer says: People like to say that Cocobolo is the closest thing to BRW, or even that it is better. I think that it is certainly harder and more brittle, both as a material and in it’s sound. Most Cocobolo guitars I’ve heard seem to have so much cutting edge that they sound harsh to me, but there are things to be done about that, and my last several please me just fine... Oxidation darkens the lighter colors and merges them with the darker which can produce a deep red with irregular markings of purple or black.”
CHARACTER: Cocobolo Rosewood wood has irregular grain, medium fine texture
COMPARES: Cocobolo Rosewood tonewood compares to Brazilian Rosewood, but is heavier
Cocobolo grows on a thin band along the Pacific Coast of Mexico down through Central America. It is selectively cut and logged by hand in Mexico, squared by chainsaw, and drug out of the forest by Mules. This is a very environmentally low impact procedure. Cocobolo is a true Rosewood, similar in color & tap tone to Brazilian Rosewood and considered to be a good substitute. It is denser than most Rosewoods and oilier. For best results in gluing, epoxy is recommended. Cocobolo has great working properties. The colors range from any combination of orange, red, yellow, black & violet. For this reason, it has also been called rainbow wood. Special quality is quarter sawn, containing beautiful colors. The best grade sets are slab sawn with beautiful colors & patterns.
It has a Janka of 1136 and a specific gravity of 1.0.
**Cuban Mahogany Swietenia Mahogani
Cuban Mahogany is a light pink when fresh oxidizing to deep rich red. It is easy to work with hand or machine tools and takes a excellent polish. Compared to Honduran Mahogany, Cuban is even easier to work with. It has a closer, finer grain and carves beautifully. It is seen in various figures, with curl, quilt and wavy grain although these are now rare.
Cuban Mahogany tends to be denser than Honduran and hence has more rosewood like qualities, with a better developed midrange and low end. Plantations occasionally yield logs wide enough for guitar sets, although old growth timber is now on the CITES appendix II and although raw timber trade is regulated, finished articles can be traded freely.
Basic specific gravity (oven dry weight/green volume) 0.40 to 0.68; air- dry density 30 to 52 pcf. Janka side hardness 740 lb for green material and 800 lb for dry.
**Cypress Cupressus sempervirens, Mediterranean Cypress
1) Clear penetrating sound excellent response and tap tone. It has become the wood of choice for Flamenco construction because it s easy to come by. It is also true that it makes for great classical playing. Cypress allows for a crisp sound with little sustain but very penetrating trebles. Also great to accompany singing. The pale coloring of the grain makes the resulting instrument a striking one.
Cypress is one of the few coniferous woods, which are suitable for backs and sides for their comparable high density. It is mostly used for Flamenco guitars. Besides its light-yellow color, its appearance is typical for coniferous woods. Remarkable is its intensive, aromatic smell, which lasts for years.
2) True cypress (Cupressus spp.) is hard, sonically reflective, difficult to bend, and absolutely isn't used as the soundboard of modern instruments. There is a tree of southern US swamps that is more properly called bald cypress (Taxodium distichum); this tree is actually a redwood (along with the whopping Sequoia spp.). It would probably be similar to redwood as a soundboard...but that's just a guess. It could be substantially different as most redwoods grow in moist but well-drained soils while Taxodium grows in inundation.
The Spanish cypress traditionally used for flamenco guitars (cupressus macrocarpa) is unlikely to be the same as US woods.
3) Canadian Cypress Botanical Name: (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis) Canadian Cypress/Yellow Cedar Alaskan Yellow Cedar, aka Canadian cypress, is so closely related to the true cypresses that it has been classified with them by botanists in the past. It is an excellent carving wood, with fine even texture, and very close-grained. It is one of the most stable woods in terms of dimensional change due to moisture content change. It works easily and finishes well. Though YC/CDN Cypress is not a traditional wood, it is gaining popularity. Many custom builders use YC/CDN cypress for guitar tops, including archtops (jazz guitars and mandolins). It is also used for backs and sides of Flamenco guitars. It is a denser wood than Red Cedar, with a specific gravity very close to Sitka Spruce. It has a nice light yellow color and a pleasant aroma. Tonewise, the wood is very well suited for flatpicking steel string guitars. With a specific gravity close to Sitka and Adirondack Spruce it makes a very good soundboard material as well as back/sides.
*Douglas Fir Pseudotsuga menziesii
This common wood, actually a false hemlock and not a true fir, is often overlooked for musical instruments. Yet, when a major scientific study was conducted on a wide variety of woods for their tonal qualities, old growth Douglas Fir was rated as one the most desirable, rating higher than nearly every other species.
It tends to be harder and heavier than spruce. The tone is good. Rolf Gearhart used Doug fir in the Unicorn mandolins he used to build before he build Phoenix mandolins. He liked the tone, but had splitting problems, and switched to spruce. Others report no splitting problems with Doug fir.
If you don’t personally know the person who cut the tree the produced the board you’re looking at, you really can’t be sure of whether what you have is hemlock, false hemlock, true fir or larch. You just have to rely on your instincts, or your luthier’s instincts, whether it’ll be a good top or not.
COLOR: Heartwood is yellowish tan to light brown. Sapwood is tan to white. Heartwood may be confused with that of Southern yellow pine. Radical color change upon exposure to sunlight.
GRAIN: Normally straight, with occasional wavy or spiral texture.
VARIATIONS WITHIN SPECIES AND GRADES: Wood varies greatly in weight and strength. Young trees of moderate to rapid growth have reddish heartwood and are called red fir. The narrow-ringed wood of old trees may be yellowish-brown and is known as yellow fir.
HARDNESS (JANKA): 660
DIMENSIONAL STABILITY: Above average (change coefficient .00267).
DURABILITY: Durable but easily dented. Somewhat brittle and splinters easily, especially with age.
SAWING/MACHINING: Harder to work with hand tools than the soft pines.
SANDING: Sands satisfactorily.
FINISHING: Some boards develop a slight pinkish to bright salmon color when finished with some products.
East Indian Rosewood (India) Dalbergia Latifolia
It is richly grained with dark purple, red and brown color. It is resinous, stable and generally more consistent than most other rosewood species. It produces a deep warm reverby projective bass response that is especially marked on large-bodied guitars.
Elm Ulmus americana
An underrated wood. Sounds like maple, but warmer in the highs. This is an amazing tone wood and looks incredible. Elm wood is tight grained and generally comes in an ash-gray or brown color. The beauty of this wood is its discernible oblong ridges within the wood pattern itself. Hard and tough, elm still bends when steamed and when dry, holds its shape. As the wood is resistant to decay, it is prized in woodworking, furniture and flooring. Nearly impossible to split due to interlocking grain. In terms of musical instruments, Elm isn't as commonly used as other woods but it still produces a sturdy instrument. As a tonewood it tends to sound like maple, but warmer in the highs. Can be a little unstable. It's quite dense.
The sapwood of elm is nearly white, while the heartwood is light brown to brown with a reddish tinge. The wood has no characteristic odor or taste. Elm is moderately heavy, hard and stiff, with excellent bending and shock resistance. It is difficult to split because of its interlocked grain.
*Engelmann Spruce Western North America Picea Englemannii, also Picea abies/excelsa (European)
1) Engelmann is also known as white, European or German spruce, although they are technically different species. It is usually visually distinguishable from Sitka by its creamier complexion. We’re almost out of the “good stuff.” Engelmann trees these days are so small and twisted that there is a fair amount of runout (grain that doesn’t run parallel to the surface) and as a result, mismatched tops. Sonically, Engelmann has a mature tone, and yields a slightly richer midrange than Sitka, which makes a guitar sound a bit older. Old growth Engelmann tends to have a sonic attribute of smoothness or refinement to it, but the days of older growth Engelmann trees are essentially gone for now. Goes well with all styles of guitars and players, but especially favored by fingerpickers.
Englemann Spruce is a bit softer than Sitka, and while many sets can be quite stiff and produce wonderful tap tones, they are not as consistent as Sitka and you may spend a considerable amount of time working with suppliers to procure the best, stiffest sets. The color of Englemann tends to be a bit whiter and creamier than Sitka, and the silking patterns are very pronounced and quite striking in master-grade soundboards. With its high overtone content and strong fundamental tone, Englemann Spruce delivers a warm mellow tone that is well suited for light strumming and fingerpicking.
Engelmann is often more expensive than Sitka due to the lower yield from its smaller logs and because most logs have a spiral-grained structure that renders them unsuitable for proper quarter-sawing. Engelmann is considerably lighter in color than Sitka spruce, lighter in weight, and usually less stiff, resulting in a slightly lower velocity of sound. Engelmann also tends to exhibit a weaker fundamental tone, although it produces a noticeably broader and stronger overtone component. It is therefore a good choice for players who require a richer, more complex tone than can be obtained from most Sitka tops, particularly when the instrument is played softly. The downside is that Engelmann tops can have lower "headroom" than Sitka tops, which is to say that clarity and definition are often sacrificed when the guitar is played loudly.
Englemann Spruce (USA) Is prized for being similar in color to European (German) White spruce. Extremely light in weight, it seems to produce a slightly louder and "open" sound than Sitka spruce. Grows in the American Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Cascades. Considerably limited supply.
2) There are other spruces that differ from Sitka in that they are a little sweeter sounding. Along with Engelmann spruce from Western Canada, there is blue Engelmann spruce from Colorado. These have become popular with fingerstyle guitarists. When Engelmann spruce was first being discovered by luthiers, it was touted as an inexpensive replacement for German spruce and in fact, it has many of the same fine qualities- a robust sound rich in harmonics with good projection.
3) European or Silver Spruce, the spruce of choice for makers of classical guitars, shares a number of characteristics with Engelmann spruce, including color, lightness of weight, harmonic complexity, and fullness at the lower end of the dynamic range. Because of its visual similarity and significantly higher cost, its name has been affixed more than once to a piece of Engelmann spruce by unscrupulous (or uninformed) wood dealers and luthiers. European spruce differs from Engelmann in its potentially quicker response and greater headroom. The availability of anything better than mediocre European spruce (which is easily exceeded in quality by the better grades of Engelmann - a commodity that is still readily obtainable) is sharply limited, unless the boards are selected at the source in Europe.
4) German Spruce: Very “ringy” and white in color. Extremely clear and bell like, has the versatility of Sitka. Exceptional sound for light to very firm techniques.
5) Recently, several European alternatives to German spruce have emerged in the American market. The first is Italian spruce and its cousin, Alpine/Italian Spruce. Italian spruce is of the same species as German spruce (picea abies). Alpine/Italian spruce (also picea abies) is similar in tone, but varies in appearance in that it is a little more pink/tan in color (though still basically white). Finally, there is Ukrainian Spruce from the Caucasus and Carpathian mountains.
Flamewood Dalbergia cochinshinensis
A true rosewood from SE Asia (Laos). Similar in color to freshly cut Nicaraguan Cocobolo but will keep it's color. It is not oily like cocobolo. Glues well and bends readily. A truly exciting find. Tap tone is comparable to Honduran RW and rings like a bell. Some people have an allergic reaction to it.
Franquette Walnut – aka Carpathian/English Walnut.
The Franquette is a very old Walnut variety, originating in Persia. For centuries it was cultivated for nut production, but is now being replaced with more productive hybrids. Franquette Walnut is very dense and hard with spectacular high contrast marbling. It is highly prized for the finest gun stocks and furniture. The tonal qualities are excellent.
Gidgee Acacia cambegei
This timber is chocolate colored with a fine, even grain. It occurs in flamed varieties, occasionally called Ringed Gidgee. The leaves and bark of this tree produce a characteristic odor, hence the name “stinking gidgee”. is a dark chocolate brown to black, occasionally with streaks of purple. Unusual to find it large enough for back and sides. Great fingerboards, however.
Goncalo Alves Astronium graveolens, or Tigerwood, S American Zebrawood
Goncalo Alves, a wood that comes mainly from Brazil, has been growing in popularity among builders who favor bold, contrasting figure on the back and sides. Sometimes called ”Tigerwood”, the color is an attractive honey-tan with broad reddish brown stripes which often paint dramatic, symmetrical shapes across the bookmatched guitar back. Although it is lightweight, it is only slightly porous and finishes nicely. Some say the tone is similar to Mahogany.
Goncalo Alves Astronium fraxinifolium (Figure that out)
Goncalo Alves is another one of the dense wildly colored tropical hardwoods. Also known as tigerwood because of the colors in this species with its orange and black streaks. It is a dense heavy wood with a specific Gravity of .95. Tree is Native To: Guyana, Columbia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Guatemala, Trinidad and Brazil. Goncalo Alves is a wonderful often overlooked tonewood. It has tone very similar to that of Mahogany except it offers clearer highs with warm mids and lows.
Goncalo Alves, also known as South American Zebrawood , originates on the East Coast of Brazil though this particular species can be found anywhere between Mexico and Brazil. Huge logs up to six feet in diameter are available, but these large logs usually lack the beautiful dark streaking that makes this wood so desirable. Dense and colorful, most sets are near quarter or better. It is unusual in this species to find well striped backs & sides. Bright tap tone and good sustain make this a great choice for backs & sides. One of the most notable features of Goncalo Alves is the rare striping that occurs in very few of the logs.
Well balanced sound throughout the strings, quick response. It is a very "unknown wood" and yet it offers some of the most valued characteristics of the more expensive tropical species. Clear crisp basses, great middle tones and rampant trebles. The finished instrument looks like a wild cat. You can find yourself staring at the grain for hours at a time. It honors its name because it really looks like a wild cat. The best cuts are found in Brazil although it grows in parts of Africa as well.
Granadillo Pittier Dalbergia granadillo
Dalbergia granadillo is also a form of cocobolo, a closely related cousin in fact. Sometimes called Black Cocobolo. Also known as 'Granadillo Negro". The wood has a beautiful red/purple wine color. This is a true Rosewood
Grenadillo Platymiscium pinntatum, Mexican Rosewood, Macacauba, Macawood
This wood has a nice purple brown color reminiscent of Indian rosewood, except that it does not have the straight lines that Indian has. Grenadillo does have a subtle wavy figure & a bright responsive tap tone. Hard and heavy, would be good for fingerboards. Used in banjos and recorders as well.
From Brazil, it is very similar in appearance to Indian rosewood except the color is more chocolate brown with brick-red highlights (no purples, as in Indian). Occasionally gold-brown and very dark brown streaks. In use by a number of prominent Brazilian luthiers, it is quite dense, making it a responsive and lively tonewood.
Granadillo is a relatively new wood to American guitar making but is fairly common in South America. It is nonporous, straight grained, very dense, and has a ringing, bright tap tone. Brittle, it works easily but can dull tools a bit, has a medium to fine texture, and finishes well. The reddish brown color will darken to a brick color over time, much like Honduran rosewood. It is sure to become popular for steel string guitars.
Deep reds, browns, blacks & occasional violets penetrate through this exotic hardwood. Similar to Cocobolo, another name for Granadillo is Mexican Rosewood. Not a true Rosewood, it is commonly used by many in South America for instrument building under the name Macacauba . Dense, straight, and closed grain structure combine to produce bright tap tone with good sustain. Wood darkens to Rosewood colors. Some have sapwood centers. Best Grade is quarter sawn. Second grade sets are rift or flat sawn with pin knots - beautiful color & character at a good value.
Hickory Carya sp.
Hickory has a very high modulus of elasticity compared to most North American woods though some tropical woods have a greater MOE. In plain English the MOE is how wood bends. A higher number means more resistance to bending. It also has a high modulus of rupture. This means an ability to not break whilst bending. It has huge open grain pores that require filling with Zpoxy finishing resin. The wood bends easily, sands fine and has tonal characteristics similar to Mahogany. Hickory has a tendency to become brittle as it ages and it is moderately heavy as well. Hickory has very long fibers. It's "springy", which is why it is a preferred wood for things like ax handles. With hickory, those long fibers can lead to tearout.
The sapwood of hickory is white, tinged with inconspicuous fine brown lines while the heartwood is pale to reddish brown. Both are coarse-textured and the grain is fine, usually straight but can be wavy or irregular. Hickory can be difficult to machine and glue, and hard to work with hand tools, so care is needed. There is a tendency to split. It can be sanded to a good finish but can be difficult to dry and has high shrinkage.
Tim McKnight: “I have built many Hickory guitars and they have always been the first ones that have sold when we exhibit at guitar shows for some unknown reason? ... I have used it in fingerstyle and Dred bodies with great success.”
**Honduran Mahogany Swietenia Macrophyllia
Threatened, but there are plantations. Pink yellow when sawed, but oxidizes to deep rich red or brown. Distinct yellow sapwood, can be figured. Works easily, takes a beautiful finish. Generally woody-sounding, but certain denser sets can approach rosewood. Honduran Mahogany is lighter in weight than rosewood, koa, or maple. In spite of its weight, it yields a strong loud sound with a quick response and an emphasis on a warm, round midrange.
Adequate supply though old growth is CITES listed. 800 on the Janka scale, specific gravity from 0.40-0.68, air dry density of 30-52pcf.
