Our approach to grading backs and sides is comparable to “grading on the curve” Honduras Mahogany is a large tree that grows with minimal defects making it easy to provide “A” sets that are virtually flawless. T’zalam, Machiche, Maple, Cherry, Primavera and Black Walnut fall into this category to a lesser extent.
At the other extreme is African Blackwood. It grows so slowly and under such difficult conditions that making a nearly flawless set is very rare. Usually, sets will have various small, aesthetic flaws such as pin worm holes, pin knots, flares, discolored spots, etc. We chalk mark all these carefully. Also, this is a small tree so many backs will be rift or even flat-cut. Honduras Rosewood and Ziricote have similar issues. Cocobolo is somewhere is the middle. We pay no attention to flaws outside the pattern of the back or side.
Figured woods are pretty much a subjective decision. We do make an attempt to categorize figure, especially Honduras Mahogany, where fiddleback, beeswing and block-mottle are fairly common. Other species will often show a similar figure from shipment to shipment such as beeswing in Cocobolo or waterfall figure in Honduras Rosewood.
CHARACTERISTICS OF SPECIES
African Blackwood: is generally considered the best of all tone woods. Blackwood is highly prized for its tone, stability and beauty. Blackwood is the woodwind instruments (clarinet, oboe, bassoon) wood, often called “Granadillo”. It is also widely used for bagpipes, flutes and fifes. This wood bends and machines very well, but has silica which dulls tools quickly. This wood is superior to Ebony for bridge blanks and fingerboards as it is more stable, less prone to checking or cracking or crumbling.
Cocobolo: This wood, wonderful in its own right, is probably the best replacement for Brazilian Rosewood. In fact, many people consider the Cocobolo tone superior to Brazilian. The range of color and graining is possibly the widest of any tone wood. Cocobolo works well and bends well. It is somewhat difficult to glue and the joints should be wiped with acetone to remove excess oil. Many people have skin or respiratory problems and precautions are in order, as should be when working with any wood.
Machiche: This is probably the best value of the tone woods we offer. Machiche works well in every category. The grain is fully quartered. The tone is good, the wood is beautiful. The price is right.
Honduras Mahogany is probably the most important of the tonewoods. Mahogany is widely used not only for backs and sides, but also for necks, bracing, binding and solid bodies. Mahogany has it all. It machines easily, glues well, bends easily and is priced reasonably. This wood is often figured with fiddleback, beeswing and block-mottle being the most common.
The single best feature of Genuine Mahogany is that over time, it develops the deep rich, red patina that makes it superior to all substitutes. In the beginning, African Mahogany (not a true Mahogany), Sapele, and others, look just fine, After a few months, the Genuine Mahogany glows like a jewel and the substitutes look like dead fish.
Honduras Rosewood: Only African Blackwood has better tonal qualities than Honduras Rosewood. According to most builders, the wood machines, bends ands glues well. Like Blackwood, this is a small tree that grows very slowly and frequently has small flaws. The backs are often rift or flat-cut.
T’zalam, Maya Indian pronounced “salaam”,: This Central American wood looks very much like American Walnut although harder and heavier. The tone is good. The wood machines, bends and glues well. T’zalam is attractively priced.
Walnut/Maple/Cherry: These domestic woods have good tone and excellent working properties. We sometimes have figure in all three woods.
Ziricote: One of the most beautiful of all tone woods. Ziricote has unique graining compared by some to a Navajo sand painting. It also has very good tone and good working properties. Ziricote can be difficult to bend. The wood takes a beautiful finish. This wood is sensitive to moisture/humidity changes.