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

Is padauk a good guitar tonewood? Padauk is a well-respected, albeit rare, tonewood. It yields a strong bass response with a superb overtone profile. Its density makes it a good fretboard material, its tone benefits laminated necks, and its reflectivity and character enhance acoustic and classical guitars as a back/sides material.

In this article, we’ll discuss if and how padauk 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 padauk 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 Padauk Tonewood

Padauk tonewood is taken from several species of the genus Pterocarpus of the legume family (Fabaceae). Most notable among the species are P. macrocarpus (Burma padauk), P. soyauxii (African padauk) and P. dalbergioides (Andaman padauk). Other names for padauk are mukwa or narra.

Burma padauk (Pterocarpus macrocarpus): is native to Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) and Thailand. Its colour varies from light orange with a pink hue to deep brown with a red hue, typically becoming darker with time. The wood has large pores (semi-ring-porous or diffuse-porous) and a coarse texture with interlocked grain patterns.

African padauk (Pterocarpus soyauxii): is native to central and tropical west Africa and is the most common of the padauk tonewoods. Its colour varies with time, just like Burma and Andaman padauk, from light pinkish-orange to dark reddish-brown. The wood is diffuse-porous with large, even pores and a coarse texture. Its grain is mostly straight, though some pieces possess interlocked grain.

Andaman padauk (Pterocarpus dalbergioides): is native to the Andaman Islands. It’s more similar to Burma padauk than African padauk, though all three share the same range of colours. Its grain is typically interlocked, and its texture is coarse. It’s a porous wood with large, open pores. Andaman padauk is the least popular of the three since it is no longer exported.

Padauk is generally an easy wood to work. It’s stable and strong, though it can be difficult to bend. Care must be taken with pieces that have interlocked grain to avoid tear-out when planing and sanding. Burma is the most difficult to work due to its increased density and hardness, though it’s still relatively easy for a hardwood. All padauk woods tend to turn, glue and finish without issue.

None of the three species of padauk mentioned above are listed in the CITES Appendices or the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

In general, padauk tonewood varieties sound similar. They all offer a great bass response with notable warmth and sustain. They’re strong, punchy, though a bit subdued in the midrange. The high-end is clear and defined with notable sparkle. Burma tends to be the brightest but with richer low-mids, while Andaman has a more subtle top-end with a richer midrange.

Here are a few notable padauk specs of the species we’ve discussed:

  • Type: Burma padauk
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: pale pink/orange to deep brown/red/purple
  • Grain: usually interlocked
  • Texture: coarse, open
  • Pores: semi-ring or diffuse-porous
  • Density: 865 kg/m3 / 54.00 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 9,550 N / 2,147 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 14.14 GPa / 2,051,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): balanced
  • Price: moderate to high
  • Type: African padauk
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: pale pink/orange to deep brown/red/purple
  • Grain: usually straight, sometimes interlocked
  • Texture: coarse, open
  • Pores: diffuse-porous
  • Density: 745 kg/m3 / 46.51 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 8,760 N / 1,969 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 11.72 GPa / 1,700,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): balanced
  • Price: moderate
  • Type: Andaman padauk
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: pale pink/orange to deep brown/red/purple
  • Grain: usually interlocked
  • Texture: coarse, open
  • Pores: diffuse-porous
  • Density: 770 kg/m3 / 48.07 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 7,250 N / 1,630 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 12.10 GPa / 1,755,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): balanced
  • Price: high

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 Padauk 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.

Padauk is a well-known and respected, albeit uncommon, tonewood for electric guitars. Its hardness and density make it a good choice for fretboards, and it’s also seen in necks, particularly as part of a laminate design.

Is Padauk A Good Electric Guitar Body Tonewood?

Padauk’s tone and aesthetic would suit a solidbody electric guitar well, though its weight and price make it an impractical option. It has the potential to be used in laminate designs, particularly as a top/veneer piece with lighter body woods, though this design strategy is rare with padauk.

Is Padauk A Good Electric Guitar Neck Tonewood?

Padauk is relatively easy to work and can surely add depth and clarity to an electric guitar as a neck wood. Its weight is a barrier of entry for its wide use as a neck material. However, some big-name manufacturers have experimented with it in laminate designs (particularly combined with maple).

Schecter uses Padauk for some of its solidbody electric guitar necks, but only as part of laminate designs.

Schecter is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 13 Best Bass Guitar Brands In The World
Top 13 Best Electric Guitar Brands In The World

Examples of electric guitars with padauk necks:

Is Padauk A Good Electric Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

Padauk has the characteristics of superb fretboard wood, namely high density and hardness. However, its porous nature means it’ll require significant filling before its use. It’s not the smoothest of fretboard materials, though it does sound great and can be quite durable when finished correctly. Padauk can be found in custom and commercial electric guitar fretboards alike.

Examples of electric guitars with padauk fretboards:


Is Padauk A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?

As mentioned previously, padauk is a well-respected wood in luthier circles, though it’s not the most commonly found tonewood in mass-produced instruments (including acoustic and classical guitars).

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

The bass response and warm harmonic character of padauk, combined with its reflective nature, allow it to enhance the sound of mediocre and top-notch soundboards alike.

It’s a stable, strong tonewood, though it can be difficult to bend. This challenge can be too much for some luthiers, though the tonality of the wood makes it worth it upon hearing the final result.

The clarity of padauk makes it well-suited to classical nylon-string designs, while its sustain allows it to thrive in large steel-string acoustics.

Examples of acoustic guitars with padauk backs and sides:

Is Padauk A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Top Tonewood?

Padauk isn’t common in acoustic guitar tops. Though it can produce a deep, rich soundboard for the instrument, it’s often considered too dense and quiet for practical use.

Most luthiers prefer the brighter, more projecting top woods that dominate the market (spruce, cedar, sapele).

Is Padauk A Good Acoustic Guitar Neck Tonewood?

Padauk isn’t a popular choice for acoustic guitar necks, though it can be used. Like with electric guitars, it’s likely best-suited for laminate, multi-wood designs.

Is Padauk A Good Acoustic Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

When filled and finished, padauk can be a wonderful-sounding fretboard on acoustic and classical guitars. However, there are much easier and arguably better-sounding options out there.


Is Padauk A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?

Padauk is a viable bass guitar tonewood option, particularly in laminate necks and fretboard (just as it is in 6-string designs.

The defined low-end response padauk is capable of producing will enhance the fundamentals of the bass. The scooped midrange and general punchiness can help the bass fit better into a dense mix.

Examples of bass guitars with padauk tonewood:


Other Tonewoods

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