32 Best Selling Tonewoods Properties

Tropical woods are all very dense and have similar tone characteristics. The reason why some are more expensive than others is in relation with the rarity of the wood and the resistance that the wood offers when it is worked by the luthier. It is not the beauty nor the sound that these tonewoods deliver  the reasons why some are more expensive than others.

Aesthetically, it is a very personal choice that inclines you to have a preference for darker Vs. lighter woods, or highly flamed cuts Vs. more uniform cuts.

When it comes to choosing the wood for the back and sides and for the top, you may feel a little lost because you do not know what is more convenient for you. Here, I'll be explaining the factors to be kept in mind when you make your choice.

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Back and Sides Images and Gallery
Wood properties and sound Weight Video/Audio sample
African Blackwood African Blackwood

The Deepest basses, well defined trebles, excellent tone wood, very responsive, with a terrific tap tone. I find the mid-bass ranges of this wood to be very human-like in quality. The most expensive of all the tropical woods. It is also the one guitar sound that is really different from all the rest. Macassar Ebony, Maple and Walnut deliver very similar acoustic results at a fraction of the price of African Blackwood.  African Blackwood is a member of the Rosewood family has long been credited by guitar builders as the ”holy grail” of tonewoods. With a strong responsive tap tone that surpasses even Brazilian Rosewood, it can contribute significant volume, power and clarity of sound to a guitar. African Blackwood is very difficult to work and very hard to bend, but it is strikingly beautiful and polishes to a high luster. African Blackwood is a small tree and as a result, obtaining guitar sets is difficult and this is the main reason why it is such an expensive tonewood.

Heavy
Ambrosia 
Maple
Ambrosia Maple

Ambrosia Maple is essentially a regular Maple tree that has been co-living with a liken  called "Ambrosia" that is responsible for the blue, turquoise and beige coloration of the grain. The liken is transported by a small beetle. It is quite stunning and shows nature marvelous way of making art I was able to get a hold of this beautiful wood for the first time and I know it is quite rare to come by. It is the only wood that can offer a turquoise/blue coloration and it is because of the collaboration of this unique liken.  The sonorous qualities of the wood are identical to standard Maple: Strong, well defined bass and clear trebles. Ambrosia Maple is not always readily available but given enough time I can always get a marvelous set on request.

Light
Bastogne Walnut
Bastogne Walnut

Bastogne Walnut is a rare, natural occurring hybrid between California English Walnut and Claro Walnut that is found in typically northern California.  It can vary greatly in figure and color but is usually a rich dark brown with some very dark and swirly figuring almost as dark as black.  
Bastogne Walnut is a very strong, heavy wood and is the densest of all walnuts.  It takes long to dry but is not as difficult as Claro walnut. Because it is so rare, Bastogne walnut is highly prized for making fine musical instruments and the rich bass, perfect separation of voices and sustain it offers is living proof of that. I started sing this amazing wood in mid 2013 and I am a declared fan.

Medium
Bloodwood
Bloodwood

Bloodwood is a Tropical South American wood with extreme density, and has a pronounced blunting effect on cutters. The wood is not easy to be worked and calls for experienced luthiers. Those persistent enough to bear with the difficulties of working with Bloodwood to the finishing stage are rewarded with an exceptional and lustrous red surface and the amazing sound it offers to the finished instrument. The bass is always clear and crisp with a punch whilst the trebles and mid ranges are perfectly defined and sustained. The color is reminiscent of the vital fluid it refers to and typically, when combined with Spruce, i creates some astonishingly beautiful instrumneys.

Medium
Bolivian rosewood
Bolivian Rosewood

Well Balanced sound, good volume and perfect balance of voices. Quick response. Possesses all the characteristics of the more luxurious Brazilian relative but has less presence in the sound making it an ideal choice for Classical, Bossa Nova & session musicians that need warmth, introspection and good separation of voices. It finishes marvelously well and is very stable and resonant. It is also widely known as Pau Ferro and in numerous occasions it appears with wonderfully striped grain. It is one of my favorite Tropical species. Unlike its close relative Brazilian Rosewood, Pau Ferro needs very little or no pampering when it comes to humidity control etc. It is without any doubt one of my all time favorite Tropical tonewoods.

