Woods

Fine woods alone cannot make a fine instrument.  The design, construction, and ability to select and manage the wood are of equal value.  Nonetheless, wood species are an important element, and we are fortunate to have unique access to the finest available.

 

Soundboard Timbers - Softwoods:

An instrument using a truly top grade spruce or western cedar soundboard, with the appropriate light bracing, can exhibit greater range, quicker response, and more clarity than those using a hardwood top.  The top grade spruces and cedars allow for more thinning of the top than lower grades, and when properly braced, their low density allows them to inflate more than hardwoods when the strings are plucked.  They will respond well whether played softly or driven hard; in solo passages or with chording.  In this instance, Omar Corrales’ time and work in Europe have provided him with the finest sources for what is traditionally considered the world’s finest topwood:  Silver or European Spruce.  

In addition, we offer Western Red Cedar tops.  These are a 20th century innovation, coming from Jose Ramirez II, of a famous four generation family of master guitar builders from Madrid (and briefly Buenos Aires).  This material gained popularity when it became the choice of none other than Andrés Segovia.  Cedar tops can often have even more volume than  European spruce, can be more open, and a bit warmer.  Some say their decline is slightly faster also.  Finally, the color is almost always redder.

We have come to prefer the Western Red Cedar as the softwood soundboard for our smaller instruments: the Soprano through Tenor Ukuleles.  It’s warm round tone and strong volume are a good match with the naturally brighter small bodies.  On the other hand, the clearer bass of the spruce is what we prefer for our larger instruments - those with bodies where the bass become more prominent.

 

Soundboard Timbers - Hardwoods:

While a hardwood top may not exhibit all the range of a top quality softwood, certain hardwoods will perform well, generally in the mid-range, giving a clear sharp attack, excellent volume and an overall smooth tone. 

Mahogany (Caoba) is one of the most underrated tonewoods.  This is most likely the result of the fact that through most of the twentieth century it was plentiful enough to make it so economical that it was used on many poorly built mass produced instruments. 

We use it both as a soundboard for our Hardtop Ukulele models, and also in some cases as the important inner back lining.  It has a beautiful tone: “sweet”, with great mid-range and projection, and its’ character improves markedly with age.  With our PrimeVibe play-in, you won’t have to wait for that wonderful sound (see Design Notes - Models & Features).  The denser logs produce the best tone, and we are able to select from the native forests themselves.  Our Mahogany often has that sought after, well marked, almost mottled look. Together with our aging process (see the Finish page), and soundbox construction (see Design Notes - Construction) we feel we are the top option for anyone wanting a “Mahogany Uke”. 

Monkeypod (Cenizaro) is a beautiful tree native to Central America.  It is now grown all through the tropics, however, including Hawaii, where it is used for artisan crafts and also ukuleles.  It has a coarse grain, somewhat like koa, a light golden to medium brown coloration, similar to sun-bleached mahogany, and often an attractive swirl pattern.  It is similar in density to Mahogany, and gives a nice compromise between spectacular figuring and straight grain.  The tone is clear and smooth, with a bell-like ring, showing again mainly through the mid-range.  This wood has recently gained great notoriety, as acoustic guitars built from it have won several international guitar competitions.  We use it for two of our Hardtop Guitars - the Tenor & Plectrum. 

Spanish Cedar  (Cédro) is a wood more generally prized in Central America than Mahogany.  In stringed instruments its’ great stability makes it ideal for necks.  It is the predominant material on classical guitar necks and for our necks as well.  It is also the traditional material for the Cuatro Venezolano.  It is an active wood, that when used in deep bodied instruments can give a percussive element to the sound.   It has become a favorite with Latin Classical Guitar players, for it’s warmth, sweetness, and color of tone are truly lovely. We use it for the soundboard in our Bass Guitar, where it’s combination of warmth and it’s percussive nature produce wonderful tone on those deep notes. 

 

Backs & Sides:

While the topwood may be the most important part of material selection, the backs and sides definitely affect the sound, and of course are important from an aesthetic point of view.  With our construction, we look for two things - first, laminate layers capable of producing a great tap tone, together with the outer layer and sides that have a beautiful figure as well (see Design Notes - Construction). 

The Americas produce the best known woods for the back and sides, and the sheer number of tropical species mean that being in Central America has given Omar Corrales the capability to explore woods there that are sometimes unknown or overlooked in the rest of the world. 

Carao is a wood from a well known ornamental tree of the cassia family.  It is one of our densest woods.  I believe its’ use in stringed instruments is unique to the Estudio Corrales.  It normally has a golden brown color with a subtle swirl pattern, but we can also obtain highly figured pieces as well.  The sound is beautiful - very smooth and especially strong in the mid to upper range.  In addition Carao has excellent sustain with pronounced reverb.  We use this versatile wood in it’s simpler grained form as an inner back lining for it’s great sound.  We then also use the highly figured pieces on the sides on our Softtop models for it’s great beauty.

