John Greven on Rosewood

This conversation was part of a thread in the forum. . .


I am looking at Back and Side woods for my custom guitar and I have three alternatives:
1) East Indian Rosewood (no upcharge)
2) Honduran Rosewood (approx. $800,- upcharge)
3) Brazilian Rosewood (approx. $ 1500,- to $2000,- upcharge)

What are the sound qualities of these woods and how would you rate them for fingerstyle. For instance, I really like the reverby quality of EI rosewood, but that and the overtones can sometimes interfere with the clarity of the fundamental...

John Greven's Answer:

Not quite apples and oranges, but...

The three rosewoods are quite different in their physical properties and their ultimate sound characteristics. Honduran and Brazilian are more similar than different, Indian being the least like the rest of the pack.

Indian is softer and less dense than the other two materials. Honduran is very hard, stiff and dense but has less wax content than either Brazilian or Indian. Brazilian is hard and dense with a fairly high wax (and oil) content, but not as heavy as Honduran.
On a continuum from softer to harder = Indian/Brazilian/Honduran.
On a continuum of less dense to most dense=Indian/Brazilian/Honduran.
On an coninuum of least waxy to most=Honduran/Indian/Brazilian.

So what does all of that stuff actually mean? Density and wax content effect response and tonality (if we ignore the top material choice). I find Indian to have a quicker response to string pressure than the other two woods, but it lacks a bit of a crystalline high register. The other two have a bit more dark-ish quality to the overall sound and a slight delay in response, but have a long sustaining clarity to the high partials (which I call crystalline).

I personally do not like Honduran. It has a hard edge to the tone that the other two woods do not have and I have had stability issues with it in the past. I would go for either Indian or Brazilian.

The cost difference is also a factor. Currently a fine set of Indian is less than $100. Honduran is slightly more than that. Brazilian prices depend somewhat on source, but range from $350 to about $800, more for the really wild stuff. Down the road, owing to its continued scarcity, Brazilian is the much better investment for resale. (and it is also prettier)

Repair is another issue. Both Honduran and Brazilian have a great deal of internal stress when subjected to rapid changes on the temperature of humidity. They crack easily. The also crack easily under impact (like that mic stand you didn't see out of the corner of your eye). The good news is that most cracks are very easily repaired back to original.

Tonally, they are all capable of power and punch and sustain etc. all depending heavily on the choice of top material and how it is braced. I really like the combo of rosewood and the Euro red spruce, also Italian and run of the mill basic Euro (which is actually fir). These tops work well with the physics or rosewood(s),lending a warmth and fullness to the instrument's voice which I do not find in other top woods. Also lots of headroom available.

If you had three otherwise identical guitars side by side with the three rosewoods, they would sound very much alike. The differences would be subtle rather than glaring. The Honduran would have a more glass like sound, harder and with more edge, the Indian more pronounced mids and woody, the Brazilian would be darker,piano like.

Hey, go for it. All three are excellent in their own right. In the hands of an experienced builder, any of these woods would be outstanding. Think TOP wood as being the more important element in sound production.