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This sought-after wood for guitar building, comes only from the three species of the genus Swietenia. These are tropical trees that, when converted to timber, are collectively referred to as “genuine mahogany.”
The Honduran mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) is the most common species used in guitar-building, with the smaller Pacific Coast mahogany (Swietenia humilis) and the rare Cuban mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni) to sum up the genus.
As Swietenia humilis is generally too small to produce good guitar lumber and Swietenia mahagoni is in extremely short supply, most of the mahogany seen in modern guitar construction is Swietenia macrophylla. It is the genuine mahogany.
While it’s common knowledge that some woods sound brighter, darker or fuller than others, not everyone necessarily knows why!
Because wood is an organic material, it changes shape and density as it grows; with age, wood develops deeper grains that change almost immeasurably during its lifespan. Due to the unpredictable and ever-changing nature of this growth, you can almost certainly expect inconsistencies and imperfections at every level of detail, whether it’s an unmistakable fist-sized knot or a microscopic hole.
Different types of wood have different types of imperfections and characteristics in their make-up, and it’s this variation that makes them sound different from each other.
Imagine two rooms, one small and one large. If you strum a guitar in the small room, there’s less space for the sound to move around in, so the sound dies down quicker but is clear. In the large room however, you’ll notice the sound echoes around more, meaning the sound lasts longer but loses clarity.
Now apply this to the gaps between the grains in different types of wood: if wood is dense, there will be less space among the grain for the sound to move around in, so you can expect quick attack and bright clarity. If the wood is less dense, the sound will have more space in the grain to move around in, so you can expect a darker resonance with increased sustain!
Mahogany is a name that is used to describe a whole range of hardwoods from around the globe, but true mahogany is only found in the Americas, ranging from southern Mexico to the upper Amazonian regions.
It’s highly resilient, with excellent resistance to wood rot, so it’s been used by furniture and boat makers for quite some time. As a result, it’s also proved to be a very popular choice for both acoustic and electric guitar construction. Here, the most commonly used variety is known as Honduras mahogany, a relatively plentiful and cheap wood thanks to extensive plantations intended to maintain stocks.
Mahogany tonewood is a relatively heavy choice, and you’ll feel the weight of it more than basswood, alder and ash around your shoulder, though it’s not as dense as some brighter-sounding woods. Its colouring ranges from a yellow hue when fresh, through salmon pink, and on to deep rich red or brown when it’s aged and matured. With a fine grain similar to ash, but with a more even grain pattern, its reddish-brown colouring tends to make it a good choice for a translucent finish.
Having been the favoured tone wood of guitar makers for years, it produces a warm, mellow tone with excellent low frequencies, pronounced lower-mids, and a smooth but subdued higher end.
Mahogany is a tonewood that produces a punchy growl with excellent sustain, generally favored for punchy rock music. Good quality mahogany tonewood will age really well and sound better as it matures. It’s also very stable, and is less likely to warp than most other species of wood.
There are 3 species of mahogany Honduran mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla), Cuban mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni), Pacific Coast mahogany (Swietenia humilis).
Pacific Coast mahogany is too small to make guitars. Cuban mahogany is too rare and short of supply. Honduran mahogany is the most commonly used in making guitars.
Want to know which kits are easy to assemble? Checkout our blog post about Beginner Friendly Guitar Kits.