Mahogany as an "inferior" tonewood?

Construction and repair of Classical Guitar and related instruments
hesson11
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Mahogany as an "inferior" tonewood?

Post by hesson11 » Wed Apr 26, 2017 12:55 am

I must plead guilty to, perhaps subconsciously, thinking of mahogany (back and sides) as inferior to the more traditional rosewood. Anyone else?

But recently I tried out, as an experiment, a modest Cordoba C5 with spruce and mahogany. (I was actually testing out not the cedar/mahogany combination but rather my injured hands/arms comfort in playing a 650mm guitar.) I must say, I found it to be quite lovely. It was very responsive, with an attractive "breathy" or "airy" character that I don't think I've ever experienced with rosewood guitars.

Do any of you think of mahogany as a "poor cousin" to rosewood, as I did? And is that fair? THANKS.
-Bob

P.S. It turns out that I really need to stick with shorter-scale guitars, but the C5 opened my eyes to new possibilities.

Victor Seal
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Re: Mahogany as an "inferior" tonewood?

Post by Victor Seal » Wed Apr 26, 2017 1:10 am

Less expensive, but in no way "inferior". Maybe strange, but the two best sounding guitars I have played were mahogany back, sides and neck.

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souldier
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Re: Mahogany as an "inferior" tonewood?

Post by souldier » Wed Apr 26, 2017 1:13 am

It's a matter of social conditioning. In the CG community we are generally conditioned to regard Rosewood as superior and more valuable. Also, mahagony generally doesn't look as dramatic or attractive as say IRW subjectively speaking. This along with a tonne of other unreasonable biases and prejudices exist within the CG community.

As far as tonewoods are concerned, it's important to reiterate that it is the quality of the wood and the skill/design of the luthier that matters more than the species itself, though the species does make a difference. With that said, I once owned a Cordoba C9 with solid Mahagony back and sides and I preferred it over many rosewood guitars that I have played, which included several "high end" guitars. This is not to suggest that it was the mahagony that made it superior. I'm convinced that any high quality piece of back/side wood can make a great sounding guitar when all the other pieces come well together. I sometimes even wonder if we can make a great sounding guitar using carbon fiber or "paper" for the back and sides as long as it is paired with good quality top and a skilled luthier.

In the end however, value will still continue to be based not on actual performance, but on the general consensus of the community.
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Brian McCombs
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Re: Mahogany as an "inferior" tonewood?

Post by Brian McCombs » Wed Apr 26, 2017 1:31 am

My most dynamic build to date is a cedar/mahogany combo. I adorned it with many flaws as I ham-handedly constructed it. And the top cracked for no good reason.

I built it from mahogany because it's a cheap wood and I wished to save my better materials. Being an early instrument I knew it would not end up pretty. It's my benchmark guitar with respect to having everything in the tone spectrum I wish for. I still dunno what I did right?

Marcus Dominelli
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Re: Mahogany as an "inferior" tonewood?

Post by Marcus Dominelli » Wed Apr 26, 2017 2:13 am

Mahogany is only inferior in the sense that it's a much harder sell than rosewood is for backs and sides, atleast as far as classical guitars are concerned.
For necks nobody questions it...

For steel string acoustics mahogany will not usually fetch the same price as the same model made with rosewood. The bluegrass players love the mahogany dreadnought, many more so than the rosewood, so they continue to make it, even though it's much less profitable.

I've never used mahogany for classical back and sides, probably never will. I think walnut and maple are superior, if not tonally, certainly visually.

Semitone
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Re: Mahogany as an "inferior" tonewood?

Post by Semitone » Wed Apr 26, 2017 3:17 am

I am not a fan of making judgements about hypothetical guitars because there are just too many variables but...in general, I have not seen mahogany with the beautiful figuration that rosewood normally has except for a few flamed mahogany necks on electric guitars. So from an aesthetic viewpoint I find mahogany "inferior".

It is hard to fight both aesthetics and tradition when it comes to guitars.

UKsteve
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Re: Mahogany as an "inferior" tonewood?

Post by UKsteve » Wed Apr 26, 2017 7:45 am

Semitone wrote:in general, I have not seen mahogany with the beautiful figuration that rosewood normally has except for a few flamed mahogany necks on electric guitars.
Check out fiddleback, flamed Cuban or "The Tree" mahogany.