Medium Heavy
Brazilian rosewood Brazilian Rosewood

Deep basses, well defined trebles. Bright and ringing tone, Great sustain, tap tone and separation of voices. Considered by many to be the best wood for Back and sides. It has become one of the most requested instrument woods in the world and simply put, the worst built Brazilian rose guitar sounds great ! The only drawback of Brazilian rosewood is that it  needs close scrutiny of humidity conditions. It is the most varied wood when it comes to the way it looks. It can be very sober and uniform in tone and grain but it is very often found in very figured presentations that are simply mind bobbling such is the beauty of the figure it can display. The speculation around the species has made it a very difficult wood to come by especially if one does not want to be ripped off in the price. My proximity to the Brazilian border has made it possible for me to come by sets at very down to Earth prices.

Medium Heavy
Bubinga, African Rosewood
Bubinga

Well balanced tone on all registers. Quick response. Very similar to Koa and Maple. The basses are very round and the mid ranges excel. The trebles shine very brightly. The looks of Bubinga guitars is simply spectacular. The grain resembles a waterfall or a river running and the patterns can be stunning! It is a Royalty tonewood from Africa that pleases the eye and ear. It is a much better tonewood than it’s been given credit for, it is harder and heavier than either Brazilian or Indian Rosewood. It is sometimes called  African Rosewood, although it’s not a Dalbergia. It has a medium texture with interlocking grain. It’s pinkish-mauve cast oxidizes to a nice brownish-red over time. It can be difficult  to bend. African Rosewood is one of the best values in a tonewood. It s also called waterfall for the kind of figure found in some sets of Bubinga. The liquid, three dimensional texture of the wood seems to be a fluid in motion. Just like the Dalbergias, African Rosewood offers a marvelous sound that covers the bass with roundness and sustain while preserving the clarity and great separation of the trebles and mid ranges.

Medium Light
Cocobolo Cocobolo

Almost identical to Brazilian rosewood, can be called Brazilian rosewood younger brother. Liquid tone and great color palette. It is strikingly beautiful and the finished instrument can get anybody stunned. The sound is mysterious, deep and clear at the same time. Cocobolo is a hard and heavy wood with irregular grain with a medium fine texture which is a close relative of Brazilian Rosewood. They are both Dalbergias. It finishes fantastically and it offers some of the best looking figures any builder can dream of for a concert guitar. The palette of colors it displays ranges from black, brown, orange and yellow and I often thing of the best sunsets when I look at the grain of Cocobolo. The sound is warm yet brilliant and powerful. It makes Cocobolo stand out as one of the best tonewoods on the planet. Definitely one of my favorites.

Medium Heavy
Curly Purple heart Curly Purpleheart

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. Definitely one of my favorites. Purple Heart guitars offer perfect basses that are defined to perfection and always accompanied by lively yer clear trebles. Top notch sustain and projection are also the norm with this marvelous tonewood. Curly Purple Heart is Hard to come by.  The curly variety is very scarce.

Medium Heavy
Gabon Ebony
Gabon Ebony

Gabon Ebony is the standard for black in lumber. It has been found in Egyptian tombs and is used on the fingerboard of violins. A very dense wood with specific gravity of 1.2, it is usually only available in widths less than 6” and lengths less than 48”. This is partly do to where the trees grow in central West Africa. There are few roads and most of the billets have to be hand carried out of the jungle. It is the rarest of the ebony woods. Very dense tight grained wood. If you think Zorro, this is the wood for the job. It finishes fantastically and makes every marquetry decoration stand out marvelously. Every guitar I built using Gabon Ebony produced a fabulous guitar with amazingly powerful bass, rich mid tones and ringing trebles. Sustain and projection are always off the chats.