Honduras Rosewood Dalbergia stevensonii
This wood is the exception that proves the rule that the wood species contributes very little to the tone of an instrument. Honduras rosewood is extremely hard and brittle. Guitars made from it have a cold, glassy sound lacking in depth. It is a wonderful tonewood that is warm, well balanced and exceptionally beautiful (I put these two sentences together on purpose!). Many sets have a deeply veined spider-web grain similar to premium sets of Brazilian Rosewood (without being subjected to all of Brazilian Rosewood’s shortcomings). Honduran Rosewood will produce a guitar of the highest quality and one that you will prize forever. Brighter and louder than Brazilean.
This rosewood needs a bit more heat to make it bend comfortably, and it may be machined at least 10% thinner than Indian rosewood just to keep the weight down. As with Brazilian rosewood, even coddled guitars may develop cracks in the wood.
Honduran is more of a brick red/brown in color and Amazon is similar in color to Brazilian but is usually found with less figure. Although more light purple in color than other rosewoods, Honduran gives a rich complex sound. It has one of the best tap tones heard in hardwoods.
Hormigo Platymiscium Dimorpandrun
The Hormigo is a tree that grows in humid forest zones. It is used commonly to make musical instruments, such as the keys of the marimba. Its wood is reddish with clear pigmentation, it is strong and compacted, durable and beautiful sounding when struck. It grows in Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. You may be amazed with the beauty of this wood. It is sometimes called "the wood that sings". Used by Collings Guitars. The knife handle business nearly made it extinct. It’s appearance is similar to Cuban mahogany, but its density, stiffness, and its tone is more like Brazilean.
*Huon Pine Tasmania Lagarostrobos Franklinii
Huon pine has a Golden Yellow hue with fine grain and aromatic rot resistant oils. The oils contain methyl eugenol which is responsible for the timber’s unique smell and resistance to rot. It is softer and heavier than spruce, requiring a fine balancing act in terms of thickness for strength yet thinness for weight.
Australian Luthier, Scott Wise has had good results with Huon and says: “Steel string guitars with smaller bodies tend to sound bigger in this wood. I first used it experimentally in the early 1980s and have had repeat orders based on the sound of those early guitars.”
The tone of Huon Pine is restrained but with tremendous sustain and great richness and depth in the overtone content over all ranges. It has very similar qualities to New Zealand Kauri in terms of headroom and response.
Imbuya Phoebe porosa, Brazilean Walnut, Imbuia
Also called Brazilian walnut, imbuya is very similar to walnut in working properties. The most astonishing thing about this wood is the spicy smell it releases when it is machined. Pleasant at first, the smell may eventually drive you right out of the shop. Extremely fine-grained and may be hard to find. Hard and dense with a relatively tight and bright tone and with good tonal separation, yet has ample bass.
Imbuya is becoming popular with guitar makers for its colorful appearance, tonal properties, and ease of working. Imbuya is characterized by widely varying, eye-catching figure and grain pattern. It produces a spicy, but pleasant odor on fresh cut surfaces that fade over time. The colorful wood exhibits a variety of shades of yellow, to greenish brown, to dark brown, and black. It is a moderately dense and heavy wood. Tonally, Imbuya is comparable to walnut. It provides sparkling trebles and a warm midrange.
This species grows in Southern Brazil and is sometimes called Brazilian Walnut (but it is not a true walnut). It is a colorful, fine textured wood, prized by woodworkers. The heartwood is yellow-olive to chocolate brown, sometimes gray-brown, with variegated streaks and stripes. Grain pattern varies widely, with many different figures occurring in individual boards. It is hard and moderately heavy (about 42 pounds per cubic foot). Heartwood is durable. Emits a spicy, resinous scent and taste. Imbuia does have occasional worm holes that leave a nice pattern on the wood. They are easily filled with cyano and blend in very well. It is easy to work with hand and power tools. Finishes well. Glues well. Imbuia is quickly becoming very popular. It is a promising choice for a tone wood. It is a hard, dense wood, so it produces a relatively tight, bright, tone. It offers good tonal separation from string to string, while retaining plenty of bass. Highly figured Imbuia can be very striking and will make a beautiful guitar.
Indian Rosewood East India Dalbergia Latifolia/Sisso, East Indian Rosewood
One of the most popular and traditional guitar woods of all time, rosewood takes that basic sonic thumbprint of mahogany and expands it in both directions. Think in terms of a visual spectrum in which low frequencies are on the left, and high frequencies are on the right. Rosewood sounds deeper in the low end and brighter on the top end (one might describe the treble notes as zesty, sparkly or sizzly, with more articulation). If you look at its frequency range visually, rosewood would appear to be more scooped in the middle, yielding less midrange bloom than mahogany. Like mahogany, rosewood’s vintage heritage has helped firmly establish its acoustic legacy. It’s a great sound in part because we know that sound. In some music circles in which preserving the traditional sound helps bring a sense of authenticity to the music — certain strains of Americana, for example — rosewood has an iconic status. Also like mahogany, rosewood is a versatile tonewood, which has contributed to its popularity. One can fingerpick it, strum it and flatpick it. It’s very consistent, so players can usually rely on it to deliver. Goes well with most applications. If you like a guitar with fuller low end and brighter treble (bluegrassers, for instance), rosewood will do the trick. Its high-end sizzle and clear articulation will benefit players with “dark hands” . If you’re looking for a traditional acoustic sound, a rosewood Dreadnought or Grand Auditorium is right up your alley.
Indian rosewood varies quite a bit in appearance from Brazilian rosewood, though it is still quite dark. Basically brown, but with purple, gray, brown, and sometimes red highlights, it is known for straighter, more homogenous grain lines. It is richly grained, resinous, stable and generally more consistent than most other rosewood species. It produces a deep warm reverby projective bass response that is especially marked on large-bodied guitars. The heartwood of Dalbergia Sissoo is dark brown with a white sapwood. It is a hard, durable wood which displays good stability and ease of bending. Dalbergia Latifolia has a heartwood that is purple-brown with a dark streaks. It is a hard, durable wood which displays good stability and ease of bending.
As a tonewood, Indian Rosewood has been an industry standard for the past few decades. It’s acceptance over Brazilian rosewood stems from it’s wider availability and sustainability. This wood as provides a dark and woody overtone content with a low end predominance.
This wood grew in popularity in the 1950s and 1960s as it became increasingly difficult to obtain Brazilian Rosewood in instrument grades. Some find EIR to be one of the best tonewoods on the market, and superior to its much-coveted Brazilian cousin. It has a warm, rich, responsive tone that has clear and tight bass projection without overshadowing sparkling midrange or trebles.
It has a Janka rating of 3100 and a specific gravity of 0.7-0.8
Ipe Tabebuia of family Bignoniaceae, Lapacho, Brazilian Walnut
Common Names: Ipe wood is known by many names: Ipe Brazil, Amapa, cortex, Guayacan, Flor Amarillo, Greenheart, Madera negra, Tahuari, Lapacho negro. It has a number of trade names: Ironwood™, Pau Lope™ & Brazilian Walnut... these are commercial names given to Ipe lumber by large Brazilian exporters. Some of these trade names for Ipe lumber, include not only Ipe wood, but also a number of other similar species like cumaru (Dipterix odorata) and jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata). "Ipe lumber" can be used in somewhat of a more generic fashion, rather then a singular biological description. Ipe wood is often clustered with other woods that share similar characteristics.
Distribution: Ipe wood (or bois ipe for our French clientele) typically grows in tropical South-central America, in a wide variety of sites, in marshes and riverbanks as well as ridge tops. Ipe trees may grow to 140 feet in height with trunk diameter of up to 6'. It is one of the tallest trees of the Amazon region.
Ipe Heartwood, is typically reddish brown, sometimes with a greenish tinge, often with lighter or darker striping. It can be covered with a yellow lapachol powder. Much looks similar to a teak wood. Ipe wood comes in good long lengths with limited warp. Sapwood is much lighter white or yellow usually removed at the mill, although small strips along the edge can be present. Ipe hardwood has no distinctive odor or taste.
Ipe wood products contains no added harmful chemicals so it can be used near water without potential contamination, although its dust can cause a number of respiratory and contact dermatitis allergic reactions in humans.
Drying: Ipe planks are reported to air dry rapidly, and can show some checking especially with thick timber like 4x4, particularly, if dried quickly in full sun. This can cause warping, especially powerful in large timber like 2x12, that can actually pull fixing screws out of pressure treated stringers... thus recommended to use 2 pieces of 2x6 instead. I have seen recommendations to use anchorseal for sealing ipe end cuts to limit end checking associated with drying.
It is one of the world’s most stable woods down to a 10% equilibrium point and then becomes very unstable below that. When installed in dry areas it will shrink considerably unless it has been “over dried” in the kilning process. Extreme care should be taken when installing this specie to purchase it only from sources who dry it properly and then to properly equalize it prior to installation.
Working Properties: Ipe lumber can be somewhat difficult to work with, especially with hand tools. Can have quite a blunting effect on cutting edges. Recommended that you use a reduced cutting angle, keep edges sharp, and always pre drill for nails or screws. Have numerous extra drill bits handy. Ipe planks do not bend well, but the wood finishes and sands quite smoothly, with no splintering.
Toxicity: Ipe boards can have a fine yellow dust on the surface that may cause dermatitis in some individuals that have skin sensitivities and/or cause allergic reactions in those who breathe it in... so wearing a dust mask is recommended. Ipe hardwood is an amazing wood, but no sense in risking your health!
Durability: Heartwood is very resistant to attack by decay fungi and termites, but not resistant to marine borers, it has the durability and strength of teak, for a lot less money. The US Department of Agriculture and Forestry rates Ipe as "Very resistant to attack by decay, fungi and termites." Ipe hardness provides natural scratch resistance making Ipe an perfect wood for exterior decking.
Ipe (Brazilian Walnut) is extremely hard, almost 3x harder than Oak. It has a fire rating of A1 (the highest possible, the same as concrete), and is denser than water (it sinks). It is increasingly popular as a decking material due to its insect resistance and durability. Ipe wood products contains no added harmful chemicals so it can be used near water without potential contamination. Recommended that you always pre-drill before installing screws.
Ipe (Brazilian Walnut) is olive brown to black often with variegated striping. Texture is fine to medium, grain straight to irregular. As with all hardwood, there will be variations in color and grain which add to the individual character
Ipe Hardness - – Ipe harder than Hard Maple (Janka 1450) and Oak (Janka 1360) Recommended that you use name brand carbide tipped tools, keep edges sharp, and always pre-drill for screws. Have numerous extra drill bits handy.
Ipe Durability - Ipe is extremely durable to termites and fungus.
Ipe Preservation - None Necessary! Exposed to the elements, it will turn to a silver gray with age. A finisher with Ipe is olive brown to black often with variegated striping. The Texture of Ipe wood is fine to medium, grain straight to irregular. Ipe is one of the hardest woods on the planet and an extremely popular choice for decking. Ipe Decking is perfect for exterior residential and commercial applications such as boat docks, decking, boardwalks, pool decking, foot bridges, and so forth. Ipe wood can be sealed to maintain its natural color and beauty, or allowed to weather to a beautiful silver gray color. Ipe wood is an exotic hardwood that is naturally resistant to rot, decay and insect attack.
The ipe that I have (guitar fingerboard, below) is a uniform warm medium brown and does not look at all like the other two examples I have shown.
Weight: specific gravity of .85 to .97 .. air dry density 66-75 pcf, Janka hardness: 3680 lb
Jacaranda Dalbergia sp., Indonesian Rosewood
Origin: Indonesia Jacaranda is a common name used/misused throughout the timber industry for a variety of types of wood. The Jacaranda pictured below is a type of Rosewood grown in Indonesia. Its appearance and physical properties are between Brazilian Rosewood and Indian Rosewood. The wood exhibits beautiful shades of purple, gold, and brown. Tonally, it provides the warm rich tones of most rosewoods with a powerful bass and clear midrange and treble.
Jarrah Eucalyptus marginata
Jarrah’s red mahogany color has made it very popular in cabinet and furniture uses. In Western Australia, Jarrah is regarded as a framing, engineering or more lately furniture wood. Its acoustic properties have been ignored until recently. Scott Wise has made many Jarrah guitars and ukuleles. It always makes a loud instrument, with strong midrange voices. It often has curly grain and makes fine looking and sounding guitars.
Jarrah is grown only in South Western Australia and presents visually in a wide range of colors from dark brown to a light pink. There is a wide variety of figure types from a curl/fiddleback to a black fleck marking which can be quite bold. Due to the high percentage of "short grain" it is strongly advised that a steel slat and thermal blanket should be used during bending to prevent any fracturing. Jarrah glues and finishes well. Tonally tends to be in the mids to bass range but it would depend on what top you couple with this.
Ormsby Guitars: “its tonally dead, too heavy, and wears out your cutting tools too quickly. There is a reason no guitar makers use it, despite it being a nice looking, and easily obtainable timber.”
Peter Coombe: “It is a very hard, dense, stiff timber and is relatively acoustically dead when tapped. The timber is a beautiful deep red, or pinky red in color and is used in high class furniture and all sorts of construction work and used to be extensively used for railway sleepers. It is still readily available, cheap, not too difficult to find quarter sawn, and often comes with fiddleback figure. It is very hard on tools and has only moderate bending qualities; I find the dust quite irritating.
Jarrah, in combination with King Billy Pine, makes lovely sounding mandolins... However, the instruments are quite heavy because Jarrah is a very heavy timber, and most musicians do notice this and don't like it. Tonally, Jarrah is very strong in the bass. Mandolins made from Jarrah have a strong rich sounding bass which imparts an overall fuller tonal quality on the instrument. One maker does not use Jarrah any more because of the weight problem and being a Eucalyptus species, the wood is not particularly stable.”
COLOR: Heartwood is uniformly pinkish to dark red, often a rich, dark red mahogany hue, turning a deep brownish red with age and exposure; sapwood is pale. Frequent black streaks with occasional in- grown grain.
GRAIN: Frequently interlocked or wavy. Texture is even and moderately coarse.
VARIATIONS WITHIN SPECIES AND GRADES: Moderate to high color variation.
DIMENSIONAL STABILITY: Below average (change coefficient .00396).
DURABILITY: Dense and very strong.
SAWING/MACHINING: Difficult to work because of high density and irregular grain; carbide tooling recommended.
SANDING: Sands well, but dust can stain fabric and wall treatments.
FINISHING: Red color can bleed into some finishes — a problem when mixing species.
Jatoba Hymenaea courbaril, Brazilean Cherry
Between Maple and Rosewood in its hardness & density, as it is tonally. Jatoba is very similar to Ovangkol in its appearance, but generally has a more pronounced figure. Fabulous looking guitars with this one!
JW Bosworth: “Jatoba is an exceptionally hard and dense wood. It dulls steel tools rapidly. This wood will be used as a substitute for now scarce Koa since its grain and color is very similar. The hardness allows for a slightly more ringing tone than Koa.”
The wood is an attractive burgundy, deep red, or orange tone, and some of it can even have dark black stripes highlighting a strong visible grain pattern. It can exhibit quite a large color variation from one board to the next. The heartwood varies in color from a salmon red to an orange brown when it is freshly cut which darkens to a red brown when seasoned. The sapwood can be wide and is much lighter in color - either white or pink and sometimes gray and does not darken to the deep red-orange tones common with the heart wood. It is not as porous as mahogany but harder and denser. Brazilian wood has a natural luster, with a medium to coarse texture. It has no obvious taste or odor. The heartwood is rated as only moderately resistance to attack by fungi and marine borers. Although the books might suggest the wood is relatively stable once it has been dried properly, experience has suggested that every so often you'll get a few pieces of wood that really don't want to behave... they don't like to be glued and if they can twist, they will. it is not one of the easiest woods to use, but the gorgeous colors do warrant an extra bit of effort.
Jatoba sands and finishes easily. Polishing can create a wonderful luster. It stains well. Moderate steam bending rating. Can be hard to work with, having severe blunting effect on tools. It is moderately difficulty to saw and machine because of the wood's high density and toughness. Experts recommend a reduced cutting angle of 20 degrees, and the use of carbide cutters as much as possible. The wood's interlocked grain also causes some difficulty in planing. The grain can be somewhat powerful and require sharp tools to avoid tearout.
Again the books suggest that Jatoba has good gluing properties, but err on the side of caution and use waterproof PVA glues like the helmitin 805, or Titebond III that seem to have more holding power and use standard laminated parasites recommended for oily woods.
COLOR: Sapwood is gray-white; heartwood is salmon red to orange-brown when fresh, and becomes russet or reddish brown when seasoned; often marked with dark streaks.
GRAIN: Mostly interlocked; texture is medium to rather coarse.
VARIATIONS WITHIN SPECIES AND GRADES: Moderate to high color variation.
DIMENSIONAL STABILITY: Average (change coefficient .00300). However, actual installations have demonstrated significant movement in use.
