Wood Feature - Cocobolo (Dalbergia retusa)

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07/12/2017

Dalbergia retusa has two common names, one of which is more widely known in guitars circles, and these are Cocobolo and Nicaraguan rosewood. Despite being perhaps the most exotic looking species of true rosewood it is actually one of the hardiest and willing to grow in multiple ecological niches, albeit all of them tropical.  Cocobolo grows just as well in the old growth forests of Central America as it does in pastureland and rocky areas.  This makes it somewhat unique in rosewood terms, as old growth forest is usually essential for healthy plants to flourish.  Brazilian rosewood (Dalbergia nigra), for example, can only grow in primary rainforests (those undisturbed or untouched by Man) and this is why it is so critically endangered now.  Cocobolo naturally occurs from Belize down to Costa Rica. A Cocobolo tree will take 20-25 years to reach a sufficient size to harvest.  By this time it may have reached 15m (50 feet) in height and have a trunk diameter of 60cm (2 feet).


Cocobolo is prized for its unique orange to dark red colouration in the heartwood and often has extreme figuring apparent.  There is a giant contrast between the heartwood and the sapwood, with the sapwood being a creamy yellow colour.  Cocobolo is extremely dense and will sink in water; Brazilian and East Indian rosewoods will float in water.  Cocobolo has a specific gravity similar to that of Macassar Ebony, which itself is more dense than “regular” Ebony.


In 2017 all species of rosewood, with 2 exceptions, were placed on CITES Appendix II meaning protocols are in place to control the import and export of the species across international borders.  The first exception was Brazilian rosewood, which has been on CITES Appendix I since 1992.  Other Appendix I species include Tigers, Asiatic Lions, Rhinoceroses, Gorillas, Chimpanzees, Orangutans and so on. The second rosewood exception was Cocobolo.  Various Central American countries have been placing Cocobolo on CITES Appendix II since Guatemala started the ball rolling 2008. The final Central American country, Belize, did so in 2013, still 4 years before the full rosewood restriction came into place in 2017.


The music industry as a whole has struggled to cope and manage with CITES legislation, and this writer feels that there are lessons to be learned from the exotic pet trade who have been dealing with CITES since the inception of the convention.
Due to the density and hardness of Cocobolo, even a large block of the cut wood will produce a clear musical tone if struck. It is used to make other musical instruments, such as oboes, for its "warm, rich palette".


This palette translates well to the world of electric guitars and there are a number of PRS Guitars that feature Cocobolo. However, Cocobolo is expensive; it’s on a par with woods like Teak in terms of cost, so it is usually only found on Private Stock instruments, although there have been a small amount of Wood Library models made available with Cocobolo; most notably in the 30th Anniversary year.  The rich, dark tonal properties also work extremely well on acoustic guitars, particularly when used as the back and sides coupled with a spruce top.  However, the relatively small trunk diameter means some sapwood is likely to be evident on the back.  This is not a problem in itself, and is subjectively very attractive, but some purists may turn their noses up at this.


Due to the extreme density of Cocobolo, it’s natural oil content and its resistance to rot Cocobolo does not need to be finished, indeed, it can be extremely difficult to apply a finish to.  For this reason it is often only lightly oiled or waxed, and can be maintained indefinitely with a high sheen, lustrous polish and the occasional light application of a natural, plant based oil such as lemon oil.
 

Photo Credit:

Willcutt Guitars 

Wood Discussion Feature: Rosewood Colour Variation

A member in the PRSGOW forum asked why the fingerboard on his PRS P24 was very dark rosewood, but the 'board on his PRS 408 was much paler.


This video aims to answer that questions, with a few bonus geeky facts about one of my favourite tonewoods! 

Peroba Rosa

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Wood Feature: Peroba Rosa & it's Use in PRS Guitars

10/03/17

 Photo Credit - PRSGuitars.com  

On 9th March 2017 PRS announced two very exciting new models; the Reclaimed Limited CE-24 Semi-Hollow and the S2 Vela Semi-Hollow.  


This pair of new models have caused a huge reaction in the guitar world for two reasons.  The first is that they are both new models to the PRS range and the second is that they use a brace of tonewoods previously unused by a major guitar manufacturer. Both models feature a top made of Peroba Rosa and a fretboard made of Brauna Preto.  This article focuses on the Peroba Rosa top wood.Peroba Rose is the given name for two species; Aspidosperma peroba and Aspidosperma polyneuron.  The two species are so similar they are used interchangeably.  These trees are not found in the Amazon rainforest, but in the Atlantic Forest of south-east Brazil and north-east Argentina.  These woods are not listed in any CITES appendix but are considered endangered and are on the IUCN red list.  Mature trees range from 30-38 metres tall (100-125 feet) and have a trunk diameter of 1.2-1.5m (4-5 feet).  


