Guitars are made of numerous different parts, many of which are made of wood. The choice of wood in the guitar body (the solid body and laminate in electric guitars and the sides, back and top of acoustic guitars), neck and fretboard all contribute to the overall playability, feel and, of course, tone of the instrument. Since balsamo is used in the construction of guitars and basses, it's worth investigating whether it's a good tonewood or not.
Is balsamo a good guitar tonewood? Balsamo is a hard and dense tonewood with a loud, rich tone and notable voice separation and clarity. It's structurally sound and makes a great fretboard material. It's not widely accepted as a commercially viable option, though it's certainly a great tonewood for a full-bodied and clean tone.
In this article, we'll discuss if and how balsamo tonewood is used in electric, acoustic, classical and bass guitar construction with a keen focus on its tone.
Note: in my research for this article, I used Sweetwater's extensive guitar database to find examples of guitars with balsamo in their construction. The links to the guitars in this article will send readers to Sweetwater's site for more information. Sweetwater is featured in My New Microphone's Top 10 Best Online Audio Gear/Equipment Retailers.
Table Of Contents
- Characteristics Of Balsamo Tonewood
- Is Balsamo A Good Electric Guitar Tonewood?
- Is Balsamo A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?
- Is Balsamo A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?
- Other Tonewoods
Characteristics Of Balsamo Tonewood
Balsamo (Myroxylon balsamum) is perhaps more commonly known as Santos mahogany or alternatively as Cabreuva. It is a hardwood native to Southern Mexico and Central and South America.
The colour of balsamo ranges from lighter golden brown to dark purplish-red and burgundy. It's a diffuse-porous wood. Its grain is generally interlocked with a medium-to-fine texture.
Balsamo is not listed in the CITES Appendices, nor is it on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Balsamo is a difficult wood to work thanks to its high density and hardness (10,680 N / 2,400 lbf Janka), which have a notable blunting effect on woodworking tools. Its interlocked grain makes it prone to tear-out, and its natural oil content makes gluing and staining challenging.
Balsamo offers a loud, rich tone with notable voice separation and clarity. Its full-bodied bass and brilliant treble ring loudly, and the overtones take a dip in the midrange.
Here are a few notable balsamo specs:
- Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
- Colour: lighter golden brown to darker purplish red or burgundy
- Grain: interlocked
- Texture: medium to fine
- Pores: diffuse-porous
- Density: 915 kg/m3 / 57.00 lb/ft3
- Janka Hardness (Typical): 10,680 N / 2,400 lbf
- Elastic Modulus: 16.41 GPa / 2,380,000 psi
- Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): warm
- Price: moderate to high
Here are links to the official website of the IUCN and Cites:
• IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature)
• CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora)
Is Balsamo A Good Electric Guitar Tonewood?
Before we begin, I should mention that tonewoods don't have nearly as much of an effect on the overall sound of an electric guitar as they do on an acoustic guitar. The guitar pickups, strings, signal chain and amplifier all play a huge role in the overall tone of an electric guitar. It's not all about the wood, though it is a factor.
Balsamo is a virtually unknown tonewood in the world of electric guitars. Most guitarists aren't privy to it, and there's little demand for a guitar made of it.
However, that's not to say it's a bad tonewood. In fact, it's a great wood for fretboards, and its beautiful tone and stable nature practically beg for inclusion in one way or another, whether for tone or strength in construction.
Is Balsamo A Good Electric Guitar Body Tonewood?
Balsamo is rarely considered a body material in electric guitars due to its high density. It's an impractical solidbody tonewood but could be better suited incorporated into hollowbody designs or as a veneer material (thanks to its striking appearance.
Of course, this wood is rarely experimented with in electric guitar bodies, though it could certainly sound great in certain designs and look good, too.
Is Balsamo A Good Electric Guitar Neck Tonewood?
Balsamo isn't a popular guitar neck tonewood, though it's certainly strong enough for consideration. Its weight is relatively high compared to standard fretboard materials. However, perhaps the main reason why it's not used as a tonewood is that it's a relatively unknown wood with a relatively high price tag.
Is Balsamo A Good Electric Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?
Balsamo has the properties of an excellent fretboard material: it's hard, durable, smooth, and doesn't demand a finish.
Is Balsamo A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?
Balsamo is about as popular with acoustic and classical guitars as it is with electric guitars. Again, that's not to say it's terrible, just that it's obscure.
Is Balsamo A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Back/Side Tonewood?
Balsamo is a compelling alternative for acoustic guitar backs and sides, thanks to its full-bodied tone and structural soundness. It helps drive volume and clarity, especially when a powerful top wood is incorporated into the design.
Balsamo may be a bit of a challenge to bend, though well worth the effort for its power and clarity as a back and sides material.
Is Balsamo A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Top Tonewood?
Balsamo is very dense and hard, which often works against woods in terms of projection (spruce and cedar are among the loudest projects, and they're both softwoods). However, balsamo can sound great as a top wood thanks to its stiffness and full-body overtones.
Is Balsamo A Good Acoustic Guitar Neck Tonewood?
Like with electric guitars, balsamo is a bit harder and heavier than the typical neck woods. That's not to say it would perform poorly, though it's not a stand-out among the current options and, therefore, is largely ignored.
Is Balsamo A Good Acoustic Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?
Balsamo's hardness, durability and smoothness make it a superb choice for acoustic guitar fretboards. Beyond the physical properties, its rich tone offers excellent voice separation and clarity, bringing out the individual notes from the fretboard quite nicely.
Luna is a notable brand that has experimented with balsamo fretboards.
Examples of acoustic guitars with balsamo fretboards:
- Luna Gypsy Grand Concert: acoustic with balsamo fretboard
Is Balsamo A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?
Balsamo can be a great choice for bass fretboards, though it's not a common tonewood option in commercial or custom designs. There's not much else to add about this tonewood.
Examples of bass guitars with balsamo tonewood:
- Luna Tribal 34″ Scale: solidbody electric bass with balsamo fretboard
Of course, there are plenty of other tonewoods besides balsamo. Here is a list of other tonewoods with links to check out more in-depth articles on each:
- Panga Panga
- Pau Ferro