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Friday, October 26, 2007

Brazilian is Good Wood

posted by on October 26 at 12:24 PM

brazilian.jpgTop vs. back wood, stiffness, Brazilians, and thicknessing. Cue the porn music. What is this, HUMP 4? No, it’s classical guitar speak. And Brazilian rosewood is the sexiest.

Brazilian rosewood is a superior and coveted tonewood for classical guitar backs and sides. Its density and stiffness seem to be ideal for producing a rich and unique resonance in tone. There’s one drawback though - Brazilian rosewood is illegal to harvest.

In 1975, CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, came into existence and said it’s illegal to cut down Brazilian rosewood trees or export any new lumber. CITES also protects things such as bison and ivory.

Guitar builders who must have this kind of wood are getting their Brazilians from old furniture, floors, ships, and stumps. The price of Brazilian rosewood has soared because of CITES. Some say that by making Brazilian rosewood endangered, CITES has done more harm than good.

welcomesign2.jpgThere is also debate about whether or not it really does sound better. For more info on Brazilian rosewood, we look no further than our very own Greenwood. There is a shop there called The Rosewood Guitar. Owner Bill Clements was nice enough to talk:

Brazilian rosewood has a very beautiful grain pattern. There is no doubt about that. It’s such a nice looking wood and that may be its most attractive feature. Sonically, its tone is rich, but I don’t know if it is any better than Indian rosewood. You could line up two guitars, one made of Brazilian rosewood and one made of Indian rosewood, and I don’t think you’d be able to hear the difference. The sound quality of a guitar really comes from the combined elements the builder puts in - the materials, the bracing patterns, the thicknessing, and the skill of that builder.

The top wood is the most important wood in the guitar. And spruce works fine. In 1862, Antonio Torres Jurado built a guitar with back and sides of papier-mâché. It had a top of spruce, and it sounded beautiful. So backs and sides of Brazilian rosewood are nice, but what matters is what’s on top.

The other thing about Brazilian rosewood is that it doesn’t grow straight. It twists and turns while growing, producing wood that has knots and fissures. That’s not good for guitar making. Bugs also love Brazilian rosewood. And that’s not good either.

Unless that bug is Hendrix reincarnated as a bug. Then he can have at it.

Rosewood Guitar - 8402 Greenwood Ave N.

RSS icon Comments

1

"Thicknessing"? Haven't heard that one before.

I want a paper guitar!

Posted by Levislade | October 26, 2007 1:11 PM
2

I think Brazilian rosewood gets the lions share of credit because so many classic, vintage guitars (especially martins) used it and sound awesome...but something to remember is that with age, a guitar's tones becomes better and this may have a lot to do with it. Nowadays, when one uses Brazilian rosewood they have to buy it from someone's private stash and that means paying a lot extra as compared to Indian rosewood. Usually people equate more expensive with better even though this may not always be true. It'd be interesting to do a blind test of two guitars which are the same model...one using Indian rosewood and the other Brazilian...I think there will definitely be a difference in tone but as to whether or not the Brazilian will sound better is up for grabs.

Posted by dan | October 26, 2007 1:22 PM
3

My friend, Ryan Vego, had a Sears guitar, I think. The case doubled as the amp. Man, that thing was light. It felt like it was made of paper. I think it was a Sears, I could be way wrong though. Did Sears make guitars?

Posted by trent moorman | October 26, 2007 1:29 PM
4

At the family casa, there is a '68 Martin D35... brazillian rosewood, 3-peice back, no frills, no fancy inlay - just the best and most beautiful sounding guitar in the world.

That is what I have to share. Thanks Trent!

Posted by gabe | October 26, 2007 2:18 PM
5

What an interesting article. Thanks for all the rosy info--Tante

Posted by Tante | October 26, 2007 2:51 PM
6

"Some say that by making Brazilian rosewood endangered, CITES has done more harm than good."

I don't understand this statement; it seems patently absurd. Rather like saying that adding elephants to the list of endangered species did more harm than good because it forced piano makers to use something besides ivory for piano keys.

Posted by rkpetersen | October 26, 2007 3:27 PM
7

@6,

"CITES, intended to keep Dalbergia nigra (that's the botanical name for Brazilian rosewood) from extinction, but probably destined to assure that very fate. (Who besides governments wants to protect living things that are economically worthless because they are illegal to harvest.) It's still legal to use wood harvested before June 11, 1992, and a guitar with Brazilian rosewood parts can still be exported if the shipment is accompanied by documentation testifying to it's provenance (nearly impossible to obtain), but no living Brazilian rosewood trees may be harvested, none. What has happened to the price of Brazilian rosewood? You guessed it: it's soared."

Is the notion really absurd? By making the Brazilian rosewood illegal, people sought it out even more. There was a demand put it on it.

I don't think it's like the elephants. People weren't hunting the trees to extinction.

Posted by RoseMaster | October 26, 2007 3:49 PM
8

Trent@3: If it was one of the old Silvertones, it was probably a pine frame with slabs of Masonite for the top and back. Masonite is like densely compressed cardboard.

Posted by pox | October 26, 2007 6:17 PM
9

Interesting. I knew Hendrix would come back as a worm.

Posted by Bobber | October 26, 2007 8:34 PM
10

"I don't think it's like the elephants. People weren't hunting the trees to extinction."

Uhm...Yes....yes they were.

Posted by Ivan Alexander | October 26, 2007 11:11 PM

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