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 wenge is used in the construction of guitars and basses, it's worth investigating whether it's a good tonewood or not.
Is Wenge a good guitar tonewood? Wenge is a hardwood with open grain. It offers a relatively bright tone with superb mid-range and a resonant low-end. Wenge is rare but is generally used as backs/sides of acoustic bodies and in guitar necks and fretboards when it is used, rather than in solid bodies.
In this article, we'll discuss if and how wenge 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 wenge 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 Wenge Tonewood
- Is Wenge A Good Electric Guitar Tonewood?
- Is Wenge A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?
- Is Wenge A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?
- Other Tonewoods
Characteristics Of Wenge Tonewood
Wenge (pronounced weng-gay) is a tonewood from the Millettia laurentii, an African legume tree native to the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. Other names for wenge include African rosewood, Congolese rosewood, faux ebony, dikela, mibotu, bokonge, and awong.
Wenge is listed as “endangered” (Category EN A1cd) in the IUCN Red List, meaning it's endangered due to habitat destruction and over-exploitation.
The heartwood of wenge is a dark-to-medium brown with even black veins, sometimes with a reddish or yellowish hue. Its grain is straight and tight but coarse and with large pores.
Wenge hardwood has a blunting effect on woodworking tools. Though it's prone to cracking and splintering, it also bends quite easily. The natural oil of the wood may interfere with glue and the wood planes and sands nicely. Wenge's porous nature means it requires filler before finishing. There's a lot of give and take with wenge, though its tone is often worth the hassle.
As a tonewood, wenge is relatively bright, though it also offers a lively and responsive mid-range and a resonant low-end. Its high-end is also remarkable, providing a bright top-end with beautiful articulation.
Here are a few notable wenge specs:
- Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
- Colour: dark/medium brown, sometimes with reddish or yellowish hue
- Grain: straight
- Texture: coarse
- Pores: diffuse-porous
- Density: 870 kg/m3 / 54.3 lb/ft3
- Janka Hardness (Typical): 8,600 N / 1,930 lbf
- Elastic Modulus: 17.59 GPa / 2,551,000 psi
- Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): bright
- Price: 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 Wenge 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.
Wenge is far from the most popular electric guitar tonewood, though it's well-known by luthiers interested in the art of guitar-making. It's rarely used in anything but guitar necks, though it does have potential as a fretboard material.
Again, its tone is lively and bright, capable of enhancing the overall articulation and clarity of an electric guitar's tone.
Is Wenge A Good Electric Guitar Body Tonewood?
Wenge is considered too heavy and brittle for practical use in commercial electric guitar bodies. Solidbodies would be uncomfortably heavy, while wenge tops/veneer would be liable to split during or after construction.
That being said, wenge has the potential to be a decent top/veneer material for solidbody guitars so long as care is taken to avoid breaking it.
Is Wenge A Good Electric Guitar Neck Tonewood?
When worked properly, wenge can be a solid neck tonewood. It's an excellent choice, tonally speaking and durability-wise for both solid and laminate electric guitar necks.
The strong midrange, warm, low-end and articulate response of a wenge neck is often made even better with the brightness of an ebony fretboard (as we'll see from the popularity of the combination in the examples below).
Examples of electric guitars with wenge necks:
- Schecter Sun Valley Super Shredder Exotic FR: solidbody with wenge neck (ebony fretboard)
- Charvel MJ DK24 HSH 2PT: solidbody with wenge neck (ebony fretboard)
- Ibanez Prestige RGR752AHBF: solidbody 5-piece maple/wenge laminate neck (Macassar ebony fretboard)
Is Wenge A Good Electric Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?
Wenge is hard enough and dense enough to be a viable fretboard material, though it's rarely chosen. This is largely due to its high price and relative brittleness. There are superior options for electric guitar fretboards that are regularly opted for by small and large manufacturers alike.
Is Wenge A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?
Wenge may be an underrated acoustic guitar tonewood. It's rarely ever seen in commercially viable models or custom builds, though its tone could potentially enhance the instrument's sound if designed and worked properly.
Is Wenge A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Back/Side Tonewood?
Wenge bends rather easily but is largely passed over for the more popular options (mahogany, rosewood, sapele).
It's brittle, but it's this brittleness that gives wenge its tonal character with its notable voice separation and well-defined low and high frequencies.
Is Wenge A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Top Tonewood?
Wenge is dense and brittle. Optimal soundboards (acoustic tops) are made from lightweight, softer woods (often softwoods like spruce and cedar) with high stiffness. The mechanics of wenge aren't a good fit for acoustic top woods, and its projection isn't the greatest.
Is Wenge A Good Acoustic Guitar Neck Tonewood?
Though wenge is a fairly standard electric guitar neck tonewood, it's rarely used in acoustic guitars. It's a bit heavier and harder than the more popular options (mahogany, maple, nyatoh/nato), though softer than rosewood, which is a perfectly viable neck wood.
So, although wenge is a decent neck wood for acoustic guitars, it's largely overlooked for the more standard, affordable options.
Is Wenge A Good Acoustic Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?
Wenge is not usually a fretboard material, though it certainly can be. Its fast attack can be of great benefit to the overall tone of an acoustic or classical guitar.
Examples of acoustic guitars with wenge fretboards:
- Ovation Mod TX: acoustic with wenge fretboard
Is Wenge A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?
As we've discussed in the previous section, wenge is a decent, albeit uncommon, tonewood. This also applies to bass guitars, where wenge is typically reserved for laminate necks.
Its brittleness is a major factor that holds it back from standardization. Its tone is great, but most commercial basses will only use it in laminate designs.
That being said, it's also seen in bass fretboards, where its tonal separation and clarity serve the overall sound of the bass well.
Examples of bass guitars with wenge tonewoods:
- ESP LTD B-1004: solidbody electric bass with 5-piece purpleheart/wenge laminate neck
- Ibanez Prestige SR5000: solidbody electric bass with wenge/bubinga laminate neck, wenge top/back and wenge fretboard
- Spector NS Dimension 4: solidbody electric bass with 5-piece wenge/maple neck and wenge fretboard
Of course, there are plenty of other tonewoods besides wenge. Here is a list of other tonewoods with links to check out more in-depth articles on each:
- Panga Panga
- Pau Ferro