The heartwood ranges from pinkish red to yellow in colour and sometimes features streaks of dark brown or purple, and the colour tends to darken with age.  The grain is mostly straight, but is sometimes slightly irregular or interlocked.  The wood is very durable in terms of decay resistance.    

Peroba Rosa is one of the most commercially important is Brazil, and is used in utilitarian ways such as in building and beekeeping, up to more upscale uses such as furniture and turned ornaments.    In the PRS video unveiling the two models Paul professes amazement at the resonant properties of the wood, he hints at performing the tap test of the planks and being truly amazed at how well it rings.  The playing on the videos unveils a bright, but not piercing, tone with plenty of clarity on a clean tone.  There is also a warm, full bass to the sound.  The tone appears to have plenty of punch and presence meaning it should pop out of a busy band mix extremely well.  


This bodes well for the characteristics of the overdriven sounds.    Michael Reid states that the woods acquired range between 75 and 150 years old, and the woods have been reclaimed from old houses in Brazil.  In terms of aesthetics it is safe to say Peroba Rosa has it’s own, unique look.  This is further enhanced by the rustic appeal of the knots, nail holes and satin nitro finish.  PRS clearly have a finite supply of these woods as they are limiting supply to 600 pieces with an order window of March 9th - April 30th 2017.  

Korina

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Wood Feature: Korina (Terminalia superba) & It's Use in PRS Guitars

 05/01/17 

Photo credit: Soundaffectspremier.com

Korina is known by quite a few different names, such as Idigbo, Afara or Limba. The name “Korina” itself was actually coined by Gibson in the ‘50s when they started to use it for Les Paul Juniors and Specials, Explorers, Flying Vs and the ill-fated Moderne.


Korina is neither rare nor expensive as efforts date back to the 50s to preserve the species.  The trees can reach a height of up to 150 feet with a diameter of up to 8 feet.  It originates in Western Africa, ranging from Guinea to Zaire.  It has a good overall strength, is moderately easy to work and (once dried) has a natural resistance to moisture.There are two main types of Korina used by PRS; Black Limba and White Limba. 


The two varieties actually come from the same tree.  White Limba comes from the outer part of the tree whereas Black Limba is the heartwood buried deeper within the tree. Black Limba is only found from trees logged in certain countries and never exceeds more than 50% of the trees diameter.  Black Limba is often also full of worm and beetle holes, rendering it unsuitable for use in guitars. Very occasionally, Black Limba is found with a stunning fiddle-back figuring similar to the figuring found in Ziricote or Rosewood. When quartersawn Limba will often display a beautiful ribbon pattern, similar to the high end mahogany found in PRS Artist Pack and Private Stock guitars.Gibson reports Korina as also being known as “Super Mahogany” or “Mahogany Deluxe” and it is true that it shares many characteristics with mahogany in terms of tone and grain patterns. Limba is often less dense than mahogany, particularly African mahogany species.  This makes it more resonant and changes the voice of the wood, giving it a slighter sweeter mid-range and slightly brighter tone when directly compared to typical mahogany.


Due to Limba’s natural resistance to moisture and attractive appearance it is a wood particularly suited to very fine stains or finishes, further enhancing its natural resonance.So far it all sounds superb, right?  This leads to the question why Limba is not used more in guitar manufacturing.  The answer simply seems to be tradition.  Players simply expect to buy set-neck guitars made of mahogany, with or without a maple cap. PRS is one of the few manufacturers that has regularly offered Korina as an option on various models over the years. 


The KL-33, KL-380 and KL-1812 were a run of limited edition guitars made to highlight this stunning wood. 

-The KL-33 was based on the Santana platform with a 24.5” scale length, 24 frets, PRS tremolo and dual humbuckers.

-The KL-380 was a special model based on the Custom 22 platform with a 25” scale length, 22 frets, PRS tremolo and 3 P90s with a Strat style 5 way blade switch.

-The KL-1812 was based on a Custom 24 platform with 25” scale length, 24 frets, PRS wrap-over bridge and dual humbuckers. The KL-1812 is one of the very few 24 fret PRS models with a fixed bridge. 


