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View Full Version : Koa wood is only from Hawaii...beware of pretenders



kulasingz
04-16-2011, 04:51 PM
Aloha, I notice there is some confusion about "koa" and "acacia" wood. Koa is endemic or native to Hawaii. It evolved in Hawaii and is found nowhere else. Its full name is Acacia koa, "Acacia" being the genus name and "koa" the species name. There are many types of Acacias found in different parts of the world. Acacia melanoxylon (Australian blackwood), and other acacias are being used for ukuleles. Those woods are called "acacia", and sometimes mislabeled as "koa". Acacia melanoxylon has pretty grain, and there are claims that it has similar tonal qualities to Acacia koa. But a true "koa" ukulele can only be made of wood from trees that are from Hawaii. Sorry for the Botany 101 lecture, but I'm from Hawaii and want to protect our native koa brand from pretenders. I see ukuleles mislabeled on ebay and elsewhere pretty frequently.

haolejohn
04-16-2011, 05:01 PM
Aloha, I notice there is some confusion about "koa" and "acacia" wood. Koa is endemic or native to Hawaii. It evolved in Hawaii and is found nowhere else. Its full name is Acacia koa, "Acacia" being the genus name and "koa" the species name. There are many types of Acacias found in different parts of the world. Acacia melanoxylon (Australian blackwood), and other acacias are being used for ukuleles. Those woods are called "acacia", and sometimes mislabeled as "koa". Acacia melanoxylon has pretty grain, and there are claims that it has similar tonal qualities to Acacia koa. But a true "koa" ukulele can only be made of wood from trees that are from Hawaii. Sorry for the Botany 101 lecture, but I'm from Hawaii and want to protect our native koa brand from pretenders. I see ukuleles mislabeled on ebay and elsewhere pretty frequently.
It used to be very common for acacia to be labeled as "country of orgion" koa but not so much anymore. We have had many discussions on this topic.

hoosierhiver
04-16-2011, 05:25 PM
I agree with everything except this statement," a true "koa" ukulele can only be made of wood from trees that are from Hawaii."
Acacia Koa is native to Hawaii, but grown elsewhere is still the same tree. A Colorado spruce in New England is still a Colorado spruce.
You can't be botanical and sentimental at the same time.

haolejohn
04-16-2011, 05:32 PM
so basically if I was to bring a acacia koa sampling back from Hawai'i and plant it in Georgia, i would then have a koa tree in Georgia? Nice.

mds725
04-16-2011, 06:08 PM
so basically if I was to bring a acacia koa sampling back from Hawai'i and plant it in Georgia, i would then have a koa tree in Georgia? Nice.

It might be nice, but it's probably impossible. Government officials in Hawai'i are strict about letting stuff get off the islands. At the Honolulu Airport , officials confiscate seemingly benign stuff like store-bought apples and bananas. I'm sure they'd confiscate live plants or trees. Also, I'm not sure how koa would do in mainland winters that include snow.

Hippie Dribble
04-16-2011, 07:44 PM
Interesting thread. Thanks much kulasingz for the info.

bunnyrawr
04-17-2011, 12:25 AM
Thanks very much, I really want a Koa ukulele and I don't want to buy something different.
Are there any tips to recognising true Koa wood?

Tudorp
04-17-2011, 12:47 AM
I think this may have been posted and spawned from my recent add on selling a "Koa Acacia" ukulele.
I fully understand the concept this guy is talking about actually. I knew that Koa was Acacia, and that it was a species, but did not fully understand "Koa". I will have to remove the word "koa" from my future references concerning these ukes, now that I actually understand the term. My apologies for anything that was missleading. I have been known all my life for being honest, with 2nd to none business ethics. To any native Hawaiian, I also fully understanding preservation of a culture, and my apologies for any offensive ignorance I might have displayed.

Pippin
04-17-2011, 01:12 AM
A lot of companies advertised ukes made with Acacia as being Koa, that has pretty much been stopped. A lot of players now know the differences between blackwood and other Acacia species.

If you were to transport a small Koa tree to the USA mainland, your best bet for its survival would be southern Florida, but Hawaiian Islands have 75 degrees average temperature year round, various amounts of rainfall depending on where you are on the islands, and about a 15 mph breeze off the Pacific virtually every day. Factor in the volcanic loam and I am not sure that you could ever get a tree to thrive anywhere else... perhaps Tahiti.

southcoastukes
04-17-2011, 05:21 AM
Hawaiian Islands have 75 degrees average temperature year round, various amounts of rainfall depending on where you are on the islands, and about a 15 mph breeze off the Pacific virtually every day. Factor in the volcanic loam and I am not sure that you could ever get a tree to thrive anywhere else... perhaps Tahiti.

