Environment Entertainment Recreation & Leisure African Timbers - an exotic touch at Ellis Guitars

by ANDREW ELLIS - Date: 2007-05-16 - Word Count: 691 Share This!

African timbers are exotic and beautiful. Many African timbers are used by luthiers for their craft of hand made acoustic guitars. Here are a few:-

African Rosewood, also known as Bubinga, comes from the Ivory Coast, Gabon and Cameroons. Bubinga is bright and rich, varying greatly in colour from pinks, oranges, reds and dark browns. The heartwood can be rose-coloured with red-purple veins and darker purple stripes. African Rosewood timber has interlocking grain, is harder and heavier than Brazilian Rosewood, and has a medium-fine texture. Bubinga's pinkish mauve cast will oxidize to a brownish-red over time. African Rosewood can be plain or mottled. There are pictures of an African Rosewood classical steel string guitar on the ellisguitars.com website.

There are many Mahogany species in Africa. One used in acoustic guitar making is known as Khaya Mahogany. Khaya Mahogany is found in tropical Africa and Madagascar. Khaya Mahogany is light pink to medium brown to red brown in colour. Khaya Mahogany is superior in strength to Sapele Mahogany, another African Mahogany used in acoustic guitar building. It has a moderately coarse texture which is sometimes interlocked, sometimes straight. Interlocked grain produces a striped figure on quartersawn surfaces (best for guitars). Like most Mahogany species Khaya Mahogany guitars are warm and clear with good balance.

The other Mahogany familiar to luthiers is Sapele Mahogany. Entandrophragma Cylindricum is found in West, Central and East African rain forests, the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Uganda, Zaire and Tanzania. Sapele Mahogany timber has salmon pink heartwood and pale yellow sapwood. The pink heartwood can change to red brown with age. Sapele Mahogany wood has close texture with interlocking grain which changes in direction and can be regularly striped. Also it can have large irregular pores, interspersed with bands of small pores. Wavy grain produces very intense fiddleback or mottled figures making the appearance very 3D. Sapele Mahogany tonewood is heavier than other African Mahogany, but not as strong.

Ovangkol is relatively new to acoustic guitar building. Guibourtia Ehie, also known as Mozambique, Shedua, Amazoue and Amazakoue is found in West Africa, the Ivory Coast, Ghana, southern Nigeria and Gabon. Ovangkol timber heartwood is yellow brown to deep chocolate brown with gray black stripes . Ovangkol timber grain is interlocked and the texture is moderately coarse. Tonally, Ovangkol back and sides sits between strong Rosewood and the highs of Maple.

Padouk is a deep coloured timber also known as Pterocarpus Soyauxii, Mbe, Mbil, Mututi, Ngula and Bosulu. Padauk or Padouk is found in Central and tropical West Africa, extending from south-western Nigeria to Zaire. The timber is bright orange or almost crimson and as guitar tonewood has good, straight grain, slightly harder and heavier than Indian Rosewood, with fine to medium texture. Padouk timber oxidizes to a darker, rich purple-brown over time. Padauk guitars have a strong tone.

Wenge is a deep dark chocolate brown timber found in Zaire, Cameroon and Gabon, Africa. Millettia Laurentii tonewood is brown with evenly spaced, fine black veins and dark and light brown bands. Wenge acoustic guitar back and sides timber has a tight straight grain, across the entire width and a coarse texture. Wenge guitar tonewood is heavier than East Indian and Brazilian Rosewood and like most African timbers a Wenge guitar has a nice strong tone.

Zebrawood is named for it's intense stripes. Microberlinia Brazzavillensis is found in Africa, Gabon and Cameroons. Zebrawood timber has bold colours evenly striped overall with gold-tan, yellows and dark browns. The timber has coarse to very coarse grain texture, and is similar in density to East Indian Rosewood. Tonally Zebrawood has the same resonance as East Indian Rosewood.

The cream of the African timbers for acoustic guitar building is African Blackwood, which is actually a Rosewood. Dalbergia Melanoxylon is purplish black to dark brown with black streaks. African Blackwood timber has a fine grain and polishes well and is said by some to be better than Brazilian Rosewood. African Blackwood tonewood has excellent response, and the taptone is fantastic.

Andrew Ellis is the Head Luthier at Ellis Guitars, Perth, Western Australia. Ellis Guitars make fine handcrafted acoustic guitars and the Ellis Acoustic Stompbox.

Related Tags: wood, timber, guitar, african, acoustic, rosewood, ellis, padauk, zebrawood, mahogany, wenge

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