View Full Version : Tonewood identification

09-14-2011, 09:24 AM

Could any of you help me to identify the tonewoods used in these 2 ukuleles ? Pictures 1 and 2 are of the same ukulele.280172801828019

The only information I can tell you is that they are from South America

Dan Uke
09-14-2011, 10:02 AM
They could be koa as it is very diverse. What is the brand? That would give you a clue

09-14-2011, 10:16 AM
The first one looks very much like New Guniea Rosewood (Pterocarpus indices). In the US they usually call it Narra. Very common here and it is a great tone wood. Can build the entire instrument from it less the fret board and bridge.

Second one could be Koa, Tassy Blackwood, or any number of other contenders.

09-14-2011, 11:12 AM
The woods come from South America; Ecuador to be precise. Not much more information at this time....

09-16-2011, 08:12 AM
More information.

For the uke in pictures 1 and 2 the locals call the wood "Guayacan". My research leads me to "lignum vitae" but I dont think this is correct as this wood does not glue well since it produces an oily wax.
For the one in picture 3 it is refered as "Almendro or caoba". Caoba leads me to mahogany but it is not swietenia macrophylla. Almendro leads me to Dipteryx spp. but the geographical distribution does not include Ecuador.
If any of you would have information or an idea, I would really appreciate it.

09-16-2011, 07:50 PM
Not sure about the Guayacan. The problem with common names in Latin America is that the name is for one wood in Country A, and another in Country B.

In Central America - where we build, and the best known locale for Guayacan, or Lignum Vitae, there are, as they say "varias clases de Guayacanes". The best known is Guayacan Real, which has some similarities to your photos, but has a more greenish color and finer grain. We use it often - a wonderful wood that can be glued if you have practice. Are those instruments heavy? It is a very dense wood - long known as the hardest on earth.

Almendro is a very generic term. Means a lot of different things depending on the country. Can't really help you at all on that, except to say that I have never heard of any confusion on the word Caoba. It's Mahogany, and your 3rd intrument is not that.

Rick Turner
09-16-2011, 08:02 PM
There is no way to tell from pictures on the Internet what a particular piece of wood might be. I could show you Madagascar rosewood and tell you it was Brazilian, and you'd believe me. Hell, I'd believe me with some of that stuff. I defy you to tell Macassar ebony from Malaysian blackwood. And these examples are with wood in hand...not some photo on the Internet.

And Dirk is absolutely right. Common names mean absolutely nothing. Tasmanian Oak is the same down there as Mountain Ash, and that's the same as Swamp gum...and in fact it describes three of the Eucalypts down under, the most impressive being Eucalyptus regnans. Aussie "myrtle" has absolutely nothing to do with our West Coast myrtle which comes from the Bay laurel tree. The term "blackwood" is applied to acacias, ebonies, and rosewoods.

Go figure.

To find out for sure, you'll need a wood sample that can be messed with, a good sized chunk of the bark of the tree, and leaf samples. Oh, and an expert on tropical hardwoods. You could go with a DNA sample, but that might be pricey.

Most of us pro luthiers can come close to IDing many of the woods, but the overlaps are so broad that we have to trust our own suppliers. I defy anyone to tell the mahogany in my J-45 replicas as being where it's from. Honduras? Belize? Brazil? Africa? Cuba? Hispaniola? I know, but few others would. And there is a lot of Tassie blackwood that I could not possibly tell from Hawaiian koa in a photo...maybe in the hand, but still...

Does it matter? Is it a wonderful instrument? Does it suck? Is that a matter of the wood or the craft?

Don't ascribe magical properties to the Unobtanium tree.

Dan Uke
09-16-2011, 09:37 PM
What is the importance of knowing?

Pete Howlett
09-16-2011, 10:41 PM
This is a genuine enquiry so stop being so crusty... there, I've said it!

The only people really qualified at identifying the woods are those who built them. Countries are notorious for having their own vernacular for indigenous hardwoods and you have to thank the British for giving the anglicised names for commerical timber, usually arbitary and often linked to the port name where the wood was collected.

Players are always curious about what their instruments are made from. Lets help them out eh, instead of slapping them around the forum?

Dan Uke
09-17-2011, 06:42 AM
Sorry if I sounded crusty but I was reading another thread and I thought the first question you always ask is why. I was trying to ask a sincere informative question but can't seem to get it right. LOL

09-17-2011, 07:54 AM
Only reason I'd be worried about what type of wood they were would be to avoid having it seized at customs if it turned out to be an endangered species.

Rick Turner
09-17-2011, 10:03 AM
Let's get real about customs. Call it something plausible. Anything that makes sense and is legal. Just don't call it Brazilian rosewood. Have a document saying what you think it is, and maybe even where you got it. Most woods are not on any restricted lists. Most customs inspectors are not experts on identifying woods. If luthiers can't ID wood precisely, then who can? Not some guy who has fifty suitcases stacked up waiting for clearance.

09-17-2011, 03:37 PM
Thank you for all your answers and taking the time to look and reply.

As to why I asked the question. There are two reasons. Yes, the border crossings do worry me. I understand what you are saying Rick. I could just say mahogany and walnut even though it would be a false declaration. But also, even not going into paranoia, I could get a real radical customs officer (met some of those before.....bad experience) that knows musical instruments or woods. The second reason is for my own personal knowledge. I do want to know what my instruments are made of. No, it doesnt change how the instrument sounds. It is a quest for knowledge. I do not own these instruments; they are offered to me by a luthier in the US (I live in Canada). They look, sound good (from sound clips) and are resonably priced. At this point though, I cannot see myself purchasing them if they are made from a mystery wood. Also, there is very little information regarding this luthier available. Of course it could be different if I could play them prior to the decision.

I did gain a lot of knowledge on this quest already. I had not realized how confused and confusing this whole domain is. Rick, i did think that a luthier could identify woods from a picture given certain informations. I do now realize that it is a lot harder than this. Dirk, thank you so much for the information. Continuing my search, I found exactly what you are telling me. The same name is used for different woods in different south and central American countries. Almendro is used for many, many different woods or even shrubs. Guayacan is used in a broad sens; to any tree or wood that ressembles lignum vitae.

Thank you so much for your input; I really apreciate it.

Rick Turner
09-17-2011, 03:41 PM
A guayacan is what folks in Guayaquil pee into.