DURABILITY: Dense and very strong.
SAWING/MACHINING: Sawing is difficult due to high density; requires frequent resharpening of tools. Planing is difficult due to interlocked grain. Can be machined to a smooth surface. Carbide tooling recommended. SANDING: Sands well.
FINISHING: No known problems.
Janka: 2350 Weight: 56 lbs. per cubic foot.
Kauri Agathis Australis
The species is endemic to New Zealand, and belong to the Araucariaceae plant family. .. The logs are below the surface of what are usually farm fields and ranch lands. When a site is identified, permission is secured and expert operators of heavy equipment carefully expose and lift the logs out of the prehistoric bogs. They are immense, and raising the logs to the surface is just part of the job: moving them to a location to begin the milling process, and the milling itself, has necessitated some innovative equipment designs and plain old lumber man's ingenuity. It can be worked with normal woodworking tools, in the same ways you are used to working with other species. One notable difference: when finishing Ancient Kauri, special rewards await the woodworker who sands Ancient Kauri to 600 grit and higher. The wood grains and textures seem to come alive when polished to these levels. Radio carbon dating places the age of the Ancient Kauri trees that are being excavated from the northland of New Zealand at 50,000 years old. This is the maximum limit of radio carbon dating, it is probable that this wood is even older. Kauri is a warm wood with tonal qualities similar to Mahogany. It often exhibits spectacular "flash" under reflected light.
*King Billy Pine Athrotaxis selaginoides
The timber has a light pink hue with very close grain. It is softer than sitka spruce and has a characteristic aroma when worked. It’s physical properties is comparable to a pale red western cedar, but with greater stiffness.
It is less stiff across the grain than spruce and benefits from being left thicker on flattop construction and from a higher arch on archtops. It is used for soundboards for guitars and violins although it excels as a mandolin top. Australian mandolin maker, Peter Coombe is a big fan: “King Billy Pine is, in my humble opinion, one of the finest soundboard timbers that grows upon this earth. In my experience, it makes beautiful sweet clear sounding mandolins that many musicians prefer over the best spruce-topped instruments. It is not as strong as Spruce along the grain, so I use Red Spruce bracing, and carve the top a little higher than my Spruce tops.” The tone of King Billy Pine is sweet in the midrange with a strong bass and open trebles. It has headroom similar to redwood and responds much like cedar.
King Billy Pine is an extremely slow growing species that grows only in the mountains of northwest and south- west Tasmania. The timber is light pink to yellow pink, very close grained, soft, and with a characteristic aromatic odor when worked. It's appearance and softness is similar to lighter colored Cedar, but it is stronger than Cedar. King Billy Pine is one of the finest soundboard timbers that grows upon this earth. It makes beautiful sweet clear sounding mandolins that many musicians prefer over the best spruce-topped instruments. It is also a lovely timber to work with, planes and carves beautifully and fills the workshop with a pleasant aromatic odor when worked. It is not as strong as Spruce along the grain. However, King Billy Pine is no longer harvested commercially and it is now almost impossible to get clean quarter sawn pieces suitable for soundboards The results are a little variable, probably because the wood is of variable quality. Many pieces have hidden knots, and it is difficult to get a good clean piece that is quarter sawn and with no runout.
Threatened - by bush fires. Janka rating of 1200(?), specific gravity of 0.25.
**Koa The Big Island of Hawaii
A tropical hardwood, koa’s tone blends the midrange of mahogany with the top end of maple. Due to its density, a new koa guitar tends to start out sounding a little bright and tight, somewhat like maple. But the more a koa guitar is played, the more the sound opens up, expanding the midrange and rewarding the player with a richer, sweeter, more resonant tone. Like Mahogany or Bubinga, it offers a crisp snappy sound with a strong midrange and sparkling high end. A common mistake is when a bright player buys a koa guitar in part for its visual beauty, finds it to be too bright, and doesn’t play it enough to allow the wood to warm up. Similar to mahogany or maple but fuller and richer. Particular striking when used as a double top.
Goes well with fingerstylists who play more with the pads of their fingers and tend to have a meatier touch. Bright players need to be careful because of koa’s existing brightness (one might try experimenting with different pick materials).
Hawaiian Koa is easily one of the most sought after tonewoods available, with colors ranging from brown to gold, with rich and varying grain. Koa looks as exotic as the region it’s from. With an open pore structure like Mahogany, it needs to be filled, but works well in all respects with the usual care taken for curly figure. Curl or flame has been exhibited in Koa trees less than 20 years old and these trees grow fast. Instrument size and grade wood is rare because most of the old growth has been cut down. Luckily, Hawaiians are making an effort to plant Koa along with other native trees to help assure they will be available in the future. But until then, good wood is scarce and the rising prices reflect that.
Highly figured Koa is a prized tonewood for both its beauty and influence on sound. Koa produces a warm rich sound – somewhere between the darker sounds that Rosewood guitars produce and the clean bright sound of a Maple guitar. Increasingly, Koa is becoming difficult and very expensive to obtain in master-grade sets. This wood is likely to see a dramatic rise in price over the next several years. The wood is native to, and only grows on the islands of Hawaii.
Koa is renowned for its iridescent shimmer and luscious color which ranges from tan to warm gold with brown and black accents. The iridescence in this wood is particularly exceptional on the quarter.
Workability of Hawaiian Koa is similar to Genuine Mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla). It has open grain and works well. Since sets have curly figured grain, care must be taken when working (the same as any wood with figure).
Koa produces a predominately bright treble response with slightly less volume than spruce, but extreme beauty of the grain. Koa tops are available on special order and custom instruments. Koa is golden brown in color with dark streaks and a lustrous sheen. Koa wood occasionally develops a curly or flamed figure. It has a bass response that is slightly less than that of rosewood and treble response that is slightly less than that of mahogany. The result is a very equally balanced instrument.
Lacewood Roupala brasiliensis or Cardwellia sublimis, leopardwood
Beautiful, lustrous grain with big, silvery medullary rays. Quartersawn. The surface has zillions of tiny splinters which sand smooth.
Cardwellia sublimis is native to Northern Australia where it is called silky oak, but in the USA it is called lacewood or Australian lacewood. In Australia it is often called not just silky oak, but Northern silky oak or Queensland silky oak, as opposed to Southern silky oak which is the name most commonly used for Grevillea robusta (see below).
Roupala brasiliense is from South America and is properly called South American lacewood or Brazilian lacewood, but it is also called leopardwood although it is NOT the wood that is normally meant by the name "leopardwood".
There are a variety of "lacewoods" out there,fairly hard, medium weight (about like Indian Rosewood), nice tap tone, etc. Although rumored to be a little difficult to bend, most builders are successful with it. The "blotch" on the right panel is a little naptha to show what it looks like under finish.
It is a dense wood with a loud, sustaining tap tone. Lacewood’s color is a warm cinnamon brown and has bold figure (the name leopard wood is sometimes used). Some builders feel that this wood contributes to a warm tone characteristic of guitars many years older.
A personal favorite for guitar tops. The grain has web-like patterns that look almost like snakeskin. The tone is terrific as well, falling roughly between walnut and maple. Lacewood has one serious drawback, however, which may be why it has been passed over by just about everybody. It’s extremely difficult to finish. It is not only very porous, which means it requires a ton of grain filler; but the grain itself is quite difficult to completely smooth out.
Round basses and very clear trebles, competes with Brazilian rosewood when it comes to punch and definition of voices. Superb tap tone and a collectible since only a few Lapacho guitars have ever been built. The wood is incredibly hard but the luthier is filled with pride when he ears the sound of the finished instrument. It is simply stunning.
Laurel Many species use this as part or all of their name.
1) Laurel is a wonderful species that is found throughout the Americas. The California variety is particularly beautiful. It possesses a tremendous tap tone and always produces top of the line guitars. It is relatively cheap when compared to woods that deliver similar sound at much higher costs like Blackwood or Brazilian rosewood.
2) Indian Laurel (Terminalla celerica), not a true laurel, resembles English walnut and is sometime s considered a substitute. Light to dark brown with black lines and a striped pattern.
Leopardwood Panopsis rebellens
Leopardwood is occasionally confused with some of the lacewoods. But it's much harder and heavier (a little heavier than Indian Rosewood in weight), and darker. It finishes nicely, but there's a rumor that it's a little tricky to bend. Rich, lots of depth... beautiful! Several good comments at a recent NAMM show: "surprisingly heavy," "hard," and "good tap tone!" Pronounced low-mids, clear high-mids, slightly dark, warm and round.
This South American wood has an appearance VERY similar to Roupala brasiliense (South American lacewood) but can often be distinguished from it with a small amount of experience --- it is darker brown in color and is harder and heavier and with a noticibly finer texture. It is sometimes called lacewood just as lacewood is sometimes called leopardwood.
*Lutz Spruce Sometimes called picea lutzii, but is actually a hybrid
Lutz combines the size, strength and stiffness of Sitka and the texture and lustre of Engelmann/White Spruce. It is both responsive to a light touch for fingerstyle as well as able to handle a good strum. Slightly darker than Englemann but still a lot more on the white side than Sitka Spruce. They tend to have the best stiffness to weight ratio but it is not always light, it varies as all other wood, covering about the same range as Euro. As for damping, seems to have a hair more than the best Euro.
Tim McKnight: “I have built several with Lutz (which is a hybrid of Sitka and Engelmann BTW). I find that it sounds more like Sitka than Engelmann. It can range from creamy white to striped with the salmon > tan bands that is common in lower grade Sitka. All of it that I have used and in stock has little runout with gorgeous cross grain silking or medular rays. Currently there are only two suppliers / sawyers that I am aware of that harvest and supply it....There are several well known luthiers who are really going gah-gah over Lutz. They are saying things like "it shares many of the vintage tonal traits of the best pre-war guitars" to "it rivals the best Euro spruces that I have ever used". It is one of the newest tonewoods to hit the scene in recent years and it is a great tonewood. It isn't the end all of them but just another fine option to consider.”
Macassar Ebony Indonesia, Ebony Diospyros celebica
1) Another dense hardwood, Macassar boasts a lot of presence and is typically clear and loud with a broad dynamic range. It seems to be a wood that is uniquely responsive to different playing styles. It has a strong bass and lower mids; clear and transparent highs that respond like an accelerator pedal as you move your right hand closer to the bridge and dig in a bit; and a slightly scooped midrange.
Macassar likes to be played hard, and tends to take a slightly longer period of playing time to open up. When it’s used with a softer top wood like cedar or redwood, it makes a balanced instrument. Paired with an Englemann Spruce top it can make a wonderful guitar aesthetically and tonally. When topped with Adirondack spruce it becomes an all-out cannon. Some players tend to pull more brightness out of the wood; others tap into its darker side. Similar sound to EIR, but darker, rich.
“To me, Macassar has a great ‘low-fi,’ old Gibson vibe. “It’s dark, it’s dense, it’s heavy. It’s killer for a very manly, old school strum. We put a super clear ‘finishing salt’ on its tonal flavor using our style of construction to brighten it up, but to my ear the tonal beauty of this wood is the low-fi vibe. I love the sound.”
Goes well with old-school strummers and players with a heavy picking hand who like a thick old school sound; players who struggle to get enough brightness and articulation from traditional woods.
With alternating bands of black and light tan, striped Macassar Ebony is a most striking woods. In addition to a large group of hand-makers who use it, there are a number of prominent manufacturers who offer it on their more deluxe models, including Breedlove, McPherson and Goodall. From Celebes and Sulawesi Island in East Indonesia, Macassar Ebony offers good stability and superb, Rosewood-like tonality. Supply of this wood is erratic, especially in the higher grades, and demand has grown steadily over the years, so backorders are often necessary.
The quality and appearance of the Macassar Ebony varies widely. There's considerable variation in the appearance of Macassar ebony, from the predominately lighter background material to the inverse effect of a dark background with light striping. Here are the various descriptions.
Striped: These are the rarest and most coveted. A white/light tan background with high contrast black striping. Often better selection in the OM size.
Moderate Stripe: Less contrast (darker background) but still eye-catching and dramatic. Usually black with blonde stripes.
Sapwood: Black with high contrast sapwood centers. Many of the sapwood centers are quite broad.
2) [diospyros insularis] Macassar Ebony is one of the most striking woods. By far the best value in Ebony. Many find the striping in this wood to be very beautiful. From East Indonesia, Macassar Ebony glues well and bends fairly easy. The heartwood of Diospyros celebica is variegated, streaky brown and black often striped. It s a hard, durable wood with a fine grain. It is brittle and can blunt tools easily.
However, there are ebonies sold as Macassar ebony which are not true Macassar ebony. One, which is on the market and is sold as striped ebony is from Papua-New Guinea and is known as Morola. It does not have the stability nor the density of Macassar (.65 to .75 vs. Macassar's .95 to 1.2). This wood is also not as easy to bend, nor does it glue as well as Macassar.
Pat Hawley is a big fan and says :” The thing that struck me about the dreadnought was its projection. With regard to sustain, I hadn’t noticed anything either way so I guess that means it was average. As I was building the guitar, I knew it was going to come out heavy and I was worried that there wouldn’t be much volume so I was surprised and pleased at how loud it was. The classical guitar was much lighter in comparison yet, when first played, it was relatively quiet and I was a little disappointed. However the change in just over a few hours of playing was amazing. I never knew a guitar could open up so much in so little time. It probably was also a function of the new strings settling in. I’m not very good at describing tonal qualities so all I can say is that this guitar, to my ear, sounded very sweet and beautiful. I would not call it overly bright”
Howard Klepper says :”Rather high damping. I’d consider it best suited for a blues type box if someone want a lot of thump but not a lot of sustain. “
Great wood for bridges, fretboards, binding and faceplates…lower damping than many other ebonies, has a great deal of visual appeal, and lower mass while retaining close to the same surface hardness. Great for binding, where the warm bittersweet chocolate color warms up what can otherwise be a too-cool color note. That color/texture contrast is just perfect with a wide range of top and body woods.
It has a Janka rating of ~3200-2500 and a specific gravity of approx. 0.89-1.2
Machiche Lonchocarpus castilloi
Machiche is an excellent hardwood with deep browns, brick reds, and fine grain patterns. This makes the wood look somewhat like old growth Honduras Rosewood. Though it is hard, the wood machines fairly easily, responding well to sharp cutters and also finishes well, bringing out beautiful highlights in the grain. Good sustain and crisp projection make this Central American hardwood a good choice for acoustical properties as well as dollar value.
Madagascan Rosewood Dalbergia grevaena, Dalbergia Baroroni
As a tonewood, Madgasacan Rosewood has been championed as a substitute to Brazilian Rosewood although it’s rarity and over-exploitation may push it towards a similar fate to BRW. It provides a dark and bell-like overtone content with a slow response. Woolson Guitars: “It produces guitars that are evenly responsive across the entire tonal register and have a crisp sound that has been attributed to old-growth Brazilian Rosewood. However, Madagascar Rosewood is not plagued by the negative flaws of Brazilian Rosewood (cracking, splitting and severe warping). Madagascar Rosewood will produce a beautiful guitar that will last for generations.”
Madagascar rosewood tonally is considered a kindred spirit to venerable Brazilian rosewood, boasting zesty, articulate highs, deep lows and ample dynamic range, and rewarding players with rich sustain and complex overtones. Its comparison to Brazilian is reinforced by its often striking visual appeal and limited availability. If there was ever a Brazilian Rosewood copycat then this would be the one! It has a rich red-brown color with the classic spider webbing found in Brazilian. Tonally it combines deep lows and rich highs with strong mid-ranges to rival the best of Brazilian. The tonal distinctions between Maddie and East Indian rosewood tend to be subtle; if anything, Maddie may yield a bit more midrange bloom than East Indian, although it’s typically not quite as full as Ovangkol.
Goes well with most applications. Like East Indian, if you favor a guitar with full low end and sparkling treble, Maddie will deliver, and its moderate midrange overtones will give you a broad swath along the frequency spectrum to get the tone you want. It’ll yield a wonderful traditional acoustic sound, and players with “dark” hands will find the brightness of the treble to be a nice complement. Provides a dark and bell-like overtone content with a slow response.
Little can be said about it that hasn't already been said about Brazilian rosewood! Visually, it is a dead-ringer for Brazilian, though in general it is more red or rust colored. This wood is gaining popularity as many builders and players are making the switch from Brazilian Rosewood to suitable alternatives.
The heartwood is purplish brown with darker stripes with a straight grain, fine, even texture. It has a propensity for checking and splitting and needs care when air dried. However this timber is very stable once dry. Of note, studies of extracts from the bark has shown activity against gram-positive bacteria in vitro.
