This blog post is a comparison of the tonal properties and durability of two wood types that are commonly used for guitars, Ovangkol and Rosewood. There are plenty of other woods out there, but these two have been the most popular in recent years so this article will focus on those.
The first thing to note about both Ovangkol and Rosewood as they relate to guitars is their weight. In general, heavier denser woods provide better tone because it takes more energy from your strings to produce a similar volume level. The next major consideration is how each type affects the sound vibrations coming off your guitar strings when you strum them with a pick or pluck them with your fingers. This can be very difficult to demonstrate, but it is easily experienced by playing a guitar made from each type of wood. Both types have their unique sound, and those who have been exposed to both can form opinions on which they prefer without being able to explain why.
The last consideration is durability. As a rule heavier woods are more durable than lighter ones because the amount of flexing and movement is reduced. However, this may not be a major factor if you’re playing your guitar amplified since the sound and vibrations from an amplifier will tend to weaken the wood over time (there are some notable exceptions – like basswood). You can learn more about tonewoods for electric guitars at Laoperaring.
- What is Ovangkol?
- What is Rosewood?
- Why Are They Both Becoming Popular?
- What Is It Used For?
- Why Is It Used For Fretboard?
- How Does Ovangkol Compare With Rosewood?
- What Does Ovangkol Sound Like?
- What Does Rosewood Sound Like?
- How Is Ovangkol Used As A Tonewood?
- How Is Rosewood Used as a Tonewood?
- Which Tone Woods Do I Want?
What is Ovangkol?
Ovangkol is a tonewood from the tropical rainforests of Africa. It is often referred to as African rosewood or Gaboon ebony, but this is inaccurate. While they look similar and have similar attributes, they are two different types of trees. Ovangkol comes from a tree in the Dalbergia family called Afzelia quanzensis, which grows mainly in Cameroon and Nigeria, where it was used for years by native peoples to make musical instruments. The wood has finally hit Western markets after being exported mainly to China up until very recently where most of the wood is going towards making electric guitars. Its most commonly known use prior to becoming a hot commodity in recent years was likely furniture.
What is Rosewood?
Rosewood is a rich, reddish-brown wood that is often used in the construction of furniture and other high-end applications. It can be found around the world, but East Indian Rosewood (Dalbergia latifolia), Brazilian Rosewood (Dalbergia Nigra) are most commonly known. These trees are also members of the Dalbergia family. They are difficult to find in their original form with age because they are so valuable which means they are almost always recycled for parts even when sourced from fallen “Mother Trees” rather than logged lumber. This is due to environmental pressures causing the endangerment of these species. It’s common to see upcycled planks of rosewood or guitar bodies made from recycled parts of the wood. Oftentimes, you will see older guitars that don’t have original parts and instead have recycled pieces from other guitars or furniture which is not as desirable but still works perfectly fine for its intended purpose as it would likely even outlast the original part if cared for properly.
Why Are They Both Becoming Popular?
The answer to this question may cover more than you need for your article, but I’ll provide some high-level information regardless:
Ovangkol and rosewood (among plenty of others) are on a long list of tonewoods that were typically only used in high-end instruments such as those found in professional orchestras or with wealthy individuals who could afford expensive items. However, since the 1970s and the dawn of solid-body electric guitars, we find a lot of materials being used not just for their acoustic qualities but also they’re visuals. Many guitar companies were driven out of business by cheap labor overseas and as such needed to either close up shop or look for cheaper alternatives with similar-looking results. This is how manufacturers started using more exotic wood species such as ovangkol and rosewood among many others for visual aesthetics in place of ebony, maple, spruce, etc.
What Is It Used For?
The grain patterns on each piece can vary greatly which means no two pieces will be alike even if they come from the same tree or log. That’s what makes it so attractive to people who desire a more unique instrument. It’s a much darker, richer color than many types of rosewood which gives it a bit more visual appeal as well.
Why Is It Used For Fretboard?
Some instruments, particularly solid-body electric guitars use Ovangkol for the fretboard because it has a bright sound to it and is smooth to the touch. Some people claim that this wood will help your playing because of how nice it feels or because it has lower density compared to other hardwoods which result in better acoustics.
How Does Ovangkol Compare With Rosewood?
In favor of Rosewood: More consistent grain patterns – pieces from the same tree are less likely to vary greatly in appearance or quality More traditional – due to its age and popularity it has been around the block a few times – meaning that if you want to reproduce authentic-looking gear, Rosewood is definitely going to be your go-to. It’s also much easier to find Rosewood than Ovangkol, especially in larger sizes which means you can generally get a better deal for less money.
