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The Woods I Use to Build Guitars 


Here are some photos that show the various woods I use

in constructing guitars.  Enjoy!


Here's some pretty wood:

Left to right:  Figured bubinga, curly mango, flamed koa, and figured madrona:

(All B00 bodies)


Top Woods

Engelmann spruce

(usually classics)

Picea engelmannii

creamy white and very even

Western red cedar

Thuja plicata

very uniform usually


Sequoia sempervirens

uniform, dark colored

I have some curly redwood billets coming, photos coming soon.

Sitka spruce

Picea sitchensis

this example shows the color variation which is common in Sitka spruce (white-yellow-pink)

"Bearclaw" Sitka spruce

Picea sitchensis

fantastic bearclaw, hand-picked

More "Bearclaw" Sitka

Picea sitchensis


European spruce

Picea abies



This is a AAA set

American red spruce ("Adirondack" spruce)

Picea rubens


Depends on avaiability.

What they made the tops out of for

those pre-war gems.





I choose top woods based on their stiffness, tone, regularity, and beauty.

I choose my spruce and cedar myself, one top at a time.

Steel String


If you order a steel string guitar, you will get AAA grade of:

Sitka spruce, Englemann spruce, or western red cedar.


Redwood is $100 extra for either steel string or classical.

Bearclaw sitka is $200 extra.

European spruce is $200 extra.

Adirondack (Picea rubens) depends on quality and availability; but $200-$300 is a decent estimate for this top wood.



Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) is most common for steel string guitars and I believe it is a

superior wood.  Here's a photo comparing three pieces of Sitka spruce:

Nylon String

If you order a classical or flamenco, you get your choice of Engelmann

spruce or western red cedar.  I can also get you Adironack red spruce

or European spruce as an option at increased cost.  Please contact me for

a quote.  I can build classics with Sitka spruce too; but I don't recommend it.

European spruce is excellent for classical guitars and is $200 extra.

Master grade European spruce:  Contact me for availability and price.


Here's a photo for color comparison with (left to right):

Engelmann spruce;  western red cedar;  and  redwood

Woods for the Backs and Sides


The traditional woods for back and sides of guitars, such as Indian rosewood, maple, koa, and mahogany

are now giving way to a wave of new, wonderful hardwoods that are shaking up the guitar world.


As you can see below, I am building with many of them, such as purpleheart, myrtle, madrone, mango

Osage orange, Maccassar ebony, walnut, and bubinga.  I strongly urge you to consider these woods:  They

make spectacular sounding and looking guitars and they are often a bargain over the traditional woods,

which are becoming ever more scarce and expensive.  In my opinion, many of these give superior

tone when compared to the traditional rosewood and mahogany.



The graphic shown below gives my impression of the "voice" of various back and siedes woods.

These are relative ratings only and only my opinion, though I do think they are accurate.

(The main factor in the voice of a guitar is the top wood and bracing and the overall design.  Back

and sides just flavor the tone some.)






Indian rosewood

Dalbergia latifolia


A steel string classic.  Lots of overtones

and fat woody sound, with punch.





A back without finish: 


See more back sets and my discussion of

Indian rosewood, at the bottom of this page.



Acacia koa


Very clean pretty sound.  A classic wood for steel string.  Similar sound to Honduran mahogany.







Flamed bigleaf maple

Acer macrophyllum


Very clean and bell-like tones.  Great for fingerstyle guitar or classical.  Less punchy but sweeter, clearer.  Clean, clean tone.




Flamed myrtle

Myrica californica


Tone similar to Honduran mahogany and walnut








Flamed black acacia

Acacia melanoxylon


Very similar to koa, which is another species of acacia.

Black acacia and koa are hard to tell apart.





Brazilian rosewood

Dalbergia nigra


The classic look and sound.  It does make great guitars, both classical and steel string.  Nice sets are still available, but they are VERY expensive.


Call or email for availability and price




Figured claro walnut

Juglans hindsii


Very similar to Honduran mahogany in sound.  Very nice for fingerstyle guitars.







Macassar ebony (striped)

Diospyros spp. (sometimes celebica)


Punchy, powerful.  The closest thing I've heard to Brazilian rosewood.  Sometimes spectacular figure.





Figured Honduran Mahogany

Swietenia macrophylla, Swietenia mahagoni


The classic clean-tone sound for steel string.  These have ribbon figure.  Conditional on availability.



Plain Honduran mahogany

Swietenia macrophylla, Swietenia mahagoni


The classic clean-tone sound for steel string.



this shot compares figured and plain




Guibourtia spp.


Very nice for steel string.  I prefer its

sound to Indian rosewood.



A highly-figured example (spalted as well), very special and rare:



Pterocarpus spp.


Similar to Indian rosewood in sound.

Bright orange fading to mellow brown with age.



Monterey Cypress

Cupressus macrocarpa

(and European cyress:  same species)


(flamenco and classical)

Punchy and bright.  I prefer the sound of cypress guitars:  both classical and flamenco.




Osage Orange

Maclura pomifera

Bright, punchy, very resonant:  Osage Orange is a great wood for steel string, classical, or flamenco.  Quite like Brazilian rosewood in tap tone.  Very plain grain, light yellow in color.  Because these come from small trees (in Argentina) there is normally some flat-sawn wood in the backs.

Conditional on availability, though I usually have some in my shop.

(If you want a "soft" (Venetian) cutaway on a flamenco guitar, this is the wood I can use for the back and sides to get the cutaway.)








