5 EXOTIC WOODS THAT SOUND LIKE ROSEWOOD -
Which You Might Not Have Heard About
Rosewood is largely popular; it is perhaps the most popular out of the “big three” tonewoods in the acoustic guitar world - alongside Mahogany and Maple. Even outside the world of guitars, Rosewood is popular for its use in furniture. Its massive popularity resulted in its ban on 2 January 2017 due to the rampant illegal trafficking which led to the need for conservation efforts. An exemption for music instruments was finally made on 26 November 2019. The holy grail of rosewoods, Brazilian Rosewood (Dalbergia nigra) remains banned until this day.
Exemption or not, we think it is a great idea to look for rosewood alternatives. Below, we provide 5 alternatives for Rosewood for your consideration. While deviating from an established norm in the industry may be scary, you would be surprised how good they are as tonewoods, especially in the hands of a capable luthier.
ZIRICOTE: (Cordia dodecandra)
This is easily one of the most beautiful tonewoods around with its intense spider webbing and colours, bearing some semblance to highly figured Brazilian Rosewood. If a Rosewood had a figure as intense as Ziricote, it would fetch a pretty penny.
Infamously known as Mexican crackwood because of its tendency to crack easily, you may be concerned with its use as a tonewood. However if it has been dried and handled properly a skilled luthier before building into a guitar, it should be just fine. If it’s any consolation, no Ziricote guitar has cracked under our watch yet!
Tonally, Ziricote bears resemblance to that of Rosewood, except with a little more high frequency clarity and less of that rosewood depth/reverb. It would probably be a better recording instrument as a result, while still having that acoustic richness associated with Rosewood.
Not the cheapest Rosewood alternative but certainly worth the $$ given its beauty don’t you think?
MALAYSIAN BLACKWOOD: (Diospyros ebonasea)
Malaysian Blackwood is perhaps our favourite tonewood here on the list with regards to its looks. It has a classy understated look which is not overly figured. We really like how the grains run very vertically with dark ink lines and varying degrees of brown throughout, and throwing in a little sapwood for good measure.
Malaysian Blackwood is actually an Ebony species with a very glassy tap tone, giving it some of the bell-like highs of Brazilian Rosewood. It is probably the densest Rosewood alternative on this list, about 40% denser than your typical Rosewood, which makes for a very heavy guitar with a lot of sustain. Given the weight, the response of the instrument would be a little less immediate or forward. We would therefore recommend pairing it with a stiffer top (Adirondack or Sitka) to build a larger bodied instrument to capitalise on these properties.
MACASSAR EBONY: (Diospyros celebica)
As the name suggests, it is an Ebony species. This naturally means that it is of a denser nature than your typical Rosewoods. It also has a higher damping character which means less overtones and sustain. However, as the majority of sound comes from the top and how effectively it is voiced, you could definitely still have a world class guitar built out of Macassar Ebony. In fact, it is a favourite tonewood of Jayson Bowerman of Bowerman Guitars, which he uses to get his guitars closest to the Brazilian Rosewood tone.
It can be noted that not everyone would be a fan of how this wood’s figure looks as it is very contrasting. That said, we can say with certainty that its figure would appeal to many.
GRANADILLO: (Platymiscium yucatanum)
Also known as Mexican Rosewood, this is one of the most affordable Rosewood alternatives due to the cheap upcharge that comes with it. It can also have spectacular figuring with sapwood which makes it a great value for money choice. Some of our favourite guitars to pass through the shop have been in this very tonewood - Bowerman OM-28 Adirondack/Granadillo & Strahm 00 Italian/Granadillo.
It tends to be harder and denser than Rosewood, which creates a reflective sound. It also has more high end which allows it to ring a little clearer than East Indian Rosewood. Overall, we quite like it for its Rosewood-like depth, but with a clarity and restraint that makes for a balanced sound.
Ovangkol: (Guibortia ehie)
Ovangkol is an African cousin to Rosewood, and frankly from a purely aesthetics point of view, it would not be our top choice for a tonewood. The colours tend to look quite washed out, though the occasional figured curly variant can turn a few heads.
However, it is a sustainable choice of tonewood that is easy to work with and resembles Rosewood in tone with a cheap upcharge. Like most of the Rosewood alternatives out there, Ovangkol also tends to have a bit more of a high frequency response that makes it brighter sounding. It also tends to have a little less bass response, which could be good for those looking for a nice strummer.
Given the wonders of modern luthiery, we feel that people sometimes overthink the choice of tonewoods. A master luthier would be able to craft an incredible tone out of almost any tonewood. Our advice is as follows - just pick the general camp of sound you like - Maple, Mahogany, Rosewood or anything in between. This would naturally shortlist the available tonewoods in that category. All that is left is to pick a tonewood based on your preference for looks, novelty, history, and of course one that would fit the budget. Then just sit back and enjoy the build process while leaving it to your luthier to work their magic.
If you enjoyed this article, you may look forward to the upcoming ones where we answer some of the nagging questions about guitars you've had, such as "What is considered as "Good” Tone" and "How many Guitars do you actually need?".
If you would like to be notified when we release the next article, leave your email address below to be part of our mailing list.