The McCarty Korina is a well known model based on the McCarty platform, fixed bridge, 22 frets and available with either P90s or McCarty humbuckers.


The NF3 was released in 2010 at the same time as the DC3.  The NF3 featured a Korina body with Strat style contours and a Pattern Regular 22 fret maple neck.  The model featured a PRS tremolo and 25.25” scale length.  The model featured 3 Narrowfield humbuckers which used the same wire as 57/08s but were narrower than a regular humbucker. This meant that a smaller portion of the string was sensed by the pickup resulting in a brighter tone and increased clarity under gain.


Korina has also appeared in the SE range; specifically the SE Korina One, the SE Singlecut Korina and both of Orianthi’s signature models.

-The SE Korina One was based on the same platform as the SE one with a wrap-over bridge and single P90 pickup. 25” scale length and 22 frets.

-The SE Singlecut Korina has dual humbuckers and a wrap-over bridge. It features a 25” scale length, 22 frets and a bound neck.

-The pre-2012 SE Orianthi features a red sparkle finish, non-beveled flat top, tremolo, Korina body, maple neck and ebony fingerboard.  It has a 25” scale and 24 frets.

-The post-2012 SE Orianthi features a trans scarlet finish, bevelled top, tremolo, Korina body, maple neck and ebony fingerboard.  It has a 25” scale and 24 frets.


Today, for a “typical” PRS (such as a Custom, Singlecut or McCarty) Korina is sadly only available as a Private Stock option or occasionally through the Wood Library as a special run making it out of reach for the average PRS enthusiast.


If  you are prepared to go with something a little different to a “typical” PRS, and more F inspired, then the Brent Mason signature model features a Korina body, maple neck and choice of maple or rosewood fingerboard.  This model, in terms of price, sits between the CE-24 and Custom 22/24 and is currently the most affordable way of adding a Korina PRS guitar to your collection. Indeed, it is the only current production model that features Korina in the PRS range. 


This model is renowned as being a real tone-master and Swiss army knife guitar. 


The Brent Mason received 4.5 out of 5 stars in Guitarist Magazine and they said “Near flawless build quality. Excellent tones. Superb comfort and playability.”  The review also also mentioned the Brent Mason’s “generous acoustic resonance”, the hallmark trait of a Korina bodied guitar! 


The Brent Mason features:

-Korina body,

-22 frets,

-25.25” scale length,

-Pattern regular neck shape,

-Rock maple neck with choice of maple or rosewood fingerboard,

-Bird inlays,

-Tremolo,

-408N Treble and Bass pickups with a 305 middle pickup,

-5-way lever switch,

-Master volume and tones and 2 coil tap switches. 

Maple

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Wood Feature: Maple & It's Use in PRS Guitars

 15/12/16  

Maple, almost all of us love it and it’s often one of the biggest visual - and tonal - features on PRS guitars.  A good maple top can look hypnotic, popping and moving in the light with those valleys and peaks drawing the eye into the guitar.


Maple, and figured maple, has been used since the 17th century in instrument making, perhaps most famously on Stradivarius violins, violas and cellos.In terms of guitar manufacturing Les Paul famously wanted Gibson to make his model completely from maple, a prototype was built but it was unfeasibly heavy. 


As a result the Les Paul was redesigned to have a mahogany back and neck but with a maple cap, thus reducing the weight.  It’s a bit of an urban myth that it is the mahogany that makes Les Paul style guitars weighty but it is, in fact, the maple cap.  If you have ever played a carved top mahogany Les Paul style guitar next to a Maple capped version, and the mahogany is good quality material, then the maple capped version will almost certainly be heavier.


The same is true of PRS guitars.  A Standard 22 will almost always be slightly lighter than a similarly specced Custom 22.  There are, of course, exceptions but it is a fair generalisation.In the late 70s a young Mr Smith was making all mahogany guitars, based loosely on the Les Paul Special double cut shape, but with a few of his unique twists.  Then fate stepped in and his friend’s mothers was getting rid of some furniture.  One of these pieces of furniture was made of figured maple and Paul asked if he could have it.  He took the furniture and made a carved top for one of his guitars.   It was the first PRS to have a one piece figured maple top and is currently for sale from John Mann’s Guitar Vault.