Pacific Madrone ("madrona")

Arbutus menziesii


This wonderful wood is new to my shop in 2011.  I built my first guitar with it out of a very plain set, and I love the look, sound, tone, and working properties of this wood.  I have obtained some highly figured billets as well.


Wonderful tone:  Purity of maple with much of the punch of rosewood.  Fantastic wood for guitars -- even if you've never heard of it!





Burl back set (there are more of these):



Peltogyne spp.


This wonderful and spectacular looking wood makes great steel string guitars, especially large-bodied guitars.  Incredible stiffness and bright ringing tap tone makes a guitar with the punch and tone similar to Brazilian rosewood and even more powerful in my opinion.



The example shown below is highly figured, in the typical figure for purpleheart:  "beeswing" or "waterfall"








Mangifera spp.


Another wonderful wood, very similar in look and tone to Honduran mahogany; but with more sparkle and punch.  I REALLY love the tone of mango.


Often comes as "chocolate" dark sets or with nice curly figure.



These light colored samples below have medium curl:




I have a couple of sets with killer curl like this!:





Backs and Sides for Steel String Guitars

When you order a basic model steel string guitar, you get a choice of the

following wood for backs and sides:  plain Honduran mahogany, bubinga,

or padauk.  All sound great and look fine.  I am particularly fond of bubinga.

Here they are in comparison:

(left to right:  padauk, bubinga, mahogany)

All other woods are all optional at increased cost.


Basic Backs and Sides for Classical Guitars:

When you order a basic classical guitar, you get Indian rosewood backs

and sides.  Flamenco guitars only come with cypress sides.  Monterey

cypress (domestic) is included in the price, Spanish (European, most

comes from Italy now) cypress is $200 extra.  Palo escrito is another

choice for no extra cost.  Palo escrito is a nice tone wood commmonly

used by the luthiers of Paracho, Mexico.  Other woods for classicals

at no extra cost:  plain Honduran mahogany, padauk, and bubinga.

All other woods are optional at increased cost.


(Now.  You may be wondering why Indian rosewood costs extra for

steel string and not for classical.  Actually, the extra cost is built

into the classical pricing.  There are extra parts and costs involved

with steel string making, such as truss rods, etc., that make them

a little more expensive for me to build.)



Indian Rosewood

Dahlbergia latifolia


Indian rosewood is the back and sides wood which I use most commonly.

It became the "go-to" wood for steel strings when the supplies

of Brazilian rosewood became tight, expensive or unavailable.


It is a wonderful tone wood, works well, and looks great.  It is also

most popular with customers.  It is becoming harder to get really nice

looking sets and more expensive all the time.  I get nice sets which I

pick myself.  However, they are not like years ago, when every set

seemed like it was very darkly colored with straight, even grain.

I have some sets that fit that description set aside for special orders.

The normal extra charge for steel string guitars is $100 for Indian rosewood.

The special sets are $200 extra to reflect the additional cost for these sets.


As I stated above, it's hard to find especially nice looking sets.  My

regular grade of Indian rosewood is very nice, see these examples:



AND:  these sets all sound great.  In fact, for a personal guitar I built

recently for myself (classical), I deliberately chose what I considered

to be the least appealing looking set of rosewood.  The resulting guitar

was my best sounding instrument yet.  I urge customers to consider the

tone of the instrument above visual aesthetics.  See this guitar:



The grain is not straight (especially the sides), it's not particularly dark

or even.  The color is uneven.  I had to work really hard to make the

figure on the back work out.  It doesn't look like a presentation model.

But, wow, does it sound great.



Price List for back and sides woods (subject to change without notice)

All figured woods are sometimes hard to obtain


Figured wood costs a lot more than plain wood, some woods are just more

expensive to obtain.  My storage and seasoning of the wood costs me a lot.

My pricing system allows you to choose how you want to spend your money.

If you want fancy wood, I love to build with that kind of wood; but it increases

the price of the guitar:


Examples of wood we can use for your guitar:

(Subject to change without notice)


"Killer" koa back & sides $700
Plain koa back & sides $300
"Killer" curly mango $500
Plain / slight curl mango $150
Maccassar ebony back & sides $700
Flamed walnut back & sides (dep. on figure) $300-$500
Flamed Oregon myrtle back & sides $400
Plain Oregon myrtle back & sides $100
Flamed bigleaf maple back & sides $300
Flamed black acacia back & sides (very similar to koa) $400
Figured Honduran mahogany back & sides $200-$700 (depends on figure and availability)
Plain Pacific madrone back & sides $100
Pacific madrone back & light ripple sides $300
Pacific madrone light ripple back & sides $200
Plain purpleheart back & sides No charge
Figured purpleheart back & sides $200
Figured bubinga back & sides (set selection available) $100-$200
Highly figured bubinga back & sides $500
Osage orange back & sides $200
Redwood top (plain) $100
Bearclaw Sitka spruce top $200
European srpuce top $200


Other woods:  contact me and I will quote other woods, assuming that I can obtain them.


Brazilian rosewood can still be found (good sets) but will be a large up-charge ($3000-$4000 range)

and will require a larger deposit to cover purchase of the Brazilian rosewood.

Please remove the obvious "no-spam" part on my address

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© 2015, James W. Blilie, Barbarossa Guitars                        5997 Turtle Lake Road, Shoreview, MN 55126                        This page was last updated:  1-Sep-2015