Honduran MahoganyBig-leaf mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) was sourced in British Honduras (today called Belize), and was sold by the trade name Honduran Mahogany. This has led many to believe that the wood was grown in Honduras. Much of it was, but it was also being harvested in a range of other places, from Mexico to southern Amazonia in Brazil. It is one of three species that yields genuine mahogany timber, the others being Swietenia mahagoni (West Indian mahogany) and Swietenia humilis.
Illegal logging of S. macrophylla, and its highly destructive environmental effects, led to the species' placement in 2003 on Appendix II of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the first time that a high-volume, high-value tree was listed on Appendix II.
Mahogany has a straight, fine, and even grain and is relatively free of voids and pockets. Its reddish-brown color darkens over time, and displays a reddish sheen when polished. It has excellent workability and is very durable. Historically, the tree's girth allowed for wide boards from traditional mahogany species. Mahogany’s inherent physical properties have made it the favorite wood of cabinet-makers and other master craftsmen for five centuries. Mahogany is exceptionally strong for its weight, outranking any of the woods that could possibly substitute it as a medium weight wood in structural applications.
Thanks to its light weight and strength compared to its relatives, Honduran Mahogany is the favorite choice of instrument builders, but is very hard to find today. African and Spanish mahoganies are often used as a replacement for Honduran Mahogany.
African MahoganyAfrican Mahogany (Khaya ivorensis, Khaya anthotheca, Khaya senegalensis) is part of a tree family called 'Meliaceae'. African Mahogany has all it takes to make a great tonewood; its weight and strength allow for well-defined ranges of tones, it works easily, and it displays beautiful figures - everything from straight-grained to flamed, quilted and curled.
African Mahogany is more dense than Honduran Mahogany, and thus heavier, but it is considered the closest to genuine Mahogany, with similar tonal qualities and characteristics. Like all Mahogany, its internal dampening qualities create tonal balance, with emphasis on warm mids and lows, and crisp highs. We choose only the lightest and driest pieces of African Mahogany for our necks.
Pau FerroSantos Rosewood (Machaerium or Scleroxylon), also known as "Pau-Ferro", is a sub species of the 'Machaerium' family, and is not a part of the 'Dalbergia' sub-species (commonly known as Rosewood).
"Pau Ferro" is a distinctive and beautiful wood, with so many of the characteristics of Brazilian Rosewood that is regarded as such by many luthiers.It's stable, abrasion resistant, hard, attractive, exotic, and has good compression strength parallel to the grain.All of this make it very suitable wood for fingerboards.
Visually, Santos ranges in color from a light violet brown to reddish brown with occasional olive and black streaks.Finer in texture than most rosewoods, it is a close visual substitute for East Indian Rosewood, and has very similar tonal properties.It is also used for similar purposes as Brazilian rosewood, such as turnery, cabinets, fine furniture, specialty items, and decorative veneers.The heartwood color is brown to dark violet brown, frequently with streaks throughout and a waxy feel.
ZiricoteZiricote (Cordia dodecandra), is a sub species of the 'Cordia genus' family.
This wood is sometimes called "Mexican Ebony", though it's not really black and it's not Ebony.Ziricote has a striking appearance, much like Brazilian Rosewood, with "spider-webbing" but in shades of grays and olive greens with black, rather than reds with black.Always visually stunning, it is heavier than most rosewoods but both its tonal and aesthetic qualities are great.
Although Ziricote is not a member of the Dalbergia (Rosewood) family, it has excellent low dampening qualities similar to most rosewoods with a clean, reverberating resonance.Ziricote pairs well with almost any top to bring a wide tonal variety.The tone of Ziricote falls between Indian Rosewood and Macassar Ebony - it has more clarity than Indian, but provides more overtones than Macassar.Its tone is comparable to Brazilian Rosewood, in that it has a deep "boomy" sound with sparkling highs.
Heavier than most rosewoods, it behaves somewhat like Ebony and tends to be brittle, but what it lacks in workability it more than makes up for in tonality, which is why many renowned acoustic guitar makers use Ziricote on some of their finest models.
OvangkolOvangkol (Guibourtia ehie), also called Shedua and Amazaqoue, is a sub-species of the 'Guibourtia' family.
From West Africa, its figure is similar to Indian Rosewood, with dark gray straight lines over a golden-brown or olive-brown background. Ovangkol is a wood of medium density, and usually has a light-brown color with dark stripes. It comes from the same family as Bubinga, sharing many tonal qualities, and has a similar interlocking grain pattern. It is reasonably easy to bend and plane, and it finishes well.
