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

Is zebrawood a good guitar tonewood? Zebrawood is a full-bodied tonewood with superb clarity and volume, warm overtones a beautiful striped aesthetic. It is rare in guitars but is a good choice (tone and looks-wise) for tops/veneers or backs/sides. Zebrawood’s porous and brittle nature makes it a poor wood for fretboards and necks.

In this article, we’ll discuss if and how zebrawood 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 zebrawood 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 Zebrawood Tonewood

Though the name “zebrawood” may apply to several species within several genera, the zebrawood tonewood refers specifically to Microberlinia brazzavillensis in the family Fabaceae. Zebrawood tonewood is sometimes referred to as zebrano, zingana, and allen ele. It is native to west equatorial Africa, notably in the countries of Cameroon and Gabon.

Zebrawood is not listed in the CITES Appendices. However, it is listed on the IUCN Red List as vulnerable due to a population reduction of over 20% in its natural habitat in the past three generations.

The heartwood of zebrawood has a light brown/cream colour with dark brown and black streaks, reminiscent of zebra stripes, hence the name. These stripes vary from disorderly to wavy and may even be somewhat uniform depending on whether the wood is flatsawn or quartersawn. The exotic appearance of zebrawood is a major selling point of this gorgeous tonewood.

Its grain ranges from wavy to interlocked, and it has a coarse texture with open pores.

Though zebrawood typically saws well, it is notoriously difficult to work. Its coarse interlocking grain makes it difficult to sand or plane, so scraping is often the best bet to avoid tear-out. Its splinters are sharp, and it has a remarkably nauseating smell. The sawdust from zebra is liable to clog saws.

Difficulties aside, zebrawood glues and finishes well, though its large pores will likely need filling before the guitar is finished.

As a tonewood, zebrawood project well with notable volume, making it a great option for guitar tops. Its tone is well-defined in the low and high-end frequencies. Its tone can be defined as warm and rich with lovely mid-range projection.

Compared to more commonplace tonewoods, zebrawood offers clearer lows and brighter highs than mahogany with darker overtones and less boominess than maple. Its resonance and workability are similar to Indian rosewood, making it a decent substitute.

Here are a few notable zebrawood specs:

  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: light brown/cream with dark blackish brown streaks
  • Grain: wavy or interlocked
  • Texture: coarse
  • Pores: diffuse-porous
  • Density: 805 kg/m3 / 50.25 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 8,160 N / 1,834 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 16.37 GPa / 1,585,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): warm
  • 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 Zebrawood 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.

Zebrawood is a decent electric guitar tone but really only gets used as a top/veneer or as the back/sides of hollowbody electrics. It offers a magnificent warm tone but is far too porous and brittle for necks and fretboards and too heavy as a main body wood.

Is Zebrawood A Good Electric Guitar Body Tonewood?

Zebrawood is generally used as a top/veneer in electric guitars, if it’s used at all. In terms of tone, zebrawood is great. It offers a balanced tone, slightly on the warm side of the warm-bright spectrum, which helps add tonal interest to main body woods.

Additionally, zebrawood looks amazing, which is another huge selling point for this tonewood as a top material. It’s hard and dense, so so long as it’s worked and finished properly, a thin zebrawood top will be a superb addition to a beautiful-sounding electric guitar.

Examples of electric guitars with zebrawood bodies/tops:

Is Zebrawood A Good Electric Guitar Neck Tonewood?

Though zebrawood is dense and hard, it’s notoriously brittle and prone to cracking. This is the last thing we want in a guitar neck, which is typically the part of the guitar under the most force.

Is Zebrawood A Good Electric Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

With about the same density and resonance as Indian rosewood, it would make sense that zebrawood is a good fretboard material. However, its porous and brittle nature makes it an unpopular option.

Of course, zebrawood could be used as a fretboard material, but special care would need to be taken to avoid tear-out and scratching. Additionally, filling and proper finishing will be required, unlike ebony, which is a much more popular fretboard tonewood option.


Is Zebrawood A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?

Zebrawood is a great choice for acoustic guitar tops, just like electric guitar tops. It offers are warm, balanced tone to enhance the other wood choices of the instruments.

It can even be used as back and sides wood, though it is largely ignored as an option for acoustic and classical guitar necks and fretboards.

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

Zebrawood is difficult to work, but its volume and dark, warm tone can be incorporated into beautiful-sounding acoustic guitars. The wood also looks stunning, making it an aesthetically pleasing choice for acoustic back and sides.

Because it’s so challenging to work, zebrawood is rather rare in small and large luthier shops alike. There aren’t many commercially-available options for acoustic guitars with zebrawood bodies, though you may be able to find a great mass-produced or custom build for yourself.

Examples of acoustic guitars with zebrawood backs and sides:

Is Zebrawood A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Top Tonewood?

Zebrawood is an uncommon acoustic top wood, especially relative to the popular options (spruce, cedar, mahogany, maple). Its sound is relatively dark, though brighter than mahogany, and it is not as voluminous as spruce. However, the full-bodied sound of zebrawood offers moody, rich tones with ample power when chosen as a soundboard/top material.

Examples of acoustic guitars with zebrawood tops:

Is Zebrawood A Good Acoustic Guitar Neck Tonewood?

Zebrawood isn’t a great choice for acoustic or classical guitar necks due to its relatively high weight and brittleness.

Is Zebrawood A Good Acoustic Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

Zebrawood isn’t a great choice for acoustic or classical guitar fretboard due to its porous nature and tendency to crack. Its coarse interlocking grain is difficult to smooth perfectly, which is a must for a high-quality fretboard.


Is Zebrawood A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?

As we could guess from the previous paragraphs, bass guitar design typically only uses zebrawood for tops (electric and acoustic basses) and sometimes for backs and sides (acoustic basses).

Examples of bass guitars with zebrawood tonewood:


Other Tonewoods

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