Wood has always been the prime material to make instruments out of. A very long history and tradition is associated with instrument building no matter what culture we are talking about. After all, wood is a available material, easy to come by and easy to work with. And the versatility of different woods is exceptional compared to other materials.
Tonewood is the term generally used to designate wood with recognized and consistent acoustic qualities when used in the making of musical instruments. The type of wood used on stringed instruments, such as a guitar or bass, is a much debated factor contributing to its tone.The important rule is: the harder the material, the clearer the sound (a softer material absorbs more high frequencies) and the longer the sustain (i.e. the time a string keeps on vibrating). In general, guitars with a good sustain will also be pretty heavy because most hard materials happen to be dense and heavy, but this is not a necessity. There are materials, like certain types of wood, which are light but still quite hard.
It is rare that a musical instrument is made entirely of a single kind of wood. Since sound is generated through vibration, the instrument's primary wood is selected for the particular characteristics of its vibration (acoustic instruments). In parts of the instrument not responsible for generating tone, woods are selected for other reasons: a hard wood for the fingerboard, a stable strong and stiff wood for the neck, an easily-worked wood for decoration, and so forth.
There are a number of factors that determine the tonal properties of wood. In addition, woods respond differently in the hands of different makers. Whether a particular wood sounds good or bad ultimately depends on who is doing the listening, so any attempt to sort out distinctions can only be subjective.
No wood is inherently a "tonewood", the distinction is in the use of the wood.
There are a variety of different woods to choose from. Below are descriptions of the general tonal properties of some of the most widely used woods for electric bass making.
The tonal variety can be extreme with custom made basses. No matter how identical you make two basses, if they're hand made they're probably going to sound a bit different.
Although the acoustical properties of maple are different than that of mahogany, the sound contribution of the maple (which is much harder and denser) to the overall sound is relatively small (to the average person) when compared to the contribution of the player/strings/pickups/effects chosen. This is IMO sometimes forgotten at discussion forums etc. We are talking about electrical instruments here, not acoustic.
You will find that a heavier, denser wood may improve sustain, which is a desirable quality, but there is some debate on whether this is entirely true or not. I do not wish to enter into a debate on the subject (that road is a dead end for shure), decide for yourself when you have compared the woods on similar instruments.
But don't take my word for it. Thanks to the guys at Lakland it's now possible to hear soundclips of different Lakland basses: http://www.lakland.com/audio.htm
Here's another page that contains some recordings of different brand basses. A good place to visit if you are curious about what a specific bass sounds like: http://www.altguitarbass.com/sounds.asp
Below follows a brief description of some of the more popular woods used in bass building. Note that the color in the pictures may not be right, some woods are finished or oiled while others are plain wood.
Alder, European (Alnus glutinosa)
Also known as: Black alder, Common alder, Eis, Els, Erle and Grey alder.
Alder, Red (Alnus rubra)
Also knows as: Oregon alder, Pacific coast alder, Red alder, Western alder and Western red alder.
Red Alder is the most common species of Alder in Canada and the U.S.
Probably the most popular timber used in guitar making, Alder is a lightweight (423-496kg/m3), closed grain wood. Its natural color is light tan and has little distinct grain lines. It is easy to finish and is suitable and popular for opaque finishes and sunbursts. Price approx. 800€/m3.
Alder is very porous, and will soak up tremendous amounts of oil (if you use tung/linseed oil) or solvents (from nitrocellulose lacquer). If you lacquer over it you must seal it, or the trapped solvents will leach out leading to milky-cloudy or bubbled finish.
Alder is used extensively for bodies because of its light weight and its full sound. Because of its fine characteristics and low price, alder is perhaps the most popular wood for bodies.
The tone is known to be very balanced with equal amount of lows, mids and highs.
Alder has been the mainstay for Fender bodies for many years and its characteristic tone has been a part of some of the most enduring pieces of modern day contemporary music.
Ash, European (Fraxinus Excelsior)
Also know as: Belgian ash, Common ash, English ash, European ash, Europeesche esche, French ash, Fresno, Hungarian ash, Italian olive ash, Olive ash, Polish ash, Slavonian ash, Spanish ash and Swedish ash.