Heavy
Indian Rosewood Indian Rosewood

Very stable, clear tone and good separation of voices. The most popular wood for classical guitar construction especially since Brazilian Rosewood has gone up in price. I call it the Volkswagen of tropical woods. Low priced and very stable. Makes for very "predictable" guitars. It offers great playing and looks without breaking the bank. Indian Rosewood has been used for guitar backs and sides for many decades. The sets I use are mostly imported from East India, Madagascar and Indonesia. Indian Rosewood has come into common usage starting in the mid 1960s when the more well known Brazilian Rosewood became less available in the quantities needed for large scale guitar production. High quality Indian Rosewood logs were plentiful and commercially available to the major markets when the Brazilian government stopped the export of Brazilian Rosewood logs. Fortunately, Indian Rosewood was also found to be an excellent alternative to Brazilian Rosewood both visually and tonally. Every guitar I build using East Indian Rosewood delivers an excellent tone with top notch projection, clarity and superb sustain. No wonder it is slowly and steadily becoming the most used tonewood for classical guitar construction on the planet.

Medium
Koa Koa
Clear warm sounding basses and crystal clear trebles. Similar tone characteristics as Bubinga and Tasmanian Blackwood. Tone wise, it is particularly striking when built as a Double top. The wood  presents a gorgeous grain. This amazing Hawaiian species is steadily becoming one of the most sought after Tropical tonewoods on the planet. Its grain is always stunning and it always delivers amazingly sounding concert instruments. Still, I find it a little overpriced considering that Black Limba or Goncalo Alves produce similar results at  lower price. Still, it is a wood in vogue and if it were not so expensive, it would definitely be among my favorites tropical tonewoods.

Light
Lapacho Lapacho

Round basses and very clear trebles. Reverb and projection are outstanding and comparable to African Blackwood and Cocobolo. 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. If not the only builder, I am one of a handful that ever managed to build concert guitars using Lapacho. The wood is incredibly hard but the luthier is filled with pride when he ears the sound of the finished instrument. I am quite certain that in time this wood will be part of the "tropical woods Royalty". It is simply Stunning. It is Paraguay's most sought after species and it withstands fluctuations n humidity and temperature marvelously.

Medium
Laurel California Laurel California

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. Some sets also offer a stunning grain although the norm is that the figure is mos times moderate. The set displayed here is the standard look of California Laurel. The sound is vibrant and lively. The bass rings generously and is accompanied by rich overtones, mid ranges and brilliant trebles. Perfect sound ! Laurel works marvelously well with Spruce, Cedar and Redwood. I never used it in conjunction with Port Orford Cedar but I am sure it must deliver a terrific instrument.

Light
Macassar Ebony Macassar Ebony

Deep clean basses and great sustain preferred to Brazilian rosewood by many guitarists and builders. It is sober and generates a full, round sound. It projects very well and possesses a one in a million sustain. The figure of the grain can be quite striking. In the same league with Brazilian rose, African Blackwood and Maple. Some of the most striking instruments are made with this Indian species. If you love dark looking  instruments, this is definitely the wood for you. The sound you can expect from Macassar Ebony is simply phenomenal with clear penetrating trebles accompanied by the best defined, well rounded basses you can dream of. Sustain and projection are naturals for this tremendous tonewood species that ranks by far as one of my all time favorite guitar tonewoods. Macassar Ebony was made famous by the Indonesian Variety and the one proceeding from the island of Makassar, but the species is harvested throughout South East Asia and even many African Countries. The figure of Macassar Ebony varies A LOT from one tree to the next and the geographical location also has a big impact. I generally purchase my sets based on the figure grain) rather then the place whee it. With custom orders I try to come as close to my customers' request regarding grain and color.

Heavy
Mahogany African (Curly)
African Mahogany

African Mahogany in its different forms (here depicted is teh Curly variety) 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. Definitely one of my favorites. African Mahogany is one of the most used varieties of wood for the back and sides.  It offers perfect basses that are well defined and are always accompanied by lively yet clear trebles. Top notch sustain and projection are also the norm with this marvelous tonewood. The curly variety is very scarce.

Medium
Maple Maple

I could go on for hours writing about this glorious tonewood.
Maple possesses a well balanced sound on all 6 strings, in my opinion, one of the best tone woods to the point that I cannot believe that it is not more sought after. It really competes neck to neck with Brazilian rosewood and African Blackwood, and 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. When it comes to looks, I do not think that there is another wood that can shine as majestically s Maple does. All Bellucci Maple guitars deserve the "Queen guitar" coronation.

