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Guitar Woods/Tonewoods Guide

Below are some of the tonewoods you can choose for your guitar. All of my woods are of highest quality and have been selected individually by hand for look and for tone and all will produce excellent guitars. Plus by shaping & profiling the braces, I can control the tone and characteristics listed below to suit your particular playing style.

Hint: Click on an example from each of the columns and see them expanded side-by-side.

Back & Sides    [Click to enlarge an example]
Standard Tonewoods
Tonewood: Indian Rosewood Indian Rosewood dalbergia latifolia

A much sought after tonewood; some actually prefer it to Brazilian!  Has a warmth and depth to its bottom end, but with a balance across to the ringing high end.  Makes great guitars, of which there are many !!

Tonewood: Utile Mahogany African Utile Mahogany entandrophragma utile

Is from the same family of Mahogany-like woods  as Sapele. It is an extremely good alternative to Mahogany, having very similar tonal characteristics, which is why I use it on my standard range of guitars .

Custom Tonewoods
Tonewood: Honduran Mahogany Honduran Mahogany swietenia macropyllia

Very sought after for its even texture and grain, Honduran Mahogany is considered by some, to be the best of the Mahoganies (after Brazilian - which is now 'controlled' see below)

Tonewood: Brazilian Mahogony Brazilian Mahogany swietenia macrphyllia

Very sought after - with a tonal curve like someone looking down in the mouth (the opposite of Rosewood). I only have a limited supply of this now 'controlled' wood

Tonewood: African Mahogony African Mahogany khaya ivorensis

Tonally, very similar to the other mahoganies. As you can see, the African Mahogany I have in stock has quite striking figuring and will make wonderful guitars!

Tonewood: Walnut Walnut juglans nigra (Black)/regia (French)/hindsii (Claro)

Walnut is between Mahogany and Rosewood in tone and timbre. Strong fundamentals plus some of the bottom end of a Rosewood, to the tone you would expect from Mahogany. Great guitars come from Walnut b&s and Cedar top.

Tonewood: Cocobolo Cocobolo dalbergia retusa

Much sought after by builders as the “new” Brazilian RWD.  Very dense and heavy, it gives a robust, yet sweet, sound, with clarity throughout the range. Visually stunning, it finishes beautifully. RECOMMENDED!

Tonewood: Figured Jatoba Figured Jatoba hymenaea courbaril

Between Maple and Rosewood in its hardness & density, as it is tonally. Jatoba is very similar to Ovangkol in its appearance, but generally has a more pronounced figure. Fabulous looking guitars with this one!

Tonewood: Maple (aka Sycamore) Maple (aka Sycamore) acer pseudoplatanus

Sharp mids and high ends give Maple a great rhythm/ flatpick sound. Typically Maple guitars lack bottom end, but this is not necessarily the case. ( I only know people are surprised at the sound of my Maple guitars!)

Tonewood: Paduk Padauk pterocarpus soyauxii(African)

Falls between Rosewood and Mahogany. I use Padauk for my Baritone guitars, and it performs brilliantly in that lower register, which gives an idea of what it can do !

Tonewood: Tasmanian Blackwood Tasmanian Blackwood acacia melanoxylon

Really good alternative to Rosewood, with a punchy bottom end, but the mid and high ends of a Mahogany, giving fabulous balance. I recommend you try one of these guitars, they are fabulous !

Tonewood: Koa Koa acacia koa

Koa, like Tasmanian Blackwood, is an Acacia, and has similar characteristics. Its bottom end is (just) slightly less pronounced, with a bit more sparkle at the high end.  Famed for its use in Weissenborn guitars.

Tonewood: Ovangkol Ovangkol guibourtia ehei

Becoming popular with some big makers, it's a visually stunning guitar wood, with a tonal range between Rosewoods and Acacias, plus great note separation. This makes for a great finger-style guitar. RECOMMENDED.

Tonewood: Black Limba Black Limba terminalia superba

The same weight and texture as Mahogany, for which it is an excellent substitute, but giving a truly beautiful guitar. Looks and sounds great, particularly with a Cedar top. (Well that’s my opinion !)

