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Rosewood Substitutes – March 2017

As we enter the “Rosewood CITES” era people can choose to either work with the new restrictions or look at some alternative woods. Either way, you go, LMI is well prepared to help. Before we look at some of the alternatives, here are a few reminders:

  1. LMI is happy to email you some informational material at no charge upon request to bring you up to speed.
  2. We can easily send Rosewood to our customers in the U.S. and Canada and should be ready to supply our European customers before long.
  3. We can provide the documents you need if you are exporting instruments that contain Rosewood upon request for a modest fee. Save your invoices!

LMI does not export finished instruments, but of course, many of our customers do. As of this writing (March 2017) customers exporting instruments with Rosewood on them are just beginning to learn the ropes with regards to CITES paperwork, inspections and turnaround times. We are learning what we can from their experiences so we can share them with you later on.

Many builders have markets that are willing to accept alternatives to Rosewood. This is evident primarily in the electric guitar market where Rosewood has been a traditional fingerboard choice. We’ll cover back and side options in another blog.

Rosewood Substitutes:

Pau Ferro – This is a well-known fingerboard wood that has been used widely by Fender, Sadowsky, Spector and other respected brands. At times we have stocked thousands of boards at a time. For years it was plentiful and inexpensive, but the political situation in Bolivia (the only source for really good stuff) ended the supply for a period of about 4 years. There is now an open supply chain, but turnaround times are lengthy and the price of the wood now well exceeds Rosewood. PROS: Similar grain striping as Rosewood, quartersawn, a little harder than Rosewood (but less than Ebony), stable. CONS: Some people are allergic to it, overall not as dark as Rosewood, no longer cheap, supply chain much improved, but shaky.

Granadillo – People love that the basic coloration and density are similar to Rosewood, but the wood is famous for inconsistency with wide-ranging colors and grain patterns. On the lower end, we see a lot of spotty and patchy colors, which may or may not be apparent after the board is oiled and fretted (or maybe even dyed). With an increase in demand, perhaps we will be able to filter the supply so that there are more boards consistently landing in the higher end of the grade spectrum, but this is yet to be determined. The supply chain seems fairly strong, but until recently we have only stocked a small amount. If we see more people embracing this wood as an alternative to Rosewood, of course, we will get more.

Katalox – The brown coloration differs from Rosewood but Katalox offers something that Rosewood purchasers routinely request: darkness. It is also very consistent in appearance though correspondingly it lacks specialness or any exciting grain patterns. It’s a bit harder and heavier than Rosewood. Coming from Central America it is similar to Granadillo with regard to the supply. We are increasing our inventory, but still waiting to see how the wind blows until we bolster on-hand amounts to rival a staple like Rosewood.

Machiche – None of the alternatives listed above is closer to Rosewood in appearance and density than Machiche, though it looks more like Honduran Rosewood than Indian. It’s relatively new to the guitarmaking world and has been slow to catch on, but that could easily change with the new CITES ruling. We will know more about the supply future before the summer of 2017.

Macassar Ebony – People are drawn to this wood’s workability (less brittle than African Ebony), that it is quartersawn and that the striping common to this species mimics that of Rosewood. But unfortunately, the supply chain is extremely shaky. The only wood shipping out of Indonesia with a concrete paper trail (demonstrating legal and ethical harvest and export) is cut from reclaimed sources, which are limited.

West African Ebony – Not much needs to be said about this well-known species. It differs greatly from Rosewood on a number of fronts but is well known to the marketplace and there are no CITES restrictions on it (yet!), so many people might think it is a good alternative. And, of course, we have tons of it in stock.