European ash can be quite variable in quality. Price approx. 1350€/m3. It is similar to White ash (Fraxinus americana) and European beech (Fagus sylvatica) in most properties, but is considerably higher in toughness.
Ash, Black (Fraxinus nigra)
Also know as: American black ash, Basket ash, Black ash, Brown ash, Fresno, Hoop ash, Swamp ash, Water ash.
Black Ash is lightweight (528kg/m3) and has a good texture. It is particularly good for clear/transparent finishes. Can sometimes be mistaken for oak. Ash has smaller pores and a less pronounced grain than oak. Black ash is generally 10-12% less dense than White ash.
Swamp Ash is a prized wood for many reasons. It is a fairly light weight wood which makes it easily distinguishable from Hard Ash. Many of the 50's Fender guitars were made of Swamp Ash. The grain is open and the color is creamy. This wood is a very nice choice for clear finishes. It is a very musical wood offering a very nice balance of brightness and warmth with a lot of "pop". An ideal timber for a general purpose guitar, Black Ash bodies have tight, warm lows, a broad midrange and particularly bright top end sounds.
Ash, Green (Fraxinus Pennsylvanica)
Green Ash is very similar to White Ash.
Ash, White (Fraxinus americana)
Also know as: American ash, Ash, Biltmore ash, Biltmore white ash, Canadian ash, Cane ash, Fresno, Green ash, Mountain ash, Northern hard ash, Quebec ash, Red ash and White river ash.
White Ash is hard, heavy and dense (weight 641kg/m3). It's color is creamy, but it also tends to have heartwood featuring pink to brown tints. The grain pores are open and it takes a lot of finish to fill them up. Its density contributes to a bright tone and a long sustain which makes it a good choice for bodies.
Basswood (Tilia americana)
Also known as: American basswood, American lime, American linden, Basswood, Bee tree, Beetree, Beetree linden, Carolina linden, Florida basswood, Florida linden, Limetree, Lin, Linden, Linn, White basswood, Whitewood, Willow.
The lightest and softest common timber used in guitar construction, Fine straight grain material with an even texture. This is a very light-weight wood (352kg/m3). The color is white, but often has nasty green mineral streaks in it. This is a closed-grain wood, but it can absorb a lot of finish. The wood is similar to European lime (Tilia vulgaris) in appearance, grain and texture.
This is not a good wood for clear finishes since there is little figure. Compared to other timbers, basswood is fairly inexpensive and abundant. It is quite soft, and does not take abuse well. Sound-wise, Basswood has a nice, growley, warm tone with good mids. A favorite tone wood for shredders in the 80's since its defined sound cuts through a mix well.
Bocote (Cordia elaeagnioides)
Also knows as: Bolivian Bocote.
From the same family (Boraginaceae) as Canalete, Bocote is often referred to as Mexican Rosewood. Striking grain patterns are the trademark of this dense, smooth wood. Mainly used for necks since the grain is very tight so the feel is extremely fast. Because of Bocote’s high density, you can expect great sustain and nice attack. Along with the usually wild figure of light and dark brown stripes, light yellow and light green hues are not uncommon and add to the uniqueness of this fine exotic. Usually hard to come by.
Bubinga (Guibourtia demeusei)
Common names: Akume, Bubinga, Buvenga, Cameroons gum copal, Eban, Ebana, Essingang, Gabon kevazingo, Gum copal, Irun-nduk, Kasasesase, Kevazingo, Lianu, Lukunfu, Lusase, Mutenye, Ngulupang, Okweni, Ovang, Oveng, Waka, Waku.
Bubinga is from the same family as Ovangkol. A very strong, stiff, fine grained and super smooth wood (weight 833kg/m3), used primarily for bass necks and in laminations. Gum pockets may cause trouble with working and gluing the wood. Used by Rickenbacker for fretboards and Warwick for bodies. As a bass neck, it provides bright midrange and a thick well defined bottom. Bodies made form Bubinga will be very heavy but will sustain for ”days”.
