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.
|Back and Sides||Images and Gallery
||Wood properties and sound||Weight||Video/Audio sample|
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
|Bubinga, African Rosewood
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.
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.
|Curly Purple heart||
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Deep clean basses and great
sustain preferred to Brazilian rosewood by many guitarists and
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.
|Mahogany African (Curly)
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.
I could go on for hours writing about this glorious tonewood.
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.
Ebony Macassar HERE
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.
|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|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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