A big tree which grows prolifically and is one of the easiest woods to work. Saws and planes well, and junior woodworkers (with permission & supervision) will find driving nails into Obeche easy and satisfying! Main use is for guitar bodies, but best painted as it’s almost featureless.
I have been collecting wood for over 50 years, which is why Luthiers Supplies is a kind of (untidy) museum of wood, most useful, but some just collected out of interest. The woods listed are the regular repertoire of what is needed, so it’s always worth asking for unusual things. Some come and go, and some like Tasmanian timbers have just arrived!
We often photograph what is unique or difficult to describe, also bear in mind that we convert much of our stock here, so offer a custom cutting, planing and sanding service.
The timber descriptions which follow are based on my experience. Consequently there is much more to be discovered by further reading.
Please do bear in mind that timber has a surprising/annoying facility for not conforming to descriptions or expectations.
Timbers like Mahogany and Indian Rosewood are sufficiently valuable, and endangered, to have been replanted, sometimes outside their original range. There are big differences between the old growth timber, usually both denser and deeper in colour, and faster grown plantation timber.
In some cases two samples or pictures, are necessary. Timber that shows strong medullary ray figure e.g – London Plane looks very different when tangentially sawn or flat sawn, drab and almost featureless, but when radically ‘quarter sawn’ (known as ‘lacewood’) it can look spectacular.
A Database of our stocked woods
Grain can be interlocked and difficult, especially to bend. Very rigid and stable, so good for necks and splices. Some material is good enough for backs & sides. Andaman Padauk is scarce, but more subtle and attractive.
Looks Ash like. The trees grow very quickly, farmed in a 12 year cycle! So very sustainable and renewable. Perfect for super light solid bodies or as inner core for harder woods.
Usually steamed to stabilise it which produces the typical dull pink colour. Good to work, and such close grain that when coloured can imitate Ebony. Useful in early instruments and fittings, good backs & sides, especially when there is ripple flame/figure.
Poplar – Grey Poplar
This hybrid grows big and straight, dries easily to yield lightweight stable timber. Good for solid electric bodies, cello and double bass backs, and the first choice for panels which are to be painted. There is an Italian Poplar which can produce very deep flame and the same density as Maple, it is expensive and difficult to work. The Tulip Tree (Liriodendron) is sometimes marketed as American ‘Poplar’; the colours are similar, but otherwise it is a different, denser timber.
Rosewood – Honduran Rosewood
Both have the usual Rosewood applications. Honduras is the best choice for Marimba bars.
Along with Madagascar Rosewood, these timbers have not been imported for decades, and remaining stocks need CITES certification when crossing borders.
Rosewood – Indian Rosewood
Hard and a little oily, especially the darkest specimens. Timber from Indonesia and from plantations is faster grown with paler colouration. Very dimensionally stable, and the clear favourite for classical guitar back & sides, and a large proportion of fingerboards. CITES recognises that this is an essential wood for luthiers, even so, there are indications that quality and availability are decreasing as the price increases. Looking for temperate zone alternatives is now imperative.
Rosewood – Pau Ferro or Santos
Hard, not easy to plane. Useful as a Rosewood substitute fingerboards, back & sides and some is fancy enough for decorative tops.
Hard to plane especially if it has the prized mottled flame figure. Mostly for decorative inlay and veneering, but was used for backs & sides on 19th century guitars.
Very hard but long straight grain and very stable. Used for baroque bows and makes super durable fingerboards. Very expensive!