Keith
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Re: Mahogany as an "inferior" tonewood?

Post by Keith » Wed Apr 26, 2017 8:53 am

I think when discussing "mahogany" we need to ask which "mahogany" we are we talking about? True mahogany or the boat load of different trees referred to as mahogany? Most wood being sold as "mahogany" is not Swietenia macrophylla, rather, wood from a different genus. I suspect the "mahogany" used in the Cordoba is not real mahogany but one of many woods sold using the name.
be true to the one you love but have many flings with different guitars

Alan Carruth
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Re: Mahogany as an "inferior" tonewood?

Post by Alan Carruth » Wed Apr 26, 2017 6:30 pm

Some would say the 'real' mahogany is S. mahoganii, also called 'Caribbean' or 'Cuban' mahogany. It's generally harder, darker, and tighter grained than S. macrophylla, AKA broadleaf or Honduras mahogany. Cuban is much closer to a rosewood then the average of Honduras mahogany, although, of course, there's a lot of variation in any wood. Generally speaking (again, variation!) the rosewoods tend to have higher density and lower damping than most mahogany. Either of those could make the difference in tone, but which is more important is open to question.

I've always liked mahogany paired with a low damping wood like cedar or redwood on the top. Properly done the top seems to make up somewhat for the higher damping of the B&S. OTOH, it's also likely I'm hearing what I expect to hear, at least to some extent.

Dave M
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Re: Mahogany as an "inferior" tonewood?

Post by Dave M » Wed Apr 26, 2017 7:37 pm

Slightly off topic but we seemed to be getting on to non Rosewood timbers for back & sides...

Do we know what the damping quality of Maple is like? I made a decision to avoid Rosewoods at the start of my amateur career and have so far used various Maples with, to my ears good effect.
Dave

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martinardo
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Re: Mahogany as an "inferior" tonewood?

Post by martinardo » Wed Apr 26, 2017 10:56 pm

souldier wrote
I'm convinced that any high quality piece of back/side wood can make a great sounding guitar when all the other pieces come well together.
Visual and aesthetic considerations are naturally important but, for a lot of people, the sound is paramount.

There is this unfortunate bias for hearing with our eyes. However, in most performance situations, most would be listening to the music:

(apart from a few delcampers with binoculars glued to their eyes :) )
I'm pink therefore I'm Spam

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Brian McCombs
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Re: Mahogany as an "inferior" tonewood?

Post by Brian McCombs » Wed Apr 26, 2017 11:36 pm

Also ...desirability is coupled with price, if it's an inexpensive material it isn't as attractive for many. Which means a good true mahogany guitar will likely be pretty desirable in the next few decades. The price of mahogany back and sides at the big box stores can set you back a Ben Franklin plus some of his friends now! It's right up there with EIRW.

Laudiesdad69
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Re: Mahogany as an "inferior" tonewood?

Post by Laudiesdad69 » Thu Apr 27, 2017 12:00 am

I don't see how the OP could judge mahogany on a C5 as the C5 is laminated back and sides. I will agree with him that mahogany does have a "breathy" tone as it does on my C9, but it has solid back and sides. To me, I think that it wouldn't make so much of a difference on laminates. Could it be that that is the tone we expect when we see mahogany? Have we already been programmed to think this?

hesson11
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Re: Mahogany as an "inferior" tonewood?

Post by hesson11 » Thu Apr 27, 2017 12:20 am

Laudiesdad69 wrote:I don't see how the OP could judge mahogany on a C5
I used my ears! :D

As to the possibility that the guitar may have merely fulfilled my preconceptions, well, I really had none. But your points are well taken.
-Bob

Keith
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Re: Mahogany as an "inferior" tonewood?

Post by Keith » Thu Apr 27, 2017 12:49 am

Al, I recall reading a National Geographic from the 70's which had an article on Spain and which had a photo of, and paragraph on, the Senior Rodriquez of the guitar family. Mr. Rodriquez mentioned how Swietenia mahoganii, AKA, Cuban Mahogany, was by far the best. The only problem he had was it was so rare he had to find old furniture to recycle to get a neck blank. Nick Gibbs, author of the Real Wood Bible mentions that finding even scraps can be almost impossible--and all other mahogany pale in comparison.
be true to the one you love but have many flings with different guitars

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