O.K, here's a long lecture on tropical forestry.

Actually there are a lot of similar regions throughout the tropics. In Central America, probably half the western coast has those conditions. Species movement around the tropical world has been going on for centuries. The Monkeypod in Hawaii, for example, is a Central American native we call Cenizaro. We also have wide plantings of Tamarind (Tamarindo) which is an Asian native.

Usually there are specific reasons for this happening. In the case of Cenizaro, it was taken to Hawaii because it is such a beautiful ornamental. We brought in Tamarind because of it's delicious fruit.

No one that I know of has brought Koa to our region - then again, we already have more beautiful tropical hardwoods than probably any place on earth. There have been, however, two notable movements of trees for the purpose of timber.

Teak has recently come to Central America - it is a dense wood with a much faster growth rate than our natives, and has been widely planted on plantations. It is such a recent development (1980s) that there are still no fully mature trees, but evidence so far is that the quality is equal to Asian growth.

The other planting was much earlier. Santo Domingo Mahogany (Swietenia Mahogoni) is that beautiful dense mahogany - characteristics are almost between a Mahogany and a Rosewood. It was the first mahogany exported from the new world. It has been thought by many to be almost extinct. The last big native stands were cut by the Cubans and sent to the Soviet Union in the 1960s.

What most don't realize is that there is still a lot of it around. The Dutch, in their colonial days transported it from their Caribbean colonies to Indonsesia. There are huge stands of it there, where the government prohibits it's export in anything but finished goods.

I have seen the Caribbean material in antique furniture and a few old boards, and the Indonesian wood in newly built furniture exports. While those surviving antiques had better selected boards than a lot of what comes out of Indonesia now, to me, it appears that the overall quality of the Asian wood is just as good as the Caribbean.

To sum up, Koa could be grown in a lot of places in the tropics. Quality would likely vary as it would in Hawaii, with some sites being more favorable than others.

The End

haolejohn
04-17-2011, 05:38 AM
Just for the record I was joking. I know that in order to get koa to grow else where, one would need ideal conditions.

thomas
04-17-2011, 05:40 AM
Thanks kulasingz.

Although great ukuleles can be built form many different acaccia species, there is indeed only one "Acaccia Koa", and as of now it only comes from Hawaii.

Take care,
Thomas

wolfybau
04-17-2011, 05:43 AM
this is always something I've wondered about too , if anyone has info on how to tell the difference...

spruce
04-17-2011, 07:23 AM
But a true "koa" ukulele can only be made of wood from trees that are from Hawaii.

Yeah, but....

I've milled quite a few koa logs, and recently got a load of Australian Blackwood...

Can you tell the difference between the two?
And if "yes", how?

Thanks in advance!

haolejohn
04-17-2011, 07:29 AM
I think that one needs to ask wood supplier of the orgin of the wood. Most dealers advertise their koa as big island or Hawaiian koa. Asking pay attention to koa vs solid koa. If in doubt ask.

haolejohn
04-17-2011, 07:33 AM
Also price. If it seems low price, chances are it is just acacia.

hoosierhiver
04-17-2011, 07:36 AM
Just found this.
Apparently there is a koa enthusiast near San Francisco growing koa and spreading the word.

http://www.cloudforest.com/cafe/forum/61792.html

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
04-17-2011, 08:20 AM
Oh boy, so I can boast that I have an ukulele that was made from koa grown in Fremont California! Just the mention of the word Fremont and......aaahhhhh, the vision it conjures up. I'm booking my next vacation there.

kulasingz
04-17-2011, 09:23 AM
Aloha, and thanks, hoosierhiver, for the link about growing Acacia koa in San Francisco. You're right that a true koa ukulele could come from koa trees grown outside Hawaii. It may take 50 or 100 years for those to be available on ebay, though. That cloudforest link has interesting opinions about Acacia melanoxylon and comparisons to koa. From images I've seen on the internet, Acacia melanoxylon products often have gorgeous grain...equal in beauty to koa's. There is research on quick botanical dna tests to identify species that could help the forest product industry in the future.

