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Rosewood often brings about confusion. It does to me when I talk to the luthiers.... The same name is given to the same wood family of trees Bignoniaceae...Brazilian rosewood, also known as: Rio or Bahia rosewood, Jacaranda, piano wood, caviuna, honduras, obuina, palisander. Luthiers choose one type or the other according to availability and the color/tone they have in mind for their guitars. What makes a guitar more or less expensive is the cost of labor and not the wood. 


All the above are Rosewoods. Names such as Bois de rose, Burma and Nicaraguan, Siam, Honduras, Ocelot ear, palo oleo and Rio, Cambodian, Curatinga, Guatemalan, Domingo, Panamanian, Cocobolo and Aztec, Malagasi and Indonesian, Burmese, Caribbean, Central American, Borneo, are the names used to refer to the same plant and add to the mess. Rosewood includes over 10 different varieties most of which grow in Brazil. Some "web experts" will ask: "But is it Dalbergia Nigra?" as if the species had scientific tags attached to it. In my region of the world where the species blossoms, its is commonly known as Palisandro. It is not expensive as some builders or sellers will try to make you believe. It is possible that I have built or owned guitars thinking that they were made with Brazilian rosewood  when in fact they were not. What is important is that the choice was made based on sound and construction knowledge and these are the essential factors. 

I can access beautiful cuts for a little over 80 US$. Somewhere along the road, wood sellers and luthiers will ask anywhere between 500 and 6,000 US$ (yes, six thousand !) and will try to disguise the rip-off by adding prefixes such as "Imperial".... What a bunch of crooks ! 
In a recent mail exchange with Jeff, one of my Brazilian rosewood suppliers, I asked him "what is it with some wood sellers?". This was his answer:

I've seen some of those ridiculous prices on BRW. There's really nothing to justify the price.  They are just trying to capitalize on the fact that it is getting a little hard to find good quality BRW now. I sold a few sets to a guy in the U.S...and he's reselling them up 3 times the price of what I sold them to him for. Most luthiers in the U.S. have an upcharge of $2500 to $5000 for a guitar made with BRW.  In turn, the BRW suppliers are now charging more. They don't think it's right that the builder makes all the profit on the set. Kind of a no win situation for everyone..." Sep. 2007

I have realized in the years that some cuts of Brazilian Rosewood sound just like any other wood. I also admit that some cuts sound TERRIFIC. But the price is seldom the reason. It is also true that on average, most cuts of African Blackwood or Lapacho sound better then the average Brazilian. Therefore, the best thing anyone can do is let the builder choose the best combination of Palisandro with the other woods for the construction. The phenomenon is known as matching... the sum of all the parts will eventually resonate beautifully...not the name tag on the wood. 

Unfortunately many prospect buyers pick the information (the wrong one unfortunately) from guitar forums and newsgroups. These are infested with wish they were guitar players or guitar builders. They mislead the users and try to attract the buyer to their products often spreading lies and often post messages pretending that they are happy buyers of one brand or unhappy buyers of another brand. I have earned my trust by telling my fellow buyers what to look for in a guitar from a player point of view. Before venturing in constructing my guitars, I used to go to all the best European builders. I NEVER asked "What woods were used in the construction?". I used to ask the builder: "I am looking for a guitar that is easy to play. It must have beautiful ringing trebles and well defined basses". The builder would pass the instrument that he thought enclosed these characteristics. Usually it was his preferred one and often it only had some of the sound characteristics I was looking for. I would look at it, if I liked the looks of the guitar, I would play it and eventually buy it. I have come to realize that in over 30 years of classical guitar playing I never found a Brazilian rosewood match. And I have played hundreds of instruments throughout the years. Therefore, I have my good reasons to call the people I mentioned earlier a bunch of buffoons. 

                Paraguay Border
This very picturesque view of the line (yellow line depicted above) dividing Brazil from Paraguay was taken on "Puente de al Amistad" (Bridge of Friendship). This bridge, that crosses over the Paraná river,  sees one of the greatest movements of goods on the planet. Goods that move between  Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina (the 3 countries  converge in a few miles radius)  and that pass through Paraguay en route to the most remote locations.  Both legal and clandestine commerce takes place here... small wood boats are used to pass goods from one shore to the other under the "distracted" eye of the border authorities....  Even the US Marines have established a base near Tres Fronteras (three frontiers) because it is such a strategic umbilical point on the planet. Most of the Brazilian rosewood that I sell, passes through this bridge on its way to Asunción. It comes from such locations as Cascavel. Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais. 

The unknowns about Rosewood are far more important than the "generally sought after qualities"   ...namely grain...Just as the wood for the top is best when it grows at higher altitudes (Italian Pines), Rosewood is best when it grows in the deeper parts of jungles because in the dense foliage of tropical forest, where the light is limited. Under these conditions, Rosewood  grows much slower, a phenomenon necessary to make it a top tone wood...

This is the key to Rosewood : How it grows. Therefore, it is best not to be stubborn about the wood being a certain species, but how the wood was born and how it grew. Nowadays, it is far better to build with other woods rather than being obsessed with Rain forest woods and ending up with greenhouse varieties, second quality cuts or build a guitar with woods from 5 or 6 different cuts. In my experience, I have found African Blackwood, Cocobolo, Lapacho and Bolivian Rosewood to be a better choice for the back and sides. Lapacho, an "unknown" Paraguayan variety, is in the same category as Brazilian rosewood but at a fraction of the cost. African Blackwood is up there with Brazilian and Lapacho only it is expensive and hard to find. Bolivian rosewood  grows at fantastic altitudes in the dense foliage of the southern Brazilian/Bolivian border. I owned guitars for over 20 years and I rarely asked what woods they were made of. 

Again, try to describe the sound that you are looking for and let the builder and the person you trust serve you best.
Bolivia/Brazil border
It is not luthiers who have been the responsible for the indiscriminate logging of Rosewood but the perfume industry which extracts the precious oil from the wood...and of course, the furniture industry...It is wise that you review your Geography knowledge... The Amazon Rainforest covers, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia among other countries... and something else: politicians and green groups, magnify a situation which is far from being as catastrophic as they pretend us to believe.

Rosewood in flower
This is what the most exuberant Rosewood trees look like when they blossom. Marvelous. Asunción main avenue, Avda. Mriscal López, is sided by Rosewood trees that flower for approximately 1 week every year... a breathtaking view. The Bolivian and Indian varieties of the tree, flower yellow and also white.

wood cutting
I often say that the internet is the best place to see and feel globalization on all fronts. It is also a great window that allows unknown world markets such as the one I live in, to have a shot at the global market game... It allows for people like the local luthiers to offer their work to a huge world audience. 

Read more of my thoughts here:

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