Canalete (Cordia dodecandra)
Common names: Amapa asta, Amapa beba, Amapa bola, Anacuite, Asta, Baria, Barl, Bocote, Bojon, Bonom, Canalete, Canaletta, Chackopte, Copite, Cupane, Freijo, Grisino, Gueramo, Habeen, K'an-k'opte, Keopte, Kopte, Laurel, Negra, Ocotillo meco, Palo de asta, Pardillo del monte, Peterebi, Siricote, Siricote blanco, Trompillo, Varia, Veria, Veria prieta, Zac-copte, Ziricote.
This dark gray to brown to black wood is similar to ebony in weight and density. Some pieces have gorgeous striping and spider web grain patterns. The feel is buttery smooth and slick. The density translates to great sustain and the tone is considered to be much like Brazilian Rosewood. Limited availability and expensive.
Cherry, Black (Prunus serotina)
Common names: American black cherry, Black cherry, Cabinet cherry, Capollin, Capuli, Capulin, Capulin cherry, Cerezo, Cerezo de Los Andes, Cherry, Chisos wild cherry, Choke cherry, Chokecherry, Detze, Edwards Plateau cherry, Escarpment cherry, Ghoto, Gila chokecherry, Mountain black cherry, Muji, New England mahogany, Pa-kshmuk, Plum, Rum cherry, Southwestern chokecherry, Spate traubenkirsche, Tnunday, Whiskey cherry, Wild black cherry, Wild cherry, Xeugua.
Hard straight-grain with firm texture. Reddish-brown to deep red, with brown flecks, and will naturally darken with age. Price approx. 3000-3500€/m3. Works well with hand and machine tools and finishes well. Weight about 544kg/m3. Black cherry crotches and burls are highly sought after for figured veneers. The attack of maple with some of the mellow qualities of mahogany. On acoustic guitars cherry sides and back in known to produces a rich, projective midrange and balance without favoring the bass or treble frequencies. Used in electric guitars they say it sound-wise stands somewherre between Ash and Alder.
Cocobolo (Dalbergia retusa)
Also know as: Caviuna, Cocobolo, Cocobolo nambar, Cocobolo negro, Cocobolo prieto, Cocoboloholz, Foseholz, Funera, Granadillo, Grandillo, Jacarandaholz, Legitimo, Melon, Namba, Nambar, Nambar de agui, Nambar legitimo, Nicaragua rosewood, Nicaraguan rosewood, Nnambar, Palisander, Palisandre, Palisandro, Palissandro, Palo negro, Palo sandro, Pau preto, Red foxwood, Rosewood, Urauna.
Cocobolo is very stable and gorgeous to behold, and mostly used for fingerboards.This extremely oily wood is difficult to glue and the dust is very irritating and toxic. Weight about 865kg/m3. This beautiful wood's tone is often compared by luthiers to that of Brazilian rosewood, after all it belongs to the same family (Leguminosae) as the Brazilian and Indian rosewoods.
Ebony, African (Diospyros spp.)
Common names: African ebony, Cameroon ebony, Gaboon ebony, Kanran, Kayu malam, Kribi ebony, Kukuo, Mgriti, Msuini, Nigerian ebony, Nyareti, Omenowa, Trayung.
Ebony, one of the heaviest of the hardwoods, is very dense, machines well, and resists warping and cracking. Chocolate brown or dark gray streaks are not uncommon. Ebony has a long history of a preferred fingerboard, probably due to the fact that ebony has been the one and only choice for fingerboards on violins, cellos and upright basses throughout history. A fairly expensive wood but an excellent choice for fretless fingerboards. Very hard, smooth and fast feeling, it has a bright, long sustaining tone.
Ebony, Macassar (Diospyros celebica)
Common names: Calamander wood, Camagon, Coromandel, Golden ebony, Indian ebony, Macassar ebony, Temru, Tendu, Timbruni, Tunki.
