Is Bubinga A Good Guitar Tonewood? Electric, Acoustic & Bass


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 Bubinga is used in the construction of guitars and basses, it’s worth investigating whether it’s a good tonewood or not.

Is Bubinga a good guitar tonewood? Bubinga is a heavy tonewood with a tight, straight grain. It offers a warm tone with great sustain and a bright mid-range. Bubinga is usually used as a laminate top for electric guitar/bass or back/sides and top for acoustic guitar, sometimes in the neck and fretboard, but rarely as a solid body.

In this article, we’ll discuss if and how Bubinga 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 bubinga 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 Bubinga Tonewood

Bubinga comprises many different species within the genus Guibourtia (family: Fabaceae). When it comes to tonewoods, the two common (and strikingly similar) species of Bubinga are Guibourtia demeusei and Guibourtia tessmannii. The woods are sometimes referred to as African rosewood, akume, binding, ebana, essingang, kevazingo, kewazingo, okweni, ovang, and waka. Both types are native to equatorial Africa.

Note the ovangkol, another popular tonewood, is also part of the genus Guibourtia, though distinguished from bubinga in the subject of tonewoods.

Bubinga is not listed in the IUCN Red List of threatened species. However, the species demeusei and tessmannii are restricted under CITES Appendix II.

The heartwood of bubinga has a pink-red to dark reddish-brown colour with dark purple and/or black streaks, sometimes with a reddish or yellowish hue. Its grain ranges from straight to rather complex grains, including flamed, mottled, pomelle, quilted and waterfall. Its texture is fine-to-medium.

Bubinga hardwood can have a blunting effect on woodworking tools, especially if silica is present. The more complex the grain, the more prone the wood will be to tear out. High natural oil content sometimes interferes with gluing. That all being said, Bubinga is surprisingly easy to work given its density and hardness.

As a tonewood, bubinga offers a warm tone with great sustain and volume with bright mid-range. Bubinga produces a glassy ring to go with its full sound. The overtones are slightly subdued, giving the tonewood a definite warmth.

Compared to more popular woods, bubinga sounds more balanced than mahogany and similar to Indian rosewood, though with a bit less low-end resonance (earning it the name “African rosewood”). It’s a clear-sounding wood with notable separation in the mid and upper range frequencies.

Bubinga is a superb alternative to rosewood.

Here are a few notable bubinga specs:

  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: pinkish red to a darker reddish brown with darker purple or black streaks
  • Grain: straight to interlocked
  • Texture: uniform, fine to medium
  • Pores: diffuse-porous
  • Density: 890 kg/m3 / 55.6 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 10,720 N / 2,410 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 18.41 GPa / 2,670,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): warm
  • Price: moderate to high

Sources: wikipedia.org and wood-database.com

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 Bubinga 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, the signal chain and the 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.

Bubinga is a cherished tonewood for electric guitars, though it’s relatively uncommon in commercial models. The tone and aesthetics of bubinga make it a sought-after wood, though its hardness, density and price often limit it to laminate designs (body tops/veneers and laminate necks).

Is Bubinga A Good Electric Guitar Body Tonewood?

Bubinga is generally used in laminate designs rather than as the solidbody slab. It’s denser and much harder than the typical electric guitar body tonewoods (alder, ash, basswood, mahogany) and is largely ignored as a main body wood due to its undesirable weight.

That being said, the sophisticated and warm tone of bubinga can certainly enhance the tonal flavour of another, lighter body wood if it’s used as a top/veneer for a solidbody or hollowbody electric. Additionally, bubinga looks amazing, which is another huge selling point for this superb tonewood.

Is Bubinga A Good Electric Guitar Neck Tonewood?

Bubinga is rarely used as the neck material in commercial electric guitars, though it is a viable choice for luthiers around the world. It’s a solid, durable wood that sounds superb, especially with a bright laminate and/or fretboard materials (maple, walnut, ebony).

Ibanez is no stranger to exotic and lesser-known woods. The brand uses bubinga in some of its solidbody guitar laminate necks. When we do happen to come across bubinga in commercial guitar designs, it’s typically laminated.

Ibanez is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 13 Best Bass Guitar Brands In The World
Top 13 Best Electric Guitar Brands In The World

Examples of electric guitars with bubinga necks:

Is Bubinga A Good Electric Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

Bubinga is rarely used as the fretboard material in electric guitars, though it can be. It’s dense, hard and durable enough but is often looked over for the more popular and brighter fretboard tonewoods (ebony, maple, pau ferro, walnut).

Is Bubinga A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?

Bubinga is a great acoustic guitar tonewood, though it’s rarely seen in commercially-released acoustics. It can be difficult to work with, though its tone makes it worth it in many custom designs.

Is Bubinga A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Back/Side Tonewood?

Bubinga is an excellent choice for acoustic guitar backs and sides, thanks to its strong tone. It can really help drive volume and clarity, especially when a strong top wood is incorporated into the design.

Bubinga holds its shape well but can be challenging to bend due to its hardness (10,720 N / 2,410 lbf Janka) and interlocked grain.

However, excellent results are on the other side of a challenging bend when it comes to using bubinga as the back and sides of an acoustic or classical guitar.

Is Bubinga A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Top Tonewood?

Bubinga is capable of projecting lots of volume and looks fantastic. However, the general warmth of its tone often removes it from strong consideration in lieu of the more popular acoustic top tonewoods (spruce, cedar, mahogany).

Is Bubinga A Good Acoustic Guitar Neck Tonewood?

Bubinga is rarely used as the neck material in acoustic guitars, though it can be.

Is Bubinga A Good Acoustic Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

Bubinga is rarely used as the fretboard material in acoustic guitars, though it can be.

Is Bubinga A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?

Like the electric and acoustic guitars discussed above, bubinga is rather rare in mass-produced bass guitars. That being said, it’s a fantastic wood for the lower tone and overtones of bass guitars. Its warmth resonates the lows without muddying them, and the bright mid-range accentuates the important harmonics of the bass guitar sound.

Ibanez uses bubinga laminates in some of its electric bass guitar necks. Rickenbacker used to use it for fretboards, and Warwick has used it as a laminate top/veneer for its solidbody basses.

Examples of bass guitars with bubinga tonewoods:


Other Tonewoods

Of course, there are plenty of other tonewoods besides Bubinga. Here is a list of other tonewoods with links to check out more in-depth articles on each:


This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.

Arthur

Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement (hikersmovement.com) or composing music for media. Check out his Pond5 and AudioJungle accounts.

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