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

Is Rosewood a good guitar tonewood? Rosewood is a hard tonewood with open pores. It offers a full-bodied, warm tone with remarkable resonance, sustain and volume. Rosewood 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 rosewood 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 rosewood 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 Rosewood Tonewood

Rosewood comprises many different tonewoods, though real rosewoods belong to the genus Dalbergia. Though some guitar manufacturers may state that rosewood is used in their designs, they may not technically be part of the genus Dalbergia. The most common genuine rosewoods we’ll find in guitars are East Indian, Brazilian and Madagascar rosewoods.

In this article, we’ll discuss the following rosewoods:

  • East Indian rosewood (Dalbergia latifolia)
  • Brazilian rosewood (Dalbergia nigra)
  • Madagascar rosewood (Dalbergia baronii, greveana, madagascariensis, monticola)
  • Yucatan rosewood (Dalbergia tucarensis)
  • Honduran rosewood (Dalbergia stevensonii)

However, there are plenty of other Dalbergia species that are used as tonewood under different names. Notably, they are as follows (I’ve included links to other My New Microphone articles where appropriate that discuss these tonewoods more specifically):

Additionally, there are tonewoods called rosewoods outside the Dalbergia genus, such as:

  • “Santos rosewood” (Myroxylon balsamo), otherwise known as balsamo
  • “African rosewood” (Guibourtia demeusei), otherwise known as bubinga
  • “Bolivian rosewood” (Machaerium scleroxylum), otherwise known as pau ferro
  • “Caribbean rosewood” (Metopium brownei), otherwise known as cha chen

East Indian rosewood (Dalbergia latifolia) is also known as Bombay blackwood, roseta rosewood, Indian rosewood, reddish-brown rosewood, Indian palisandre, and Java palisandre, and is native to southeast India.

Brazilian rosewood (Dalbergia nigra) is also known as Bahia rosewood, Rio rosewood, and pianowood and is native to the Bahia interior forests of Brazil.

Madagascar rosewood refers to several rosewood types native to Madagascar. The ones most notable to guitar tonewoods are Dalbergia baronii and Dalbergia monticola.

All three main types are severely restricted under the genus-wide restriction on all Dalbergia species. East Indian and Madagascar rosewood are listed in CITES Appendix II, while Brazilian rosewood is listed in Appendix I. All three are listed under the IUCN Red List as vulnerable species due to a population reduction of over 20% in the past three generations.

Though the trade of raw materials is heavily restricted, these tonewoods are still possible under certain guidelines.

Other true rosewoods worth mentioning are Yucatan rosewood (Dalbergia tucanensis) and Honduran rosewood (Dalbergia stevensonii), which we’ll discuss shortly. Both these wood are native to Central America.

East Indian rosewood: the heartwood of East Indian rosewood varies in colour from golden brown to a deep purple/brown and features dark brown streaks. Its grain is interlocked, with a medium texture and small pores.

The dense, interlocked grain makes East Indian rosewood relatively difficult to work, though it finishes well. Care should be taken to avoid tear-out when planing and sanding. Additionally, the hardness of this rosewood is liable to blunt cutting tools.

It is one of the most popular and traditional guitar tonewoods ever.

East Indian rosewood offers a superb, reverberant bass response with notable warmth and sustain. Its high-end is remarkably bright as well, with beautiful articulation. The midrange frequencies are considered “scooped,” making them less apparent than other tonewoods, which contributes to the cleanliness of EIR’s low and top-end.

Brazilian rosewood: The heartwood of Brazilian rosewood varies in colour from dark brown to a purplish/reddish-brown and features black streaks. Its grain is typically straight but can be interlocked. Pieces with figured “spider-web” grain are highly sought after for their immense beauty. This wood has a medium-to-coarse texture and medium-sized pores.

The density of Brazilian rosewood makes it relatively difficult to work due to its blunting effect on woodworking tools, though it finishes well. Brazilian rosewood, though a beloved choice, is relatively brittle and prone to cracking. However, when worked properly, it is remarkably stable.

Unfortunately, Brazilian rosewood is considered nearly extinct.

Brazilian rosewood offers a loud, rich tone with superb voice separation between individual guitar notes. Like its East Indian relative, Brazilian rosewood produces full-bodied bass and brilliant treble with a notable dip in the midrange frequencies.

