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

Is Pau Ferro a good guitar tonewood? Pau Ferro is a non-porous hardwood with open grain. It offers a warm tone with clear highs and articulate attack. Pau Ferro is most common in fretboards and acoustic guitar backs/sides but is too heavy for widespread use in necks and solid bodies.

In this article, we’ll discuss if and how Pau Ferro 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 pau ferro 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 Pau Ferro Tonewood

Pau ferro is a generic name that applies confusingly to many different kinds of wood.

Typically, when we’re discussing tonewoods, we’re discussing the wood from the species Machaerium scleroxylon (from the genus Machaerium in the legume family Fabaceae). This wood is also referred to as Morado, Bolivian rosewood and Santos rosewood, though it’s not a true rosewood (from the genus Dalbergia). It’s native to tropical South America, namely the countries of Brazil and Bolivia.

“True” pau ferro from the Machaerium scleroxylon tree is often referred to incorrectly as ironwood.

Pau ferro may also refer to wood from the Libidibia ferrea (formerly known as Caesalpinia ferrea), also native to Brazil and Bolivia and part of the legume family (Fabaceae). Other names for this “pau ferro” include Jucá, Brazilian ironwood and leopard tree. Technically, it is the Libidibia ferrea species that is the “ironwood pau ferro.”

Beyond that, other woods are often labelled as pau ferro, which adds to the confusion. Sometimes this generic name is applied unknowingly; other times, it’s applied with confidence; other times, it’s applied to sell “false” wood for more than it’s worth. With so much confusion about this wood, it can be hard to trust.

Again, the “pau ferro” we’ll be discussing is from the species Machaerium scleroxylon.

Pau ferro is not listed in the CITES Appendices, and the IUCN states that it is a species of least concern.

The heartwood of pau ferro has colours ranging from reddish/orange to dark violet/brown and features black streaks. Its grain is, for the most part, straight but can also be irregular or interlocked. This tonewood has medium-sized diffuse pores with a fine, even texture.

Pau ferro hardwood has a blunting effect on woodworking tools, and its natural oils may make gluing difficult. However, it’s generally easy to work, especially when the grain is straight. Its non-porous nature allows for excellent and easy finishing.

As a tonewood, it’s warm in the low-end with a well-defined and pronounced high-end. Its response is fast and clean, representing the entire frequency spectrum while maintaining superb clarity.

Here are a few notable pau ferro specs:

  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: reddish/orange to a dark violet/brown
  • Grain: typically straight, sometimes slightly irregular or interlocked
  • Texture: fine, even
  • Pores: diffuse-porous
  • Density: 865 kg/m3 / 54.0 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 8,710 N / 1,960 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 10.86 GPa / 1,575,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): warm
  • Price: 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 Pau Ferro 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.

Pau ferro is a good electric guitar tonewood but only for the fretboard. It’s rarely even considered for bodies or necks.

Is Pau Ferro A Good Electric Guitar Body Tonewood?

Pau ferro is considered too dense and heavy for practical use as a solidbody material in electric guitars. Though it can be used for backs and sides, as we’ll see in the acoustic guitar section, it’s virtual never considered for hollowbody guitars either.

Is Pau Ferro A Good Electric Guitar Neck Tonewood?

As much as pau ferro is stable enough for guitar necks, it’s not considered a viable neck material for commercial builds. Tone-wise, it would certainly offer a balanced and articulate tone to the guitar, though plenty of more popular tonewood options are preferred (maple, mahogany, walnut, etc.).

Is Pau Ferro A Good Electric Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

When pau ferro is included as a tonewood in an electric guitar build, it’s virtually always as the fretboard material. It feels smooth, plays well, offers clarity to the overall tone, and is durable enough to last a lifetime under proper conditions.

Though pau ferro is often stated to feel harder than rosewood, it’s actually softer on the Janka hardness test than all three commonly-used rosewoods (East Indian, Madagascar and Brazilian).

Fender has long used pau ferro as a fretboard material and has increased its usage since the 2017 CITES genus-wide ban on rosewoods (Dalbergia). If Fender uses it on some of its higher-end models, it must be pretty decent!

Fender is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 13 Best Bass Guitar Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Bass Guitar Amplifier Brands In The World
Top 13 Best Electric Guitar Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Guitar/Bass Effects Pedal Brands To Know & Use
Top 11 Best Guitar Amplifier Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Guitar/Bass Patch Cable Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Acoustic Guitar String Brands On The Market
Top 11 Best Bass Guitar String Brands On The Market
Top 10 Best Classical Guitar String Brands On The Market
Top 11 Best Electric Guitar String Brands On The Market
Top 8 Best Acoustic Guitar Pickup Brands On The Market
Top 8 Best Bass Guitar Pickup Brands On The Market

Examples of electric guitars with pau ferro fretboards:


Is Pau Ferro A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?

Pau ferro is also used in acoustic guitars as part of custom and mass-produced designs alike. It’s not the most popular tonewood, though it is a decent option for acoustic and classical back/sides and fretboards.

Is Pau Ferro A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Back/Side Tonewood?

Pau ferro is an interesting option for acoustic and classical back and sides. It’s relatively easy to bend and finish and has the ability to add a certain richness across the lower frequencies and smoothness to the highs. Choosing to use pau ferro as a back and sides material will add clarity and detail to the sound with nearly-percussive articulation and notable volume.

Examples of acoustic guitars with pau ferro backs and sides:

Is Pau Ferro A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Top Tonewood?

Dense hardwoods like pau ferro are generally considered poor top woods since they don’t project well as soundboards. Compared to the typical softwoods and even to mahogany, pau ferro is too dense and hard for practical use as a top.

Is Pau Ferro A Good Acoustic Guitar Neck Tonewood?

Pau ferro could be used as acoustic guitar neck material, though maple, mahogany, walnut, nyatoh, and many more tonewoods are preferred options. Not only are they tried and true, but they’re also lighter, more readily available, and arguably easier to work.

Is Pau Ferro A Good Acoustic Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

Like with electric guitars, pau ferro is typically used as a fretboard tonewood on acoustic and classical guitars. It’s stable and sounds great once worked properly.

Examples of acoustic guitars with pau ferro fretboards:


Is Pau Ferro A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?

Pau ferro is also found in many bass guitar builds, though nearly always/only as a fretboard material.

Examples of bass guitars with pau ferro tonewood:


Other Tonewoods

Of course, there are plenty of other tonewoods besides Pau Ferro. 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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