It has a Janka rating of around 13,350 N (? rv)and a specific gravity of 1.08
Madrone Arbutus menziesii, Pacific madrone, Strawberry Tree
This beautiful Pacific hardwood has pink & tan colors with an occasional red streak. Green lumber is unstable until it is carefully dried; once dried, it has excellent stability. Look for quarter sawn with light fiddleback or flame figure. Madrone is hard and fairly difficult to saw, but it is possible to get a beautiful, high polish in finishing. Madrone has been compared to the texture of European Pear wood, even thought to be superior in grain & workability. Some sets can have pinkish-red centers, ranges from light to dark browns and a reddish tint is common. It is prone to cracking while it dries. It's a really unstable wood, and often has a lot of tension in it because of the twisty way that Madrone trees grow. It's available here, but it's not easy to obtain nice, straight grain wood for guitar sets.
Pacific Madrone sapwood is a pinkish-cream color, while the heartwood is light pink to red-brown with patches of deep red. It resembles fruit woods in color and texture. Pacific Madrone is difficult to season, as it warps and checks easily. Pacific Madrone works well with all tools and polishes well, but is not easily glued. The wood is easily worked with tools and compares with hard maple and eastern white oak in ease of machining.
Madrone trees are large in size and grow in the Pacific Northwest. It ranges from California to British Columbia. Madrone ranges in color from red to orange to pink with blues and grays in the lighter wood. Madrone can often have a very dense and figured burl. Madrone is an Evergreen and has a uniform texture and is very stable in service.
Janka rating 1400-1600
**Mahogany Central and South America, Khaya sp.
Mahogany is a good wood to anchor a survey of tones, as a lot of other wood tones can be described in relation to it. Its essential sonic profile is well represented in the midrange frequencies. Acoustic guitars in general tend to live in the midrange portion of the sound spectrum, but mahogany in particular displays a lot of midrange character. That thick, present midrange sound is sometimes described in guitar circles as meaty, organic or even “chewy” — wherever a player digs in on the fretboard, they’re tapping into the core of the harmonic content of what a guitar produces. Those great midrange frequencies produce overtones that stack up and produce bloom, giving the sound extra girth. When one hears the resulting harmonics, the “chewy” tone serves up a big mouthful of midrange. As a popular tonewood for many decades, mahogany has been used on scads of old school acoustic recordings and that sonic heritage carries across various strains of roots music, from blues to folk to slack key.
Goes well with a broad range of players and musical style, people who like a well-balanced tone, nice dynamic range and a healthy serving of overtones. Blues and other rootsy players tend to respond well to mahogany’s midrange character. A smaller body mahogany guitar might appeal to fingerstyle players, whereas more aggressive flatpickers might opt for a mahogany Dreadnought. Because of mahogany’s midrange, a player with “dark hands” will tend to sound darker on a mahogany guitar. A bright player will sound slightly less bright.
Genuine Honduran mahogany has been an ideal choice for a variety of woodworking applications. Its cross-grained structure makes it unusually stable and easy to carve. It is a superb choice for woodcarvings, furniture making and pattern making.
As a back and side wood, mahogany has sometimes been considered a "poor man's choice", but there is now a great appreciation for its unique tonal qualities. It seems that mahogany ages well and its true value may not reveal itself until a few years have passed. As far as stability is concerned, Honduran mahogany has no peers, but tonally there are some good alternatives in the mahogany family. The best is Sapele mahogany which features a very attractive ribbon figure that runs parallel to the grain.
Mahogany (Brazil) Was first introduced in 1922 on the lesser expensive Style 17 guitars. Tonally, it is less projective than spruce, producing a crisp and delicate response with emphasis on the midrange. It has recently become a standard top in the Baby Taylor travel guitars. Genuine Mahogany is yellowish brown to reddish brown in color, exceptionally stable and consistently clear. It is much lighter in weight than rosewood, koa, or maple but yields a surprisingly strong loud sound with an emphasis on clear bright treble.
Figured Mahogany Is a beautiful and rare variety of genuine mahogany. Though difficult to bend, it shares the same tonal properties of the unfigured mahogany.
Janka: 845 - 2200 (depending upon variety), change coefficient: .00238
Makore Tieghemella heckelii, African Cherry, douka, baku, cherry mahogany
Also known as African Cherry, Makore is pink to pinkish-brown and oxidizes to a golden brown. The figure is a block mottle type. It has high silica content, so make sure your tools are sharp. Also be sure to wear good breathing apparatus as the dust can be quite irritating. It has a nice tap tone. Makore has excellent finishing and gluing properties. Specific gravity of 0.55, 42lb/ft3. The heartwood is pink to pinkish brown, with an soft appearance of tan streaks throughout. The sapwood can be up to 4.5 inches thick and is light pink or off-white in color. Fair workability using hand and machine tools. Blunting of cutting edges is caused by a high silica content. Glues and finishes well. Note: Nose and throat may be irritated by fine dust. * *
Malaysian Blackwood Diospyros ebonasea
This wood was a big hit at the 2004 Guild of American Luthiers Convention in Tacoma. Several guitars of this beautiful wood were played at the classic guitar listening event, and they were "wowsers."
There are two variants. One is dark-reddish brown to black, and the other is greenish with brown streaks, similar to Macassar ebony (Diospyros celebica) A few on the list that have used the wood: George Smith, Bruce Petros, Steve and John Kinnaird, Michael Greenwood, Tom Blackshear, and Sakurai Kohno who uses it regularly. Similar in properties to African blackwood in many respects including density, tonal quality and workability.
Malaysian Blackwood is a premium tonewood that is well suited for all sorts of guitars. It has become a favorite of several well known high-end luthiers and it’s popularity is growing. Denser than most rosewoods, the sustaining, glassy tap tone draws comparisons to African Blackwood. It is slightly less brittle though, and unlike African Blackwood, most sets have attractive dark streaks (also, African Blackwood is a true rosewood, Malaysian Blackwood is not). The overall coloring is similar to Ziricote, with black and dark gray colors highlighted by subtle reddish brown and/or green hue. Some say that this wood makes an even better sounding guitar than the old Brazilian.
Mango Mangifera Indica
A beautiful Hawaiian Hardwood. A medium to large tree that frequently grows to around 50-65 feet in height and 2-3 feet in diameter. Mango is hard, moderately heavy, works easily and sands beautifully making wonderful furniture and musical instruments. Others have said it is soft, go figure. It can also attract bugs (probably not a problem in a finished guitar!). The wood has a good bright tone similar to Hawaiian koa, dry and crisp. It is much harder to find quality wood though, as much is too soft and cannot be cut thin enough.
Maple Acer sp.
Maple is the only wood used for backs and sides in the violin family so it is well known to instrument makers, even though just a modest percentage of guitars are made with it. The fact that it is a domestic wood augments its popularity. Maple is well known for imparting bright tone to an instrument, with excellent separation (a guitar with good separation allows each note of a chord to ring independently as opposed to sounding thick or clustered).
Well balanced sound on all 6 strings, one of the best tone woods. It really competes neck to neck with Brazilian rosewood and African Blackwood... and, although blond, the wood looks simply terrific. The great advantage of the species is that it is an American species, which translates in very little care when it comes to humidity conditions etc. It is very light compared to the tropical species but delivers with the same presence. It is one of the most beautiful woods and makes beautiful guitars. Often strikingly figured as “birds-eye” or “flamed”.
The hard maple harvested in the northeastern part of the United States is dense, moderately stiff, and has low to medium internal dampening. It produces a clear, cutting, bright, and fundamental targeted tone. Very responsive in the mid to upper register with clear although un-complex bass overtones. Sustains slightly better than softer maples. Curly Maple comes in both soft and hard varieties. See Birdseye for a description of hard Curly Maple. Soft Curly maple is similar to hard although with a general tendency to be more bassy. Soft maple is slightly more responsive than Hard Maple but with less sustain.
European Flamed Maple (Germany) Is a particular species of European maple, very hard and reflective, producing a loud powerful projective sound. Uniquely figured American "Birdseye" maple displays characteristics and tonal properties similar to European Flamed maple.
The wood of sugar maple and black maple is known as hard maple; that of silver maple, red maple, and boxelder as soft maple. The sapwood of the maples is commonly white with a slight reddish-brown tinge; the heartwood is light reddish brown, but sometimes is considerably darker. The sapwood is from 3 to 5+ inches (76 to 127+ mm) thick.
Hard maple has a fine, uniform texture, turns well on a lathe, is resistant to abrasion and has no characteristic odor or taste. It is heavy, strong, stiff, hard, and resistant to shock, and it has large shrinkage. Sugar maple is generally straight grained but the grain also occurs as "birds-eye," "curly," and "fiddleback" grain.
The wood of soft maples resembles that of hard maples but is not as heavy, hard and strong, the better grade of soft maple has been substituted for hard maple in furniture. The sapwood in the soft maples is considerably wider than that in the hard maples and has a lighter heartwood color.
Maple lumber sometimes has olive or greenish black discolored areas known as mineral streak or mineral stain, which may be due to injury. Maple wood stains well and takes a high polish. It is intermediate in gluing and has low decay resistance. The wood turns well, is harder to work than softer woods, and has high nail-holding ability. It stains and polishes well, but is intermediate in gluing.
COLOR: Heartwood is creamy white to light reddish brown; sapwood is pale to creamy white.
GRAIN: Closed, subdued grain, with medium figuring and uniform texture. Occasionally shows quilted, fid- dleback, curly or bird’s-eye figuring. Figured boards often culled during grading and sold at a premium. VARIATIONS WITHIN SPECIES AND GRADES: Black maple (B. nigrum) is also hard; other species are classified as soft.
HARDNESS (JANKA): 1450
DIMENSIONAL STABILITY: Average (change coefficient .00353).
DURABILITY: Dense, strong, tough, stiff; excellent shock resistance. Markedly resistant to abrasive wear.
SAWING/MACHINING: Density makes machining difficult.
SANDING: Sands satisfactorily. Fair resistance to splitting.
FINISHING: Takes neutral finish well; does not stain uniformly.
Meranti Shorea genus, >135 species
Jeff Huss found a small supply of this Filipino mahogany at a bluegrass jam and has been searching for more ever since. Its' fiddleback figure looks wonderful. There is little to say about it since it is a mahogany. “It looks amazing. At first I thought it was Mahogany, but the smell told me it's Meranti. The smell somewhat reminds me of fresh cut carrots! It has a very nice tap tone + it's light. It's quite hard too: I couldn't dent it using my thumbnails... Its grain is a LOT shorter than Mahogany. Meaning it's brittle. Also, it tends to contain a lot of empty pores and chalk-like grain, which I'm sure are not only going to stuff up vibration but also be a bugger to finish.”
A low cost timber favored more for its stability and structural strength than tonal properties. Allows factories to build low cost guitars that work properly, even if their tone isn't that spectacular! Used with some success in ukes.
A very strong, heavy and hard wood with medium stiffness. Heartwood is rich dark brown with darker wavy lines. The yellows, pinks and orange/reds appear in marble like grains to make this an exquisite wood. Grain is slightly wavy. Growth rings are defined. Not lustrous, but has a fragrance. Easily worked, and has little resistance or blunting effect with the use of hand and machine tools. Difficult to stain, but takes glue well. Durable and stable wood, with a pleasant sound, it has been used by Bill Burke of Flagstaff. Bell-like tone. But warning...... its hard hard hard wood. Could turn out very trebley if not carved and tuned correctly. Takes a high polish.
Mesquite Lumber is difficult to cut and dry and downgrading in the process is common, but it does produce a hard and strong wood with high bending and crushing strengths when successful. It has a relatively strong grain pattern with some interesting swirls when you get around the limb buds. It can exhibit some of the traditional figures such as quilted and fiddleback if you are lucky. Mesquite lumber can vary significantly in color depending on the source ranging from pale straw to medium chocolate or reddish brown and some with almost a deep purple tinge. Higher grades are rare and expensive.
COLOR: Light brown to dark reddish brown.
GRAIN: High in character, with ingrown bark and mineral streaks.
VARIATIONS WITHIN SPECIES AND GRADES: One grade; moderate color variations.
DIMENSIONAL STABILITY: Excellent (change coefficient .00129).
DURABILITY: Dense and very strong. End-grain cut has excellent resistance to abrasion and shock.
SAWING/MACHINING: Very good machining qualities.
SANDING: Plainsawn can be sanded to a smooth surface; end-grain requires #16 grit sandpaper to flatten. Splits easily.
FINISHING: No known problems.
Janka 2345Specific gravity is 0.8, 50lf/ft3, density 0.53-.58
Monkeypod Pithecebium saman, Rain Tree
1) Sound is between Koa and Mahogany. Can be very figured, no two sets alike. Golden amber & chocolate browns, similar to Black Walnut in character. Mellow and balanced, not loud. Between Mahogany & Koa is a good enough explanation of tone, but the information available doesn't go into how broad a range it can produce; the smoothness, fullness, clarity and transparency of tone. This is one on which I am confused a bit. Some call it Mimosa, which is not so likely to get large enough for guitars. I don’t think that is correct, however. I have seen Monkeypod items in Hawaii and assume that it is the same Monkeypod which is used for tonewood. It looks more like the second set, below. And then I came across this:
2) Monkey Pod (Cassia marilandica)
Monkey-pod originated in Central and South America, but has been successfully transplanted in many tropical countries. It has been used for years for carving and bowls, but has recently found favor with guitar builders. Monkey-pod is a golden amber color with dark streaks sometimes resembling Koa or Acacia. Its’ tonal characteristics are similar to mahogany and it has even been used as soundboard material.
Monkey-pod has a golden amber color with dark streaks sometimes resembling Koa or Black Acacia. It produces a woody, pulsing tone without losing the clear high frequencies. Monkey-pod has very wide pores that normally can only be filled with several coats of epoxy. As I avoid the use of epoxy (epoxy has a devastating effect to the sound and responsiveness of a guitar), the shellac and Old Italian violin finish of a monkey-pod guitar is not as lustrous as on a maple or kotibe guitar. But the overall appeal is nevertheless spectacular.
Monteray Cypress Cuprssus macrocarpa
Because Monterey Cypress grows in areas subject to strong winds, the trees are often leaning substantially which tends to load the wood with tension. This can make the wood a challenge to work with. If a board is made flat and true and then resawn, it will often warp substantially because some of the tension was released. If the tree happened to grow vertically the wood is a dream to work with and is exceptionally stable, close to Walnut. Classified as a soft wood, it is harder than some hardwoods, Poplar comes to mind. Monterey Cypress carves beautifully and takes detail well. Once cut, it will oxidize to a warm orange hue over time. The hues have a pinkish tone, but the overall appearance is one of a creamy luster. It is a stronger and more reasonably priced alternative to Spanish Cypress. It is indistinguishable from Spanish Cypress in terms of sound production. It's a little stronger than Spanish cypress, works nicely, glues and finishes well.
Morado Bolivia MLachaerium sp, Bolivian Rosewood, Pau Ferro
It is also known as Bolivian or Santos "rosewood", caviuna, cabiuna, pau ferro.
It ranges from a light violet brown to reddish brown in color with occasional olive and black streaks. Finer in texture than most rosewoods, it is a close visual substitute for East Indian rosewood, and has very similar tonal properties. Used for similar purposes of Brazilian rosewood, such as turnery, cabinets, fine furniture, specialty items, and decorative veneers. Heartwood color is brown to dark violet brown, frequently with streaks throughout and a waxy feel. Sapwood is slightly yellow, white or gray. Straight to irregular grain. Fine to coarse texture. Lustrous. Occasional walnut fragrance. Workability varies from fair to excellent.
Specific gravity 0.65-0.75. 49-57lb/ft3
Mountain Ash Australia Eucalyptus regnans
The timber is bone white and despite a coarse texture, is easy to work. It can exhibit a fiddleback figure.
It’s use has been limited to the Australian builders but it makes a very fine neck and back & sides wood.
Jack Spira says: ”Ash is beautiful wood to work with. Its very stable and very strong, as well as being quite lightweight. It’s the closest Australian native I’ve found that can be used in place of Honduran mahogany. I use it for necks often and have found it very reliable. I would use it for backs and sides much more often than I do, but its color is not popular. I love the sound of it as back and sides. It’s warm and clear at the same time. Not really the same sound as mahogany, but I think anyone who likes a mahogany Martin 000, would like the sound of Mountain Ash.” The tone is much like mahogany with greater clarity- something like a cross between Mahogany and Maple.
Mountain Ash has a Janka rating of 1010 and a Specific Gravity around 1.1.
Movingui Distemonanthus benthamianus, African Satinwood
The sapwood ranges from white to straw, but the heartwood is brilliant golden yellow and can exhibit a ribbon pattern or curly figure. It has an an interlocked grain with a fine texture. Due to a high silica content, Movingui has a tendency to blunt tools. It is used for back an sides for guitars, where it’s light weight allows it to compare favorably to mahogany. However Tim McKnight says: “The tone has everything that Mahogany has and more. It doesn’t have the overpowering midrange bite but is more balanced.” The tone of Movingui roughly falls between Koa and Honduran Mahogany- it has more balance than Mahogany but slightly less overtones than Koa.
1230 on Janka scale.