As an African relative of Rosewood, Ovangkol is a great sounding wood that shares many of rosewood’s tonal properties, with a slightly fuller midrange and a top end that’s not quite as bright as maple. Being lesser known than rosewood, Ovangkol has been a sleeper hit over the years, asserting itself as an instant contender among unsuspecting players who test-drive a variety of acoustic guitar models. This type of wood has been in use by several of the larger high-end factories for several years now, but its combination of affordability, beauty and tonality has made it a favorite with a growing number of boutique builders as well.
KATALOXKatalox/ Mexican Royal Ebony (pronounced 'cat-ah-losh') is an extremely dense tonewood, originating from Central America, that is similar to Ebony. The color is dark brown to nearly black with subtle red/purple highlights, and tonality for Katalox is similar to the traditional attributes of ebony, along with excellent sustain. This is why Katalox has been ranked in several publications (including by the USDA) as a suitable substitute to African Gabon Ebony for stringed instruments.
Other names include: Mexican Royal Ebony; Wamara; Bannia; Catalox; Katalosh
Scientific name: Swartzia cubensis
Indian RosewoodIndian Rosewood (Dalbergia latifolia) is a sub-species of 'Genus Dalbergia' (commonly known as genuine Rosewood) and for the last 25 years is being used as a replacement for the Brazilian Rosewood. Though Brazilian Rosewood is still in common use, it has been protected against import and export by the CITES [Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora] treaty since 1991. For this reason, a few alternatives have surfaced, one being Indian Rosewood, which in turn has become a standard choice and can now be considered a traditional tonewood itself.
Indian Rosewood has many similar characteristics as Brazilian Rosewood, but with some differences, mainly in its visual aspects. Like Brazilian rosewood, it is also quite dark - basically brown, but with purple, gray, and sometimes red highlights, and it is known for straighter, more homogenous grain lines and a lack of ink-line figuring. Some say it is on par with Brazilian rosewood for tone (a few even say it is superior), and though it is far easier to procure and less expensive, it is nonetheless considered the mark of a higher-end instrument. There are arguments that it lacks a bit of the projection that Brazilian rosewood is known for, but this is debatable.
Indian Rosewood has an extremely high velocity of sound and a broad range of overtones. All rosewoods have strongly pronounced low overtones, which help create a complex bottom end that imparts an overall darkness of tone to the instrument. Strong mids and highs serve to reinforce overtones generated by the top, contributing to a fatness of tone in the upper registers.
We use Indian Rosewood for our fingerboard; after much searching, we found that the tonal qualities, stability, and grain figures makes it the one of best fretboard materials, which will last for more than a lifetime.
NitrocelluloseNitrocellulose, also called "cellulose nitrate", is a mixture of nitric esters of cellulose and a highly flammable compound that is the main ingredient of modern gunpowder and is also employed in lacquers and paints. Nitro has been the mainstay for guitar lacquer, ever since it was first developed in the 1920s. When nitro first came out it was much faster drying than other finish options, but since the mid-60s, poly (polyurethane lacquer) has become the standard due to its faster dry time and increased durability. Though it is commonly used in all major guitar factories, poly is much thicker, and that affects the wood's resonance.
Unlike polyester and polyurethane, Nitro is not an unbreakable chemical bond, nor does it act like a cocoon, permanent and unmoving, wrapped tightly over your guitar’s body. Rather, Nitro is constantly evaporating. A thin finish to begin with, it gets thinner and thinner with time, allowing the wood molecules to literally dance to your music. The process of applying it on the guitars, however, takes a bit longer and adds 3-4 weeks to the build time.
We use Nitrocellulose lacquer to seal, paint, and coat our Private Builds. Although it takes longer and the process is more delicate, we think that our Private build guitars deserve only the best of the best.
UV FinishConventional lacquer needs time to dry - it contains solvents and these need time to evaporate, leaving behind a hard-shiny finish which is then buffed and polished to the mirror-like surface we are used to seeing on guitars. However, the process of applying conventional lacquer such as a Nitrocellulose finish takes up to 3 months curing time, and even then, solvents will continue to evaporate, causing the lacquer to ‘sink’ into the grain of the wood. This is great for musical instruments, and part of the reason why old guitars resonate better than new ones, but it means a lot of time and labor. For our Crossroads series, we needed to find a solution that would be both affordable and fast-drying, while still thin enough to allow the wood to change, move and evolve. The UV-cured finish was the answer.
UV lacquer can be sprayed, brushed, or wiped on, and is dried (or ‘cured’) in minutes with UV light. It still needs buffing and polishing, but there's virtually no drying time. UV is thinner and harder than Polyurethane, and also better for the environment.