It’s Great To Be Australian – If You’re a Guitar Maker

by | Jul 19, 2015 | Blogs | 0 comments

Following on from my previous edition, I can report that the foundation stone of African Mahogany has been beautifully laid for my latest build, Chrysós. For those into mythology I guess I could say that this will be a reverse-journey back across the Styx. A tree is felled in the forest and taken by boat to lay in rest, sometimes for decades, before being honoured in a new life – one that will showcase its beauty, hopefully for centuries more.

By the way there are a number of timbers collectively known as mahogany; the one I’m using this time has the botanical moniker of Khaya ivorensis, as distinct from Swietenia macrophylla (Honduran Mahogany) which was commonly used in its original incarnation by boat-builders and instrument-makers such as Gibson. This mass-utilisation eventually led to it being placed under CITES export protection in 2003.

For the curious, you can read more about this under CITES bigleaf mahogany page.

To pick up the original thread here though – like many others having grown up worshipping the instruments manufactured by the big guitar companies – I believed that the Maple/Mahogany/Swamp Ash trio were the holy trinity of guitar timbers, not to be touched by the likes of our local offerings. Don’t get me wrong, these are great timbers, but they’re not the be-all and end-all. These timbers were easily attainable and plentiful for Gibson and Fender in their formative years, and it would have made good sense to use them before looking further afield.

The thing is though, we’re Australian! So why not apply the same logic here? Here’s a short list of some gorgeous local gear that I’ve used to great effect in the past:

Queensland Maple
Vic Ash/Tasmanian Oak
Silver Quandong – which of my guitars can you find this on?
Red Box
Australian Blackwood
Lacewood/Northern Silky Oak
New Guinea Rosewood (Indonesia and surrounds)

One thing that particularly attracts me to using different timbers is that it gives the grey matter a workout. There are so many factors to account for when choosing wood for a guitar! How it looks, the weight, how it will be finished (oil/wax or lacquer, stains), resistance to dents, toxicity (dermal or respiratory), workability. I’ve had to develop many successful techniques for dealing with the many moods of Aussie timbers – not great for production line-style business, but then if I was really concerned about making money I would have taken my dad’s advice and become a pro golfer.

Coming back around to my latest build, you’ll notice that I’m not using all Australian timbers in this… am I a hypocrite or what?! Actually my viewpoint is that I make the best decision based on what the customer wants, the desired uniqueness of the instrument, what great timbers are locally available (think sustainability), and my own experience on what will provide the best result for the player. Hence you’ll see that all of the photos on my main page feature blends of Australian and imported timbers… except for one! Have you guessed it yet?

Well I could write about great timbers until blue in the face, but this is a real household with dishes to do, dinner to cook and nappies to be laundered. So until my next instalment, I hope your guitar adventures bring you much pleasure and I’ll see you soon.


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