The distinctive chocolate brown stripes of Macassar Ebony are hard to miss. Lots of sustain, attack and stability from this dense wood and the feel is very smooth to the touch. Primarily used for fingerboards. No finish required.
Goncalo Alves (Astronium fraxinifolium)
Common names: Bois de zebre, Bossona, Bototo, Coubaril, Gateado, Gomavel, Goncalo alves, Guarabu bata, Guarabu encirado, Guarabu rajado, Gusanero, Jejuira, Kingwood, Locustwood, Muira, Muiraquatiara, Mura, Rajado branco, Red astronium, Robel gateado, Sangue, Tigerwood, Urunday, Urunday-para, Yoke, Zebrawood, Zorrowood.
Very dense smooth texture with a waxy fast feel. Color is tan with darker chocolate stripes. Fairly strong, tough and one of the most beautiful tropical woods. It's got an articulate, clean, warm tone, overall well balanced tone and great looks. Primarily used as a neck wood, it mates well with Pau Ferro or ebony fingerboards.
Koa (Acacia koa):
Found exclusively on the Hawaiian Islands, making supply very limited. Its weight varies somewhat from medium to heavy, similar to Mahogany in density and strength, and is an excellent tone wood for bass guitar bodies. Koa has a warm sound similar to mahogany, but with a little more brightness. Like walnut, this wood may be oiled, but generally will look its best sprayed clear. Koa is sometimes available in flame figure. Koa is exceptionally beautiful when it develops the flame figure. Because of its limited availability it is very expensive.
Lacewood, see Silky Oak
Limba (Terminalia superba)
Also known as: Afa, Afara, Afia afia, Afodonko, Afraa, Aghan, Akam, Akom, An rin, Bale, Baya, Bese, Blie, Bokone, Chene limbo, Chene-limbo, Congo walnut, Dark limba, Dark noir, Djombe, Edo, Egean, Egoin nufua, Egonni, Egoyin, Eji, End, Faraen, Frake, Fram, Frameri, Framo, Frane, Frango, Frany, Gbararada, Ka-ren, Kegblale, Kojaagei, Kojagei, Kom, Kone, Kongo, Korina, Kosina, Kumkunbe, Landi, Light limba, Limba, Limba clair, Limba noir, Limbo, Moukonia, Mukonja, N'dimba, N'kom, N'limba, Noyer, Noyer du Mayombe, Noyer limbo, Offram, Ofram, Ojiloko, Owebala, Pe, Shingle wood, Tra, Unwonrom, Weiss, White afara, White limba, Yellow pine.
In guitar and bass building this wood is very often called Korina.
Limba is usually a medium weight wood, but the weight can vary from medium to light. It features a very handsome olive color and sometimes with black streaking. Korina has a naturally waxy feel to it. Oil finishes work well on this wood. The tone is very similar to Mahogany with added mids. Since the wood is weak it is rarely used in applications where strength is of major concern. However Limba is an excellent tonal choice for hollow chambered bodies.
Mahogany, African (Khaya spp.)
Common names: Acajou, Afana, African mahogany, Appapyayi, Apurro, Benin mahogany, Big leaf mahogany, Dubini, Geduloha, Khaya, Krubua, Munyama, Odubin, Odupon, Okunmankra, Orro, Tacamaca rouge, Tiama tiama, Tiame tiame.
There are 7-8 different species in the Meliaceae family that is commonly marketed as African Mahogany. Price approx. 1600-1700€/m3.
Mahogany is a porous, but strong wood that is easy to machine and finish. Weight about 496kg/m3. It has a spiraling and interlocking grain pattern that makes it a very stable wood once properly dried. African and Spanish mahoganies are often used as a replacement for Honduras mahogany. The grain is easy to fill. Looks good with clear or transparent red finish.
Mahogany is a fine grained wood with great musical properties. The tone is warm and full with good sustain. The overall tone has heavy emphasis on the top and bottom end, with the mid-range somewhat depressed and good sustain.