So why did Les Paul, and latterly Paul Reed Smith, want maple tops on their guitars? Especially considering the early Les Pauls were sold in opaque finishes. From 1952-1957 Les Pauls were only available in Gold or Black and it wasn’t until 1959 that Gibson started actively searching for figured maple. Ted McCarty famously said that Gibson didn’t really think about figured maple when they first starting making sunburst Les Pauls and that if a pretty one came alone occasionally that was a bonus!


 Mahogany alone is warm in tone; round, full and has great sustain. Maple is bright sounding with a fast attack and also has good sustain. When the two are combined something magical happens to create the sound we all love and has helped voice the sound of rock over the last 50 years!


Paul himself has been on a 30+ year quest to find the absolutely correct ratio of mahogany to maple.  This was first started with the Private Stock Violin Guitars, then moved to the 408 and the quest culminates, for now, with the Paul’s guitar.  If you were to put a Violin Guitar, a 408 and a Paul’s guitar side to side you would notice very similar maple tops, but differing depths of mahogany, with the Paul’s Guitar having the highest ratio of mahogany to maple.  Another example is the DGT.  Dave Grissom’s ears are obviously different to Paul’s and you will notice that the DGT has a unique ratio of maple to mahogany, but that it differs to Paul’s idea of what that optimum ratio should be.


So, is all maple equal?  Not at all! There are two main species used by PRS.


The first is Eastern Hard Maple, also known as Hard Rock Maple.  The scientific name is Acer saccharum. This wood is much more dense, harder and tends not to have such quite striking figuring.  Common uses in PRS guitars are the tops on the original McCartys, the original CE Maple Tops and the current S2 Maple Top guitars.  Where a neck is maple that will almost always be Eastern Maple as it’s extra density gives it more strength and stability. Eastern Maple tends to be a little brighter tonally.  There are occasional pieces of Eastern Maple that have incredible flame but it is much more rare and correspondingly more expensive.


The second is Western Maple, also known as Soft Maple.  The scientific name is Acer macrophyllum. This wood is much softer and also tends to have much more pronounced figuring.  It is also ever so slightly warmer sounding, albeit still very bright.  This species is used on models such as Custom 22s, 24s, Singlecuts, Tremontis, 408s, DGTs, 513s, Paul’s Guitars and so on.There are a number of different kinds of figuring available. 


We most commonly see flame maple or quilted maple. More rarely we also see spalted maple and, very rarely in the PRS world, birdseye maple.In terms of maple it is fairly unique in that the figuring is not the same as grain.  On many figured maple tops if you look closely you can see the grain of the wood often running at 90 degrees to the figuring. 


The variations in figuring will be caused by many different factors during the life of the tree.  Spalted maple is the result of a fungus within the tree, birdseye maple is the result of the tree having its growth restricted in some way, causing the unique circular depressions.No one really knows what causes flame or quilt within a tree, other than it being some kind of growth deficit; specifically the transportation of a growth hormone not going quite right.Also, there is no way to know which trees will have the figuring before they are sawn into lumber.


Recent hypotheses suggest that flame or quilted figuring is the actually to do with genetics, in the same way that straight or curly hair is a genetic trait in Humans.


Unlike other tonewoods Maple grows relatively quickly - a blank for a book matched guitar top only needs to be from a tree 10 inches in diameter - so supply is plentiful and there are companies, such as Taylor Guitars and Pacific Rim Tonewoods that are actively trying to promote the growth of Maple trees that are genetically predisposed to display either flame or quilt figuring.  Their answer? CLONING!!!!!Unlike with sentient beings that are very hard to clone, plants are much easier.  Humans have been doing it for thousands of years.  Have you ever taken a cutting of a plant, such as a tomato plant, to grow your own plant?  If you have you have then cloned the original plant!  If you have ever eaten a banana, then you have eaten cloned fruit because they have been cultivated over the years to produce fruit without seeds.  If you have fruit without seeds the only way to get them to reproduce is to take a cutting to make a new plant.


When Pacific Rim Tonewoods take a cutting from a tree that was genetically predisposed to display figuring they will take the cutting to a fertile environment and this cutting will grow into a new tree genetically identical to the original tree, including that predisposition to display figuring! Although the trees will be genetically identical the way in which the new tree is grown will affect how the figuring happens during the growth and life of the tree, so the wood from the cloned trees will be different to that of the parent tree.  This approach should ensure that there is a plentiful supply of good quality tonewood that is also beautiful to behold for generations to come.