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

Is cocobolo a good guitar tonewood? Cocobolo is a true rosewood (genus Dalbergia) and is a bit brighter and more articulate than the typical rosewoods (East Indian and Brazilian). It’s a superb yet uncommon tonewood for fretboards, backs and sides, though it’s rarely considered for solid bodies, necks or acoustic tops.

In this article, we’ll discuss if and how cocobolo 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 cocobolo 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 Cocobolo Tonewood

Cocobolo is a tonewood from a few species within the Dalbergia genus, though it’s most commonly taken from the heartwood of Dalbergia retusa. It is native to Central America. Other spellings of the tonewood include Cocobola and Cocabola.

Other species within the Dalbergia genus include African blackwood (Dalbergia melanoxylon), Brazilian rosewood (Dalbergia nigra), Madagascar rosewood (Dalbergia baronii) and East Indian rosewood (Dalbergia latifolia).

Cocobolo offers many shades of yellow, orange, red, and brown with streaks of black or purple that form mesmerizing figures. Its grain varies from straight to interlocked, and the wood has a fine even texture.

Cocobolo is listed on CITES Appendix II as part of the genus-wide restriction on Dalbergia. It’s also listed on the IUCN Red List as “vulnerable due to a population reduction of over 20% in the past three generations, caused by a decline in its natural range, and exploitation.”

When it comes to working, cocobolo is a relatively difficult wood. This is largely due to its density and hardness, which cause a blunting effect on tools. The wood is also rather oily, which makes it difficult to glue and finish. Additionally, tear-out is common with the more interlocked pieces. It can be brittle during work, but the wood is strong and stable once worked properly and will maintain its shape nicely.

As a tonewood, cocobolo is considered relatively bright. Its low-end is present, though not nearly as much as rosewood. Its superb clarity and responsiveness are largely due to its moderate decay, particularly in the bright overtones. It’s an articulate tonewood with a lovely treble and upper-midrange.

Here are a few notable cocobolo specs:

  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: yellow, orange, red, or brown with black or purple streaks
  • Grain: straight to interlocked
  • Texture: fine, even
  • Density: 1,095 kg/m3 / 68.36 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 14,140 N / 3,179 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 18.70 GPa / 2,712,00 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): warm
  • Price: 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 Cocobolo 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.

Cocobolo is an unpopular tonewood in commercially-available electric guitar, though that certainly doesn’t mean it’s a terrible tonewood. Its clear, responsive tone can truly enhance a guitar’s ability to shine through a mix and stand out with a variety of styles.

Considering the high density and hardness of cocobolo, it makes sense that its potential as a tonewood is reserved for tops/veneers and fretboards rather than solid bodies and necks.

Is Cocobolo A Good Electric Guitar Body Tonewood?

Cocobolo is considered too heavy for practical use in solidbody electric guitars. However, its responsiveness as a tonewood can certainly enhance the tone of an electric when used as a top material (without weighing the instrument down significantly).

Fender is a major brand that offers such cocobolo tops in its custom shop.

Fender is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 13 Best Bass Guitar Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Bass Guitar Amplifier Brands In The World
Top 13 Best Electric Guitar Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Guitar/Bass Effects Pedal Brands To Know & Use
Top 11 Best Guitar Amplifier Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Guitar/Bass Patch Cable Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Acoustic Guitar String Brands On The Market
Top 11 Best Bass Guitar String Brands On The Market
Top 10 Best Classical Guitar String Brands On The Market
Top 11 Best Electric Guitar String Brands On The Market
Top 8 Best Acoustic Guitar Pickup Brands On The Market
Top 8 Best Bass Guitar Pickup Brands On The Market

Examples of electric guitars with cocobolo bodies/tops:

Is Cocobolo A Good Electric Guitar Neck Tonewood?

A solid cocobolo neck would likely throw off the centre of gravity of the electric guitar unless the body were impractical heavy as well. There are plenty of lighter, less brittle options (maple, mahogany, walnut, wenge).

Is Cocobolo A Good Electric Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

Rosewood is by far the most popular fretboard material for electric guitar. Cocobolo is technically a rosewood, too, though harder than the typical East Indian, Brazilian and Madagascar.

Cocobolo makes a fantastic fretboard tonewood thanks to its incredible durability and pleasant smoothness. Its bright, articulate tone helps with note separation and overall clarity in the electric guitar’s sound.


Is Cocobolo A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?

Though cocobolo is nowhere near as popular as its East Indian and Brazilian rosewood relatives, it’s still a superb acoustic and classical guitar tonewood.

It’s particularly excellent as a back and sides wood and as a fretboard material.

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

Cocobolo is one of the hardest tonewoods for guitars (it’s as hard as Macassar ebony). It requires supplementary work to bend into shape. However, the effort can be certainly worth it when building the back and sides of an acoustic or classical guitar.

Relative to the standard back and side tonewoods (mahogany, rosewood, sapele, maple), cocobolo is much stiffer, heavier and harder. However, it’s technically a true rosewood and can sound incredible when worked properly.

Though cocobolo is more common in small shops and custom builds, there are certainly big manufacturers that use it in large-scale productions.

Examples of acoustic guitars with cocobolo backs and sides:

Is Cocobolo A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Top Tonewood?

Cocobolo is not considered a good acoustic and classical guitar top tonewood.

The most popular guitar tops are made from softwood, notably spruce and cedar varieties (for steel-string and nylon-string guitars, respectively).

Cocobolo, like other true rosewoods, is regarded as too dense and hard for decent projection.

Is Cocobolo A Good Acoustic Guitar Neck Tonewood?

Though cocobolo could potentially be a viable acoustic neck tonewood, its weight and hardness make it impractical. There are many lighter, cheaper and more popular options out there (mahogany, maple, nyatoh).

Is Cocobolo A Good Acoustic Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

Cocobolo is an amazing acoustic and classical guitar fretboard tonewood, though it’s not as popular as East Indian and Brazilian rosewood.


Is Cocobolo A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?

Cocobolo finds its place in the rare bass guitar just as it does with 6-string electrics and acoustics. Expect cocobolo to sound superb as a back and sides material in acoustic basses or as a fretboard material in either electric or acoustic basses.

Though the low-end of cocobolo may be more subtle than other rosewoods, its balanced and articulate sound can enhance the tone tremendously when incorporated as the fretboard, especially if it’s paired with a strong, resonant body material.


Other Tonewoods

Of course, there are plenty of other tonewoods besides cocobolo. 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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