Light
Monkey Pod Monkey Pod wood properties

I was able to snap a few amazing sets of Monkeypod from Indonesia late in 2012. I am amazed at the beauty of the figure and the gorgeous sound that the wood generates. It is full of harmonics with an outstanding presence of the bass and very well balanced and brilliant trebles. The color tends to be a golden and moves towards dark brown, sometimes with black streaks. Sapwood is usually thin and yellow/white, clearly demarcated from the heartwood. Monkeypod is sometimes seem with highly figured curly or wild grain patterns that make me think of a "gently stirred Cappuccino". It receives different names in different regions of the globe and is comparable in acoustic properties to Koa and Tasmanian Blackwood. Definitely one of the most dramatic looking woods on the face of the Earth.

Medium Light
Moon Ebony

see also

Ebony Macassar HERE

Gabon Ebony
HERE
Moon Ebony

Moon Ebony is practical identical to standard Ebony and Gabon Ebony. It is also very much in the same league as African Blackwood. Moon Ebony is a very dense wood with specific gravity of 1.4. The trees grow in South East Asia, mainly Thailand -Laos- and Cambodia.. There are few roads to access the places where the fallen trees are harvested, and most of the billets have to be hand carried out of the jungle. It is one of the rarest of the Ebony woods. Very dense tight grained wood. It finishes fantastically and makes every marquetry decoration stand out marvelously. The bass is powerful and it works perfectly with Spruce, Cedar and Redwood. The Moon Ebony Cedar or Redwood combination makes for a great sustained sound and top notch projection. The wood is not always readily available, but I am offered some amazing sets by my suppliers a few times a year.

Heavy
Oak Tasmanian Oak Tasmanian Tasmanian Oak has proven to be a top of the line wood when it comes to concert instrument construction. It is not always readily 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 bass is characterized by a tremendous punch accompanied by a stunningly clear and penetrating treble. Sustain and projection make Oak rank among the royalty of Tropical tonewoods. The beauty and elegance of the grain are also stunning and Tasmanian Oak is among those tonewoods that finish tremendously well. Medium
Padauk African Padauk

Big sound with penetrating basses, fast response and clear trebles. Very similar to the Rosewoods. Sustain and projection are amazing making it one of my favorite tonewoods. The reddish tone makes it a great favorite among the lovers of this color. Every Padauk guitar I built to date has been a  head turner. The sound is rich in overtones and it is among the best woods in its price range which is considerably small when it is compared to woods in the same league. It is one of the woods that shines the best when it is finished.  Padauk  oxidizes to a darker, rich purple-brown over time - although it stays redder than the Rosewoods. It is 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. Some consider Padauk to be  the most promising replacement for generic Rosewood. It may be a little difficult to bend compared to the ease of bending of some of the more pliable woods.


Medium Heavy
Palo Escrito Palo Escrito

Palo Escrito is a top notch tone wood from Central America. It booms like the most expensive woods but at a fraction of the price. It is very stable and has a sparkling sound. I highly recommend this wood. Palo Escrito is the premiere native back and side wood used by most builders in Mexico and throughout Central America. It is a true Rosewood, but differs from Indian Rosewood visually with slightly wider grain, more figure resembling curly red hair, and an overall lighter color. It is also lighter in weight. Palo Escrito is moderately priced each set is uniquely striped. The bass delivered by Palo Escrito is top notch. The mid ranges sing marvelously offering a perfect background for the trebles. Sustain and Projection make it rank with the Royalty of tonewoods.

Medium Light
Port Orford Port Orford

...

Medium
Primavera wood Primavera Wood

Primavera (Spring) is a  gorgeous tonewood found in most of Latin America.  Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, North and central Honduras. It is amazingly beautiful and I find it 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 my top choice for Flamenco & Classical Construction. The wood possesses the aggressive tone of the Cypress family of trees and the warmth of the dark African species and the combination of these brings about some of the most spectacular instruments you can dream of. Tap tone is marvelous and Primavera delivers a deep resonating bass with lively mid ranges and the most clear trebles you will ever hear.

Light
Snakewood Snakewood

The difficult thing about this amazing tonewood is to decide whether it looks more like a Snake or a Leopard's skin. It is also known by the name of Leopard wood. 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. Sustain and projection make it an ideal choice for the stage player. It is relatively light for a Tropical wood thus making it perfect for those players looking for a lighter construction.  Snakewood is a top notch tonewood on all fronts. 