Myrtle Umbellularia californica, Pepperwood, Bay Laurel, California-Laurel
This is yet another wood that reminds one of maple in appearance and working properties, though its' texture is a bit coarser. Its basic straw color is often flavored with an amazing array of colors and figure, most frequently a maple-ish fiddleback. Myrtlewood is both beautiful and distinctive when finished. The timber is a rich golden-brown with great variance in color and grain patterns. It is a hard, heavy fine grained wood. Curly timber is often found in the older trees.
Myrtlewood, is a rare evergreen , an exotic hardwood, that grows in a very limited range along the Pacific Coast, from extreme northern California through southern Oregon. Oregon Myrtle, also known as California Bay Laurel or Pepperwood, ranges in color from blonde-yellow to taupe and makes very nice guitars. No two sets look alike, thus each guitar built is an original! Tonally it is similar to Maple, clear and bright with nice projection, but it is much easier to bend than Maple. For this reason it is a great wood for beginners. Les Stansell uses this wood on his fine classical guitars, and Robert Ruck has commented that it compares favorably to any of the traditional flamenco woods and recommends it on all levels.
It is an extremely stiff wood with an interlocking grain that is very resistant to splitting. Its density and hardness ranges between Mahogany and Rosewood……its tonal response has much clarity and sustain, often compared to Mahogany and Koa. For those with an open mind, Oregon Myrtle can produce an extraordinary guitar, however the more traditional players have not yet warmed up to its unusual look. Very similar to maple with clear, bright trebles and great projection.
Myrtlewood occurs in beautifully figured and burled patterns, and in a wide range of colors. It is very hard wood with fine interwoven fiber. Tonally, it has superb projection and sustain, and a very full and beautifully balanced crisp, woody sound, which also offers a hint of depth. This superior tonewood is perfect for both acoustic and electric guitars. Bends like a dream. Very easy to work. Gorgeous figure with a beautiful chatoyance.
Myrtlewood is probably the most exotic wood growing in North America. It is often highly figured and beautifully burled, with a wide range of grain patterns and colors. It’s moderately light in weight at about 3 1/2 lbs/bf, but very strong and hard. The grain is even, fine, and interlocking, with very few widely scattered pores, barely visible to the eye. In addition to its exceptional beauty and obvious applications in furniture and architecture, Myrtlewood has exceptionally fine tonal qualities and is prized for use in musical instruments.
Spalted Myrtlewood is a woodworkers’ and luthiers’ dream come true. Maple and other woods can provide great visual appeal when spalted, but the wood is usually structurally degraded. Shaping and finishing can be problematic, and tonal qualities are lost. Spalted Myrtlewood is structurally solid, so much so that it can be used for acoustic guitars, yielding superior tonal quality and incredible eye appeal.
It is an excellent wood for machining, turning, boring, mortising, bending etc. Sharp tools should be used to avoid “burning” or “tear out”. It forms good strength glue bonds and takes a finish well, without need of fill. Finish sanding requires a finer grade of paper to avoid scratches. Figured wood and burl are dazzling when finished in a clear coat. Myrtlewood is seldom stained, but if a color change is desired, dye or transparent stain is preferable to pigment based stain.
Myrtle is easier to bend than other Western woods like Big Leaf Maple. It has nice bright tap tone and projects well. Colors range drastically even in the same log so that a range from golden yellow, green, black, brown, tan, and violet can exist. Each set is unique, making each guitar a one of a kind. Flame or fiddleback is a rare quality that few sets posses. Special has exceptional figure, high figure has great figure, good has gentle figure or color.
Myrtlewood has the powerful voice of rosewood coupled with all the clarity, brightness and balance of maple. It ranges from an elegant whitish/straight grained look, to yellow/green with flame. The tonal personality of Myrtlewood is consistent even if the look varies. It has the power of rosewood along with the balance, brightness and clarity of maple.
Oregon Myrtle has a Janka rating of 1270 and a Specific Gravity ranging from 0.51-0.55.
Narra Pterocarpus indicus, Amboyna, Angsana
Narra is a wood that comes from the Solomon Islands. Its color is similar to Koa -golden tan to cinnamon brown. Sets may have a dazzling bees-wing figure and interlocking grain. It seems to be a little harder than most Koa and should be a good choice for fingerstyle steel string guitars. Beautiful shades of gold to golden brown with a gorgeous curly figure. Heartwood consists of light yellow, golden brown, reddish brown to red. Sapwood is a defined pale yellow or slightly white color. Grain is interlocked, sometimes wavy, with dark growth bands. Moderately fine to moderately coarse texture. Slight luster, with a fragrant scent. Easy to work using both hand and machine tools.
Narra is in the same family as Padauk and is sometimes marketed as Golden Padauk or Golden Rosewood. Narra is also called New Guinea Rosewood. It is not a rosewood. It is easy to work and has a really nice tap tone. It is an underused wood. If you have ever worked with Padauk, it is the same in terms of stiffness and it bends on a Fox style bender with no problem. It has an open pore similar to Walnut and not as big a pore as Koa. One thing that will knock you out is that when you sand or cut it, it is as sweet a smell as most rosewoods. No matter how nice the pictures below look, it is much nicer in person. The overall color of the wood is gold tones but there can be streaks of pinks and reds in it as well. It catches the light as well as Koa, so no matter what it will make a striking guitar. Narra is not imported as much as Padauk. In most of its habitat it is not at risk. It is usually separated by distance from the Padauk as being in the same family, they will cross pollinate and Paduak is desirable as solid and dark as possible. Hybridized Pterocarpus (the family they are in) will range in color between very light looking more golden and less red to all Padauk which can be very deep red with some subspecies looking more golden brown in between. More builders are looking at alternative woods that are sustainably harvested such as Padauk and Narra. Some sets exhibit a burl figure creating a unique bookmatched pattern. The luxurious Amboyna burl grows on the Narra tree.
Specific gravity is 0.52, 40lb/ft3
Oak Quercus sp.
Oak is coarse and its large pores are hard to fill, but its availability in home improvement stores makes it widely available. Quartered oak is common at lumberyards. The only thing wrong with oak instruments is that they look so much like furniture. White (below) is less interesting than red oak. I had a piece of old red oak that was almost bright red, just spectacular (last picture).
Oak has proven to be a top of the line wood when it comes to concert instrument construction. It is not always available. The Tasmanian variety is extremely rare. It produces a full sound full of harmonics and it ranks with the best tonewoods woods on the planet. It looks gorgeous and works perfectly with Spruce, Cedar or redwood.
The sapwood of oak is white to very light brown, while the heartwood is light to dark brown in the white oak group and reddish brown in the red oak group. Oak wood has a course texture; it is heavy, straight-grained, hard, tough, very stiff, and strong. Fast-grown oak, with wide rings, is stronger and heavier than slow-grown oak. Oak wood has good working properties. It machines and glues well and holds fasteners extremely well. It tends to split when nailed, unless predrilled. Oak finishes well, but shrinks considerably. May cause allergic bronchial asthma, rhinitis, and dermatitis.
COLOR: Heartwood and sapwood are similar, with sapwood lighter in color; Red Oak is slightly redder than white oak.
GRAIN: Open, red is slightly coarser (more porous) than white oak. Plainsawn boards have a plumed or flared grain appearance; riftsawn has a tighter grain pattern, low figuring; quartersawn has a flake pattern, some- times called tiger rays or butterflies.
VARIATIONS WITHIN SPECIES AND GRADES: More than 200 subspecies in North America; great variation in color and grain, depending on the origin of the wood and corresponding differences in growing seasons. Northern, Southern and Appalachian red oak can all be divided into upland and lowland species. Because they grow more slowly, upland species generally have a more uniform grain pattern than lowland species, with more growth rings per inch.
DIMENSIONAL STABILITY: Average (change coefficient .00369 - red, .00365 - white).
DURABILITY: Stiff and dense; resists wear, with high shock resistance, though red is less durable than white oak.
SAWING/MACHINING: Above average in all machining operations except shaping.
SANDING: Red sands satisfactorily, better than white oak. Good resistance to splitting.
FINISHING: Strong stain contrast because of large pores.
Janka: 1290(red), 1360 (white) Specific gravity is 0.77, 48lb/ft3
Olivewood Olea europenea, Mediterranean Olive
Gold to black in color, can be highly figured, dense, oily, beautiful golden brown lumber with brown and black streaks running through it. These trees are usually only harvested when they are too old to produce olives or are damaged by disease or nature. Olives are usually pruned to keep the olives close to the ground so long lengths in olive are uncommon. Olive can also come with tiger striping and burl.
Wild Olive Wood - (Olea capensis macrocarpus) A rare hardwood/tonewood from Zambia. Beautiful colors, contrast and light figuring combine to yield exquisite beauty. The extreme density, (approx. 1.05, very similar to Ebony), yields bright tonal qualities, making Wild Olive a desirable tonewood.
Specific gravity 0.89, 4.6 wt/board foot
Osage Orange Maclura pomifera, Bois d' Arc
This beautiful hardwood ages to a golden tan or Russet brown. Several luthiers have stated that Osage Orange was a "drop-in replacement of Brazilian Rosewood or even Superior to it." Tim McKnight has said its tap tone is similar to the rosewoods but it has less bass response. On the other hand it is less muddy and has the clarity you wish you could get, along with overtone complexity. Very hard and dense and figure is very rare. Though working the wood is difficult due to its hardness, its exceptional dimensional stability makes the extra work well worth the effort. Most trees never reach sufficient size to be used for bodies of guitars.
The sapwood of Osage Orange is narrow and light yellow, while the heartwood is golden to bright orange, which darkens upon exposure. The heartwood can also contain red streaks. It has no characteristic odor or taste. The wood is very hard, heavy, tough, resilient and takes a high luster. It is ring porous and commonly confused with black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia). Osage Orange is difficult to work due to its hardness. It holds glue and screws well.
Ovangkol Tropical West Africa Guibortia ehie , Shedua
Over a decade ago, Taylor introduced the world to a pair of new tonewoods, the first being Ovangkol. An African relative of rosewood, it’s a great sounding wood that shares many of rosewood’s tonal properties, with a slightly fuller midrange and a top end that’s not quite as bright as maple. Being lesser known than rosewood, Ovangkol has been a sleeper hit over the years, asserting itself as an instant contender among unsuspecting players who test-drive a variety of Taylor models. Ovangkol (also called Shedua and Amazaqoue) has been in use by several of the larger high-end factories for several years now, most notably Taylor, Lowden and Avalon, but its combination of affordability, beauty and tonality has made it a favorite with a growing number of hand makers as well.
Goes well with most applications: players who perhaps don’t have predefined tonal preferences, who may be generalists in their style of play, and who are looking for a well-rounded, all-purpose solid wood guitar. It works well with different body shapes.
From West Africa, the figure is similar to Indian Rosewood, with dark gray straight lines over a golden-brown or olive-brown background. It comes from the same family as Bubinga, sharing many tonal qualities, and has a similar interlocking grain pattern. It is reasonably easy to bend and plane and it finishes well. Ovangkol is a wood of medium density. It has a light-brown color with dark stripes. Remarkable are also frequent shades to to green and red, which leads to a quite attractive lively appearance.
Montreal luthier Michael Greenfield says: “Ovangkol...who knew?! What a great alternative tonewood. As there is a lot of it around, the logs are large and the sets are very on quarter and STRAIGHT. What a pleasure to build with. Bends and glues well... .not too hard on edge tools. It is not quite as dense as most Rosewoods, which can be a good thing, especially on larger bodied guitars as you don’t have to combat the problem of clashing overtones -there is better separation between notes.” He went on to say that his latest Ovangkol guitar is a ”monster” and mentioned that tonally it falls nicely ”between Koa and Rosewood”.
Ovangkol or shedua is from Western Africa near the Ivory Coast. It has the depth of Rosewood but has the much better snap associated with medium density woods such as Koa and Walnut. The grain is interlocked and the texture is moderately coarse. Works fairly easily with hand or machine tools but saws slowly. Ovangkol is a very attractive wood and is highly sought for musical instruments.
CHARACTER: Ovangkol timber grain is interlocked and the texture is moderately coarse
TONE: Ovangkol back and sides sits between the warmth and depth of strong Rosewood and the sparking trebles and highs of Maple
It is characterized by golden-brown to dark brown heartwood with dark gray to black streaks. It is a straight-grained wood that occasionally exhibits a beautiful wavy figure.
One luthier said, “The writer only made one guitar from this wood, and I only include it because it was such an ordeal that he thought you should be warned. The board was too pretty to resist, a cinnamon-brown with modest flame figure and darker streaks of color.”
Paduak Pterocarpus soyauxii/dalbergioides
Padauk is a bright orange or almost crimson wood when freshly cut, but oxidizes to a darker, rich purple-brown over time - although it stays redder than Indian Rosewood. Padauk is a unique hardwood from Africa that has a bright Vermillion color when first cut. Over time, it slowly ages to a purple Rosewood color (maybe to brown). Slightly harder and heavier than Indian Rosewood it is a good back and side wood in all respects - stable, easy to work, with a strong tone. Noted luthier Dana Bourgeois has said that, “Padauk is the most promising replacement for generic Rosewood”. The lumber is readily available in larger planks, so the sets are moderately priced and exhibit good, straight grain throughout most pieces. Huge logs are available, producing well quartered, straight grain sets. Larger sizes are sometimes available (for basses and baritones).
Slightly harder and heavier than Indian Rosewood, it is a good back and side wood. It is stable, easy to work, with a strong tone. This is a very suitable Rosewood substitute tonally and visually. It may be a little difficult to bend compared to the ease of bending of some of the more pliable woods. Sides in this species are slightly harder to bend and may crack in the process.
African padauk is almost redundant since the other padauk from the Andaman Islands, off the coast of Indian, hasn't been exported for a number of years. The African version while initially bright orange when freshly cut, oxidizes to a more subtle orange brown in time. Its sound falls somewhere between Maple and Mahogany. Some claim that it makes "killer" sounding guitars when paired with a cedar top. Often reasonably priced.
COLOR: Heartwood is vivid reddish orange when freshly cut, darkening to reddish- or purple-brown or black over time. Sapwood is cream-colored. Very uniform in color.
GRAIN: Straight to interlocked; coarse texture.
VARIATIONS WITHIN SPECIES AND GRADES: Slight variation in color.
DIMENSIONAL STABILITY: Excellent (change coefficient .00180).
DURABILITY: Average to high durability.
SAWING/MACHINING: Saws well, but requires a slow feed rate; carbide tooling recommended. Machines easily, with some tearing of the interlocked grain.
SANDING: Sands satisfactorily.
FINISHING: Takes finishes well; some have found that water-based finishes hold color better. Has a tendency to bleed.
COMMENTS: Dermatological and respiratory allergic potential.
Palo Escrito Dalbergia paloescrito, Mexican rosewood
It is a tan wood with reddish-brown lines that create unusual patterns in some sets, much like cocobolo. This is a lighter-weight type of rosewood. Guitars with back and sides made of palo escrito are known for a sweet high end and good punch. Palo Escrito is a relatively light rosewood with the tone and workability comparable to Indian Rosewood. It shows attractive shades of red and golden brown, and is often figured. Palo Escrito is considered a premier tonewood in Mexico due to its even and lively tone.
Palo Escrito is the premiere native back and side wood used by the luthiers in Paracho, Mexico. It is a true Rosewood, but differs from Indian Rosewood visually with slightly wider grain, more figure, and lighter color. It is also lighter in weight. Although Palo Escrito is a natural for flamenco guitars and classical builders like Kenny Hill and Dake Traphagen have enjoyed using it, and steel string builder James Goodall has been very enthusiastic about the tone of the guitars he’s used it on.
CHARACTER: Palo Escrito Rosewood guitar timber has wider grain, more figure than East Indian Rosewood
TONE: Palo Escrito Rosewood back and sides tonewood is compared to East Indian Rosewood, used by Classical luthiers
Panama Rosewood Dalbergia tucerencis.
This rosewood from Panama is not listed by the U.S. Forest Products Lab. Bark, leaves, and seeds were sent to the Madison lab, and all they could ascertain was that it was indeed a Dalbergia. It is in appearance very similar to Honduran rosewood, straight and fine grained, but it is lighter in weight, and tends toward brown in color. Most luthiers who have tested this wood say it compares well to Brazilian rosewood, and we believe that it's an excellent replacement wood for the vintage Brazilian look. It's one of the few true rosewoods apart from Indian rosewood that can still be had at a reasonable price. In some of the more recent shipments, the sets display a great variation in appearance, with most having what appear to be drying checks in the panels. (It is only appearance, no splits, checks, voids.)
Pau Ferro Machaerium scleroxylum, Morado or Bolivian Rosewood
1) Pau Ferro is not technically a rosewood and is less dense and less glassy-sounding. The sound more closely resembles Walnut. However, this wood is among the favorites for building an exceptional quality guitar. It is beautiful, has no pores to fill (so it finishes superbly), and is tonally similar to rosewood, with fast, clean response that represents the entire spectrum of the tonal register well. Cosmetically, Pau Ferro can range from chocolate brown with intense figure to perfectly straight-grained quarter sawn stock that tends to lean more toward tan and gold hues (vs. EIR’s browns, reds and purples).
