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 granadillo is used in the construction of guitars and basses, it’s worth investigating whether it’s a good tonewood or not.
Is granadillo a good guitar tonewood? Granadillo (from the genus Platymiscium) is an uncommon tonewood in commercial guitars. However, it makes a superb fretboard material and can be a resonant yet balanced tonewood for acoustic guitar backs/sides. Its hardness and weight make it impractical for solid bodies, necks and tops.
In this article, we’ll discuss if and how granadillo 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 granadillo 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
- What Is Granadillo? A Primer On The Generic Name “Granadillo”
- Characteristics Of Granadillo Tonewood
- Is Granadillo A Good Electric Guitar Tonewood?
- Is Granadillo A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?
- Is Granadillo A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?
- Other Tonewoods
What Is Granadillo? A Primer On The Generic Name “Granadillo”
Before we get into the information on granadillo as a tonewood, it’s critical we know what it actually is. The name granadillo is among the most generic when it comes to wood, and many kinds of wood hold the granadillo name in one way or another. Let’s begin by stating what granadillo tonewood is not.
For example, granadillo applies to Hypericum canariense, more commonly known as the Canary Islands St. John’s wort. This is not a tonewood but is rather utilized in medicine.
Brya ebenus is also called granadillo. Other names include cocuswood (a variety of spellings) and espino de sabana. This tree is part of the pea family (Fabaceae) and is native to the Caribbean islands of Cuba and Jamaica. It’s a superb wood for woodwind instruments but is rarely seen in guitars.
Granadillo rosewood (Dalbergia granadillo) is often referred to as cocobolo, though cocobolo tonewood is generally taken from Dalbergia retusa. Both species are native to Central America. Cocobolo is a well-respected tonewood in its own right and is often used interchangeably with the name “granadillo.”
Granadillo de Rio refers to Zygia pithecolobioides, another species in the pea family (Fabaceae). This is not considered a good tonewood.
So the term granadillo is pretty widespread and generic. It’s difficult to know exactly what type of wood a luthier or guitar manufacture is talking about when discussing granadillo.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll be discussing granadillo as the common name of the Platymiscium genus. More specifically, this granadillo tonewood comes from the species P. pinnatum, P. pleiostachyum and P. yucatanum.
Characteristics Of Granadillo Tonewood
Platymiscium pinnatum “granadillo” (also known as Macacauba) is the most popular granadillo tonewood. It grows from the Amazon basin up to lower Central America and has a reddish-orange colour.
Platymiscium pleiostachyum “granadillo” (also known as Hormigo) is of the highest quality but is the most difficult to obtain. It is listed in the IUCN Redlist of Threatened Species and the CITES Appendix II.
Platymiscium yucatanum is a bit denser and brighter than the other species. It grows in the Yucatan peninsula of southern Mexico (hence the name), as well as in Belize and northern Guatemala. It has a more exciting reddish-orange colour than the others.
To perhaps add to the confusion, these Platymiscium species can all also be referred to as quira, el cristobal, macacahuba, macawood, nambar, orange agate and Panana redwood. To keep this article as straightforward as possible, let’s consider granadillo to refer to each of the species from the genus Platymiscium. They’re similar enough to group together in terms of tonewood characteristics, and, to be frank, they aren’t all that popular on a commercial scale anyway.
The colours of granadillo/macacauba are variable between species and even between trees of the same species. Colours range between bright red and orange, dark reddish-brown and deep purplish-brown, and the wood often has dark stripes. Granadillo is diffuse-porous with a medium-to-fine texture. Its grain ranges from straight to interlocked.
Granadillo is relatively easy to work, given its hardness. Pieces with interlocked grain should be sanded and planed with attention to avoid tear-out. It’s non-porous, making it easy to finish.
As a tonewood, granadillo’s density gives it a lively, responsive and bright tonality. Its high-end is well-articulated, its midrange is slightly scooped yet warm, and its sustain is long, particularly in low-mids and below.
