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Wood Stories

-- Portuguese Cypress Cypress is most famous as an instrument wood for its use in flamenco guitar back and sides.  As in our Easy Care  construction, it was also used in high end 19th century guitars as a back lining to sweeten the tone.  In some Spanish guitars, this practice is still continued today.  There is some debate among Flamenco aficionados as to whether Cypress was used for it’s unique sound.  It’s brighter and livelier, a sound we think is well suited to Ukuleles, but there is another school of thought that maintains it was only used because it was readily available and inexpensive - a material that could be sold to Gypsies.  We tend to hold to the tone side of the argument, as many builders who have used it like it’s sound, not just for flamencos, but for classical guitars as well. Then, there is the question of what kind of cypress.  There’s no doubt that the great majority of Flamenco guitars used what is generally termed “Mediterranean Cypress”.  The cypress family is enormous, and obviously not all members can be substituted for Mediterranean.  Nonetheless, that variety has become difficult to obtain, and in recent decades popular substitutes have been found. On the North American west coast, builders have discovered Monterrey Cypress.  Flamenco guitars are more popular in that part of the world than one might imagine, and Monterrey Cypress makes up the great majority of those instruments. This brings us to our own Portuguese Cypress.  You may have noticed an alternate name is Mexican Cypress - this wood has an unusual history.  It is indeed native to the mountains of Mexico and Central America.  As a tree, it has a beautiful form, and was one of the first American woods transplanted to Europe.  It remained without scientific classification in it’s native range for quite some time.  The first classification was from a transplanted stand at a monastery in Portugal in 1768.  At that time they had been growing in the Iberian peninsula for well over 100 years.  The scientific name then, is Cupressus lusitanica - Latin for Portuguese Cypress. Just as the Monterrey Cypress has become the preferred wood for Flamenco guitars in California, Portuguese Cypress is the favorite in Mexico and Central America.  Indeed, there is some speculation that it may have been used in many of the old Spanish Flamenco guitars in Iberia as well. -- White Mahogany  At one time, this wood had the reputation of one of the most beautiful in the world.  The height of it’s popularity was in the early 20th century.  The similarity to the grain and lustre of Honduras Mahogany, combined with it’s lighter golden cream color made it particularly popular as wall paneling in Art Deco interiors.  It became so widely used, that by the middle of the 20th century, supplies were almost gone. Before the end of it’s era, however, it had found two other uses as well.  First, up until and into the beginning of World War II, it was used for airplane propellers.  It has a wonderful combination of light weight, strength and tremendous stability.  Obviously those are also the qualities of a top guitar neck, and just before its disappearance from commerce, it began to gain status there as well.  But supplies ran out, and the memories of it’s beauty, strength and stability gradually faded. A half century went by, and in the interim things have changed.  In Central America, it started to be planted again in large numbers.  It didn’t happen because of a demand for the wood itself.  It is a rather quick growing tree of considerable size, and those factors led to it’s use on Cacao plantations, where it was ideal at providing the sort of high shade where the Cacao will flourish.  Today, it is now in good supply once more.  A few guitar makers have begun to use it again - mainly for backs and sides, but it remains largely “undiscovered” on todays’ commercial markets.                                       
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