Pau Ferro's contrasting bands of brown, gold, yellow and black give the wood a beautiful and warm appearance. Normally a straight grained wood, Pau Ferro does occasionally exhibit interesting figure. It is a nonporous wood which results in a very nice finish. Heavier that Indian Rosewood, Pau Ferro has a nice tap tone and is tonally similar to Indian Rosewood.
2) Jacaranda Pardo is a South American wood sometimes called Bolivian Rosewood or Pau Ferro. The Northern variety exhibits dark stripes through a dark tan that resembles striped Ebony versus the Southern variety that visually resembles Brazilian Rosewood. Jacaranda Pardo is a great tonewood that is dense (heavier than Brazilian & East Indian Rosewood), closed grain and nonporous. It is beautiful to finish. Note that a small percentage of the population is allergic to this wood.
Pau Rosa (Swartzia fistulo des)
A very hard wood with a specific gravity of .85 Beautiful salmon color with cream sapwood. Tap tone is very similar to Honduran Rosewood. A real sleeper that can make for a wonderful guitar.
Also known as African Tulip, this beautiful African hardwood contains beautiful orange, red, pink & golden colors. It is dense and, has bright tap tone which is similar to Rosewoods, glues well, and takes a high natural polish.
Pear Pirus communis
Stained black, pear was often used for fingerboards on vintage banjos. Reddish colored wood of a medium density, almost without any visible structure. Flamed pieces can appear rather attractive.
Pernambuco Caesalpinia echinata, Brazilwood
Botanically, several tree species are involved, all in the family Fabaceae (the pulse family). The term "Brazilwood" is most often used to refer to the species Caesalpinia echinata, but it is also applied to other species. The tree is also known by other names, as iIirapitanga, Tupi for "red wood"; or pau de pernambuco, named after the Brazilian state of Pernambuco.
Excessive exploitation led to a steep decrease in the number of Brazilwood trees in the 18th century, causing the collapse of this economic activity. Presently, the species is nearly extirpated in most of its original range. Brazilwood is listed as an endangered species by the IUCN, and it is cited in the official list of endangered flora of Brazil - restoration of the species in the wild being hampered by the fact that it is a climax community species, which will only develop well when planted amongst secondary forest vegetation. Although lots of saplings have been distributed and/or sold during recent decades, that has led to the tree being planted in places outside its natural range, with somewhat poor results, such as happens with Brazilwood trees used for urban landscaping in the city of São Paulo, whose development and flowering is usually hampered by the colder environment.
The trade of Brazilwood is likely to be banned in the immediate future, creating a major problem in the bow-making industry which highly values this wood (see Smithsonian, April 2004, cover story).
Pernambuco is the equal of BRW tonally, although it is different. It tends to be more balanced: less "glassy" in the trebles, and has a little less tendency to boom in the bass. Overall just a beautiful, balanced, articulate tone, vibrant in all registers. And it is visually very beautiful. It only grows in what remains of the Brazilian Atlantic forest. It's rarely available in guitar sets, and not at all from the usual commercial guitar wood suppliers. Factories have none of it, and only a few hand builders do, so most people may not get to hear a guitar made from it. It's now on the CITES Appendix II, but an exception to CITES has been made for its import and export for use in musical instruments. This came about because of lobbying by classical music organizations, since pernambuco has been the wood of choice for over two centuries for violin (etc.) bows. But the exception fortunately applies to all musical instrument use.
Pernamabuco neck in electric guitar vs. mahogany:
a) The pernambuco neck guitar was by at least 30% louder than the mahogany neck guitar.
b) The definition of the Pernambuco was unreal. Every note came up like a bell. Perhaps, this justifies up to a certain extend, the louder sound. The chords had a rich and tight sound. The mahogany neck guitar could not separate the notes that well and the chords sounded a bit muddy.
c) Pernambuco produced a lot more overtones and harmonics. With the Mahogany neck, either a person must try harder to get them and in most cases they are kept in a low level
d) The sustain also was at least 20% longer.
e) The tone is fantastic. The sound is very open. It has thick midrange with a lot of nice sweet presence. The bass notes are extremely defined and clear. The highs are also very thick and musical.
f) Also, when the gain of the amplifier was increased to the maximum, the pernambuco reacted extremely well and the sound was very dynamic and still clear. The faster you play, the more notes you could hear. The mahogany instead produced a muddy sound. The notes were all mixed up.
g) The pernambuco had by far the superior attack. For the clean sounds the attack was reminiscent of the old Fenders, but with more clarity. When distortion was applied, they produced very tight and rich sound, perhaps better than a humbucker. They had a kind of natural compression with more dynamics.
Obviously, clarity, definition, sustain and dynamics are associated with the velocity of sound. Pernambuco has the highest velocity of sound among the tonewoods. The tone though has to do with the pernambuco's characteristics, which are superb. In the mahogany neck a lot of information is blocked and when the gain is increased and the signal becomes more complicated the results are even worse. Even the mahogany with the Brazilian rosewood fretboard cannot rival the pernambuco. Its sound is really good, but compared to pernambuco is like comparing a good road sport car with a Formula 1 prototype.
Another important point is that due to the very close pores, the pernambuco finishes extremely well with oil, which is the best finish for this type of wood. Additionally, pernambuco is very stable. The guitar (we are talking acoustic now) arrived a month ago. It came from Georgia in the US where the temperature was -5 C with humidity 80% to Greece where the temperature was + 12 and the humidity 55%. The neck needed no further adjustments. The writer expounded on the wonderful tonal and working qualities of the wood (that you can thin it right down and it's still stiff and resonant), and then proved it by playing the guitar. It sounded fantastic, with great volume and projection, a nice even tone, and great overall frequency response. Part of that is to do with the way Bruce Sexauer builds guitars, of course, but a lot of it is due to the wood choice. He told us that specimens of the tree that produced tonewood wide enough for guitars were very rare,
It is a VERY rare tone-wood, especially in sizes large enough for 100% quarter sawn 2 piece backs. The trees are very small in diameter, similar in size to Madagascar RW trees. You must be extremely fortunate to be able to purchase some sets that are both quarter sawn and very figured. It is a strange looking shade of burnt orange, almost pumpkin in color but the tone and sustain more than makes up for the odd appearance.
Pernambuco is a very low dampening wood but it’s much denser than BRW. It has low frequency response that is stronger than BRW and more similar to African Black Wood, but it still has excellent mids and high frequencies. It should be closely compared to ABW rather than to BRW.
The only native American ebony. Has been used on fretboards and bridges. The common persimmon tree yields hard, creamy wood that occasionally has black streaks near the heart. Texas persimmon has more dark heartwood. The wood is not all that common commercially. It would probably have to be dyed to assume the traditional role of ebony as a fingerboard and as peghead veer, although the heartwood is nearly black. It polishes nicely. Persimmon is a gorgeous yellow wood with a striking grain and it is extremely hard which gives it a characteristically clear tone.
Peruvian Walnut Juglans Neotropica
Peruvian Walnut is a true walnut. It can be a rich dark chocolate brown color, sometimes broad, dark lines. May have awesome figure. Peruvian walnut is slightly more dense than Walnuts, which may increase volume and/or projection.
CHARACTER: Peruvian Walnut acoustic guitar tonewood is more dense than other Walnuts
TONAL: Peruvian Walnut acoustic guitar back and sides may have more volume and projection than walnuts
Pistachio Pistacia vera
This is the variety of Pistachio grown commercially for nut production. The wood is very dense and hard, similar to Ebony. The colors include green, red, white, and tan to dark brown, in stunning patterns of contracting bands. Pistachio has excellent tonal qualities and a most unique look. Almost impossible to find in sizes big enough for bodies. Fingerboards can be found.
**Port Orford Cedar Chamaecyparis lawsoniana
Actually a rare variety of Cypress (Lawson Cypress) which grows along the S. Oregon Coast where it's endured for over 50 million years. This is an incredibly light weight, yet tough wood possessing phenomenal tonal qualities. Acoustic and electric guitars made of POC are light weight and sound magnificent. The tone of Port Orford Cedar could be described as bold and direct throughout the fundamentals with little overtone content. It has slightly better headroom to Sitka spruce and but responds to the touch in the same way.
Port Orford Cedar –– also known as Port Orford White Cedar, Oregon Cedar, Ginger Pine or Lawson Cypress, is a rare variety of Cypress that grows in a very limited range along the Pacific Coast, from far northern California into southern Oregon. Despite harsh conditions, these trees have existed in the Pacific NW for over 50 million years and can grow to 180 feet and live to be over 500 years old.
Port Orford Cedar is one of the more unique woods growing in North America. It is a creamy, off-white color with straight, somewhat uneven medium grain and often completely free of knots. It has an almost ginger like aroma. Ring counts can exceed 40/inch. It is very light, yet very strong, (an unusual combination), and highly workable for carving, turning & machining. It’s highly prized for boat building, cabinetry, furniture, doors, built-ins, etc. Port Orford Cedar is also one of the most acid, pest and rot resistant woods known and highly sought in China and Japan to make coffins. In addition to its exceptional beauty, strength, and durability, it has also been used for back and sides as well as necks. Much of the US production is exported to Japan for furniture.
The lumber has a faint yellowish white hue with very fine grain and an even texture. It is stiffer and lighter than Alaskan Yellow Cedar. The aroma is peppery which is typical of the cypress family. In use, it is durable and easy to work. It was once used as arrow shafts due it’s split resistance. Luthiers find it is more resistant to splitting than any other top wood. It has a Janka rating of 720 and a specific gravity of 0.44.
Port Orford Cedar is both beautiful and distinctive when finished. Because of the nearly white color, it has often been stained to mimic other woods. It takes a high polish and has a lovely satiny look to it. It forms good strength glue bonds and takes a finish very well without need of fill. It’s great stiffness and lightness has appealed to flattop makers Greg Byers, James Goodall and Les Stansell.
Les Standsell says: “Oregon Cypress (Port Orford “White” Cedar) displays all the most desirable structural and resonance qualities sought after by instrument makers…….it has the highest stiffness/weight ratio of “all” wood species. In addition, when compared to all other North American softwoods, POC ranks highest in elasticity and resistance to crushing, shearing, denting and splitting. POC is ideal for Flamenco guitars as a substitute for: other Spruces and Cedars (tops and bracing)... Spanish Cypress (backs and sides)…and Spanish Cedar (necks).”
Primavera Tabebuia donnell-simthii, Spring or Paradise Wood
Similar in appearance to Mahogany, Primavera has creamy golden white colors with darker variegated lines randomly running through the wood. The iridescence in this species is strong and beautiful, combining with interlocked grain. Sometimes you'll also find ribboned figure. Primavera has excellent finishing properties with a fairly high luster. It works easily and well by hand or with power tools. The tone and volume of Primavera is excellent, with a perfect balance of bass and treble. The density is almost the same as Hawaiian Koa. Often substituted for superior hardwoods due to its easy workability. A light tan timber with darker, reddish brown streaks. Grain is wavy and interlocked, resembling mahogany in luster and texture. Medium to coarse texture. Good for steam bending. Medium blunting effect on tools. Glues, nails and screws well. An excellent finish usually can be acquired. Note: sap rises and falls with the moon's phases versus the seasons.
This gorgeous wood is found in most of Latin America. Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, North and central Honduras. It is amazingly beautiful, perhaps ideal for light guitar construction. It is far better than Cypress when comes to the Flamenco sound but the great side to this wood is that it performs fantastically well in Classical music as well making it a top choice for Flamenco/Classical Construction. In Paraguay the wood is commonly known as Paraiso (Paradise) because the Jesuits would use it to make sacred objects in the early 1600’s.
Specific gravity is 0.45, 28lb/ft3
Purple Heart is a fabulous tonewood with some of the best characteristics for a world class tonewood. It is very dense and projects marvelously. It is in the same league as African Blackwood, Lapacho and Brazilian rosewood without the drawbacks of Brazilian rosewood that is a high maintenance wood. Hard to come by. The curly variety is very scarce. Purpleheart is brown when freshly cut but oxidizes to a bright violet purple and eventually to a dark purplish brown. Hard, heavy and finely textured, purpleheart's grain is usually straight, often with a fine, curly figure. There is considerable variation in color, texture and density among the several species that account for commercial supplies of purpleheart. It is moderately hard to work but takes a glossy, lustrous finish.
Purpleheart has a creamy white/gray sapwood but like its name suggests, the heartwood is a bright, striking purple when freshly cut, darkening into a deeper purple with age. It has a medium to fine texture with a luster that ranges from medium to high; its grain is usually straight but can be wavy or irregular. Purpleheart has high bending and crushing strength and stiffness with medium resistance to shock loads.
Machining: Purpleheart has a moderate to severe blunting effect on tools; sharp, high speed steel knives therefore are recommended as are 15 degree cutting angles. It can be somewhat difficult to work with using either hand or machine tools. Some wood seems to be relatively soft textured and easy to cut and other wood has been so hard it burns all your tools, so there is a high degree of variability in cutting characteristics, depending on the piece of wood or possibly the exact species of Peltogyne that you received. Watch particularly carefully the grain direction on planing any wood that shows an interlocking grain. It has a nasty habit of tearing out when you least expect it. Purpleheart is rated moderate for steam bending if you read the text books. Pre-drilling purple heart wood is always recommended. The wood is quite brittle especially if drilling close to the end of a board. It is likely to split so tighten screws with caution. It does rate highly for turnery though and with sharp chisels can come to a beautiful sheen. Watch for burning while routing as it is pretty easy to burn if your cutter is dull or you're going too slow. Burn marks are very difficult to remove from purpleheart.
COLOR: Heartwood is brown when freshly cut, turning deep purple to purplish brown over time. Sapwood is a lighter cream color.
GRAIN: Usually straight; medium to fine texture.
VARIATIONS WITHIN SPECIES AND GRADES: Moderate to high color variation.
DIMENSIONAL STABILITY: Excellent (change coefficient .00212).
DURABILITY: Very strong and dense.
SAWING/MACHINING: Moderately difficult due to hardness; frequent sharpening of tools required; slow feed rate and carbide tooling recommended.
SANDING: Sands satisfactorily.
FINISHING: Takes finishes well; some have found that water-based finishes hold color better. Tendency to bleed with some finishes.
COMMENTS: Heartwood is very resistant to dry-wood termites. Presence of minerals in some boards may cause uneven coloration.
Janka: 1860 Specific gravity is 0.86, 54;b/ft3 Weight: 50-70 lbs/cu.ft..: a very broad range of weight depending on origin of lumber.
Red Myrtle Nothofagus Cunninghamii, Myrtle Beech, Southern Beech, Tasmanian Tiger Myrtle
Tasmanian Red Myrtle is not technically a member of the Myrtle family. It exhibits deep rich colors of red, pink, and orange, occasionally with curly figuring. Tasmanian Red Myrtle is becoming a highly sought after tonewood for its wide tonal range and warm overtones. Myrtle is a striking wood with rich reds, browns and almost orange tones; the color is vibrant combining subtle variations in tone with the texture and sheen of wavy and fiddleback features to produce a surface alive with character and individuality. Myrtle produces beautiful Burl and is becoming a highly sought after tonewood for acoustic and solid body electric guitars. Bends well, easy to work, and finishes to a high luster, Robust tap tone. A slow growing tree reaching a maximum height of 30 or 40 meters, the Myrtle tree can live for five hundred years. Nothofagus cunninghamii, does not resemble the European Myrtle, and is not related. It became known as "Myrtle" only through common usage of the early timbermen. Myrtle is a beautiful timber with deep rich colors of red, orange, brown and also pink. Myrtle produces beautiful burl wood and also Tiger Myrtle which is created by spalting. Tasmanian Tiger Myrtle and Red Myrtle are quickly becoming highly sought after tonewoods. Tiger Myrtle is a superb tonewood.
*Redwood Sequoia sempervirens, endl
Another tonally superior wood from the coastal mountains of Northern California, the only significant alternative to cedar tops is redwood. Redwood has come into its own as a legitimate tonewood. It is richer in color than cedar with darker reds. Though similar tonally to cedar, some say redwood is more robust & brighter.
Salvaged old growth Redwood can be found in burl, straight and curly grain. This beautiful tight grain wood provides the finest quality acoustic guitar soundboards, highly resonate solid bodies. Redwood has long been used for decking and other architectural features, and for fancy furniture when burled or figured. Redwood also makes very high quality acoustic guitar soundboards, highly resonate solid bodies, and stunning, intensely figured tops for electric guitars.
This is among the largest living organisms on the earth, often reaching a staggering 300 plus feet in height. It is extremely resilient to rot and infestation, so we are fortunate to be able to salvage very old stumps, (often 50 or more years old), and reclaimed beams, which still yield high quality monster curl and tight, straight grain old growth wood, without endangering the few remaining old growth groves.
