Tonewoods

Tonewoods are basically defined as those woods used in the construction of musical instruments.  There are many species used, in the tropics, the most popular are: Mahogany, Rosewood, Koa, Cocobolo and Ebony.  These are species chosen for there ability to carry “tones” and their aesthetic value.

mandolins

Tonewood buyers are extremely picky, pay high prices, and are dealing with a disappearing commodity.  Every major tropical tonewood species is cites listed,  meaning facing extinction if harvested at current rates.  Many, (possibly most) tonewood buyers are buying FSC certified lumber, and I believe they understand the value of their raw materials.  Makers of fine instruments have a direct, unmistakable, interest in preserving these species so it is logical that they take steps to purchase responsibly.  That said, I believe this effort is only half honest in that there are no tropical tonewood “reserves”.  Remember these species, for the most part are harvested from disappearing natural forests and are facing (rightfully) stricter trade laws.  To truly ensure the long-    term supply of tonewood hardwoods, an effort must be made to establish, manage and protect tonewood plantations.  The problem, as always, is convincing major instrument makers that an investment made today is worth the 25 (Mahogany) to 40 (Cocobolo) year wait.  But when you consider the legacy of companies like Gibson, Taylor, Yamaha, Martin and others, longevity is a necessity. That said, there ARE one or two established tonewood forests, mostly family projects, with trees 10+ years old, meaning the “wait” is reduced.  Why not partner with them?  Investing in the establishment, maintenance and preservation of rare tonewoods will be an essential part of the effort in preserving the tradition of wood instrument making.  As the owner of several guitars I can’t imagine a synthetic replacement for these beautiful woods.  A tonewood forest would not only be a model project to be emulated, but also the only answer to future shortages of precious tonewoods.

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2 thoughts on “Tonewoods

  1. I’m attempting to establish blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) Growers Cooperative in Tasmania, Australia. The tonewood market could be a big part in seeing this dream come to reality. Check out the website: blackwoodgrowers.com.au. Thanks, Dr Gordon Bradbury.

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