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Woods

In order to have the variety of permit free woods we wanted to present, we faced one final obstacle.  Many of the lesser known Central American varieties are simply not readily available on the local market.  The local market for fine wood, is after all, a very small one compared to the United States.  In other words, local demand is much smaller than local supply.  Therefore, many of these species are only cut for export, and we hardly need whole trees to build ukuleles.  Fortunately, our past contacts with lumber brokers has allowed us to expand our range a bit.  We now have sources for hardwoods as far north as Mexico and as far south as Columbia.  Through our Columbian suppliers, we also have access to wood from other South American countries.

Standard Woods

Standard Woods are noted below with the  *  symbol.  These woods are in no way inferior to the other species listed, they are simply more economical to obtain in our situation.  Cost for non-standard woods will vary.

Woods for Necks 

-- Portuguese Cypress a.k.a Mexican Cypress, White Cedar:  *

Certain of the Cypress species are becoming known as excellent material for necks.  With our longneck instruments, these

light neck woods provide good balance for the instrument, and are very stable at the same time.  Portuguese Cypress is

also the wood we use as our back lining with Easy Care construction.   For you wood lovers, there’s an interesting story on

the name of this species.

-- White Beech:  *

This is not a native of the Americas, but comes from to us from Southeast Asia.  It grows in our area, however, as it has

been planted throughout the tropical world.  It is a quick grower, and the timber combines light weight, good strength

relative to that weight, and exceptional stability.  As such there are many uses for such a timber, and from those properties,

it is easy to see why it works so well as a neck wood for a long scale Ukulele as well.  

-- White Mahogany  a.k.a Primavera (a trade name mahogany): 

This is not a true Mahogany - the name, however is very descriptive.  It is a light golden color, similar to a bleached

Mahogany, and the grain has the same sort of swirl and beautiful lustre.  We have always loved light colored necks when

they are as pretty as our White Mahogany.  They balance especially well when using light colored softwood soundboards. 

This wood has an extremely interesting history - it has gone from one of the most prized new world hardwoods, to the brink

of elimination to a largely forgotten historical footnote today.

Woods for Soundboards Only

With this group of woods we use “imports”.  None of these woods are restricted in any way.  Some material is imported

from Europe, but the majority comes from the wilds of the North American forests.  In spite of what has been often reported,

we have found the North Americans to be generally friendly, honest, and not nearly as hard to deal with as one might

imagine.  Soundboards of this type from colder climates were used on the early Portuguese ancestors of the Ukulele, and

we like using them on our instruments as well.   A softwood will yield a greater range, give greater clarity throughout the

overall range, and produce better note separation.

-- European Spruce:

A traditional softwood soundboard material, known for its clear light tone and excellent separation of notes.  It also has enough density to be somewhat resistant to finger marks.  The light color is attractive with almost any side or back woods. -- Western Red Cedar: A twentieth century introduction - this was the favorite of Andres Segovia, and is now the favorite among classical guitarists in general.  It is darker and redder in color than most other softwood soundboards -  it’s soft texture is also more easily nail marked.  While not as bright, clear or distinct as Spruce, it gives a warmer, fuller sound, generally with more volume as well. -- Yellow Cedar  a.k.a: Alaskan Yellow Cedar, Canadian Cypress:   As with certain other woods commonly called “Cedar”, this wood is actually a member of the cypress family.  Along with its southern cousin, Port Orford Cedar, this is the most dimensionally stable soundboard wood known to date.  As such, it is the standard soundboard for our Easy Care construction.  In regards to movement and resistance to splitting it approaches the stability  of a laminate top. It is almost a hybrid in character, as it is as hard as the softer range of hardwoods.  This makes it one of our favorite soundboards for an Ukulele, as it has a chimey sound with much of the sustain characteristic of a hardwood soundboard.  At the same time it maintains a great clarity and separation of tone.  The final bonus, is that is that it is much more resistant to surface scratching than a typical softwood soundboard.

