Wood Options: The Wood Choice Explosion

As I touched on in an earlier guitar talk things have changed greatly in the realm of guitar wood choices. Not so long ago, an instrument made with a non traditional wood (something other than Rosewood, Mahogany or Maple) on the back & sides of a guitar was a rare sight.

Thank goodness these days are behind us. In part because of the increasing difficulty in obtaining high quality traditional tonewoods (look at the Brazilian Rosewood situation) and also because of the re-education of both builders and the buying public alike as to the great variety of the non traditional woods that are waiting to be used.

First of all let me say right here that I have the greatest respect for and continue to use the long favoured tonewoods. However, I fully support this move to a more open-minded approach, provided the quality does not suffer. Not only do we as builders, get to work with new (for us) and diverse materials, but the guitar world can only be helped by this expansion of horizons. In a purely visual sense there is a vast untapped world of beautiful looking, and in many cases, perfectly suitable alternatives to the traditional wood choices. Let me give you a short guide to the non-traditional tonewoods that I have been working with lately.

Sapele

This wood looks like Mahogany but is a little harder and has a finer grain. I started substituting Sapele for Mahogany because it was becoming difficult for me to obtain high quality traditional lumber. It has a striking shimmery ribbon grain and sounds great. I decided to call it Sapele/Mahogany because I got tired of explaining what Sapele was. I’ve noticed that Taylor does the same thing.

Black Walnut

After finding some thirty year old quarter sawn Walnut I discovered two things. One, it looked beautiful and two it sounded beautiful as well, somewhat woody like Mahogany. Unfortunately I’ve run into a bias against Walnut and I find this regrettable. In the meantime I’ve got a good stock of this under appreciated tonewood.

Honduran Rosewood

This is not a traditional Rosewood choice and is rarely seen on guitars. I find this strange because after working with it for a few years, I find it exceptional in tone and quite beautiful. It shares some of the grain characteristics of Brazilian Rosewood, with which it is closely related. Unfortunately the stock that I’ve been using came from some logs I purchased a few years ago and the end is in sight. It’s another of the world’s elegant timbers.

These are, of course, just a few samples of the many possibilities open to us. All we need is an open mind.

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