The timber has a deep red hue with straight grain and can often have curly grain. Coastal Redwood is valued for its straight grained beauty, light weight, and resistance to decay. Due to old age and large size of the logs, tops can vary greatly from soft to very stiff and whilst the very best tops can display an exceptional stiffness to weight ratio, some can physically resemble cardboard. It is used for soundboards for guitars and the burls as top plates for electrics. Redwood is extremely light, but soft and brittle, so care must be used when working with Redwood. and stunning, intensely figured tops for electric guitars.
You could characterize the tone of Coastal redwood as being a crisper than Cedar with all the rich, complex overtones of cedar. Sinker redwood sounds like across between cypress and regular redwood. When the present supply of it is used, there will be no more due to changes in California environmental law. Use it with light gauge strings.
Noted luthier, Dana Bourgeois says: “Redwood is usually darker in color than cedar and often displays the same general tonal characteristics, leaning slightly toward darker tones, less definition in the bass, and lower velocity of sound.”
Tom West:"Redwood makes excellant top wood. The right piece will be light and stiff and very responsive and seem to want to ring forever.........maybe not quite that long. It is also very stable and does not move as much as spruce due to RH changes. The only knock against redwood is that it is not very resistive to a shock from a bang against another object."
Michael Bashkin: “Assuming the quality of the redwood is good, it can have an excellent strength to weight ratio and longitudinal and cross grain stiffness. In fact I find the cross grain stiffness is stiffer than many other top woods. It works well but is prone to splitting along the grain which is a bit off a mystery to me as the woods exhibits a high degree of cross grain medullary rays, or cross-grain silk.”
Redwood (Northern California) is more rich in the bass than cedar and responds to subtle playing with a round, piano-like crisp balanced sound. Lacquer and glue do not bond quite as well as the spruces. Because of this (as with Cedar), light gauge strings are recommended only on guitars with these tops. Many luthiers (i.e. Breedlove) get redwood from recycled lumber and timber salvage.
The janka of redwood is around 450 and it has a specific gravity of 0.45.
Sapele West Africa (Entandrophragma cylindricum)
This African wood is in the mahogany family and as such as acceptable to guitarists. Clear stock is more brittle than Central American mahogany and often darker in color, and the price is about the same. Flatsawn sapele often displays a wild quilt.
This is the other alternative tonewood that joined the Taylor fold over a decade ago. It’s sometimes mistakenly referred to as African mahogany because it closely resembles the West African wood khaya, which is commercially known as African mahogany. Sapele is a highly sustainable, relatively fast-growing wood. Tonally, it does everything that mahogany does, with a little extra treblezing. We’ll be able to use it for a long, long time.
Goes well with everything. Like ovangkol, it’s a great all-purpose tonewood that will deliver a consistent, balanced tone in a variety of playing applications, from fingerstyle to strumming. Its high sustainability will appeal strongly to players who want a solid wood guitar with an especially environmentally friendly outlook.
Comments: Sapele is a member of the same family (Meliaceae) that includes mahogany. Sapele also shares the warm, rich, woody mahogany tone. Premium Sapele sets show a broad range of extraordinary figure that gives it a three-dimensional appearance. This includes quilted, pommele, fiddleback, striped, blistered,and wavy. Sapele has a lustrous appearance with shades of reddish brown. It isn't a “NEW” tonewood as it has been used for some time.
As traditional Honduran Mahogany rises in price and is nearing placement on the CITES treaty, instrument makers have been experimenting more and more with other variations of Mahogany. Sapele is an African mahogany that is beautiful, plentiful, and produces wonderful guitars. Tonally Sapele is very similar to Honduran Mahogany, but cosmetically it tends to exhibit more figure. Almost all Sapele exhibits strong "ribbon" figure that is much coveted, and for an additional charge sets exhibiting intense fiddleback or quilt patterns are available.
Specific gravity is 0.55, 42lb/ft3
Silver Oak Grevillea robusta, Silky Oak, Lacewood
Variously known as Silver oak, Silk oak, and Lacewood, this beautiful wood is a native of Australia, but is now found throughout tropical and subtropical climates. Similar in density to Bigleaf maple, but easier to work, we've heard good things about this as a guitar wood. It is virtually identical to Sycamore in many characteristics, and that is a wood that we know has been used in guitar builds.
Grevillea Robusta is often referred to as Silky Oak or Silver Oak even though it is not part of the oak genus. It has its natural habitat in Australia, but has been introduced to subtropical regions around the world commencing in the mid to late 19th century and is widely planted in India, Sri Lanka, Central & South America and Africa.
Dubbed the most workable wood in the World in the 1800s, Silver Oak was originally from Australia. Now it grows in various other regions of the tropics to as far north as L.A. The dust from this wood is an irritant in 20% of the population. Beautiful pinks, reds, and golden tones combine with exceptional iridescent qualities to make this an excellent choice for instruments. Unique grain patterns with beautiful rays set this exotic hardwood apart from other woods. It is a relatively inexpensive choice, but is viewed by some Luthiers as preferable due to its great acoustical properties.
Jean Larrivee: “I find some people fall into the trap of "listening with their eyes" when it comes to evaluating esoteric tonewoods. If the color of the wood is light, some people prepare themselves to hear a colder sound ... if the color is dark they want to hear a warm sound. Don't fall into that trap with this Grevillea Robusta. If anything, it has a slightly more rounded attack transient, excellent bass/mid/treble balance and a very transparent midrange register. The overall sound seems to have a less aggressive edge with a few more delicate nuances ... very pleasing to the ear! “
"Siris delivers excellent bass response reminiscent of East Indian rosewood, as well as a clear midrange and treble making it an excellent guitar wood for recording and for playing live. Lighter in color yet denser than rosewood, it produces a slightly longer sustain than rosewood. Siris is typically dark orange, contrasting beautifully with the Sitka Spruce tops, tortoise colored pickguards,and grained Ivoroid bindings."(from Martin Guitar) Tonewise, it seems to fit between mahogany and Rosewood.Good sustain.. The trees are not large, perhaps glorified shrubs.
*Sitka Spruce NW North America (Coastal Rain forests of Alaska and Canada) Picea Sitchensis
Sitka spruce is the top wood standard of the modern era. It’s used on 85-90 percent of the guitars that Taylor makes. Its dynamic range is very broad, allowing for everything from aggressive strumming and flatpicking to fingerpicking. Sitka spruce is Bob Taylor’s personal favorite for an all-around great guitar.
Sitka spruce is creamy white with a pink tinge. It has long wood fibers, great resonance, dimensional stability and good gluing properties. These provide it with resilience and elasticity. Sitka spruce is stiff along and across the grain with a characteristically light weight. This creates a high velocity of sound. Sitka spruce has a strong fundamental tone with relatively few overtones. This leads to a direct, punchy tone with great headroom.
Sitka spruce has long been the staple choice for steel-string guitars made in the United States, though a handful of classical builders like it as well. It is well known for its pinkish-white color that tans nicely over the years. Sitka Spruce is an excellent choice for just about any steel-stringed flattop guitar. It is light, strong, and tends to be consistently stiffer than other varieties of spruce. In master grades the color and grain are very tight and even. Sitka is probably the most popular top selection, due to its availability and to the high yield from its characteristically large-diameter logs. Quartersawn Sitka is quite stiff along and across the grain; high stiffness, combined with the relatively light weight characteristics of most softwoods, is a recipe for high velocity of sound. A strong fundamental to overtone ratio gives Sitka a powerful, direct tone that is capable of retaining its clarity when played forcefully. Sitka Spruce (Northwest Canada & Alaska) Is the primary top wood for Martin Guitars. It provides consistent quality and straight uniform grain, longevity, and tensile strength. Tonally, it provides vibrant transmission of sound.
Dana Bourgeois wrote: “Sitka is an excellent choice of top wood, then, for players whose style demands a wide dynamic response and a robust, meaty tone. On the other side of the balance sheet, the lack of a strong overtone component can result in a “thin” tone when played with a relatively light touch-depending, of course, upon the design of the guitar and the other woods used in its construction. The break-in period for a new Sitka guitar can also be longer than that of other spruces.”
Bear Claw Sitka Spruce (Pacific Northwest) A variety of Sitka Spruce that looks like a bear has clawed across the grain of the wood. Highly appreciated for it's unique patterns.
It has a Janka rating of 510 and a specific gravity of 0.35
Snakewood letterwood, lacewood, amourette
Is it the same as Lacewood or Leopardwood?
The difficult thing about this amazing tonewood is to decide whether it looks more like a Snake or a Leopard's skin. The grain is simply amazing. Tridimensional spots on all its surface that reflect the light differently according to the angle at which it is illuminated. Spectacular! The sound of Snakewood is in the same league as Brazilian rosewood, African Blackwood, Cocobolo. It produces extremely clear trebles and deep guttural basses. A top notch tonewood on all fronts. Hard and strong wood. Heartwood is reddish brown with speckles of black appearing as hieroglyphics or snakeskin markings. Straight grain. Texture fine and even. Snakewood is brittle and splits easily. Very smooth when finished; has natural polish.
Specific gravity is 0.82-1/3, 81lb/ft3, extremely heavy.
An attractive, close grained blonde timber that is very light and which gives Flamenco Blanca guitars their characteristic brittle sound. They are light and give a clean and bright tone which is percussive, immediate, rich & earthy with immense character and faster attack. It was much used by early Spanish makers (including Torres) because it was an indigenous wood of low cost and ready availability. Can be used to make a surprisingly fine-sounding classical guitar too!
Striped Ebony New Guinea, Diospyros ebenum/crassiflora
Is exclusively government controlled, and is not an endangered species. Deeper and richer sounding than East Indian Rosewood, it is very similar to Brazilian rosewood for its reflective properties, and also has a high specific gravity. It has a striking, distinctive vertical stripe pattern, variegated dark brown, black and green. Macassar Ebony is also called Striped Ebony. Lines may swirl or be straight. Lighter lines could be sparse or may cover the entire piece as if it had a black background. There can be any number of variations of this. It works well and handles the same as black ebony.
Sycamore Plantanus occidentalis
Quartered sycamore displays a prominent lace. The heartwood usually displays straight, even textured fine grain which is pale reddish brown. When quarter sawn, possesses a distinctive fleck figure. It has good workability but may bind on saws and may display high shrinkage with warping tendency. Air drying takes long….and it is very stable in service once dry. There is much volumetric shrinkage and quartersawn is the most stable. As a tonewood, it is moderately easy to work with and produces a striking guitar.
The sapwood of Sycamore is white to light yellow, while the heartwood is light to dark brown. It is classified as moderate in weight, hardness, stiffness, shock resistance, strength in bending, endwise compression and nail holding ability. It has a close texture, glues well and resists splitting due to interlocked grain. It holds its shape well after steaming and machines well, but requires high speed cutter heads to prevent chipping. It shrinks moderately in drying and is inclined to warp when flat sawn. It is odorless, stain free and tasteless. It has a close texture, glues well and resists splitting due to interlocked grain. It holds its shape well after steaming and machines well, but requires high speed cutter heads to prevent chipping.
Rick Davis of Running Dog guitars says: ”In density, stiffness and hardness, is closer to mahogany than to the maples. It can be as soft as cardboard, floppy and generally a terrible wood for anything other than pulp. Some trees seem to produce harder, denser wood and that’s the stuff for guitars. It may be somewhat tighter-grained, but grain alone isn’t indicative of the better wood. I can only say that I weigh each board (by hefting it, not quantitatively), knock on it, push a fingernail into the surface — generally get a feeling for the individual piece before purchasing it for guitars.”
“Quartersawing is essential for the sycamore look: the rays and fleck only show up when the wood’s pretty well quartered. Some is reddish in color and, in limited experience, seems to be very dense and stiff. But the light colored wood can be equally stiff, too. Or not. Individual pieces have to be evaluated. It’s pretty easy to work. Sands and scrapes cleanly, bends well, is easy on edge tools. It is porous though so use excess glue and expect to add an extra coat or two of lacquer. I found that rewashing it was OK but it’s fibrous and tends to clog the lower guides.”
This wood is somewhere between mahogany and maple- good clean overtones like maple but with that punch and elasticity of mahogany.
Rick Davis again: “Tonally I liken it to good mahogany: it’s more clean, trebly, and melodic than dark and complex. Projection is OK. The softer sycamore does not produce much volume and gets muddy; I avoid it. As with mahogany, I like to use it with Engelmann or European spruce rather than the denser spruces. I don’t think sycamore’s lightness of tone would couple well with, i.e., red spruce’s bassiness or with cedar’s or redwood’s darkness”.
Janka rating is 770, no CITES listing. Specific gravity is 0.46
Tasmanian Blackwood Acacia melanoxion, Black Acacia
Superb species from Southern Australia. It ranks high up with African Blackwood only it is scarce and hard to come by. The looks and sound of Tasmanian Blackwood guitars are among the best that can be produced on a classical guitar. Known for deep dark green patterns and a warm mellow tone. The grain varies quite a bit from one tree to the next but the sonorous properties are very consistent and always top of the line. Koa on sterioids. A bit denser and often lower dampening than Koa.
Tasmanian Tiger Myrtle Nothofagus Cunninghamii
A slow growing tree reaching a maximum height of 30 or 40 meters, the Myrtle tree can live for five hundred years. Nothofagus cunninghamii does not resemble the European Myrtle and is not related. Like red myrtle, it became known as "Myrtle" only through common usage of the early timbermen. Myrtle is a beautiful timber with deep rich colors of red, orange, brown and also pink. Myrtle produces beautiful burl wood and also Tiger Myrtle which is created by spalting. Both Tasmanian Tiger Myrtle and Red Myrtle are quickly becoming highly sought after tonewoods. Tiger Myrtle is a superb tonewood. Not only is the grain spectacular but the sound the instrument puts out is tremendous with big bass lines, clear trebles and a separation of voices worthy of the highest ranking tonewoods on the planet. Does not need to have pores filled. The number of trees that produce this unique figure is confined to a very small area and occurs in a limited number of standing forests. Tasmanian myrtle is fine grained, even textured and works easily. It is a dense wood and tonally responsive; it has many of the same sonic properties as rosewoods. You can expect a bright, responsive high end with a well defined low end.
Tiger Myrtle is a specific type of timber from within the myrtle species, which grows in the rain forests of Tasmania. In some myrtles a black heart staining produces a figuring, which is known as tiger myrtle because of its striking lined effect reminiscent of the stripes of a tiger. Sometimes the figuring takes a more dotted form like the spots of a leopard. The figuring also goes from light to dark, creating the appearance of a landscape, which can be quite spectacular.
Mangore: “Tasmanian Tiger Myrtle is without any doubt one of the best looking tonewoods on the planet and when it comes to sound, it ranks with THE VERY BEST ! The wood offers an array of color tones that you will not hear on any other tonewood and this makes her amazingly versatile and complete as a concert instrument. Each one of the sets I used to build turned into a top notch concert guitar. The grain and fibers of the wood are so compact that the sound bounces back at an excellent speed offering the punch and presence I have felt with each single set.
1)Dalbergia variabilis, Tulip poplar, yellow poplar
Tulip wood is botanically closely related to rosewood, but has a different appearance caused by its pink stripes and its overall lighter appearance, used for bindings. Tulipwood is a creamy white color and may be streaked with the heartwood varying from pale yellowish brown to olive green. The green color in the heartwood will tend to darken on exposure to light and turn brown. The wood has a medium fine texture and is straight grained with an appearance similar to that of Maple. A versatile timber that is easy to machine and plane.
2)Dalbergia decipularis, Tulipwood, Brazilian Tulipwood
Brazilian tulipwood is a different species from other common tulipwood. A classic high-quality wood, it is very dense with a lovely figure.
Vanuatu Blackwood Reunion Island Acacia Heterophylla
The wood is fine-grained with heartwood of pink-yellow to orange-brown tones and often display fiddleback figure. Unlike the more plentiful Koa, Vanuatu Blackwood guitars are rare.
It is a very hard wood, but machines well, and can be made very thin. Routing makes a very clean edge with no tearing. Finishing takes a lot of fine sanding and virtually no filling is needed if the sanding is taken down to about 1000 grit or better. The whole panel will shine and have wonderful tactile features long before any finish is applied. The grain and the rays at right angles glisten as for good koa or curly maple. The tone of Vanuatu Blackwood is similar to Australian Blackwood & Koa, with a woody, open tone somewhere between mahogany and rosewood.
The janka of Vanuatu Blackwood is around 1200 and it has a specific gravity of 0.55.
Walnut Juglans regia/nigra
Walnut is exactly the right color for a guitar. Even the plain stuff is pretty, and figured walnut is a favorite wood. It machines wonderfully, bends like a dream (except the unpredictable fiddleback samples), is easy to find. Walnut is an excellent tonewood falling sonically between the warm dark sounds of East Indian Rosewood and the bright bell-like ring of Maple. Both Black Walnut and Claro Walnut are used, and many sets contain fantastic flamed figure, occasionally with strongly contrasting sap wood for a beautiful overall look. Walnut is also found in South America, Africa. The looks and characteristics of all of them vary somewhat.