Madagascar rosewood: The heartwoods of Madagascar rosewood varieties range in colour from light yellow-brown to dark orange to reddish-brown. Their grains are typically straight with a uniform medium-fine texture and medium-sized pores.

The density of Madagascar rosewoods makes them relatively difficult to work due to their blunting effects on woodworking tools, though they tend to finish well. Once dry, this rosewood is incredibly stable, though care must be taken during drying to avoid splitting within the wood.

As a tonewood, Madagascar rosewood is very similar to Brazilian, with a deep, dark low-end and brilliant high-end sparkle. Its complex response is articulate yet sustaining, and its superb dynamic range makes it a lively tonewood to play. If anything, Madagascar has a more complex and apparent midrange than its Brazilian counterpart.

Yucatan rosewood: Yucatan rosewood has a medium to dark brown colour with a red hue. Its grain is straight much more often than other rosewoods, and its texture is even and fine.

It’s a relatively lightweight rosewood, making it relatively easy to work. It glues, finishes, and polishes well.

As a tonewood, Yucatan rosewood maintains the rich, brilliant high-end of general rosewood species, though its midrange is a bit lacking compared to its heavier relatives.

Yucatan rosewood (Dalbergia tucurensis) is also known as Panama rosewood, Nicaraguan rosewood and Guatemalan rosewood.

Honduran rosewood: Honduran rosewood has a dark red/mauve colour bordering on dark brown and features figured “spider-web” grain more often than its Brazilian counterpart. Its texture is fine, as with other rosewood options.

Honduran rosewood’s relatively high density and hardness make it a bit more difficult to bend, though stronger for guitar builds. It’s liable to crack due to its brittleness but is typically stable once finished.

As a tonewood, Honduras rosewood is the brightest we’ll be discussing in this article. It’s often described as cold and glassy, having increased high-end content at the expense of the midrange warmth.

The natural resin and oil of rosewoods can make working more difficult when gluing and finishing.

In general, rosewoods offer a full-bodied, warm tone with compressed highs, remarkable resonance and volume, and superb sustain in the lows and low-mids. However, there are certainly tonal differences between the various species. Typically the lighter varieties (lower density) will sound brighter and be easier to work.

Here are a few notable specs of the various types of rosewood tonewoods discussed above:

  • Type: East Indian Rosewood
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: golden brown to a deep purplish brown
  • Grain: narrow, interlocked
  • Texture: medium
  • Pores: diffuse-porous
  • Density: 830 kg/m3 / 51.8 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 10,870 N / 2,445 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 11.50 GPa / 1,668,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): warm
  • Price: moderate to high
  • Type: Brazilian Rosewood
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: dark chocolate brown to lighter purplish or reddish brown
  • Grain: generally straight, sometimes interlocked, spiraled, or wavy
  • Texture: uniform, medium to coarse
  • Pores: diffuse-porous
  • Density: 835 kg/m3 / 52.1 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 12,410 N / 2,790 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 13.93 GPa / 2,020,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): warm
  • Price: high
  • Type: Madagascar Rosewood
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: light yellow-brown to dark orange or reddish brown
  • Grain: straight
  • Texture: uniform, medium-fine
  • Pores: diffuse-porous
  • Density: 935 kg/m3 / 58.4 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 12,080 N / 2,715 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 12.01 GPa / 1,742,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): warm
  • Price: extremely high
  • Type: Yucatan Rosewood
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: medium to dark brown with reddish hue
  • Grain: straight
  • Texture: uniform, fine
  • Pores: diffuse-porous
  • Density: 680 kg/m3 / 42.45 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 5,400 N / 1,214 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 7.76 GPa / 1,125,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): warm
  • Price: moderate
  • Type: Honduran Rosewood
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: dark red, mauve and brown
  • Grain: straight
  • Texture: uniform, fine
  • Pores: semi-ring-porous to diffuse-porous
  • Density: 1,025 kg/m3 / 64.00 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 9,790 N / 2,200 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 22.00 GPa / 3,191,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): warm
  • Price: high

Sources: wikipedia.org, wood-database.com and woodworkerssource.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 Rosewood 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.

Rosewood (particularly the East Indian and Brazilian varieties) has long been one of the most popular electric guitar fretboard tonewoods. In fact, rosewood remains a top choice for consumers and manufacturers, both big and small.

Rosewood is sometimes incorporated in laminate bodies and necks, though its relatively high weight/density makes it a rare choice for these parts of electric guitars.

Is Rosewood A Good Electric Guitar Body Tonewood?