In favor of Ovangkol: Generally speaking, it’s cheaper than Rosewood so if the price is an issue, this is likely the way to go, However, those who rely on bass frequencies will have a tougher time with Ovangkol as many compare it rather unfavorably to Maple wood in terms of how well it conveys low-end frequencies. On the other hand, guitars that are built for recording or solos often use Ovangkol as it tends to work well with the human ear. Overall, they are both very similar-sounding hardwoods with each having its own unique twists that can be better described alongside an instrument using either wood, which brings us to our next topic…
What Does Ovangkol Sound Like?
Before the current renaissance of electric guitar, ovangkol was mainly used in making furniture. It is very strong, dense, and heavy wood with a texture similar to rosewood. This makes it ideal for fretboards on acoustic guitars, which are subject to being constantly pressed, twisted, and bent due to their proximity to the body. However, burn marks from cigarette smoking have always made them look unattractive in acoustics. Now that most electric players are eschewing tobacco products at shows it seems most guitarists don’t mind having an awfully looking fretboard that feels great under your hand. So ovangkol is starting to appear more often as an option on electric guitars (it has had some appearances as a neck wood on acoustics as well, but is rare).
What Does Rosewood Sound Like?
Rosewood comes from a number of different trees. The most common source for guitarists would be Brazilian rosewood, which has been protected by CITES since 1975 and is now very difficult to legally acquire. Many guitar makers use Indian rosewood instead because it’s more readily available and roughly half the price of Brazilian rosewood. All these woods share similar qualities with each other, but there are some differences between them as well – especially when it comes to tonal characteristics. They all have great sustain and crispy harmonics with pronounced treble frequencies. Due to this, they can be unforgiving woods that sometimes sound harsh and brittle. For this reason, they are often paired with warmer tonewoods like mahogany and Korina to balance out the sound.
How Is Ovangkol Used As A Tonewood?
The tonal characteristics of ovangkol are closer to rosewood than Brazilian or Indian – it’s considered warm, but not dark – so it works well with mahogany and Korina for making guitars that get a nice balance between highs and lows (think old school Gibson tones). It is also very responsive to string bends due to its stiffness which means you can really dig in without having notes ring sharp or fade away into mushiness. The only major drawback of ovangkol vs rosewood is it doesn’t age well. It’s a softwood that tends to get easily scratched, especially near the headstock. As a result, this is a great option for players who want all the tonal benefits of rosewood at a lower price point or don’t mind having to refinish their guitar from time to time.
How Is Rosewood Used as a Tonewood?
Rosewoods are one of the most popular woods used in making electric guitars because they sound bright and clear with high harmonics that really cut through other instruments on stage. They work best with mahogany body blocks but over the years have been paired with many others including maple, Korina, and alpaca just to name a few. The reason rosewood works so well with a mahogany body is it has a similar density and weight, which prevents the guitar from becoming too heavy or bottom-heavy. Rosewood will generally give you more high-end than ovangkol, but sometimes that’s just what you want in order to get that bright, hard rock tone.
Which Tone Woods Do I Want?
The main difference here is obviously price. Ovangkol is typically more affordable than rosewood and it also has some similar tonal properties such as brightness and sustains, especially when paired with mahogany. But if you want a perfectly clear tone without too much high-end treble, you’ll probably want to stick with rosewood. On the other hand, if you like having a lot of bite and crunch in your sound and don’t mind sacrificing some clarity at times for that hard rock edge, then ovangkol might be worth considering over rosewood.
So what should you get? If you’re on a budget this isn’t really an issue because these two kinds of wood are both good choices, but if you do have some extra money to spend, then go for rosewood. However, there are some great ways to get the best of both worlds by using a combination of ovangkol and rosewood on your fretboard. You can even mix in some ebony or maple depending on your preference.
And that’s exactly what PRS Guitars does with their SE line where they use an ovangkol/maple fretboard combo along with mahogany body blocks which results in bright clarity without being too edgy or brittle. It’s really one of the best sounding combinations you’ll find at any price point so it makes sense that PRS has made it part of their tonewood choices for this model.
Ovangkol is the perfect tonewood for fretboards. It’s hard-wearing, durable and has a distinctive sound that lends itself to both acoustic guitars and electric guitars. You can find it in all shapes & sizes too! Rosewood on the other hand is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a more traditional tone – but make sure your guitar manufacturer knows how to work with this wood type as rosewood needs extra attention during construction due to its sensitivity to changes in humidity or temperature. If you need help deciding which tonewood will be best suited for your project, get in touch with us today! We’ll match up one of our expert luthiers with someone who has great knowledge about each material so they can take the time to help you decide.