Mahogany, Honduras (Swietenia macrophylla)
Common names: Acajou, Acajou Amerique, Acajou d'Amerique, Acajou du Honduras, Aguano, American mahogany, Aquano de tabasco, Ara putange, Araputanga, Bastard lime, Baywood, Belize mahogany, Big-leafed mahogany, Brazilian mahogany, Broad-leaved mahogany, Cabano, Caguano, Campeche, Cao, Caoba, Caoba Americana, Caoba de Atlantico, Caoba de Honduras, Caoba Hondurea, Caoba Hondurena, Caoba mahogany, Chacalte, Chiapas, Chiculte, Chiculti, Cobano, Costa Rica mahogany, Costa Rico mahogany, Crura, Cuban mahogany, Granadillo, Guatemala mahogany, Honduras mahogany, Large leaf mahogany, Madeira, Mahogany, Mahogany Honduras, Mahoni, Mahonie, Mara, Mogno, Mogno do rio Jurupari, Orura, Palo xopilote, Palo xopliote, Palo zopilote, Peruvian mahogany, Punab, Purab, Red cedar, Red wood, Resadillo, Sisam, Tabasco mahogany, Tzopible, Tzopilote, Tzutzul, Venezuela mahogany, Zopilocuahuitl, Zopilote.
Perhaps the most valuable timber tree in the whole of tropical Latin America. The wide variability in color has enabled many look-alike species to be marketed as mahogany.
Honduras mahogany is the favorite choice of instrument builders, but is very hard to find.
Sound-wise Honduras mahogany is very similar to African Mahogany.
There are many sub-species of the Aceraceae family used in instrument-building. Just as with Ash, there are softer and harder species of maple.
Maple is a strong, very heavy wood, which is light blond in color. Maple finishes well and can be steamed and bent. Maple is used in both bodies and necks. If used in necks, it is advisable to laminate the neck from two or three pieces for increased stability. Maple also has very tight pores, a feature that simplifies finishing.
Probably the most used wood for necks and tops of solid bodies, it comes either plain (no figure) or with various types of figures. This wood gives a bright clean sound and works very well with mahogany to get a full range of frequencies.
Maple, Bigleaf (Acer macrophyllum)
Also known as: Bigleaf maple, Broadleaf maple, Maple, Oregon maple, Pacific Coast maple, Western Maple.
Bigleaf Maple is usually much lighter weight than Black Maple but it features the same white color. It has bright tone with good bite and attack, but is not brittle like the harder woods can be.
Maple, Black (Acer nigrum)
Common names: Black maple, Black sugar maple, Hard maple, Hard rock maple, Maple, Rock maple, Sugar maple.
Black Maple is a very hard, heavy and dense wood. The grain is closed and very easy to finish. The tone is very bright with long sustain, stability and a lot of bite. This is the most traditional Fender neck wood.
Maple, European (Acer platanoides)
Also known as: Bosnian maple and Norway maple.
European maple is found throughout Europe, including the foothills of the Alps. This species is not native to North America, it has been introduced. Price approx. 2300-2500€/m3.
This particular species of maple is very similar to Sugar and Black Maple, very hard and reflective, producing a loud powerful projective sound.
Maple, Red (Acer rubrum)
Also known as: Carolina red maple, Drummond red maple, Maple, Red maple, Scarlet maple, Soft maple, Swamp maple, Water maple, White maple.
Although Red maple is considered to be a member in the soft maples group in the lumber market, it is about 5% to 7% heavier than the other soft maples.Whether or not Red Maple is used for commersial instrument building is yet to be confirmed.
Maple, Silver (Acer saccharinum)
Also known as: Soft maple and White maple.
Silver maple, which is one of the three commercially valuable soft maples in North America, is readily available and inexpensive.
Maple, Sugar (Acer saccharum)
Also known as: Bird's eye maple, Black maple, Blister maple, Canadian maple, Curly maple, Fiddleback maple, Hard maple, Maple, Rock maple, Sugar maple, White maple.
One of the most common hard maples in the U.S. Sugar maple is rated as more durable than other maples.
