Saturday October 25, 2014

Alternative Tonewoods

Evaluations

055  Higuerilla (Micandra spruceana)

Higuerilla  is a richly colored hardwood ranging from light coffee to mid orange brown with dark brown stripes. When book matched, Higuerilla presents a strong and colorful linear figure for backboards. Higuerilla weighs 45 pounds per cubic foot and has moderate stiffness similar to Koa. When used for backboard and ribs, Higuerilla imparts a generally bright tone with good clarity. The long open pores will require moderate filling prior to finishing

061 Cachimbo (Cariniana domesticata)

Cachimbo is a small-pore hardwood of a medium tan color. Weighing approximately 39 pounds per cubic, Cachimbo is a relatively stiff wood with similar tonal and structural properties to red maple. Cachimbo lends itself to those instruments where tonal brightness is more important than elaborate figure or grain.

015  Manchinga (Brosimun alicastrum)

Manchinga has an interesting spalt-like figure on a light-tan to grayish-tan field. The grain of this unusual wood ranges from a fine-grained texture that is similar to a light-colored mahogany, to smooth fields of tan or grey-tan. Manchinga has small pores and is a medium weight wood that weights 47 pounds per cubic foot. It has moderate flexibility which helps this wood to deliver a medium to bright tone when used for backboards and rims.

098 Tigrillo (Amburana cearensis)

Tigrillo is considered to be a distant cousin of Ishpingo (Amburana cearensis), but while its basic coloration is very similar, its appearance is vastly different. Tigrillo is laden with a series of wispy dark-brown stripes that gives this wood a very interesting appearance. However, its 41 pounds per cubic foot weight is similar to Ishpingo and the similar coloration of these two woods makes them ideal partners to be used in combination for the same instrument, either as wedges for a backboard, or using one for rims and the other for backboards. Tigrillo is a rigid wood and imparts a rich clear tone.

062 Ishpingo (Amburana cearensis)

Ishpingo is a handsome hardwood with a stately curved but consistently shaped grain. Ishpingo is grayish tan in color and the darkest regions are a medium brown. While this wood weighs 41 pounds per cubic foot (not as dense as our heavier woods), it is very rigid and imparts a rich clear tone. An excellent wood for rims and backboards where an interesting but not elaborate figure is required.

059 Pumaquiro (Aspidosperma macrocarpon)

Pumaquiro is a stately wood with long soft stripes. It is a light tanish color, and the grain is somewhat similar in appearance to Honduras mahogany. Pumaquiro is one of our heavier hardwoods weighing in at 58 pounds per cubic foot. It is a dense, rigid wood and delivers a powerful tone similar to, but not as bright as rosewood. Ideal for backboards and rims.

024 Requia (Guarea guidonea)

Requia is a light-reddish wood whose grain, figure, and weight is similar to Honduras (genuine) mahogany. Requia weighs 33 pounds per cubic foot (Honduras mahogany is 34 pounds per cubic foot) and Requia has similar working and tonal properties to that of Honduras Mahogany. The color is a bit lighter and slightly more reddish than its mahogany counterpart. While the weight and color of Requia is similar to Honduras mahogany, it appears to be a bit more rigid. Requia is ideal for backboards, rims, lining, as well as head- and tail-blocks.

056 Tornillo (Cedralinga catenaeformis)

Tornillo is a beautiful wood of a golden-tan color with a field of long shimmering stripes populated with thin dark-brown flecks. Tornillo is a very stiff wood and imparts a bright, clear tone when used for backboards and rims. It weights 42 pounds per cubic foot. (The dark brown flecks are the results of open pores which have to be filled before the finish is applied.)

008 Isigo (Couratari sp.)

Isigo is one of the most dense woods we import, and is reddish-tan in color with modest figure and small pores. The figure is delicate lines of light and dark wood of similar shades and colors. Isigo’s stiffness and density lend itself to instruments where a bright, clear, driving tone is desired. This wood weighs 57 pounds per cubic foot.