Rosewood is rarely used as the body material in electric guitars due to its great weight and expensive price. It’s an impractical solidbody tonewood but is sometimes incorporated into hollowbody designs.

The complex and warm tone of rosewood can be of great benefit to the overall guitar tone.

Examples of electric guitars with rosewood bodies/tops:

Is Rosewood A Good Electric Guitar Neck Tonewood?

Rosewood is rarely used as the neck material of electric guitars, though it can be.

Again, a solid rosewood neck would add significant weight to an electric guitar, likely shifting the centre of gravity in an uncomfortable way.

That being said, a rosewood neck could offer a smooth overall sound, especially if it’s paired with a brighter fretboard material.

Examples of electric guitars with rosewood necks:

Is Rosewood A Good Electric Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

Rosewood is a popular and sought-after tonewood for electric guitar fretboards. It’s perhaps the most commonly used tonewood for electric guitar necks, even more so than ebony and maple.

Rosewood is a remarkably hard and durable wood, yet it feels wonderful under the fingers. Once dried properly, its stability is top-notch, making it a fantastic choice for fretboards.

Furthermore, its tone can balance out brighter tonewood in the neck and body.

Furthermore, the natural oil of true rosewoods means they don’t even need to be finished. The natural wood looks incredible and feels amazing to play.

Examples of electric guitars with rosewood fretboards:


Is Rosewood A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?

Rosewood is an excellent tonewood for acoustic and classical guitars. It has been an industry standard for many decades, offering beautiful warmth and articulation to the guitar tone with superb low-end, brilliant high-end, and rich yet subtle mids.

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

Rosewood is a highly sought-after and popular option for acoustic and classical backs and sides.

Most rosewoods are relatively easy to bend and are durable and stable once bent. When it comes to specifics, East Indian rosewood is the preferred variety thanks to its superb tone, easy bendability, strength and low price (compared to Brazilian). When looking at a guitar with rosewood back and sides, we can bet that it’s East Indian.

However, Brazilian rosewood is often considered one of the best choices for steel-string acoustic back and sides material. It’s arguably louder and offers great voice separation than its relatives.

The deep resonance rosewood is capable of producing is particularly effective in large-body guitars like dreadnaughts.

Examples of acoustic guitars with rosewood backs and sides:

  • Breedlove Legacy Concert CE: acoustic with East Indian rosewood back and sides (sinker redwood top)
  • Martin HD-28: acoustic with East Indian rosewood back and sides (Sitka spruce top)
  • Taylor 814ce: acoustic with East Indian rosewood back and sides (Sitka spruce top)
  • Yamaha LL-TA: acoustic with rosewood back and sides (Engelmann spruce top)
  • Taylor 214ce Deluxe: acoustic with layered rosewood back and sides (Sitka spruce top)
  • Cordoba C12 CD: classical with Indian rosewood back and sides (Canadian cedar top)

Is Rosewood A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Top Tonewood?

Rosewood is rarely considered for acoustic and classical guitar tops.

The most popular guitar tops are made from softwood, notably spruce and cedar varieties (for steel-string and nylon-string guitars, respectively).

Rosewood is considered too dense and hard for decent projection.

Is Rosewood A Good Acoustic Guitar Neck Tonewood?

Rosewood is rarely used as the neck material of acoustic guitars, though it can be.

Yamaha used rosewood in some of its acoustic guitar necks, though they are laminated with other materials (typically mahogany).

Examples of acoustic guitars with rosewood necks:

  • Yamaha LL-TA: acoustic with 5-ply mahogany/rosewood neck (ebony fretboard)

Is Rosewood A Good Acoustic Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

Rosewood is a popular and sought-after tonewood for acoustic guitar fretboards.

Its density, hardness and stability make it a durable material. It feels great to play, and its tone offers a superb balanced to brighter tonewoods while still being articulate in its own right.

Examples of acoustic guitars with rosewood fretboards:


Is Rosewood A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?

From what’s been stated about electric and acoustic guitars, we can infer that rosewood is also an excellent choice for bass guitars (both electric and acoustic).

Rosewood’s tone is particularly impressive with bass guitars, which often benefit more from “scooped” mids. This tonewood, whether it’s a laminate neck, hollowbody back/sides, or fretboard material, will offer superb low-end and a certain airiness to the bass guitar’s top-end harmonics.

Examples of bass guitars with rosewood tonewoods:


Other Tonewoods

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