The common designation of ”flame”, ”quilted”, ”curly”, ”spalted” and ”birds-eye” are natural phenomena of the wood and not species of their own.
Flame, Fiddle-Back, Curly or Tiger maple all generally refer to curls or stripes. Flame can be tight, wide, straight or crooked. Most commonly used in the form of a bookmatched laminate tops and necks.
Quilted maple is a more rare form of figure occurring mostly in Bigleaf Maple. It is distinguished by its billowing cloud or even popcorn appearance. This figure can vary from large, wide billows to tight small blisters. As with flame, quilted maple is most often used as a bookmatched top.
Spalted maple is actually the product of a dead or decaying tree. The dark lines are created by fungal attack. This wood is soft and punky and is only used as a thin laminate bookmatched tops. Spalt is difficult to finish as it soaks up a lot of finish.
Birdseye maple is mostly found in the hard maple trees, and are rather rare in Soft maples. It shows best in flat sawn wood and does not usually run deep in the boards, so solid bodies are not available. As a bookmatched top it can be quite striking. There is a wide variety of sizes and shapes in the "eyes". Under a gloss finish, the Birdseye takes on a 3D look for a beautiful visual appeal. The rumor has it that birdseye maple is unstable and not suited for necks, but just as all rumors, that is not true until proven so.
Birds-eye can also sometimes be found in Birch and Ash.
Burl maple is a very busy looking wood usually with a lot of porosity and bark inclusions. Burl is not specific for maple, it can be found in a wide range of woods, such as birch, walnut, redwood, poplar, amboyna, buckeye, among others. Mostly used for bookmatched tops. Epoxy is used to fill all voids. Burl looks fantastic finished in a natural clear gloss or as a tobacco burst.
Ovangkol (Guibourtia ehie)
Common names: Amazakoue, Amazoue, Anokye, Bubinga, Ehie, Gabon ovanko, Ghana anokye, Hyedua, Hyedua-nini, Hyeduanini, Ivory Coast amazakoue, Mongoy, Mongoy walnut, Ovangkol, Ovengkol, Pallisandro
From the same family as Bubinga. Ovangkol wood has a very high bending strength, and is much stronger than Teak. Strength in compression parallel to grain is in the high range. Other species in this range include Teak, White oak, and Hard maple. The density of the wood is very high and exhibits an attractive figure.
Padouk, African (Pterocarpus soyauxii)
Common names: Africaans padoek, African coral wood, African padauk, Afrik padouk, Afrikanisches korallenholz, Afrikanisches padoik, Akume, Arapka, Ba, Barrwood, Barwood, Bo, Bois corail, Bois de rose, Bois rouge, Bois ulu, Boko, Boku, Bosulu, Bou, Camwood, Corail, Ebeu, Epein, Epion, Escio, Ezigo, Gula, Kisese, Kisesi, Koula, M'bio, Mbe, Mbel, Mbeu, Mbie, Mbil, Mbili, Mohingue, Mongola, Muenge, Mukula, Mututi, N'gola, N'gula, N'kula, Ndimbo, Ngula, Nve, Osun, Ozigo, Padouk, Padouk d'Afrique, Palorojo, Red santal, Redwood, Santal rouge, Tacula, Takula, Tizeze, Uhie, Uhile, Ukpa, Vermillion, Wele, Yomo.
Padouk is a very stiff wood but yet fairly light-weight (592kg/m3). Bright vivid orange color which oxidizes to a warm brown. This waxy feeling wood has an open grain texture similar to rosewood and a tone similar to maple with great mids and attack, well balanced and tight. This is a heavy to medium weight wood that looks great with an oil finish or clear gloss, but it doesn't necessarily need to be finished.
Pau Ferro (Machaerium villosum)
Also known as: Morado, Palo santos, Caviuna, Brazilian ironwood, Bolivian rosewood, Jacaranda amarello, Jacaranda do cerrado, Jacaranda do mato, Jacaranda escuro, Jacaranda pardo, Jacaranda paulista, Jacaranda pedra, Jacaranda roxo
Pau Ferro can easily be mistaken for Brazilian rosewood.