Tudorp
04-17-2011, 09:30 AM
From what I read, Acacia is an "aromatic" wood. I assume Koa is as well? They are VERY similar in color and grain. In fact, I can't seem to tell the difference, but then again, I do not have a "Hawaiian Koa" to put side by side. I will contest that these Acacia uke I am getting in are really nice, and after I spend some time with them setting them up properly, sound really nice. Better than my Mahoganies I play of my own. When I read that it was an Aromatic wood, the first thing I did when I got the 1st one was smell the sound hole, "yeah, addmittingly I am a sound hole sniffer". I wouldn't call it a flowery fragrance. But it is a very earthy fragrance. Not offensive by far, but I guess I was expecting a potpori kinda smell, hahhah.. But, it does have a bushy, thorny earthy smell if that makes any sense at all. Kinda cool smell really.

OldePhart
04-17-2011, 10:41 AM
Oh boy, so I can boast that I have an ukulele that was made from koa grown in Fremont California! Just the mention of the word Fremont and......aaahhhhh, the vision it conjures up. I'm booking my next vacation there.

BWAAAA-HAAAAA - I wouldn't, were I you. :biglaugh:

CurlyKoaWithKonaCoffee
04-17-2011, 10:51 AM
Oh, I don't know... I can imagine fremont being inspiring for a song or two.

mds725
04-17-2011, 02:01 PM
Just found this.
Apparently there is a koa enthusiast near San Francisco growing koa and spreading the word.

http://www.cloudforest.com/cafe/forum/61792.html

Thanks for posting that link, Mike. Very interesting stuff. I thought this bit, in particular, was worth repeating here:

"The point I want to make is to dispel the naive belief that a tree that can be cajoled to survive in any particular climate will produce wood in that climate that is equal in quality and value to the wood from wild-grown trees in situ. Many fortunes have been lost in speculative plantings of Brazilian rosewood, Maccassar ebony, pink ivory and cocobolo (and this all within the tropics where the trees grow well). Plantation-grown specimens just don't produce the same figure as wild-harvested trees. Maybe they would eventually if left long enough, but figure is an old-growth characteristic and time is money in forestry. Plantation forestry then, is best suited when the expected outcome is for straight-grained unfigured woods such as teak and mahogany."

haolejohn
04-17-2011, 03:42 PM
Just for the record I was joking. I know that in order to get koa to grow else where, one would need ideal conditions.

and considering the fact that I lived in the 808 for 5 years, i am well aware of Hawai'i's customs department.

philpot
04-17-2011, 04:24 PM
I want to grow a Koa bonsai... I can't be the only one with this desire :p

GVlog
04-17-2011, 05:04 PM
I want to grow a Koa bonsai... I can't be the only one with this desire :p

Then you could cut it down and make one of these!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/thesmallobject/4601214809/

philpot
04-17-2011, 05:12 PM
Then you could cut it down and make one of these!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/thesmallobject/4601214809/

Thats so beast. I found a website that sells seeds... I seriously want to buy some and grow a koa bonsai. that would be awesome to have. I know it couldn't survive totally outdoors in my climate, and most trees can't survive indoors, but I wonder about a heated greenhouse during the winter... just a thought...

uke5417
04-17-2011, 09:55 PM
Why do I cringe when I read threads about authenticity?

France
04-17-2011, 10:33 PM
Why do I cringe when I read threads about authenticity?

Dunno. Oh sorry, was that a rhetorical question?

pulelehua
04-17-2011, 10:58 PM
Oh boy, so I can boast that I have an ukulele that was made from koa grown in Fremont California! Just the mention of the word Fremont and......aaahhhhh, the vision it conjures up. I'm booking my next vacation there.

Well, Chuck, people tend to holiday in places which are different from where they live. Having been to Fremont many times, and Hawaii none, I can still assure you that Fremont is different from Hawaii. And probably fits your mental picture pretty nicely. Nearby Hayward could be a nice place for day-trips out during your holiday. What someone would do given a whole day in Hayward? The mind boggles...

Honestly, I would think it's MUCH too dry in Fremont to grow Koa which would have the same characteristics as Hawaiian Koa.

I find this thread funny, only as the topic has come up SO many times, I didn't think there was much confusion about Koa vs. other types of acacia. But maybe that's just a sign I'm joining the ranks of the wood geeks. :)

Pippin
04-17-2011, 11:18 PM
O.K, here's a long lecture on tropical forestry.

