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Wood Of The Month

Article from Making Music, July 1987

ADRIAN LEGG withdraws his handy Acme saw from the attractive shoulder holster, and attacks several large chunks of wood in search of the perfect guitar body. If he were a carpenter...


Phoebe porosa, of the Lauraceae family.

This was called imbuya (quite correctly) in a Schecter exotics catalogue. Whatever happened to all those wonderful whole-food and oil-finish guitars?

The tree grows in Brazil, usually in company with pine, but not widely. It gives a yellow to dark brown heartwood which may have curly grain with variations in colouring and figuring. It is prized in Brazil for upmarket furniture, panelling, and gun-stocks, and may be used in Europe for veneer. You may see it sold as Brazilian walnut, as it has some of those lovely walnut characteristics when finished up.

It is a fine to medium textured, quite heavy wood, over 650 kilos per cubic metre, on the hefty but not unbearable side for a Strat body. It is easy to work and finish, and once worked is quite stable but may warp if dried incautiously.

Iroko, another option in the same catalogue, is of the Moraceae family, and comes from Africa, growing from Tanzania to Sierra Leone. It is a rain-forest tree, growing big to well over 40 metres high and 2½ metres thick. It weighs about the same as imbuia, but is coarser textured and more likely to be a golden brown. It needs filling to get a good finish, but takes screws and glues quite happily. A tendency to develop calcium deposits in cavities — a sort of arboreal kidney stone — can blunt cutting edges, but otherwise it is not hard to work, though when quarter-sawn, interlocking grain can be pulled up. It can produce a veneer, and is used in boat building and for fire-proof doors, as well as general interior and exterior joinery in West and East Africa.

I've never had a crack at a guitar made with either, so what it does to a vintage single or a blow-your-head-off humbucker I can't say, but some of these exotics look so good I wouldn't care if they never came off the wall. I've a sneaky feeling that high harmonics might get lost in the coarser textures, though, and tend to put smooth texture before density for even response.

And wouldn't it be nice to see the back of these bloody cabbage-crates covered in polyester and have some grain back again?


Since the name jacaranda is applied to many other woods, we shall start with jacaranda pardo, machaerium villosum, of the prolific Legumi-nosae family. It may be called jacaranda amarello, do cerrado, do mato, escuro, or paulista.

It grows in the north east of Brazil, and further south of Brasilia to Sao Paulo. The wood is coarse and fibrous with a wavy grain and is lighter coloured and less figured than rosewood (also often called jacaranda) and which it otherwise resembles. Weight varies around 850 kilos per cubic metre.

Another thing altogether is jacaranda rosa, or Brazilian tulipwood. This is of the genus Dalbergia, family Leguminosae, and there are two varieties, frutescens and tomentosa. This might also be called pau rosa or pau de fuso. This is a gloriously coloured wood which dulls down on exposure to the air from deep reds, violets and pinks. It is heavier than jacaranda pardo, over 950 kilos per cubic metre, and finer textured but with an irregular grain. It is hard to work, but can be brought up to a beautiful natural finish, and is used for marimba keys. It also grows in the Brazilian north east and down into Bahia.

We've dipped into two Brazilian timbers here, and if anyone is going to get fuss-potty about rosewoods and so forth, it's worth taking a look at an atlas to try to get things into perspective. There are over 60,000 miles of navigable water on the Amazon system, fed from Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. Along the Amazon grows a forest of over 2500 species, nearly 2000 miles along from east to west, over 1000 miles deep at its widest point to the west, narrowing down to a width near the Atlantic of merely the equivalent of London to Truro. Big, innit? A lot of trees.


J is also for Jamaica ebony, which is what they call cocuswood in the States. To be precise, brya ebenus of the Leguminosae again, and it grows in Cuba and Jamaica.

The heartwood is yellow-brown, through dark brown, to almost black. It is very dense, around the 1200 kilos per cubic metre mark, and it is used for flutes, clarinets, and bashing hippies, miners and students. Truncheons have to be made of something I guess.

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Publisher: Making Music - Track Record Publishing Ltd, Nexus Media Ltd.

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Making Music - Jul 1987

Feature by Adrian Legg

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