An excellent dense, hard wood with a very tight pore structure. This means it’s fast, smooth and extremely durable. An popular choice for fretless fingerboards. Color variations ranges from light tan to a dark coffee. The tone is brighter than Rosewood yet warmer than Ebony with plenty of articulation and attack. Just as with rosewood no finish is required.
Poplar, Yellow (Liriodendron tulipifera)
Also known as: American tulipwood, American whitewood, Blue poplar, Canadian whitewood, Canary whitewood, Canary wood, Canoe wood, Green cypress, Hickory poplar, Poplar, Popple, Saddle tree, Saddletree, Tulip poplar, Tuliptree, Tulipwood, Virginian poplar, White poplar, Whitewood, Yellow poplar, Yellow-wood.
This is another standard body wood having been used by many companies over the years (MusicMan Stingray among others). Due to the grey/green color, this wood is used mostly when solid color finishes are to be applied. Its weight generally runs about one half pound more than Alder. Tonally, it is similar to Alder as well. Poplar is a closed grain wood that accepts finish well.
Poplar is similar to Maple in visible grain structure. It is often blond in color, but can also have a green tint to it. It is lightweight (448kg/m3) and very soft.
Purpleheart (Peltogyne spp.)
Common names: Amarante, Amaranth, Amaratante, Barabu, Bois pourpre, Bois voilet, Daba, Dastan, Ellongrypho, Guaraburajado, Guarab, Koroboreli, Koroborezi, Kuruburelli, Lastan, Malako, Maraka, Mor ado, Morado, Nazareno, Palo morado, Pau roxo, Pau violeta, Pelo morado, Purperhart, Purpleheart, Saka, Sakavalli, Sapater, Tananeo, Violet, Violet wood, Violetwood, Zapatero.
Timber produced by about 20 species in the Leguminosae family, which grow in Central America and tropical South America, are collectively referred to by the trade name Purpleheart. The wood is fairly expensive, it costs more than mahogany but less than teak.
The trademark purple-like color is striking and it is gaining in popularity. A very hard, very stiff, dense wood for excellent sustain and similar to Bubinga in its thick well defined bottom.
Rosewood, like ebony, is a very popular choice for fingerboards. Rosewood, however, is oilier than ebony, making finishing more difficult, and rosewood fingerboards is generally only oiled. Brazilian rosewood is the most sought after type of rosewood and therefore the most expensive.
Rosewood, Brazilian (Dalbergia nigra)
Common names: Babia rosewood, Bahia rosewood, Caa-biuna, Cabeuna, Cabiuna, Cambore, Camboriuna, Caviuna, Jacaranda, Jacaranda cabiuna, Jacaranda de Brasil, Jacaranda wood, Jacaranda-da-bahia, Jacaranda-preto, Jacaranda-rajado, Jacaranda-roxo, Jacarandaholz, Jacarand, Jacardanda de Brasil, Legno di jacaranda, Madera de palisandro, Marnut, Palisander, Palisander wood, Palisanderholz, Palissander, Palissandre da Brasil, Palissandre du bresil, Palissandro, Pau preto, Rio rosewood, Rosewood, South American rosewood, Urauna.
Brazilian rosewood is the premier wood for fingerboards. It's got a wide range of colors, grain and patterns. Color variations are extensive running from predominately light brown to very dark and even orange. Brazilian Rosewood is always in short supply so it costs a bit more, but the look is worth it. It tends to be harder and sonically more vibrant than other rosewoods and it has a satiny feel.
Rosewood, Indian (Dalbergia latifolia)
Common names: Bhotbeula, Bhotuk, Biti, Bodbera, Bombay blackwood, Bombay rosewood, Botbiola, East Indian rosewood, Eetti, Eravadi, Eruvadi, Indian palisandre, Indian palissander, Iridi, Iti, Java palisandre, Jitangi, Jitegi, Jitiyegishi, Kala-rukh, Kalaruk, Karitti, Makle, Malabar, Rute, Ruzerap, Saisa, Satsayar, Satsiyar, Seris, Serisso, Shisham, Siase, Siras, Siris, Sirsa, Sirsai, Sisali, Sison, Sissa, Sissu, Sissua, Sissui, Sisu, Sitsal, Sonobrits, Sonokeling, Thethagatti, Thodagatti, Thothagatti, Veeti, Vitti, Yerugudu .
