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 okoume is used in the construction of guitars and basses, it's worth investigating whether it's a good tonewood or not.
Is okoume a good guitar tonewood? Okoume is a soft hardwood with an articulate high-end and tight low-end. It's a bright tonewood with relatively low sustain. It's a great wood choice for solid bodies, back and sides, and tops. It's also surprisingly popular as a neck wood, though significant work must be done to strengthen it.
In this article, we'll discuss if and how okoume 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 okoume 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 Okoume Tonewood
- Is Okoume A Good Electric Guitar Tonewood?
- Is Okoume A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?
- Is Okoume A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?
- Other Tonewoods
Characteristics Of Okoume Tonewood
Okoume is a tonewood from the species Aucoumea klaineana, a tree in the torchwood family Burseraceae. This hardwood is native to equatorial West Africa. Other names for okoume include angouma, gaboon and gabon.
The heartwood of okoume ranges from pale pink to light brown. It's a diffuse-porous wood with relatively large pores and a medium texture. Its grain varies significantly, from straight to wavy to interlocked, depending on the tree and the cut of lumber.
Though okoume is not listed in the CITES Appendices, it is 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.”
Okoume is very soft for a hardwood (1,790 N / 402 lbf Janka), but it's still relatively difficult to work. It finishes well and glues nicely. However, it can be a pain to bend, and it's liable to tear out, particularly if the grain is anything but straight. Additionally, the large pores likely need filling to achieve a smooth result. Finally, the wood's high silica content must be addressed due to its high blunting effect on tools (even though the wood is very soft).
As a tonewood, okoume offers a bright tone with strong upper mids. It has strong yet short sustain and a tight low-end. The brightness is largely due to the quick decay of the high-frequency overtones, which articulate the brilliance of the tone very nicely.
Here are a few notable okoume specs:
- Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
- Colour: pale pink to light brown
- Grain: straight, slightly interlocked or wavy
- Texture: medium
- Pores: diffuse-porous
- Density: 430 kg/m3 / 26.84 lb/ft3
- Janka Hardness (Typical): 1,790 N / 402 lbf
- Elastic Modulus: 8.47 GPa / 1,228,000 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 Okoume 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.
Okoume's bright tone is sometimes preferred for electric guitars, though its true calling comes from its light weight and articulation across the frequency spectrum.
The low density of okoume makes it an ergonomic choice for electric guitar bodies. Surprisingly, some manufacturers use it in their neck construction as well.
Is Okoume A Good Electric Guitar Body Tonewood?
Okoume offers a fairly balanced yet bright tone and is a good solidbody wood. It can improve the clarity of the guitar itself and produce a cleaner overall tone.
Okoume is rather soft and easy to dent. It's often used in laminate designs with a harder, more sonically complex tonewood that makes up the top/veneer. The lightweight okoume makes the guitar comfortable and articulate, while the top material offers a different aesthetic tone-wise and looks-wise.
Examples of electric guitars with okoume bodies/tops:
- Ernie Ball Music Man BFR JP15: solidbody with okoume body (spalted maple top)
- Epiphone Les Paul Muse: solidbody with okoume body (maple top)
- ESP USA M-III GT Zebrawood: solidbody with African okoume body (zebrawood top)
- Ibanez Standard AR520HFM: semi-hollowbody with maple/okoume back/sides (flamed maple top)
Is Okoume A Good Electric Guitar Neck Tonewood?
Okoume is often regarded as an exception to the general rule that softer woods shouldn't be used as neck materials. That being said, some luthiers don't consider okoume a good choice for necks at all.
The relatively low density (430 kg/m3 / 26.84 lb/ft3) and hardness (1,790 N / 402 lbf) of okoume would suggest it's a poor neck tonewood. However, well-known brands still use it.
In terms of tone, okoume offers good articulation to the notes of the guitar, offering a bright tonality with notable clarity.
However, in order to function as a stable and durable neck, okoume must have its pores filled properly, and a strong coating applied. Furthermore, internal support rods need to be used to maintain the structural integrity of the neck (often carbon fibre or aluminum rods).
Is the tone really that good to go through all that trouble? While there are tonewoods that offer more sonic character, some manufacturers seem to think okoume is worth the effort.
Examples of electric guitars with okoume necks:
- Epiphone SG Special VE: solidbody with okoume neck (rosewood fretboard)
- Epiphone Les Paul Muse: solidbody with okoume neck (Indian laurel fretboard)
Is Okoume A Good Electric Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?
Though some manufacturers get away with using okoume as an electric guitar neck material, it's surely too soft for use as a fretboard material.
Is Okoume A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?
Okoume has been a fairly popular tonewood in acoustic guitar building for several decades, though it's not as popular as mahogany, rosewood, maple, spruce or cedar.
Okoume tonewood yields a relatively bright tone with good articulation but relatively low sustain. Its rich overtones are short-lived, giving plenty of character but with additional clarity.
Okoume is used in acoustic backs, tops, sides and, surprisingly, in necks.
Is Okoume A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Back/Side Tonewood?
Though okoume is hard to bend and requires significant filling due to its porous nature, it's still a superb back and sides wood for acoustic guitars.
Okoume won't make for the boomiest guitars. Rather, it gives tonnes of character in a loud but fast sound, allowing each individual to be heard.
Examples of acoustic guitars with okoume backs and sides:
- Ibanez AW54: acoustic with okoume back and sides (okoume top)
- Ibanez Artwood AC340: acoustic with okoume back and sides (okoume top)
- Washburn Deep Forest Ebony ACE: acoustic with okoume back and sides (stripe ebony top)
Is Okoume A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Top Tonewood?
Okoume is soft and lightweight, though relatively stiff. These characteristics are shared with spruce and cedar, which are two of the best top woods. Of course, okoume isn't as loud, lively, sustaining or popular as these two options, though it can make a decent top wood for acoustic guitars.
Examples of acoustic guitars with okoume tops:
- Ibanez AW54: acoustic with okoume top (okoume back and sides)
- Ibanez Artwood AC340: acoustic with okoume top (okoume back and sides)
Is Okoume A Good Acoustic Guitar Neck Tonewood?
Oddly enough, okoume is used in acoustic guitar necks as well as electric guitar necks. Its softness must be accounted for will filler, coating and additional structural support. With proper working and finishing, okoume (plug whatever is incorporated into it) can make a stable and nice-sounding neck.
Examples of acoustic guitars with okoume necks:
- Washburn Bella Tono Vite S9V: acoustic with okoume neck (ebony fretboard)
- Ibanez GA34STCE: calssical with okoume neck (purpleheart/amaranth fretboard)
Is Okoume A Good Acoustic Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?
Though some manufacturers get away with using okoume as an acoustic guitar neck material, it's surely too soft for use as a fretboard material.
Is Okoume A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?
When it comes to bass guitars, okoume can be used in many of the same ways mentioned above. Typically it will be employed as a body material, offering fast attack and bright tonality. Note that its inclusion in bass necks will require even more artificial work to make up for its softness due to the longer scale of bass guitars.
Examples of bass guitars with okoume tonewood:
- Ibanez PNB14E: acoustic bass with okoume top, back and sides
- G&L Custom Shop L-2000: solidbody with okoume body
Of course, there are plenty of other tonewoods besides okoume. 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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