Woods for the Soundbox

These are woods we use in our Traditional construction, where sides, backs and often the soundboard are all made from the same wood. They will also be frequently used as back woods in the Easy Care construction. -- Monkeypod *  a.k.a. Cenizaro:   A classic Central American native that because of it’s beauty as a flowering ornamental, is now planted worldwide throughout the tropics, including in Hawaii, where it has a long history as an ukulele wood.  While Koa is better known there, and can sometimes have more spectacular figure, the beautiful swirl and color of Monkeypod is extremely attractive, and there are more than a few on the islands who prefer its tone to Koa. It’s often described as having a sound that falls between the two classic ukulele woods, Koa and our own Mahogany, but we think this shortchanges how beautiful the tone of Monkeypod can be.  It has something of the crispness of Koa, but with a smoother quality - not quite as sharp on the high notes.  Compared to Mahogany, however, it has greater clarity.  We like it a lot.  This wood is gaining notoriety through its use on Grand Prize winners in world guitar competitions. -- Royal Mahogany *  a.k.a: Andiroba, Caobilla (a trade name mahogany):   While Royal Mahogany is not a true Mahogany, it is in the same family (Meliaceae) as the Mahoganies and Spanish Cedar, and shares many of their properties.  Commonly reported as a denser, harder wood than Honduran Mahogany, we can only suppose this must be the case for the Brazilian variety, as this wood in the U.S. generally comes from Brazil. In Central America, this wood is somewhat softer than Honduras Mahogany - typically about halfway between Mahogany and Spanish Cedar.  In contrast also to the washed out looking Brazilian variety, the Central American wood is almost indistinguishable from Mahogany under a finish - we typically prefer the look of the Royal Mahogany, as it often has a bit more swirl to the grain.  As a matter of fact, the common Spanish name, Caobilla, translates roughly as “little cousin of Caoba”, with Caoba being the Spanish name for Honduras Mahogany.   As far as tone, this wood also falls between Mahogany and Spanish Cedar, giving a beautiful warm sound.  Other Hardwoods -- Bocote  A member of the Cordia family, meaning this is a cousin to Ziricote.  It has a figure equally as spectacular, but with an appearance that is very different from its more familiar cousin.  While the sound is somewhat similar to Ziricote, it gives a somewhat crisper, cleaner response.  It is not seen as often as it’s cousin, for while both are somewhat prone to splitting, Bocote is even a bit more unstable.  Our 19th century back construction gives us the opportunity to use this beautiful and sonorous wood in the Easy Care construction without worries for stability (see Construction page for more details).  We also anticipate using this wood for headplate veneers and bridges.  -- Brown Ebony  a.k.a. Partridgewood:

There are a few woods called Partridgewood - we have one of the others as well - but we believe the name Brown Ebony

to be unique to this species.  It  is not a true ebony, but nonetheless, is an extremely beautiful, hard, resonant wood for

fretboards.  You’ll also see us use it for bridges and armrests.  It can often be very close to the black of an African ebony,

but can also have a spectacular stripe figure of dark brown and black.  As such, we will often pair it with colder colored

tonewoods.      

-- Chakte Viga:  A brilliant colored wood that can can range in color from a restrained light orange to a vibrant, almost metallic deep orange to red.  To this point, we have used this wood only for trim, though it seems to have possibilities as a tonewood as well. -- Carbonero: *  As the name implies, this is a very hard wood.   The grain is a simple, subtle, but attractive stripe pattern while the color ranges from a deep wheat to a beautiful rich dark brown in aged boards.  We use this wood for sides and trim, although it also has possibilities as a wood for the soundbox.   -- Caribbean Rosewood (a trade name rosewood)  a.k.a. Chechen, Black Poisonwood:  A very dense highly figured hardwood with a dark crisp tone.  This wood always possesses a strongly figured grain, but both the pattern and color are highly variable, from yellowish-brown to reddish-brown to very dark brown.  We will use it primarily for sides in the Easy Care construction, but it may also show up as backs and trim.     -- Craboo *  a.k.a. Golden Spoon - Nance:  A fruitwood, Craboo is similar in density and character to North American Cherry.  In appearance however it is distinct.  Often seen as a simple gray-brown color with occasional black swirled grain, when highly figured pieces are acquired this wood is incredibly spectacular, taking on the appearance of a piece of multi-colored rose marble.  We use it for backs and trim. -- Granadillo *  a.k.a. Cristobal:                                                                                         

One of Central America’s more renowned tonewoods, its fame locally is for marimba keys, where the clarity, resonance and

sustain make it the first choice.  Color is somewhat variable, from a light cold brown to a light rose brown.  Grain is always

lovely, whether a subtle swirl or more spectacular waves of figure.  In addition to being an excellent wood for backs, we like

to use the lighter colored striping of this wood in those instances where we feel an off black fretboard is out of place.

-- Guachipelin:  *

We have used this wood for backs and sides in the past, and may someday be tempted to use it there again.  It is a light

tan with an olive cast, and while it does not have a pronounced figure, it has a very pronounced natural polish, almost like a

light green tortoise shell.  It takes on a high lustre, and as such we use it often for purfling and other trim.

-- Macadamia:  *

From Australia, this is the wood that produces the delicious nuts.  It is now planted all over the Tropical World including

Central America, and even Hawaii.  Our present stock is well aged, and thus has a dark tone - off black grain with a

pinkish-gray background.  The figure is a beautiful mottled pattern reminiscent of a lacewood.  We are using this at present

for tap plates, and anticipate using it as well for headplates and fretboards.