Here we have the most popular fingerboard wood. Indian Rosewood has the warm "rock-n-roll" tonality you’ve heard on many of the most famous rock albums in history. The warm tone is also a favorite amongst blues players. Rosewood contains natural oils so a finish is not required. The feel is also smooth and fast. Colors range from brown to dark purple to lighter purple with yellows and sometimes hues of orange and green. Indian rosewood is often used a replacement for Brazilian rosewood.
Rosewood, Madagascar (Dalbergia baroni)
Common names: Palissandre voamboana.
A gorgeous exotic wood with rich thick grain covering a range of colors and patterns, the color varies from light violet to darker purples, sometimes with darker stripes. Very hard with a somewhat open cell structure. The best smelling wood around. Finishes can be a little difficult to apply with the oily nature of the wood. You can expect big warm tones from rosewood with smooth treble roll-off and the natural feel is fast.
Silky Oak (Cardwellia sublimis)
Also known as: Australian silky oak, Australian silky-oak, Bull oak, Gold spangled wood, Lacewood, Northern silky oak, Queensland silky oak, Selano, Silky oak.
Silky Oak is more commonly known in guitarbuilding as Lacewood.
Light and soft, yet firm, strong and tough (weight 448kg/m3). The grain design ranges from very small spots to very large spots which create its signature reptilian appearance. Lacewood looks best in the form of a bookmatched laminate top, but is also available for solid bodies. The tone is similar to Alder but the look is very exotic with a fish scale like brilliance under a gloss finish. This wood needs a spray on type finish as opposed to an oil finish.
Walnut, Black (Juglans nigra)
Also known as: American black walnut, American walnut, Black walnut, Eastern black walnut, Eastern walnut, Gun-wood, Nogal, Nogal blanco, Nogal silvestre, Nuez meca, Tocte, Tropical walnut, Walnut, Walnut tree, Wavey black walnut.
This is a very beautiful, appealing, rich, brown and open grained wood. Price approx. 3400-3600€/m3). Walnut is similar to mahogany, but with larger pores and less stability. It is also rare and therefore much more expensive. Walnut is in the heavy weight category but it's not quite as heavy (hard) as hard maple but more stiff than mahogany. It has a similar sound to hard maple but it tends not to be as bright. The sonic properties combine especially well with ebony fingerboards.
Wenge (Millettia laurentii)
Common names: Anong, Awong, Awoung, Bokonge, Bwengu, Dikela, Kiboto, Mboto, Mibotu, Monkonge, Mukonde mutshi, Mundambi, N'gondou, N'toka, N'toko, Nson-so, Nsou-so, Otogo, Palissandre du congo, Pallissandre, Tshikalakala, Wenge, Zai-wenge.
Wenge features black and chocolate brown stripes. Its high weight (881kg/m3) and high stiffness does offer plenty of sustain though. Oil finishes are most popular on Wenge but you can also leave them unfinished as well. Wenge is very similar to Panga-Panga (Millettia stuhlmannii).
The tone is balanced with strong, mid presence, attack. and warm lows. Combine it with an ebony fretboard for added highs or Brazilian Rosewood for a nice rounded upper tone.
Zebrano (Microberlinia brazzavillensis)
Also known as: African zebrawood, Allen ele, Amouk, Enuk-enug, Izingana, Zebrano, Zebrawood, Zingana.
Doesn't take much IQ to figure out where Zebrawood gets its name from. This open grained wood is moderately heavy (592kg/m3) so it's primarily used as a bookmatched laminate top. When used as a body its tone is similar to maple.
Ziricote, see Canalete.
Of course the possibility to use other woods for building instruments than the most traditional and common choices is possible.
See my Alternative Woods page.