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 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 favourite 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. We use the lightest African Mahogany we can find as the standard neck option for the Little Sister, and Honduran Mahogany as an optional upgrade.
Unlike mahogany sourced from its native locations, plantation mahogany grown in Asia is not restricted in trade. The mahogany timber grown in these Asian plantations is the major source of international trade in genuine mahogany today. The properties of non-old growth mahogany are very different from those of old-growth mahogany, and this is the reason we are always out scouting for reclaimed wood to use for our guitar necks.
Brazilian RosewoodBrazilian Rosewood (Dalbergia nigra) produces a very hard and heavy wood, characteristically varied in color from brick red through various shades of brown (medium to nearly black). Pieces that feature veins of black coloration called spider webbing or landscape grain are especially prized. Brazilian rosewood has a distinctive floral fragrance—reminiscent of roses with a distinctive sweetness—and strongest in old growth wood. Another distinguishing feature is its outstanding resonance. An evenly cut piece that is tapped emits a bright metallic ring that sustains. This property, combined with its beauty, has made Brazilian rosewood a favorite of musical instrument makers for centuries.
Old growth Brazilian rosewood remains highly prized by classical and steel string guitar makers, who regarded it as one of the best sounding woods for guitar backs and sides. It was used in instruments as long ago as the late Renaissance and Baroque eras, when luthiers used it for lute backs (ribs) and various parts of other stringed musical instruments. It was also used in woodwind instruments, such as flutes and recorders.
It was widely used in many of the best vintage acoustic and electric guitars up until the late ’60s. Check out your ’59 Gibson Les Paul, ’62 Fender Stratocaster, or ’48 Martin OOO-28, and the electrics’ fret-boards and the acoustic’s back and sides will be made from this prized timber. It is hard and dense, and these characteristics can enhance a clear, crisp, ringing tone,
Due to its endangered status, it was CITES-listed on Nov. 6, 1992, in Appendix I (the most protected), and is therefore illegal to trade unless documented as a pre-CITES cut (as in the case with B&G) , or harvested from trees that have fallen naturally—and is accompanied with a certificate of provenance in both cases.
Given the strict restrictions on its acquisition and trafficking, available supplies of sufficient quality are getting harder and harder to find, and therefore more and more expensive.
African MahoganyAfrican Mahogany (Khaya ivorensis, Khaya anthotheca, Khaya senegalensis) is part of a tree family called 'Meliaceae'. African Mahogany has all what it takes to make a great tonewood; its weight and strength allow for well-defined ranges of tones, it works easily and displays beautiful figures, everything from straight-grained to flamed, quilt and curl.
African Mahogany is more dense than Honduran Mahogany, and thus heavier, but it is considered as the closest to genuine Mahogany, with similar tonal qualities and characteristics. Like all Mahogany, it’s internal dampening qualities create tonal balance with emphasis on warm mids and lows with crisp highs. We choose only the lightest and driest pieces of African Mahogany.
Indian RosewoodIndian Rosewood (Dalbergia latifolia) is a sub specie 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 usage, 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 on the visual aspect. Though it is still quite dark, basically brown, but with purple, gray and sometimes red highlights, 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 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 fretboards, after many attempts 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 decades since it was first developed in the 1920s. When nitro first came out it was much faster drying than other options, but since the mid 60's poly (polyurethane lacquer) has become the standard for its faster dry time and better durability. Though it is commonly used in all major guitar factories, poly is much thicker, and that affects the wood resonance.
Nitro is not an unbreakable chemical bond like polyester and polyurethane. Nitro is not a cocoon, permanent and unmoving, wrapped tightly over your guitar’s body. Nitro is evaporating and leaving your guitar always. A thin finish to begin with, 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, is 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 harder, we think that our Private built 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 the hard-shiny finish which is then flatted and polished to the mirror like surface we are used to seeing on guitars. But, 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. At the same time, it will be getting thinner and become more brittle, eventually wearing off completely (after many years though). Look at any old guitar and you will see it. This is fine for musical instruments, and part of the reason why old guitars sound ‘better’ than new ones, so we are still offering a cellulose finish for our private build.
Today, there are many alternatives to cellulose, as for example, a ‘two pack’ lacquer which dries by a chemical process (Polyurethane) – a catalyst or hardener is added to the lacquer hence the name. These do dry faster but tend to be thicker and still suffer from "sinkage" over time.
In our Crossroads series, we looked for a solution that will be affordable and fast-drying, on one hand, but still thin and that would allow the wood to change, move and "evolve".
UV Cure system has many advantages:
UV lacquer can be sprayed, brushed or wiped on and is dried (or ‘cured’) in minutes with UV light. It still needs flatting and polishing, but:
It is much faster- there is virtually no drying time so this speeds up the finishing process dramatically.
It is thinner- this is great for musical instruments. As we already know, thick finish don't allow the woods to participate in the sound-making process. Especially in semi-hollows, thinner finish means bigger sound.
It is harder- UV is more scratch resistant and durable than other conventional finishes. It is also impervious to chemicals like alcohols and solvents and even itself once dry, this will ensure that your Little Sister Crossroads guitar will hold through many gigs and rehearsals.
It is ‘greener’- unlike Nitro (nitrocellulose) and Poly (Polyurethane), UV is better for the environment (and for us). There are no solvents- that’s zero VOC (Volatile organic compounds) content.
There is No "Sinkage"- UV will not sink into the grain because there are no solvents to evaporate- when it is dry, it I 100%s dry!