Wood Choices for the Back & Sides of a Classical Guitar...
Amazon Rosewood, a straight grained wood, compares tonally to Brazilian Rosewood though a little heavier and brittle.
Tonally American Cherry is compared to other medium-density woods like Walnut and Maple, though some compare it with Mahogany. It has an open quality with nice separation and clear trebles and good presence in the mid-range. It varies from orange to reddish tan in color with a light, open figure that adds depth under finish.
Black Acacia is honey brown or gold brown in color with straight grain. It is an excellent alternative to the rosewoods with a luminescence and depth similar to mahogany. Though from Northern California, Africa and India, the best Black Acacia is from Australia.
Bocote comes from Central America and features a tobacco/reddish brown color with distinct, parallel black lines. It’s less brittle than Ziricote.
Figured & Quilted Bubinga
Bubinga, also known as African Rosewood, is harder and heavier than either Brazilian or Indian Rosewood. It has a medium texture with interlocking grain. It’s pinkish-mauve cast oxidizes to a nice brownish-red over time.
From Central America, it is sometimes known as Mexican Kingwood. The wood has a deep, rich purple color with numerous black ink lines. Straight grain is rare but it is surprisingly stable.
Alaskan Yellow Cedar, sometimes called Canadian or New World Cypress, is fine and even textured with close grains. In terms of dimensional change due to moisture content change, it is one of the most stable. It is light yellow in color.
Cocobolo is a Rosewood that grows in southern Mexico and Central America. Freshly cut, it is a bright yellow and orange-red but over time it oxidizes to a rich brown-red color with black streaks. It is probably as close to Brazilian Rosewood in beauty and tonal qualities as any wood. Cocobolo is heavier than most Rosewoods, not as stable, and occasionally more brittle.
Although East Indian Rosewood has been used for guitar backs and sides for many
decades it became more common in the mid-1960s when the more well known Brazilian
Rosewood became less available for guitar construction. Indian Rosewood was also
found to be an excellent alternative to Brazilian Rosewood both visually and
tonally with added stability. The color ranges from red to light brown with
Granadillo is common in South America. It is non-porous, straight grained and very dense. It has a medium to fine texture. The reddish brown color darkens to a brick color over time much like Honduran Rosewood.
Honduran Rosewood has become difficult to obtain. Denser than Indian Rosewood, it compares well to Brazilian Rosewood, and some claim it is superior, producing a well-balanced sounding guitar with great projection and strong lows and highs. A good substitute to Brazilian Rosewood. The color ranges from a rich mauve to a brownish brick red with tight growth rings and occasional dark brown to black ink lines.
Koa was first used as a tone wood in the ukuleles of Hawaii for its warm tone.
Colors range from brown to gold with rich and varying grain.
Lacewood is from South America. It is dense wood with a loud, sustaining tap tone. Its color is a warm cinnamon brown.
Macassar Ebony has alternating bands of black and light tan. From East Indonesia, its stability and low damping make it a good tone wood.
It can resemble the best figured Brazilian Rosewood in appearance and sound. It has brilliant, deep colors (red & orange, red & brown, brown & brown, purple & brown) with intense black line patterning.
Plain, Flamed & Quilted Mahogany
Honduran Mahogany used to be exported mainly from Honduras, but now comes more often from Brazil. African Mahogany is a little heavier and finer textured than Honduran Mahogany. Mahogany is fine for guitars due to its relative low cost, ease of working and stability. Colors range from light pink to medium brown to reddish brown.
Flamed, Bigleaf & Burl Maple
Maple is known for its figure, particularly “curly” or “flamed” wood, exhibiting the tight even curls of “fiddleback” figure, as well as “birds-eye” and “quilted” or “blister” figure. European Maple is between Rock Maple and Bigleaf in hardness, and is fine and even-textured. Bigleaf Maple is a bit coarser and harder to work. It can range in color from ivory, to pink, to tan. Quilted Maple is the hardest to obtain.
Monterey Cypress is a cousin to Spanish Cypress. The hues have a pinkish tone, but the overall appearance is one of a creamy luster. It is a stronger and more reasonably priced alternative to Spanish Cypress. It is indistinguishable from Spanish Cypress in terms of sound production.
Oregon Myrtle is also known as California or Bay Laurel (or Pepperwood). It ranges in color from blond-yellow to taupe and makes very nice guitars and offers a bright sound, similar to Maple. It is a good alternative for Flamenco guitars.
From West Africa, its affordability, beauty and tonality is making it a favorite with a growing number of makers. Its figure is similar to Indian Rosewood, with dark grey straight lines over a golden-brown or olive-brown background. It comes from the same family as Bubinga and has a similar interlocking grain pattern. Tonally it is said to be between the robustness of Rosewood and the sparkly high-end of Maple.
Padauk is a bright orange or almost crimson wood when freshly cut, but oxidizes more to a dark, rich purple-brown over time. Padauk is slightly harder and heavier than Indian Rosewood. It is stable with a strong tone.
Palo Escrito is a native wood used by builders in Paracho, Mexico. Its tone is similar to Indian Rosewood, but with slightly wider grain, more figure, and lighter color. It has more visual character than Indian Rosewood and is moderately priced.
Also known as Caviuna, Bolivian Rosewood, or Palo Santos looks a lot like Indian Rosewood, but has browns, golds and yellows instead of the purple shades. It’s heavier than Indian and Brazilian Rosewood.
Also known as Mediterranean Cypress, it was originally introduced into Spain from Asia Minor centuries ago. Most flamenco makers prefer this traditional wood, but it’s becoming scarce and expensive. It has a creamy-yellowish color with occasional strong growth lines.
Walnut is a rich brown color with occasional black streaks. It produces a striking instrument with a crisp, dry tone, a strong fundamental and with age, very stable. Black Walnut is gray in color, often with contrasting tan center strips. Peruvian Walnut is a dark chocolate brown color, often with interesting, broad, dark lines. Mayan Walnut is very even colored and straight grained and is very easy to work. The color is a light-mocha with contrasting dark gray grain lines.
As the price of Indian Rosewood has increased, African Wenge has become a more viable alternative wood. The color is chocolate brown with evenly spaced black veins. Wenge is heavier than either Indian or Brazilian Rosewood and is stiffer, but softer, with large pores.
Zebrawood is a more boldly colored alternative to Indian Rosewood. With about the same density, workability and resonance as Indian Rosewood, it is evenly striped overall with small alternating bands of gold-tan and dark brown.
Ziricote is striking in appearance, much like Brazilian Rosewood but in
shades of grey and olive green with black rather than red with black. It is
heavier than Rosewood and tends to be brittle.
Alternative Wood Choices for the Classical Guitar
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