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 katalox is used in the construction of guitars and basses, it’s worth investigating whether it’s a good tonewood or not.
Is katalox a good guitar tonewood? Katalox is a rare yet beautiful fretboard material thanks to its balanced, articulate tone and superb durability. It’s considered too heavy for solid bodies and necks and too difficult to work for acoustic bodies.
In this article, we’ll discuss if and how katalox 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 katalox 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 Katalox Tonewood
- Is Katalox A Good Electric Guitar Tonewood?
- Is Katalox A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?
- Is Katalox A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?
- Other Tonewoods
Characteristics Of Katalox Tonewood
Katalox is a tonewood from the species Swartzia cubensis of the legume family (Fabaceae). It grows in Southern Mexico, Central America, and northern South America. Katalox is also known as Mexican royal ebony, though it’s not a true ebony (from the genus Diospyros).
Katalox has a nice dark red/brown to black colour, often with a deep purple hue. Its grain is typically straight, though more interesting pieces will have curly or wavy patterns with irregular or interlocked grain. The texture of katalox is fine and even across the wood.
Katalox is not listed in the CITES Appendices or the IUCN Red List.
Katalox is a difficult wood to work on account of its high oil content and density. It can be difficult to glue due to its oily nature, and its high density and hardness will blunt tools very quickly. It’s also rather difficult to bend. Furthermore, the wavy and curly pieces will be prone to tear-out due to the interlocking of the grain.
As a tonewood, katalox is notably sonorous with a strong presence across all frequencies. Its deep basses, articulate upper end and rich overtones make it a beautiful-sounding tonewood. Additionally, the tone is remarkably clear given its immense sustain.
Here are a few notable katalox specs:
- Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
- Colour: dark red-brown to nearly black with purple hue
- Grain: usually straight, sometimes irregular or interlocked
- Texture: fine, even
- Density: 1,150 kg/m3 / 71.79 lb/ft3
- Janka Hardness (Typical): 16,260 N / 3,655 lbf
- Elastic Modulus: 25.62 GPa / 3,716,000 psi
- Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): bright
- 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 Katalox 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.
Katalox is a fairly unknown tonewood when it comes to electric guitars and is hardly even considered for commercially-viable electrics. That being said, its tonal and physical properties could certainly work well, particularly for electric guitar fretboards.
Is Katalox A Good Electric Guitar Body Tonewood?
With such a high density (1,150 kg/m3 / 71.79 lb/ft3), katalox is considered far too heavy for solidbody electric guitar builds. It would make for poor ergonimics in the instrument.
That being said, there is potential for its use as a top/veneer material in solidbody designs, where its well-rounded, articulate tone could certainly enhance the sound of the guitar.
As far as hollowbody designs go, katalox’s resistance to bending can make it a difficult choice not worth the effort as a back and sides material. Of course, its tone could make for a nice instrument, but there are plenty of superior, lighter options out there.
Is Katalox A Good Electric Guitar Neck Tonewood?
The weight of katalox works to its detriment as a neck tonewood. It could certainly work well tone-wise but is largely ignored due to its density.
Is Katalox A Good Electric Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?
Katalox is a great choice for electric guitar fretboards, even though it is rarely seen in commercially-available instruments.
Once worked properly, katalox feels great and will withstand the wear and tear that comes with playing a fretboard. Its strong presence and articulate top-end can really bring out the fretting of any musical style.
Is Katalox A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?
Katalox is rare in mass-produced acoustic and classical guitars. That being said, it can be a superb fretboard tonewood.
Its poor bendability makes it a difficult choice for backs and sides, though it sounds balanced and full when done correctly. Its weight and difficult workability keep it from top and neck designs. Like with electric guitars, it’s far too heavy for practical use.
Is Katalox A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Back/Side Tonewood?
The poor bending qualities of katalox have led to it being ignored as a viable back and sides option. Furthermore, it would make for a heavy guitar.
Is Katalox A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Top Tonewood?
The best top woods (soundboards) are made of lightweight woods with high stiffness-to-weight ratios. Sure, katalox is stiff, though it’s incredibly dense and hard. Its project is lacklustre, and it makes for a relatively poor top material.
Is Katalox A Good Acoustic Guitar Neck Tonewood?
Like with electric guitars, a solid katalox neck would likely be too heavy for an acoustic or classical guitar.
Is Katalox A Good Acoustic Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?
When katalox is incorporated into acoustic and classical guitars, it’s virtually always as the fretboard material. Its rich tone and superb clarity add to the instrument’s overall tone, while the wood’s physical properties ensure its durability and smooth playability.
Examples of acoustic guitars with katalox fretboards:
- Martin 000-15M StreetMaster: acoustic with katalox fretboard
Is Katalox A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?
Like with 6-string guitars, katalox is uncommon in bass guitars. It is only practical as a fretboard material, though it excels in bass fretboards thanks to its beautiful tone and durability.
Of course, there are plenty of other tonewoods besides katalox. Here is a list of other tonewoods with links to check out more in-depth articles on each:
- Panga Panga
- Pau Ferro
This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.