Medium Light
Tamarind Tasmanian Blackwood

Spalted Tamarind is a native wood of tropical Africa; It is also widely planted throughout other tropical regions in South America. It presents itself in a stunning variety of figures that allow the luthier to express himself to the highest levels of artistry. In the sound, you can appreciate the perfect vibrato generated by the first string, the perfectly balanced second and third strings and the supporting bass that creates the perfect background onto which all the other voices shine. You can also admire her expressive power and the stunning the presence of the bass. The looks of this stunning Tonewood are beyond the realm of words. Deep dark brown stripes contrast beautifully with the clear background canvas color that Tamarind offers. A stunning Tonewood.

Medium
Tasmanian Blackwood Tasmanian Blackwood

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. 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. It is very similar to Hawaiian Koa and possesses most of the qualities of the Hawaiian species. Tap tone is always stunning and it shows in the big round basses it can generate and some of the best trebles in guitar construction. The separation of voices is outstanding and the wood can define each one of the voices to unsuspected levels of clarity.

Medium Heavy
Tasmanian Tiger Myrtle Tasmanian Tiger Myrtle

Tasmanian Tiger Myrtle is perhaps the best discovery I made in 2010 when it comes to tonewoods. This Australian wood from is sure to get a lot of attention. The color ranges from light reddish beige to pinkish-purples and is sometimes reminiscent of Pink Ivory. Some sets have attractive brown streaks and others have gray-brown sapwood centers. It has a prominent and robust tap tone. It bends extremely well and finishes to a high luster. 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.

Medium Heavy
Tigerwood Tigerwood

Well balanced sound throughout the strings, quick response. It is a very "unknown wood" and to surprises me 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. It is marvelous to look at and all the instruments I produced using Tigerwood are simply outstanding instruments ! The best cuts are found in Brazil although it grows in parts of Africa as well.

Light
Walnut African African Walnut

Very bright sound on all registers, clear, open tone with excellent depth and strong trebles. A favorite among collectors because relatively few classical guitars are built with Walnut. The looks are very sober and the instrument is particularly suited for Baroque, Classical and Romantic music. It is very beautiful to look at and the resulting instruments are always stunning. The bass on Walnut guitars is always stunning, rich and powerful. The mid ranges and the trebles are among the best you will hear with long lasting first string sounds that seem to last forever. Walnut is without  a doubt one of the best tonewoods available to luthiers the world over

Medium Heavy
Wenge African African Wenge

Wenge, also known as Kingwood is a native of Cameroon, Congo, Gabon, Mozambique, Tanzannia and Zaire and can very proudly and justily carry the name of "king" due to its magnificent acoustic and aesthetic virtues. It can produce guitars in the same league and quite same external appearance as African Blackwood. The main difference is that Blackwood is way more expensive but the resulting guitars are very much in the same league. It is not as heavy as Blackwood yet it delivers some stunning guitars characterized by deep, well defined basses and superb trebles and mid ranges that shine and stand out for presenting one of thh best separation of voices anyone can dream of on a concert guitar.

Medium
Zebrawood Zebrawood

Well defined basses and trebles, good volume and excellent distribution of voices, mostly, the guitar is stunning to look at. It works well with both Hauser and Lattice bracing. The latter enhances the mid ranges and brings out the lively character of the wood. With the Hauser, Zebrawood behaves like a pure breed "Spanish sounding classical" instrument. Zebrawood also allow for double top construction and makes 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. I consider it one of the most striking woods available to the contemporary guitar builder.

Medium Light
Ziricote Ziricote

Big deep sound in the bass, clear trebles, similar to Macassar Ebony and Brazilian rosewood, stunning to look at and one of my favorite woods. The grain is simply dramatic and some of the most beautiful instruments are made with Ziricote. The grain is always wild and it seems that nature hired a world class artist to design its magnificent grain. It is simply stunning to look at and produces top of the line guitars. The sound it generates is among the most desired ones for the Classical, Baroque and Romantic repertoire. Ziricote produces amazingly rich basses, tremendously clear trebles and possesses one of the most prominent sustains and projections among the Tropical tonewoods.

Heavy