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

Is Mahogany a good guitar tonewood? Mahogany is a relatively heavy tonewood with fine grain. It offers a warm tone with pronounced lower-mids, mellow high-end and superb sustain. Mahogany is popular in solid-body and laminate electric guitar/bass bodies, acoustic guitar backs/sides and tops, and guitar necks, but not fretboards.

In this article, we’ll discuss if and how mahogany 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 mahogany 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 Mahogany Tonewood

Mahogany tonewood is typically either of the Honduran or African variety.

Honduran mahogany (genus: Swietenia macrophylla, family: Meliaceae) is also known as Honduras mahogany, big-leaf mahogany, American mahogany, or West Indian mahogany. It is native to South America, Mexico and Central America. This is the “true” mahogany, as it’s part of the genus Swietenia.

The heartwood of Honduran mahogany ranges in colour from light pinkish-brown to dark reddish-brown. Its grain is also rather variable, ranging from straight to interlocked to irregular or wavy. It features large pores and a medium, uniform texture.

Another “true” mahogany tonewood is Cuban mahogany (Swietenia mahogani), also known as West Indies mahogany. It is native to southern Florida and the Caribbean.

The heartwood of Cuban mahogany is very much the same as Honduran mahogany in terms of colour, grain and texture. It is only slightly denser and harder.

African mahogany (genus: Khaya, family: Meliaceae) makes up five different species of trees, though Khaya anthotheca is perhaps the most popular choice for guitar tonewood. These trees are native to tropical Africa and Madagascar.

The heartwood of African mahogany ranges in colour from light pinkish-brown to dark reddish-brown and sometimes features dark reddish-brown streaks. Its grain can be straight or interlocked. It features larger pores and a coarser texture than its Honduran counterpart.

Both Honduran and African mahogany tonewoods are listed on the IUCN Red List as vulnerable species due to a population reduction of over 20% in the past three generations. CITES has Honduran mahogany in Appendix II but does not list African mahogany.

Mahogany is very easy to work with, especially when the grain is straight. Though it may dull woodworking tools slightly, its ease of finishing makes it a relatively straightforward tonewood to work. The cross-grained nature of true mahogany makes it remarkably stable, though African mahogany is also very stable in its own right.

As a tonewood, mahogany offers a warm tone with pronounced lower mids, mellow high-end and superb sustain. It’s slightly warmer than many other hardwoods, thanks to its density.

Honduran mahogany projects very nicely with a strong sound and quick response. It’s notably clear, though it has a striking emphasis on the mid-range and a definite warmth to its overall tone.

Cuban mahogany has a more developed midrange and low-end than Honduran.

African mahogany tends to be warmer than Honduran and Cuban, with even subtler high-end, though with superb low-mids.

Several other tonewoods carry the mahogany name, though they’re not true mahogany (from the genus Swietenia). These tonewoods include:

  • “Santos mahogany”: this tonewood (Myroxylon balsamum) is perhaps better known as balsamo (link to check out my article Is Balsamo A Good Guitar Tonewood? Electric, Acoustic & Bass)
  • “Philippine mahogany”: this tonewood (from the genus Shorea) is perhaps better known as meranti (link to check out my article Is Meranti A Good Guitar Tonewood? Electric, Acoustic & Bass)
  • “Sapele mahogany”: this tonewood (Entandrophragma cylindricum) is perhaps best known as sapele (link to check out my article Is Sapele A Good Guitar Tonewood? Electric, Acoustic & Bass)
  • “Eastern mahogany”: this tonewood (from the genera Palaquium and Payena) is perhaps best known as nyatoh or “nato” (link to check out my article Is Nyatoh “Nato” A Good Guitar Tonewood? Electric, Acoustic & Bass)

When it comes to specifying the tonewoods used in a given guitar or bass, it’s up to the manufacturer to be as truthful and accurate as possible when identifying the type of mahogany.

Though, in general, the term mahogany should apply to those woods from the genus Swietenia (notably Honduran and Cuban mahogany), there’s no guarantee. Many reputable manufacturers will distinguish between “true” mahogany and African mahogany, and the other “false” mahoganies are often referred to by other names.

That being said, some manufacturers will state mahogany on their guitar/bass material specifications even if it’s not true mahogany. It’s then up to us as consumers to do our own research to find out the truth of the matter.

Here are a few notable specs of Honduran and African mahogany:

  • Type: Honduran mahogany
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: pale pinkish brown to a dark reddish brown
  • Grain: straight, interlocked, irregular or wavy
  • Texture: medium, uniform
  • Pores: diffuse-porous
  • Density: 590 kg/m3 / 36.8 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 4,020 N / 905 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 10.06 GPa / 1,459,00 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): warm
  • Price: moderate
  • Type: Cuban mahogany
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: pale pinkish brown to a dark reddish brown
  • Grain: straight, interlocked, irregular or wavy
  • Texture: medium, uniform
  • Pores: diffuse-porous
  • Density: 600 kg/m3 / 37.5 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 4,120 N / 926 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 9.31 GPa / 1,350,00 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): warm
  • Price: moderate
  • Type: African mahogany
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: pale pink to deep reddish brown
  • Grain: straight to interlocked
  • Texture: medium to coarse
  • Pores: diffuse-porous
  • Density: 640 kg/m3 / 40.0 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 4,760 N / 1,070 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 10.60 GPa / 1,537,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): warm
  • Price: low to moderate

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 Mahogany 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.