Actually there are a lot of similar regions throughout the tropics. In Central America, probably half the western coast has those conditions. Species movement around the tropical world has been going on for centuries. The Monkeypod in Hawaii, for example, is a Central American native we call Cenizaro. We also have wide plantings of Tamarind (Tamarindo) which is an Asian native.

Usually there are specific reasons for this happening. In the case of Cenizaro, it was taken to Hawaii because it is such a beautiful ornamental. We brought in Tamarind because of it's delicious fruit.

No one that I know of has brought Koa to our region - then again, we already have more beautiful tropical hardwoods than probably any place on earth. There have been, however, two notable movements of trees for the purpose of timber.

Teak has recently come to Central America - it is a dense wood with a much faster growth rate than our natives, and has been widely planted on plantations. It is such a recent development (1980s) that there are still no fully mature trees, but evidence so far is that the quality is equal to Asian growth.

The other planting was much earlier. Santo Domingo Mahogany (Swietenia Mahogoni) is that beautiful dense mahogany - characteristics are almost between a Mahogany and a Rosewood. It was the first mahogany exported from the new world. It has been thought by many to be almost extinct. The last big native stands were cut by the Cubans and sent to the Soviet Union in the 1960s.

What most don't realize is that there is still a lot of it around. The Dutch, in their colonial days transported it from their Caribbean colonies to Indonsesia. There are huge stands of it there, where the government prohibits it's export in anything but finished goods.

I have seen the Caribbean material in antique furniture and a few old boards, and the Indonesian wood in newly built furniture exports. While those surviving antiques had better selected boards than a lot of what comes out of Indonesia now, to me, it appears that the overall quality of the Asian wood is just as good as the Caribbean.

To sum up, Koa could be grown in a lot of places in the tropics. Quality would likely vary as it would in Hawaii, with some sites being more favorable than others.

The End

Of course, my reference was to the US Mainland... not the tropics, but, yes, you are right and along the Pacific Rim, there are plenty of places with vocanic soil enough for Koa to take hold.

Steve vanPelt
04-18-2011, 12:10 AM
Oh boy, so I can boast that I have an ukulele that was made from koa grown in Fremont California! Just the mention of the word Fremont and......aaahhhhh, the vision it conjures up. I'm booking my next vacation there.

I understand they grow some decent strings there, though.

spruce
04-18-2011, 05:19 AM
For those of you wanting to see koa trees in all their glory, here's (http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showthread.php?36286-A-Little-Tour-Of-A-Koa-Forest....) a little tour of a koa forest...

Does anyone have any info about someone on the big island who is supposedly growing koa from genetically curly stock??
I remember reading about it years ago....
Love to hear about it if "yes"...

Tudorp
04-18-2011, 05:26 AM
Im not sure about the "curly", but I think it also applies to it. With my Gibson Les Pauls, the desireable finish are the flame and quilt tops, and as beautiful finish those make, the flame, quilt, & curly patterns are actually natually formed by deseise in the wood that causes that effect. But, sure makes awfully pretty finishes.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
04-18-2011, 06:57 AM
Of course, my reference was to the US Mainland... not the tropics, but, yes, you are right and along the Pacific Rim, there are plenty of places with vocanic soil enough for Koa to take hold.

It's just not the soil conditions, geography, and proper climate, koa also needs a certain amount of elevation to do well. On the Big Island it will not survive below a few hundred feet and some of the best stuff is growing at elevations of 4000 to 6000 feet.

Tomcatkayak
04-18-2011, 07:39 AM
There is Philippines Koa - Koa planted in the Philippines from Hawaii. Just grown under different climatic conditions. Very clear, clean and balanced. Very limited supplies.
Hawaiian Koa is Slightly more focused and crisp than Philippines koa. A truly beautiful wood.
This what a read on the side of NC guitars

Pippin
04-18-2011, 08:46 AM
It's just not the soil conditions, geography, and proper climate, koa also needs a certain amount of elevation to do well. On the Big Island it will not survive below a few hundred feet and some of the best stuff is growing at elevations of 4000 to 6000 feet.

Thanks for the addition, Chuck. I didn't know about the elevation. I wonder if it has to do with too much wetness in the soil at low elevation.

pulelehua
04-18-2011, 10:26 AM
It's just not the soil conditions, geography, and proper climate, koa also needs a certain amount of elevation to do well. On the Big Island it will not survive below a few hundred feet and some of the best stuff is growing at elevations of 4000 to 6000 feet.

More bad news for Fremont...

haolejohn
04-18-2011, 10:41 AM
More bad news for Fremont...

they have really tall plantations.