017 Copaiba (Copaifera officinallis)

Copiaba is an unusual hardwood whose delicate figure features lots of small curly lines of medium-dark brown on a grayish-tan field. The figure becomes very prominent when under a clear finish. At 38 pounds per cubic foot, Copiaba is of medium weight, and its density and moderate flexibility lend to enhancing the instrument’s tone in the mid and bass ranges.

049 Pashaco Amarillo (Schizalobium sp.)

Pashaco Amarillo is an attractive wood with dark gray flecks and spalt-like lines. As its Spanish name implies, its color ranges from a light yellow-ish field to the dark grey (and sometimes black) flecks. Pashaco weights 36 pounds per cubic foot and is a moderately flexible wood that imparts good mid- to low-range tonal response when used for backboards and rims.

044 Pashaco Negro (Schizolobium parahybum)

Pashaco Negro is one of our lightest hardwoods weighing in at 27 pounds per cubic foot. It is a mildy-streaked wood that is populated with an abundance of small dark lines (open pores). A very light and flexible wood, Pashaco has potential as an optional soundboard material, but would provide great bass and mid range response when used for rims and backboards. This is an excellent material for the backboards and rims of classical guitars. The open pores of Pashaco Negro need to be filled prior to finishing. (Also see Catahua and Achihua for soundboard wood options.)

007 Mango (Manguifera indica)

Mango boasts an unusual and attractive appearance. The figure of mango consists of several anomalies including moderate curl, swirl, and spalting. This combined to the highly varied grain makes Mango a very decorative and interesting wood for backboards and rims. Mango weighs 40 pounds per cubic foot and provides a good mid-range response. Wormholes are common and add to the attractive features of this wood (the wormholes should be filled prior to finishing).

060 Achihua (Huberodendom swietenoides)

Achihua is blonde wood with light grain flecks. The color is evenly distributed across the surface and there is evidence of occasional “silk.” Achihua weighs 28 pounds per cubic foot (which is similar to Sitka spruce at 27 pounds per cubic foot) and it’s light weight and flexibility offers possibilities for this wood to be used for soundboards as well as rims and backboards. This wood is very resonant and responsive and its density and weight lend itself for use as rims and soundboards for classical guitars. (Also see Catahua and Pashaco Negro for soundboard wood options.)

058 Catahua (Hura crepitans)

Catahua is the lightest weight of our hardwoods weighing in at 25 pounds per cubic foot. Its light weight, strength, and great flexibility suggest that this wood would work well for backboards and rims of classical guitars. This wood is a light blonde color with mild grain and figure. If you are experimenting with soundboard woods and are seeking options other than spruce, Catahua would be an interesting material to evaluate. (Also see Achihua and Pashaco Negro for soundboard wood options.)

097 Peruvian Walnut (Juglans neotropica)

Peruvian walnut is an interesting relative to our domestic black walnut. Peruvian walnut features a rather plain and straight grain and figure (compared to the more pronounced and varied grain and figure of American black walnut). The wood weighs 32 pounds per cubic foot (the same as American black walnut) and its acoustical properties are similar to American black walnut and provide a good mid to bass response when used for backboards and rims. The color ranges from rich brown to mid tan-brown.

001 Shihuahuaco (Dipteryx micranta)

Shihuahuaco is one of our densest woods, weighing 57 pounds per cubic foot. It is a stiff hardwood with a beautiful image of light-tan fine-grain stripes that run parallel to the grain between stripes of an orange/brown speckley texture. The combination of Shihuahuaco’s density and stiffness should provide a bright and powerful tone when used for rims and backboards. This wood has similar acoustical properties, but a very different appearance from our Isigo and Pumaquiro.