Coyolillo, another one of our extremely dense species, is used as a side material on our Hardtop ukulele models.  This wood has excellent tonal qualities on it’s own, but when aged, it’s dark color and beautiful fine grain pattern contrast beautifully with the Mahogany of Hardtop ukulele soundboards and backs.

Granadillo  (Cristóbal)  often known as  is what is called an “associated species” to the rosewood family.  Prized locally, it is now restricted to finished craftwork, such as instrument making, where it has long been popular.  It has excellent  tonal qualities, similar to that of its’ dalbergia cousins, but with especially clear, high, trebles.  In addition to it’s use in guitars, it is famous as the prime material for marimba keys.

If you are looking for a bright, crisp sound with outstanding projection,  Granadillo  is unsurpassed.  It usually has a fairly straight, well marked grain.  It’s color is generally and a luminescent amber although pieces with a more golden color can also be found.  In either color, this wood possesses a natural polish and depth that gives it a subtle glowing beauty. We use this versatile wood in it’s simpler grained form as an inner back lining on some of our larger instruments for it’s brightness and clarity.  We then also use more figured pieces on the backs of our Softtop models for it’s beautiful grain and color.

Lignum Vitae  (Guayacan) For a long while this wood was known as the densest in the world.  It is so dense it has been used for wood planes, and even machine bearings.  To be able to make sides out of something so hard is no easy task, and demonstrates Don Omar’s great skill.  This wood has a medium brown color with lighter swirled highlights.  As such it’s pattern is almost the opposite of Monkeypod.  Therefore we use it on our 4-string Guitars, where it adds it’s strength and beauty to the sides. 

Laurel Negro is a poorly defined species of the Cordia family, which includes Bocote and Ziricote, two spectacularly beautiful woods with equally spectacular sound.  These have recently become highly sought after woods for high end guitar makers.  The tone in this family of woods is characterized by a rich dark tone and great sustain. 

Laurel Negro is at least the equal of it’s famous cousins in regard to sound.  We don’t even bother to post a photo of it, however.  The grain and color are highly variable, with the most commonly seen boards being not very attractive.  For this reason, it is often used as the material for student instruments in Central America.  What a wonderful use of a common wood, (it is grown as a shade tree on coffee plantations), for it gives young players the most important quality in encouraging their art: a beautiful sound.  For us, while we wouldn’t use it as an exterior piece, its fine sound qualities make it a perfect choice as one of the interior materials for our backs.  

Nance, is a wood long famous in Central America for it’s use in fine woodcraft and decorative turning, where it’s incredible variation of grain and color make it one of the most spectacular woods in the world.  In the same board, there can be some areas where it has the appearance of a figured mango, while in other places it can resemble a piece of polished rose marble.  We use this beautiful timber for the exterior of our Softtop Plus backs.  

Tamarind (Tamarindo) another one of our extremely dense species, is used as a side material on our Softtop Plus models.  This is actually an Asian wood that has come to us in Central America, and is now widely planted.  It’s fruit is, of course, delicious, and makes one of our most popular frescos ( fruit drinks). 

The wood has a dark orange -brown color with a strongly marked slight swirl.  In addition to being extremely stiff, it also manages to have a relatively light weight.  In Asia, this combination has led to it’s use for violin parts: armrests and tailpieces.  We chose it both for these qualities, and it’s beautiful compliment to the Nance of our Softtop Plus model backs.

Others:

Mexican Ebony (Katalo’ox) is a very dark wood with variable figure, sometimes with dark orange to deep purple highlights  It has become known in the guitar world as perhaps an even more beautiful alternate to the African Ebony.  While it is every bit as hard as the African wood, it has a lighter weight.  It is the primary material for all the oil finished parts on all our instruments: the fretboards, strumguards, bridges, strap buttons and armrest.

Aging the Hardwoods:

We take great care in the selection of beautiful woods for our instruments, and they are always unstained.  We do, however, sometimes use a process to age or oxidize certain of our woods.  The color of both Mahogany and Spanish Cedar, for example, deepen with time to a darker, mellower and somewhat redder brown.  Carao goes from a pale to a medium brown, and the figure becomes strongly accented.  With Granadillo, the color will become browner with less red.  We can, in a few minutes, give these and other woods the same color that would normally occur over several decades.   This is not at all like staining, but the natural, accelerated, aged color of these woods is particularly lovely.

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Finally we should mention that our instruments are packed and shipped in plywood boxes.  They not only protect, but comply with all international customs requirements for WPMs (wood packing materials). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

        

 

 

Please note that the photos on this page cannot be totally accurate representations of the woods on any given Southcoast  instrument.  Our woods are not stained and will exhibit natural and unique variations of color and grain.

      Spanish Cedar - Aged

            Monkeypod

                  Nance

           Mahogany - Aged

             Granadillo - Aged

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              Carao - Aged