Backwood - Other Woods

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Other backwoods

Alternatives to Rosewood

   There are a number of other woods that, because of their higher density, help create a rosewood-like sounding guitar, but do not come from the rosewood family. Visually, none of them would be mistaken for rosewood, but they are all quite attractive in their own right. On the higher-end are Macassar ebony and ziricote. Both woods are brittle and hard to work with. Both are expensive but their high density allows for great tonal balance and volume and the scarcity of well-figured sets adds value to the instruments. The remaining rosewood alternatives, on the other hand, are relatively inexpensive and easy to come by.


   Macassar ebony, (Diospyros celebica) is a black wood with dramatic blond streaking which creates a beautiful liquid or marbled appearance and is often called marble wood. This if one of the rarest and most expensive woods in the world and comes mostly from Southeast Asia.

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   Ziricote is grayish in color and features intense spider-web figuring and layered effects. ziricote.jpg (13973 bytes)
   Bubinga, (Guibourtia demeusei) also known as African Rosewood, has a nice reddish-mauve brown color and often sports an interesting 'bees-wing' figure that gives a nice three-dimensional shimmer to wood under finish. It exhibits a pinkish-mauve cast, which oxidizes to a nice brownish-red over time. It is hard and dense and is heavier than Indian Rosewood. Its is somewhat similar to mahogany in that it has interlocking grain. Bubinga can also exhibit extreme figure which can rival maple. Over all it is considered a great tonewood. BubingaCloseFigured.jpg (67488 bytes)
   Padauk (usually Pterocarpus soyauxii) a close relative of Dalbergia, is a bright orange or almost crimson wood when freshly cut, but oxidizes more to a dark, rich purple-brown over time. However, it stays redder than Indian Rosewood. It is also harder and heavier than Indian Rosewood and is a good tonewood in all respects with a very strong, bright tap tone. Padauk often exhibits very straight grain and is a great choice for backs and sides, as well as trim elements, such as binding or headplate.
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   Again from W. Africa, there is Wenge (Millettia Laurentii) a very dark brown wood (verging on black). Wenge acoustic guitar back and sides timber has a tight straight grain, across entire width. Coarse in texture Wenge is heavier than E. Indian and Brazilian Rosewood. It has a nice strong tone. wenge.jpg (231306 bytes)
   From South America there is grenadillo (Platymiscum yucatanum). 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, and attractive sapwood centers are commonplace. It is popular in Brazil, but it is relatively new to American lutherie. It promises to become a favorite among steel-string builders. kira-grenadillo.jpg (15095 bytes)
   Pau ferro (Caesalpinia ferrea) (or morado) is well known as a fingerboard wood on electric guitars and basses and is coming into its own as a back and side wood. It is much like Indian rosewood with dark, straight, vertical lines except that gold, beige and brown substitute for the dark browns, grays and purples found in Indian rosewood.


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   Honduran Mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) native to Central America, is yellowish brown to reddish brown in color. Mahogany is lighter in weight than rosewood, koa, or maple. In spite of its weight, mahogany yields a strong loud sound with a quick response and an emphasis on warm, round mid-range. Central American mahogany is not used commercially any more, due to being listed as an endangered species on CITES. Instead, today the world's supply of Honduran mahogany comes from SE Asia (it is still the same species).

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   Koa (Acacia koa) cpmes from Hawaii. It is golden brown in color with dark streaks and a lustrous sheen. It occasionally develops a curly or flamed figure. Regardless of any figuring, koa seems to have 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.

 Koa tonewood.jpg (138746 bytes)

   Cherry (Prunus spp.). With a density and reflectivity approaching that of maple, cherry produces a rich, projective midrange and balance without favoring the bass or treble frequencies.


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   Lace Wood (Cardwellia Sublimis) from Australia, is a relatively new wood to be used by luthiers. 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.

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