It is hard to find an alternative to maple though tonally, many have had similar results with Californian (Claro) walnut.(Juglans California) Walnut is primarily dark gray in color and can also exhibit dramatic figuring. This rich brown colored wood offers a sound that falls somewhere between Indian Rosewood and Mahogany. It gives the woody sound of Mahogany, but also adds some of the bottom end of Rosewood. Less color to both bass and treble than mahogany. Has a spicy aroma.
Some are markedly less enthused about the tonal properties of most of the claro walnut instruments though they acknowledge that it's often quite visually attractive. It works as easily or more so than any other wood used in building.
Black Walnut is softer and less dense than rosewood and mahogany but is still very resonant. This wood has proven itself as a tonewood with large manufacturers and custom builders alike. Similar in density and grain structure to Hawaiian Koa. Black Walnut yields excellent balance with tonal characteristics that fall between Mahogany and Rosewood. The trebles have a unique earthy tone which records very distinctively. Often recommended for a flatpicked sound and mellow fingerstyle playing. With its rich brown color and occasional steaks. Black Walnut has a stripy appearance somewhat like Indian Rosewood.
The sapwood of black walnut is nearly white, while the heartwood is light brown to dark, chocolate brown, often with a purplish cast and darker streaks. The wood is heavy, hard, and stiff and has high shock resistance. Black walnut is straight grained and easily worked with hand tools and by machine. It finishes beautifully and holds paint and stain exceptionally well. It also glues and polishes well.
Walnut Is dark brown in color with a lot of figure and flame. An all-walnut guitar provides rich and warm bass with plenty of crispness on the mid and treble side. Walnut offers high value for money, with the beauty and visual impact of an all Koa guitar, but at a much lower price. Walnut Is a dark brown, highly figured specialty wood which is grown in a wide variety of locations. It provides the bright woodiness of mahogany when played lightly and much of the power of rosewood when you dig in. When properly braced, a walnut backed guitar can have a unique warmth and tonal depth.
Wade Hampton Miller: “My comparison of the sound of claro with the sound of cherry is probably the most accurate in terms of getting an idea of the sound. If you've played any Martin Smartwood guitars with cherry backs and sides, you should have an idea of the sort of sound I'm struggling to express.
Cherry is sort of "transparent" sounding, in a way, and doesn't impart a lot of its own tone colors to the sound of the guitar. Claro imparts a bit more, but not to the same extent as black walnut. There's a little bit of that "walnut snap" to the sound, but not as much as there tends to be with black walnut.
I came to this realization after playing as many walnut guitars as I could my hands on, and really liking some but finding some of the most flamboyant-LOOKING ones to be the less musically appealing. I was talking about this with luthier Roy McAlister one day, expressing puzzlement, and he told me: ‘Well, it's the black walnut guitars that appeal to your ear, but the claro walnut guitars that appeal to your eye.’ And he explained to me that claro walnut tends to grow in milder climates while black walnut grows in places with harsher winters, which is what he attributed the tonal differences to. Claro grows faster than black walnut, he said, and thus generally isn't as dense. Roy told me that when he gets orders for claro walnut guitars, he tries to get claro cut in Oregon rather than California, because the winters are colder there and he's had better musical luck with it.”
COLOR: Heartwood ranges from a deep, rich dark brown to a purplish black. Sapwood is nearly white to tan. Difference between heartwood and sapwood color is great.
GRAIN: Mostly straight and open, but some boards have burled or curly grain. Arrangement of pores is similar to hickories and persimmon, but pores are smaller in size.
VARIATIONS WITHIN SPECIES AND GRADES: Great variety of color and figure within species, as well as variation in color among boards, especially in lower grades and from material that isn’t steamed prior to kiln-drying.
HARDNESS (JANKA): 1010
DIMENSIONAL STABILITY: Excellent (change coefficient .00274).
DURABILITY: Moderately dense, very strong, good shock resistance. Not as dent-resistant as oak.
SAWING/MACHINING: Easily worked with hand tools, and has excellent machining qualities.
SANDING: Sands satisfactorily. Fair resistance to splitting.
FINISHING: Finishes nicely, with a handsome grain pattern.
Wenge Millettia laurentii
Wenge is cut from large straight trees growing in central and west Africa. The grain of the Wenge sets is tight and straight across the entire width of backs and sides. The color is chocolate-brown/near black, very similar to Ebony, with evenly spaced black veins. This wood is coarse, quite heavy, heavier than either Indian or Brazilian Rosewood and is stiffer and with large pores. Oily and a bit splintery, but bends well. With quite thin plates, the sound is similar to Indian Rosewood but with the projection of Brazilian, it cuts through and sustains well. Dark brown to black with fine black veining. A heavy, coarse-textured wood with bending and shock-resistant properties similar to ash and hickory. Hard and heavy.
COLOR: Heartwood is yellow-brown when freshly cut, turning dark brown to almost black with alternate layers of light and dark. Sapwood is yellowish-white and clearly demarcated from heartwood.
GRAIN: Straight when quartersawn; coarse texture.
VARIATIONS WITHIN SPECIES AND GRADES: Moderate variations in color.
DIMENSIONAL STABILITY: Excellent (change coefficient .00201). However, there could be significant movement in use.
SAWING AND MACHINING: Difficult due to rapid dulling of tools; carbide tooling recommended.
SANDING: Sands satisfactorily.
FINISHING: Some solvent-based stains do not dry well.
COMMENTS: Dermatological and respiratory allergic potential.
Janka: 1630 Specific gravity of 0.65-0.78.
*Western Larch USA, Larix occidentalis
Has clearly marked annual rings and a fine uniform texture. Being harder and stronger than most conifers including spruce, it is an appropriate choice for scalloped braced models providing a projective and crisp response. I would assume it is used mostly for solid-bodied guitars or as a top wood. The eastern version is called Tamarack and is a softwood that turns bright good and then looses its needles in the late Fall.
*Western Red Cedar Western North America Thuja Plicata
Western Red Cedar has traditionally been used on classical and flamenco guitars. In recent years, flattop builders have been incorporating the wood with much success on steel-stringed instruments. The tone WRC produces tends to be a bit warmer with less sparkle. Some have described the tone as “intimate.” It is enjoyable to work with this wood and it builds very good finger-style guitars.
Cedar is less dense than spruce, and that softness typically translates into a sense of sonic warmth. If Sitka has a full dynamic range, cedar makes quieter tones louder, but it also imposes more of a ceiling on high volume levels driven by an aggressive attack. If one tries to drive a cedar top hard, at a certain point it will reach a volume limit. Typically, players with a lighter touch sound wonderful on a cedar-top guitar, fingerstyle players especially — that lighter touch will be amplified a little more, and one’s attack never reaches the ceiling. Flatpickers are likely to hit the ceiling fast, and might be frustrated by an inability to get the tonal output to match their attack. Goes well with fingerstylists, players with a lighter touch, mahogany and rosewood Grand Auditorium bodies.
Western red cedar is by far the most popular cedar used in soundboards. It is common to classical guitars and is used in a strong minority of steel-strings. It has a nice red-tan color that ranges from light chocolate or honey brown to cinnamon or beige. It has a quickness of sound that exceeds any of the spruces, a higher overtone content, lower fundamental content, and lower stiffness along the grain. Additionally, cedar tops require a significantly shorter break-in period than spruce tops, a phenomenon that a few dealers of new guitars are beginning to pick up on. 'Openness' is a particularly interesting characteristic. Spruce-topped guitars can sound "tight" at first and may take some time to "open up". Normally a spruce-topped guitar needs to be played-in for a period of time (months, even years) before it’s sound is fully realized.
Since World War II, cedar has been used extensively by makers of classical guitars. Cedar-topped guitars are characteristically lush, dark-toned, and bursting with flavor. They are often less powerful in projection than their spruce cousins, however, and they tend to lose clarity near the top of their dynamic range. Having enough bottom end is never a problem for a cedar guitar, although preventing the sound from getting muddy sometimes is. Because of its pronounced weakness along the grain, it is used to its best advantage in smaller-bodied guitars or with non-scalloped braces. Redwood is usually darker in color than cedar and often displays the same general tonal characteristics, leaning slightly toward darker tones, less definition in the bass, and lower velocity of sound.
Western Red Cedar (USA, particularly the Pacific Northwest) has long been utilized for classical guitars for its vibrance and clarity of sound. Extremely light in weight compared to spruce, it generally provides a slightly louder, more open response. Balanced, warm and rich with bright trebles. Its main characteristic is that it sounds broken-in, even when new. Exceptional sound for light to very firm techniques. From light to very dark reddish-brown in color.
Western Sheoak Casuarina fraserana
The timber is a deep red color with an even and fine grain. It exhibits a large medullary ray figure which can be very attractive. Jack Spira says: ”The W A sheoak on the other hand seems a perfect density, is easy to work and bends well. I have found a marked difference in sound between the well quarter sawn backs, which have the broad medullarys going right across. “ The tone is much like a vintage mahogany with very open overtones. Jack Spira again: “ Guitars with well quartered sheoak backs have a lot of volume and projection, quite bright, but not as many overtones as blackwood I think, so a more woody, less metallic brightness. The guitars with Sheoak backs sawn on the rift, or the beautiful lace figured ones with grain going everywhere seem to make quieter, more polite sounding instruments.“
Color range is golden orange to red-orange to nearly burgundy. Not as heavy and hard as oak (the English settlers declared it weaker than English oak but similar so "She-oak"). Used in furniture and flooring (and in the past, beer barrels). Sheoak grows primarily in a small area on the south coast of Southwest Western Australia. Trees with a "lace" appearance are very rare- about 1 in 100 trees. Bird's eye lace is extremely rare- less than 25 small pieces came to the US in the last three years.
Western Sheoak has a Janka rating of around 1900 and a Specific Gravity around 0.8., 46lb/ft3
*White Pine Pinus sp.
No kidding. It's cheap and always around. Bob Benedetto made his fabled knotty pine archtop that sounds just like his other guitars. It is the least resinous pine, straight-grained and uniform textured. Creamy white sapwood, and ages toward an amber. Easily machined, glues well, and has structural integrity. Weak but stable.
Yellow Heart Euxylophora Paraensis, Pau Amarello
Yellow Heart is bright yellow in color throughout the wood. Darkens some upon exposure to air. Very consistent color and little difference between sapwood and heartwood. Fine straight grain and uniform. The dust can cause allergies. Mild unpleasant odor while working. Tiny pores. Finishes and works easily with a fine sheen. Watch for tear out when planning or twisting when in storage. Figured wood is more difficult to plane. Weight varies from about 45lbs to 48lbs per cu. ft. A relatively hard wood that has a tap tone very similar to bloodwood. It rings like a bell with great sustain. Sets can exhibit a chatoyance (shimmer) when moved or tilted.
56lb/ft3, specific gravity 0.70. Janka rating 1790.
*Yellow Cedar Callitropsis nootkatensis (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis is an older name, less accepted now), Canadian Cypress
Very stable and immune to cracks. Actually Alaskan Yellow Cedar is a cypress. Can be used with flatpick or in classical guitars (more common). Very clear and articulate, great sustain. Very aromatic. Fine and even texture with close grain and cross silking.
LMI: “It is one of the most stable of woods in terms of dimensional change due to moisture content change and so is more immune to cracking than any of the other soundboard woods (with the exception being Port Orford Cedar - another Cypress-like tonewood). Tonally, the wood is especially well suited for flatpicking steel string guitars when a strong tone with a bright attack is desired (its specific gravity is close to Sitka and Adirondack Spruces). Some classical and flamenco guitar builders report that it imbues the instrument with a chimey, clear, articulate tone with great sustain.”
Yew Taxus baccata
European Yew has a narrow, white sapwood which is sharply demarcated from the orange-brown heartwood. It takes an excellent finish, but is prone to tearing especially in cross-grained material. It can be stable and durable although the sapwood is susceptible to woodworm attack and many newer trees have spiraled trunks creating problems especially when bending sides.
As a tonewood, Yew has been only infrequently used and predominantly by the UK luthiers. It is modestly difficult to work with, although care needs to be taken when bending the sides. UK based luthier Adrian Lucas says “the color ranges from pale brown to purple in the heartwood and a creamy white in the sapwood. The grain patterns are quite striking as this is a softwood, being evergreen, although it has a density higher than many hardwoods. It grows in quite a twisted fashion and has a lot of knots and cracks. This makes it difficult to plane without tearing, so it’s best scraped and sanded. It’s also quite difficult to find in large sizes that are free of large knots and cracks, so I tend to make multi-piece backs using only the clear wood.”
It is excellent tonally with a maple like clarity but with very sweet, intimate and appealing overtones. Adrian Lucas finds it “imparts a woody, springy quality to the tone of a guitar.” It tends to be brighter. The yew tree provides a wood with a pretty high density for a coniferous wood. Therefore it has been traditionally used for lute backs. Yew trees grow very slow and may become extremely old. The species was fairly common some Centuries ago, but then was decimated strongly. Today, yew is very seldom seen and is therefore protected. It has a red-brown color with fine annular rings. The splint-zone is almost white, which is often used for a light - dark effect on lute backs.
It has a Janka rating of approximately 1,600 lbs-force and a specific gravity of 670kg/m3.
Zebrawood Microberlina Brazzavillensis
The smell of zebrawood could nauseate you, or through experience, you may come to enjoy it. Most of the lumber is well quartered in order to bring out the best figure and color, dark brown stripes on a straw background. Zebrawood is a more boldly colored alternative to Indian Rosewood. With about the same density, workability and resonance as Indian Rosewood, it is evenly striped overall with small alternating bands of gold-tan and dark brown. Similar workability as Indian Rosewood. Similar to Tasmanian Blackwood and Mahogany although brighter in tone. It is harder to work with than Indian. Reported very hard to thickness. Does not like sanding, planing, or scraping, though scraping is best. Unpleasant odor while working it. Easy to gouge out and make deep holes when planing. The soft part is very soft(relatively) and the grain is very hard. It has splinters like sabers, and twice as sharp.”
This wood is very similar to Indian Rosewod and Wenge. Well quartered sets in Steel String & Classical are available. To some degree, this wood has the appearance of East Indian Rosewood as well as similar tap tone & working properties. One of the most appealing features of Zebra is the exotic appearance of the colorful grain. Black & golden lines make this an appealing choice for backs & sides.
Well defined basses and trebles, good volume and excellent distribution of voices, mostly, the guitar is stunning to look at. Order one with lattice bracing to enhance the sound and bring out the best tonal qualities of the wood. Zebrawood double tops make for terrific guitars at very reasonable prices. You will find yourself looking at the instrument for hours at a time such is the beauty of the grain and patterns created by these.
Zebrawood has a Janka rating of 1575 and a Specific Gravity around 0.74, 46lb/ft3
Ziricote Mexico and Belize Cordia dodecandra
This wood is sometimes called Mexican Ebony, though it's not really black and it's not an ebony. The pretty pieces are a dark gray with black streaks, and the really pretty pieces will knock your socks off. A favorite for fingerstyle. It is said to be comparable to ebony when worked and can be brittle.
Tim McKnight is a real fan saying: “Personally I find Zircote to be one of the most visually appealing woods on the planet. It has wonderful colors that intertwine vivid black ink lines with grays, golds, browns, olives and rust colors. It is one of my most favorite woods to build with. I find the wood has a more rosewood-ish tone, although it is not a member of the Dalbergia family. It has excellent low dampening qualities similar to most rosewoods with a clean resonant reverbery characteristic. Zircote pairs well with almost any top to bring a wide tonal variety to the builder’s pallet. The tone of Ziricote as falls between Indian rosewood and Macassar Ebony- it has more clarity than Indian but provides more overtones than Macassar.
This wood has a reputation for more tangential movement and can therefore be at risk for cracking if certain conditions are not adhered to. If the builder seasons the wood well and builds when the wood is between 6% – 8% MC in a controlled humidity environment then delivers it to a customer who can [accurately] maintain a 40% – 55% RH range in their home then it has not been found to any more unstable than other woods. However, if the builder rushes the build or can’t accurately control his shop’s humidity or the end user can not accurately control their humidity, then perhaps another tone-wood should be considered.”
Heavier than most Rosewoods, it works somewhat like Ebony, and tends to be brittle, but what is lacks in workability it more than makes up for in tonality. It is used by Goodall Guitars and Breedlove Guitars for some of their finest models and has been used by a number of discriminating classical and steel string builders such as Mark Blanchard, Michael Bashkin and Gerald Sheppard. The special grade sets feature strong black line figure.
From Mexico, Ziricote is most striking in appearance, much like Brazilian Rosewood with "spider-webbing" but in shades of grays and olive greens with black rather than reds with black. Always visually stunning. It is heavier than most rosewoods but both its tonal and aesthetic qualities are great. It's tone is comparable to Brazilian Rosewood in that it has a deep boomy sound with sparkling highs.
The janka of Ziricote is around 1750 and it has a specific gravity of 0.85.