Tonewood: Blackhearted Sassafras Blackhearted Sassafras atherosperma moschatum

Tonally in the range of the Mahoganies and Walnuts, with characteristics of both. Good balance across the range, with a slightly pronounced high end. The figuring is caused by a fungus, (fortunately) not effecting the wood's structure.

Tonewood: Imbuya Imbuya (aka Imbuia) phoebe parosa

A hard, dense wood producing a direct, bright tone, while still delivering plenty of bass response. A good alternative to Indian Rosewood.   Highly figured Imbuya makes a really beautiful guitar.

Tonewood: African Satinwood African Satinwood distemonanthus tenthamianus

Also known as Movinghui, it's hard, very durable & gives a tone and sound similar to Maple but with some of the punch delivered by Acacias (Tasmanian Blackwood & Koa).  A guitar wood not often seen, so stands out in the crowd !

[Click to enlarge an example]    Tops
Standard Tonewoods
Tonewood: European Spruce European Spruce picea abies

Considered to be the premier tonewood for tops. Strong fundamentals and complex overtones, creating great timbre & 'colour'. Takes time to open up fully, but it’s great to grow along with it! Works fantastically with almost all b&s woods.

Tonewood: Sitka Spruce Sitka Spruce picea sitchensis

Structurally stronger than European, Sitka is punchier in its sound. Lower overtones makes it less complex, but more direct in its delivery.  I have found, however, that it works brilliantly with Maple b&s.

Tonewood: Western Red Cedar Western Red Cedar thuja plicata

Once used primarily for classical guitars, now popular for steel strings.  Works well with Mahogany & produces great results with Walnut b&s. Dark overtones make it good for Celtic and Folk styles. Its sound is “there” from day one!

Custom Tonewoods
Tonewood: Douglas Fir Douglas Fir pseudotsuga menziessii

A new wood for tops, Douglas Fir is much like Sitka in its structure and strength characteristics. I look forward to using this wood & have high hopes of some fabulous guitars using this top wood . WATCH THIS SPACE!!

Tonewood: Bearclaw Spruce Bearclaw Spruce picea

“Bearclaw” is the name given to the figuring sometimes found in Spruce, as it looks like a bear has “clawed” it. Usually a sign of the boards being cut fully on the quarter, and therefore a sign of quality.

Other 'tops' that are available include:
  'All Walnut' - i.e. Walnut top with Walnut back & sides
  'All Mahogany' - i.e. Mahogany top, back & sides.
Contact me for details.

Binding & Purflings
There's an infinite number of options, here's a few to give you an idea.
Bindings - go round the edge of the guitar.
Guitar Binding: Indian Rosewood Indian Rosewood binding
Guitar Binding: Flamed Maple Maple binding
Guitar Binding: American Black Walnut American Black Walnut binding
Guitar Binding: Ebony Ebony binding
Guitar Binding: Curly Ash Curly Ash binding
Guitar Binding: Tasmanian Blackwood Tasmanian Blackwood binding

Purflings - can go either side of the Binding - to add contrast.
Guitar Purfling: BWBWB BWBWB purfling
Guitar Purfling: BWBW BWBW purfling
Guitar Purfling: BWB BWB purfling
Guitar Purfling: BWB(thin) BWB(thin) purfling
Guitar Purfling: BW_B&S_WB WB+B&S+BW purfling
Guitar Purfling: Abolone Abolone purfling
Guitar Purfling: Herringbone Herringbone purfling
Guitar Purfling: Rope Rope purfling

There are many other bindings and purflings available, plus different combinations of the ones show here. Contact me for details.

I have other tonewoods available, contact me for details
Pictures above are just examples, actual figuring of woods will of course vary.

For further info. see the Wiki article on Tonewoods

Note - All appropriate woods have the necessary CITES approvals

Copyright - all rights reserved.  2011
The program code and images on this page took time and expense to produce. I'm happy to help where ever possible, but do not use any code or image without prior consent.
Thanks. Alan Arnold Guitars -

New Feature


On this page you can now interactively select the
woods, binding and purflings for your guitar
and view different combinations side-by-side.

1st  Select a Back & Side wood from the column on the left,
2nd  Select a Top wood from the column on the right,
3rd    Then click the 'Bindings' tab to Chose Bindings & Purflings