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 jatoba is used in the construction of guitars and basses, it's worth investigating whether it's a good tonewood or not.
Is jatoba a good guitar tonewood? Jatoba is a great fretboard tonewood thanks to its hardness and strength. It offers a bright top-end, round midrange, great projection, and superb clarity. Jatoba can be used in acoustic tops, backs and sides. It's difficult to work and typically only used in commercially-viable guitar fretboards.
In this article, we'll discuss if and how jatoba 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 jatoba 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.
Related article: Top 11 Benefits Of Learning & Playing Guitar
Table Of Contents
- Characteristics Of Jatoba Tonewood
- Is Jatoba A Good Electric Guitar Tonewood?
- Is Jatoba A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?
- Is Jatoba A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?
- Other Tonewoods
Characteristics Of Jatoba Tonewood
Jatoba (Hymenaea courbaril) is a tonewood from a tree in the Fabaceae family. It is native to Central and South America and the Caribbean. Jatoba is sometimes referred to as “Brazilian cherry” or “South American cherry,” though it's not truly a cherry wood (from the genus Prunus). Other names for jatoba include courbaril, West Indian locust, Brazilian copal, and amami-gum.
Jatoba is not listed in the CITES Appendices, and the IUCN reports it as a species of least concern.
The various colours of jatoba range from orange through burgundy to deep red and sometimes feature dark black stripes that enhance its grain pattern. Its pronounced interlocked grain gives it a nice aesthetic, and its texture is medium to coarse.
Jatoba is hard (11,950 N / 2,686 lbf) and dense (910 kg/m3 / 56.81 lb/ft3) and has a blunting effect on tools. Its interlocked grain makes the wood difficult to plane, and the grain is prone to tear-out. It can also cause issues when gluing, especially if not dried properly.
As for positive working characteristics, jatoba sands, finishes and stains well. It's also relatively receptive to steam bending. With patience and determination, this beautiful wood can be worked into guitar designs.
As a tonewood, jatoba's hardness and density give it a definitively bright character, though it does have a certain warmth in the midrange. It's quite clear-sounding and projects nicely.
Here are a few notable specs of jatoba tonewood:
- Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
- Colour: light orange-brown to dark red-brown
- Grain: interlocked
- Texture: medium to coarse
- Pores: diffuse-porous
- Density: 910 kg/m3 / 56.81 lb/ft3
- Janka Hardness (Typical): 11,950 N / 2,686 lbf
- Elastic Modulus: 18.93 GPa / 2,746,000 psi
- Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): bright
- Price: low
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 Jatoba 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.
Jatoba can be a superb tonewood choice for electric guitar fretboards, which is typically how you'll find it incorporated into electric guitar designs. It can even be used as a body top material, though it's not an option in commercially-available models.
Is Jatoba A Good Electric Guitar Body Tonewood?
Jatoba is much too dense for use in practical electric guitar solidbody designs. As for hollowbody electrics, jatoba is certainly an option, though it's often considered too difficult to work and too bright for feasible designs.
Is Jatoba A Good Electric Guitar Neck Tonewood?
Jatoba is strong enough to be used in electric guitar necks. However, its weight makes it largely unsuitable for designs that require proper weight distribution and low weight overall.
Is Jatoba A Good Electric Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?
When jatoba is used in electric guitars, it's nearly always as the fretboard material. The wood finishes well and holds frets nicely. It sounds great, too, adding subtle brightness to the tone. It's a hard and durable material that is perfect for fretboards.
Though not as popular as rosewood, maple or ebony, jatoba is still a fairly well-known and well-liked fretboard material.
Note that G&L labels their jatoba fretboards as “Brazilian cherry fretboards.”
Examples of electric guitars with jatoba fretboards:
- Ibanez RG7421PB: solidbody with jatoba fretboard
- ESP LTD Xtone PS-1: semi-hollowbody with jatoba fretboard
- Ibanez Standard AR520HFM: semi-hollowbody with jatoba fretboard
- G&L Tribute ASAT Deluxe Carved Top: solidbody with Brazillian cherry fretboard
- G&L Tribute ASAT Classic: semi-hollowbody with Brazillian cherry fretboard – has a maple option
Is Jatoba A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?
Jatoba isn't the most popular tonewood for acoustic and classical guitar, though it is a viable option in much of their designs.
Is Jatoba A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Back/Side Tonewood?
Though jatoba is heavy and hard, it bends surprisingly well. That's not to say that it's the first choice of luthiers, but rather that it's possible to use as acoustic guitar backs and sides.
You'll likely only find jatoba in custom or small-shop designs, but it can offer a guitar clarity and volume with a bright tone when worked correctly.
Is Jatoba A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Top Tonewood?
Jatoba is relatively stiff and can offer a clean and loud projection as a top material. Its bright top-end and warm midrange make it sonically appealing, and its interlocked grain makes it aesthetically pleasing.
However, it is rather dense and difficult to work. Additionally, there isn't a whole lot of demand in the commercial market, rendering jatoba a relatively unpopular (but viable) acoustic guitar top material.
Is Jatoba A Good Acoustic Guitar Neck Tonewood?
Jatoba isn't popular in guitar necks due to its weight and difficult workability.
Is Jatoba A Good Acoustic Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?
Jatoba is not nearly as popular as an acoustic and classical guitar fretboard material as it is with electric guitar fretboards. There's no big reason for the disparity other than the fact that other materials are and will continue to be more popular options. It can sometimes be difficult to introduce new material into the acoustic and classical guitar space.
Examples of acoustic guitars with jatoba fretboards:
- ESP LTD TL-6: acoustic with roasted jatoba fretboard
Is Jatoba A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?
As we could guess from reading the electric and acoustic guitars sections, jatoba is a good tonewood option for bass guitar fretboards.
It can be used in necks, but usually in laminate designs due to the weight.
Examples of bass guitars with jatoba tonewood:
- Ibanez Standard SR600E: solidbody electric bass with 5-piece jatoba/walnut neck
- Ibanez Gio GSR200TR: solidbody electric bass with jatoba fretboard
- Ibanez Standard SR370E: solidbody with jatoba fretboard
- ESP LTD TL-5: acoustic bass with roasted jatoba fretboard
- G&L Tribute L-2000: solidbody electric bass with Brazillian cherry fretboard
Of course, there are plenty of other tonewoods besides jatoba. Here is a list of other tonewoods with links to check out more in-depth articles on each:
- Panga Panga
- Pau Ferro