Here are a few notable granadillo specs:
- Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
- Colour: purple-brown with shades of balck, violet red and orange
- Grain: straight to interlocked
- Texture: medium to fine
- Pores: diffuse-porous
- Density: 950 kg/m3 / 59.31 lb/ft3
- Janka Hardness (Typical): 12,030 N / 2,700 lbf
- Elastic Modulus: 19.56 GPa / 2,837,000 psi
- Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): bright
- Price: moderate
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 Granadillo 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.
Granadillo/macacauba is largely ignored as an electric guitar tonewood when it comes to big-name guitar brands. However, it can be a great fretboard material for those who are willing to experiment with it.
Is Granadillo A Good Electric Guitar Body Tonewood?
Granadillo is one of the hardest and most dense hardwoods considered as a “tonewood.” It is too heavy for use in practical electric guitar solidbody designs and even hollowbody designs. Ergonomics are important in electric guitar design, and granadillo weighs too much.
Is Granadillo A Good Electric Guitar Neck Tonewood?
A solid granadillo neck would throw off the centre of gravity of the electric guitar unless the body were impractical heavy as well. Though granadillo could potentially be a viable laminate material in guitar necks, it’s largely ignored for lighter, less brittle options (maple, mahogany, walnut, wenge).
Is Granadillo A Good Electric Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?
The strength and hardness of granadillo make it a perfect candidate for electric guitar fretboards. In fact, its typical density and hardness are somewhere between Brazilian rosewood (softer and lighter) and Macassar ebony (harder and heavier).
It’s a durable wood that finished well. It also looks and feels superb. These characteristics (in addition to its sustaining, rich tone) make it a great fretboard tonewood, albeit a rare one.
Examples of electric guitars with granadillo fretboards:
- Kramer Baretta Special: solidbody with granadillo fretboard
Is Granadillo A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?
Granadillo is certainly a tonewood option for acoustic and classical guitars, particularly as a fretboard material. However, it’s rarely used by large manufacturers.
The tonewood is more common in South America, where it’s worked into acoustic backs and sides. The results offer these guitars rich, resonant tones with notable high-end.
Is Granadillo A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Back/Side Tonewood?
Though granadillo is remarkably hard and dense, pieces with straighter grain patterns are relatively easy to bend into shape. It takes some work, but the resulting tone is well worth the effort.
The long sustain of granadillo works to its favour when used as a back and sides material. It helps to resonate the guitar, which helps to increase its projection. The tonal characteristics granadillo back/sides bring to a design are clarity in the top-end and sustain in the instrument’s overall sound.
Though it’s certainly a viable choice for acoustic guitar backs and sides, granadillo is an uncommon choice on the mass-production market. It’s much more common in South America than it is elsewhere. Since there aren’t many large-scale operations on the continent, granadillo is largely a “regional” utility tonewood.
Examples of acoustic guitars with granadillo backs and sides:
- Martin 000-16E: acoustic with granadillo back and sides (Sitka spruce top)
Is Granadillo A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Top Tonewood?
Granadillo is rarely considered for acoustic and classical guitar tops.
The most popular guitar tops are made from softwood, notably spruce and cedar varieties (for steel-string and nylon-string guitars, respectively). Granadillo is very dense and hard and just doesn’t cut it in terms of projection.
Is Granadillo A Good Acoustic Guitar Neck Tonewood?
A solid granadillo neck would throw off the centre of gravity of an acoustic guitar, rendering it uncomfortable to play.
Though its lively tone could theoretically work in an acoustic/classical neck, the heaviness of granadillo makes it an impractical and, therefore, null option.
Is Granadillo A Good Acoustic Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?
Granadillo is sometimes used as an acoustic guitar fretboard tonewood. It’s definitely hard and dense enough. However, it hasn’t caught on in terms of popularity and is largely dismissed. Ebony, rosewood, walnut, and other tonewoods are and will remain to be the popular choice, along with new composite materials.
Examples of acoustic guitars with granadillo fretboards:
- Epiphone El Nino: acoustic with granadillo fretboard
Is Granadillo A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?
Though granadillo makes for a decent bass guitar fretboard material, it remains a lesser-known tonewood, at least in terms of large-scale manufacturing.
Of course, there are plenty of other tonewoods besides granadillo. Here is a list of other tonewoods with links to check out more in-depth articles on each:
- Panga Panga
- Pau Ferro
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