Mahogany is a superb tonewood for electric guitars and is one of the most popular materials for electric guitar bodies (including hollowbodies) and necks on the market today.

Is Mahogany A Good Electric Guitar Body Tonewood?

Mahogany is typically incorporated into solid body electric guitar options and is dense enough to be used as a laminate tonewood. It has a warm yet well-balanced tone with great low end and plenty of overtones that add interest to the guitar’s overall tone.

Mahogany is a bit heavy compared to many of the other common electric guitar body tonewoods (ash, alder, basswood, maple, etc.). However, it doesn’t make for super-heavy instruments and is still within an ergonomic weight.

The magnificent warmth and character of a mahogany body can be made even more colourful with a well-designed top. This is true of solidbody and hollowbody electrics. Mahogany goes well with a variety of top woods, as we’ll see in the upcoming list of examples, and even performs well as a top itself.

Mahogany has excellent sustain and even tends to improve, tone-wise, with age thanks to its remarkable stability.

Mahogany has been a top choice for major manufacturers and small shops alike for decades. Its position as one of the best electric guitar body tonewoods has been well-earned, and its popularity and tone keep it in high demand around the world.

Examples of electric guitars with mahogany bodies:

Is Mahogany A Good Electric Guitar Neck Tonewood?

Mahogany is a great tonewood for electric guitar neck construction, thanks to its medium-density and stable nature.

Just as it’s used in electric guitar bodies, mahogany is one of the most popular tonewoods for necks (perhaps only bested by maple). Its warmth and midrange-heavy tone can offer guitar designs a beautiful sonic character. These necks also sound incredible with nearly any of the viable fretboard materials, as we’ll see in the examples below.

Though both African and Honduran mahogany are superb choices for electric guitar necks, the true Honduran mahogany is more commonly-used tonewood.

Examples of electric guitars with mahogany necks:

Is Mahogany A Good Electric Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

Mahogany is generally considered too soft and porous for use as an electric guitar fretboard tonewood.


Is Mahogany A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?

Mahogany is a super popular tonewood for acoustic and classical guitars as well. It is one of the most common and traditional materials for necks, backs and sides. It’s also up there with spruce and cedar as a prime choice for top material.

In general, acoustic guitars are concentrated in the midrange portion of the audible frequency spectrum. This is true in acoustic environments and audio mixes. Mahogany demonstrates a beautiful midrange tonal character and is, therefore, a highly valued tonewood for acoustic (and classical) guitars.

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

Mahogany tends to bend pretty well and is a great choice for back and sides material in acoustic and classical guitars.

At one point, mahogany was considered a relatively poor choice, largely due to its warmth and relatively subtle high-end. However, it has become a cherished tonewood for that same tonal warmth and is now one of the most sought-after tonewoods (along with rosewood) for acoustic and classical back and sides.

Mahogany is durable, and its tone typically improves with age. It offers a sonically-pleasing warmth and punchiness that benefits whatever top wood is used in the instrument.

Examples of acoustic guitars with mahogany backs and sides:

Is Mahogany A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Top Tonewood?

Mahogany is a relatively common top wood as well, though unlike the typical spruce and cedar softwoods, which are arguably the best for steel-string acoustics and nylon-string classical, respectively.

Mahogany is a stiff, hard and dense hardwood. It provides a distinctly warm tone compared to the aforementioned tonewoods with strong fundamentals and lush overtones but more subtle high-end and less overall projection.

Examples of acoustic guitars with mahogany tops:

Is Mahogany A Good Acoustic Guitar Neck Tonewood?

Mahogany is a great tonewood for acoustic guitar neck construction, thanks to its heavy and stable nature.

In fact, mahogany is perhaps the most-used tonewood for acoustic/classical guitar necks in the world, cherished by large and small shops alike. It’s stable, warm, and works synergistically with nearly any fretboard material the luthier/designer chooses to use with it.

Examples of acoustic guitars with mahogany necks:

Is Mahogany A Good Acoustic Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

Mahogany is generally considered too soft and porous for use as an acoustic guitar fretboard tonewood.


Is Mahogany A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?

As we could probably guess for the sections on acoustic and electric guitars, mahogany is also an excellent tonewood choice for bass guitars. It makes a great material for necks and bodies, including solid bodies, back/sides and tops. The only major part of a bass guitar we won’t see mahogany is the fretboard.

Examples of bass guitars with mahogany tonewood:


Other Tonewoods

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