Friday, November 17, 2017

Exotic Woods -- Favorites of Total Rojo Guitars

When choosing wood for my acoustic guitar creations, several considerations come into play.

I never build two guitars alike, which places an automatic constraint on every build.

However, there is one component that is constant . . . I like mahogany for neck stock, and beyond this things are variable.  Some design elements are similar (headstock shape and overlay, bridge shape, fretboard position markers, and heel caps), but beyond this, I try to vary the design.

Rosewood and ebony seem to be the go-to fretboard and bridge stock in the industry, but I like ziricote and cocobolo for custom fretboards and bridge combinations simply because of the wild and unpredictable grain in the wood.  It's dense hard wood and it requires a lot of elbow grease to contour shape, but it's also very stable and less flexible than other softer species.

I like Indian Rosewood and mahogany for body sides and backs, because of how easy it is to work, but there isn't enough variation in wood grain and color to get me excited, so I lean toward exotic wood for bodies, again because of the unusual grain running through the pieces.

Plastic binding material (usually white, black, or cream color) is another go-to element in the industry, but I think the sharp contrast and foreign substance (plastic) separating body parts takes away from the overall beauty of the guitar, so I choose to customize my binding with real wood choosing from mahogany, rosewood, walnut, cherry, and maple.

I use a lot of small exotic pieces to create sound hole rosettes, strap button end cap inlays, and other inlay designs that float around in my imagination.

The grain in a piece of exotic wood is so visually dramatic, I want it to stand out beyond any other element and to capture, hold, and please the eye, so I finish my guitars with a satin spray or a hand rubbed oil finish.

Pictured here are some of the exotic wood species I like.

ZIRICOTE is a wood from Mexico and Central America and is one of the most strikingly figured tonewoods. It is similar in figure to the best, now impossible to get Brazilian Rosewood, with beautiful black veining which is known as spiderwebbing.  Ziricote is very heavy, hard, and has a loud, glassy tap tone. The colors can range from olive green to dark grey with black veins throughout. Incredibly difficult to source in guitar sized stock. 

COCOBOLO grows in southern Mexico and Central America.  Its tap tone is outstanding, very glassy, nice ringing sustain. Cocobolo when freshly cut exibits colors ranging from reds to oranges, yellows and purples.  As cocobolo is exposed to air and sunlight, it darkens to a deep reddish color and sometimes exibits black streaks known as spiderwebbing.                                                                                           

BOCOTE grows in Mexico and Central South America and is an extremely exotic tonewood that is in the same family as Ziricote (cordia), and shares many of the excellent tonal characteristics, but is much easier to work with. This wood is very similar in weight and density to Cocobolo Rosewood. Brilliant, ringing taptone. Beautiful wild figure.

Bends and finishes very nicely, it is almost non-porous.

WENGE is a Central African wood, medium brown in color with nearly black stripes and straight grain with very course texture and low natural luster.  Very durable and can be difficult to work.

CHOCOLATE MANGO is a Hawaiian and Tropical Asia wood with a straight or interlocked grain with medium to course texture and great natural luster. Because of the spalting that is commonly present, the wood can be a kaleidoscope of colors. Under normal circumstances, heartwood is a golden brown, while other colors such as yellow and streaks of pink and/or black can also occur.Curly or mottled grain patterns are also common.


GUANCASTE, also known as Parota, has a beautiful golden brown, Hawaiian Koa/Acacia-like figure. It comes primarily from Central America, but also from Mexico and Northern South America . Its unique appearance and texture, which is mostly large pores, reminds one of Monkey Pod.


STRIPED OSAGE ORANGE , also known as Mora, and/or Guatemalan Tigerwood, is light to medium reddish brown, with streaks of lighter and darker material making it one of the most beautiful tonewoods on earth.  The straight to interlocked grain has fine to medium texture.  It is a dense, non-pourous, hard wood rarely found in instrument quality and size, and it bends and finishes easily.

PAU FERRO (AKA: Bolivian Rosewood, Santos, Jaracanda, and Morado) is a very finely grained non-porous wood that is a dream to finish. It is heavier and more dense than the rare Brazilian Rosewood, but regarded by many instrument makers as a great alternative, because of its beauty under finish and its taptone. Its color includes choclates, creams, reds and deep browns.

INDIAN ROSEWOOD -- The color of Indian Rosewood ranges from red to light brown with golden streaks, but more often runs to various shades of purple-brown (which eventually oxidizes to a rich brown color).

ZEBRAWOOD -- A more boldly colored alternative to Indian Rosewood with about the same density, workability and resonance as Indian Rosewood.  It is evenly striped overall with small alternating bands of gold-tan and dark brown.

CURLY AMBROSIA -- Ambrosia Maple comes from the regular soft maple and hard maple trees that have been infested with the ambrosia beetle. A fungus is responsible for the blue, gray and brown streaks and decorative patch work that accompany each beetle tunnel and adjacent wood.  This wood is mostly found in the central part of the Eastern US.

PADAUK is an excellent tonewood with beautiful deep red color, which darkens some over time, and fine, consistent, straight grain. This is a fairly heavy, dense wood, with strong well balanced tone. Loud ringing tap tone with nice sustain. It is heavier and harder than Indian Rosewood, but bends without much difficulty and finishes nicely.

HONDURAN MAHOGANY -- Instruments built from Honduran Mahogany exhibit a strong mid-range, excellent punch and good sustain. It is prized for its beauty and rich color ranging from pinkish brown to a dark reddish brown. The grain varies straight and tight, to flamed and wavy, to visually stunning and highly figured.

LEOPARDWOOD -- This South American wood is occasionally confused with some of the lacewoods, but it's much harder, denser, and heavier (a little heavier than Indian Rosewood in weight), and darker. It is cinnamony, darker brown in color with a bold figure. It finishes nicely, but there's a rumor that it's a little tricky to bend. Rich, lots of depth, beautiful wood. Good tap tone with pronounced low-midtones, clear high-midtones, slightly dark, and warm. The sound warms as it ages and falls between Maple and Claro Walnut with a good treble.Long on sustain.

OVANGKOL -- This West African wood is similar in figure to Indian Rosewood, with dark gray straight lines over a golden-brown or olive-brown background. It comes from the same family as Bubinga and has an interlocking grain pattern. It is reasonably easy to bend and plane and it finishes well. It is not as dense as most Rosewoods.

GONCALO ALVES (aka: Tigerwood) is from Mexico and southward to Brazil. It is typically a medium reddish brown with irregularly spaced streaks of dark brown to black, and the color tends to darken with age. Grain can be straight, but is usually wavy or interlocked with fine, silky, uniform texture with good natural luster. This wood finishes beautifully and makes outstanding sounding instruments. The tap tone is similar to Koa. It bends easily and is very stable.

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