006 Quillabordon (Aspidosperma subincamum)

Quillabordon is a very simple wood of a light yellow-tan color and very modest grain and figure that finishes to a rich golden hue. At 45 pounds per cubic foot, Quillabordon is considered to be a medium-weight tonewood. It’s bright coloration overpowers its simplicity and lends itself to providing a regal appearance, especially when bordered with dark wood bindings. From and acoustical standpoint, Quillabordon’s lighter weight supports an instruments bass- to mid-range without overpowering the trebles.

012 Estoraque (Myroxylon balsamun)

Estoraque is an interestingly-figured wood decorated with a medullary-ray figure similar to what we commonly see in red oak (Quercus rubra) but of more minute detail. Estoraque weighs 63 pounds per cubic foot and is a light red-brown color that finishes to a rich and beautiful mahogany brown. The elevated stiffness of Estoraque helps to enhance the mid- to treble-range of an instrument built from this wood.

053 Capirona (Callycophylum spruceanum)

Capirona is a light-coffee colored hardwood that finishes just slightly darker than its sanded surface. It has wispy gray streaks that give this wood an attractive but not overstated appearance. Capirona weighs 52 pounds per cubic foot, a weight that classes it in the category of our more dense instrument woods. This wood is very rigid and evokes a bright, clear tone when tapped, an attribute that would support the instrument’s note-to-note clarity and treble range when used for rims and backboards. Since the wood does not change color or darken dramatically when finished, a guitar made from Capirona would have a bright and stately appearance.

054 Moena Amarillo (Aniba amazonica)

As the word “amarillo” suggests, Moena Amarillo is a yellow wood with areas of shimmering golden color that become even more pronounced when the finish is applied. Rather than an abundance of pronounced figure, Moena Amarillo displays areas of highlighted reflections and areas of subdued yellow shading, and its beauty is in its complex simplicity. Moena Amarillo weighs 42 pounds per cubic foot and is a very responsive tonewood that will provide good amplitude and mid-range response when used for rims and backboards.

057 Panguana (Brosimun utile)

Panguana is a light-weight tonewood with a modest spalted figure whose color ranges from light tan through the grayish tans. Panguana shows a rich coloration of stripes and grain lines that becomes especially beautiful when the wood is finished. At 37 pounds per cubic foot, Panguana is among our lighter-weight instrument woods, with a weight and stiffness similar to our Copaiba, and like Copaiba its density and moderate flexibility lend to enhancing the instrument’s tone in the mid and bass ranges

048 Hymiwood (species unknown)

Hymiwood has a very elaborate figure and a coloration that ranges from red-browns to gray-tans. It weighs 56 pounds per cubic foot and is a reasonably stiff wood. We hope to have this species available soon for further testing.

 

Our tonewoods by weight (pounds per cubic foot, from lightest to heaviest)

Code Species
Weight
058 Catahua
25
044 Pashaco Negro
27
060 Achihua
29
097 Peruvian Walnut
32
024 Requia
33
049 Pashaco Amarillo
37
057 Panguana
37
017 Copiaba
38
061 Cachimbo
39
007 Mango
41
098 Tigrillo
41
062 Ishpingo
41
054 Moena Amarillo
41
056 Tornillo
42
015 Manchinga
44
055 Higuerilla
45
006 Quillabordon
45
053 Capirona
52
048 Hymiwood
56
008 Isigo
57
001 Shihuahuaco
57
059 Pumaquiro
58
012 Estoraque
62

Some common luthiere woods for reference
  Sitka spruce
27
  Sugar (hard) maple
34
  Brazilian rosewood
53

Notes:

1. Not all dense hardwoods are good tone producers. The level of stiffness is a key factor.

2. As a general rule, as the weight increases, the stiffness and tonal brightness increases (but this is not always the case which is why we evaluate each wood individually).

3. Dense hardwoods are typically used for rims and backboards.

4. Light-weight supple woods are typically used for soundboards.

5. Most bracing and tone bars are made from light-weight supple woods.

6. Requia is an ideal wood for necks, headblocks, and tailblocks (but other woods of similar density can be used).

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