 -- Mexican Ebony *  a.k.a. Katalo’ox, Katalox:                                                                This is not a true ebony, but nonetheless, is an absolutely wonderful wood for fretboards, bridges and armrests.  As with Brown Ebony, it is a very hard and resonant species.  It can sometimes be very close to the black of an African ebony, but more-often will have a bit of a violet to orange background.  As such, we will often pair it with warmer colored tonewoods. -- Mexican Kingwood  a.k.a. Camatillo - Camatillo Rosewood (a true rosewood): A simply spectacular tonewood, equal to Brazilian Rosewood in beauty of both figure and tone.  In color and figure, there is often purple and/or orange background to the pronounced ink black grain markings.  It is not often seen in guitars because it is such a small tree that boards are simply seldom found in necessary widths.  We are fortunate enough to have acquired stock that will work for all sized ukulele backs - we hope to have it for our Parlor Guitar bodies one day as well, and of course the smaller pieces are wonderful as tap plates. -- Nicaraguan Rosewood  (a true rosewood):   A cult rosewood, highly sought after, and for good reason.  It has little in the way of flamboyant figure, and is very coarse grained.  The color is a deep, rich russet, somewhat similar to the stained mahogany often seen in classic early 20th century ukuleles.  The tone, however, has been described as the “ultimate”, having the depth and richness of a Brazilian Rosewood with more clarity and definition.  For those who value a rich simple appearance in their wood, coupled with a wonderful tone, look no further.  This wood also has possibilities for fretboards, armrests and bridges. -- Partridgewood *    This Central America native also has relatively high density and a coarse grain, but shows a beautiful golden amber swirl somewhat reminiscent of a luminescent golden Mahogany.  You will see this wood used for sides, backs, bridges, armrests and trim. -- Pink Showertree Wood *  a.k.a. Carao:   A dense wood with a beautiful soft color reminiscent of French Walnut.  Generally with a subtle swirl to the grain - sometimes also with a lovely curl.  This is one of our favorite woods for sides in the Easy Care construction, and may also be used for backs, bridges, armrests and trim where it is often paired with colder colored woods. -- Tamarind *  a.k.a. Tamarindo:   Yet another dense wood with a soft reddish-orange color, often with simple straight grain, but also seen with a pronounced dark curl.  This tree originally comes from India, where the fruits make a delicious, tart, fresco or fruit drink.  Because of this, it is now planted throughout the tropical world.  This wood is our co-favorite, along with Pink Showertree, for sides in the Easy Care construction, and like that wood, may also be used for backs and trim.  We generally pair Tamarind with warmer colored woods. -- Tigerwood * a.k.a. Goncalo Alves:   A dense Central American native.  This wood can come in a simple plain figure, with an orange brown color, but is best known for the pronounced black “tiger stripe” figure often found.  In some boards, the black can predominate, leaving the orange-brown wood as the stripe.  As a wood for sides, depending on what works best with our back wood, we may use either the plain or striped figure.  We may also use it for backs and trim. -- Santos Rosewood  (a trade name rosewood)  a.k.a. Bolivian Rosewood, Pau Ferro:   When Brazilian Rosewood started to become scarce, this was the first substitute.   Sometimes unscrupulous builders managed to pass it off as Brazilian, though it seems hard to imagine how they got away with it.  It has a beautiful striped, sometimes swirled figure, but neither the color or figure are that close to Brazilian.  It produces beautiful sound as well, but not like Brazilian there either.  We would characterize it as falling between the tones of the Mahoganies and the Rosewoods.  It truly deserves to stand on its own as a wonderful instrument wood with a lovely appearance and a smooth, rich tone.   Our primary use for this wood will be for backs in Easy Care construction. -- Tropical Walnut *  a.k.a. Nogal (a trade name walnut):   On the surface, this is another example of a trade name with no relation to the North American equivalent, and while there is no botanical relation between these species, there are more similarities than is generally the case with a trade name wood.  Weight is similar, as well as color.  We have not tried it to this point as a tone wood, and it is a bit too soft to be ideal for fretboards.  At the moment, we are using it for trim.    -- Yellowheart  a.k.a. Palo Amarillo; Pau Amorello:   A creamy colored wood, often with a light swirl grain, this has been seldom used as a tonewood.  Since in our experience it gives a wonderful tone, much like Santos Rosewood, we assume this is because of it’s subtle coloration.  We, however, find the cream color, lightly touched with golden brown, to be very attractive - reminiscent of a flamenco “guitarra blanca”.  Our primary use with this wood will again be for backs in Easy Care construction, where we love to pair it with darker or more figured sides.   -- Ziricote:   There has probably never been a more spectacularly figured tone wood, with rich olive, gray and black colors in its often uniquely cloud patterned grain.  The sound is perhaps even darker than Brazilian rosewood, but with more clarity.  Again, this will be a back wood for Easy Care instruments.   

                                                                

Our instruments are rough built in Central America.  This is home to the widest variety of hardwoods on our planet.  We considered this to be one of the great advantages of our enterprise - access to these wonderful materials at the source.  Today, however, there are new regulations concerning the international sale and transport of wood products.  As it turns out now, it is actually more difficult for a small enterprise to do business in wooden articles in the area where most of these trees are native.  The permit process effectively eliminates small producers from many of the traditional tropical hardwoods, and many instrument owners may be unaware of this, but under these newly extended regulations, their instruments are at risk as well.  These conditions caused us to cease production altogether for a period of over two years, and more than once, we considered abandoning export work altogether. In the end, however, the incredible variety of woods in the American tropics led us to new species - some familiar, some not - varieties we have found to be at least as satisfactory as the woods we were using before.  As a result, a Southcoast Instrument today is built entirely from species free from any international permit requirements.  We supply documentation, a “passport” so to speak, with every instrument, so that if you ever wish to cross an International border with a Southcoast Ukulele or Guitar, your musical “best friend” can come along without a worry in the world.   
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