Mahogany: a Prized Beauty

Mahogany: a Prized Beauty

Prized for centuries because of its beauty, its strength-to-weight ratio, and its rot-resistance, more recently Mahogany has also gained notoriety for its qualities as a tonewood.
MahoganyLet’s be honest: Mahogany is just beautiful. The warmth of its color and its lovely grain patterns are a huge part of why it is so favored among furniture builders. In addition to its use in fine furniture, the wood became popular with boat builders, as its considerable size (this tropical variety of this hardwood can reach a magnificent 150 feet tall) was matched by its remarkable physical properties. It is strong for its weight; the less the ship weighs for a given strength, the more cargo can be carried. Its longevity in wet conditions is valued as well.

What does all this have to do with its effectiveness as a tonewood? As we’ve observed many times, a Site:1 is not just a quality listening experience; it is also visually appealing, technologically advanced and future-proofed. For many, the beauty of this traditional wood is a key consideration. But it also has been used by guitar builders for some decades now; it is thought to impart a highly desirable “woody” tone, with good resonance and clarity, and exceptional balance across the frequency spectrum. Science has not given us an explanation for this, but there are a few unique qualities of the wood we could hypothesize are contributing factors. This is a bit geeky, but hang in there. 

Each year, a tree grows by adding a new layer, called a growth ring, around the perimeter of its trunk, just under its protective bark. Each of these new layers is delineated by a soft, usually lighter summer ring, and a harder, darker winter ring, a function of the movement of sap throughout the growing cycle. These layers are oriented vertically up and down the tree, to enable the movement of sugars created through photosynthesis in the tree’s leaves and nutrients from the soil. In some species, this vertical orientation is tilted sideways, creating a spiral pattern up and around the trunk. In even fewer species, this spiral pattern reverses itself after a number of growing seasons, creating what is called interlocking grain. This is what creates a prized grain pattern called “ribbon”; Mahogany is one of these species. You won’t see this pattern unless the board you are observing has a particular cut called quarter-sawn; plain cut boards show a more conventional (but no less beautiful) grain pattern. But the interlocking grain is there nonetheless.

Plain cut MahoganyWood that has interlocking grain is particularly challenging to work effectively, especially when it presents in the ribbon pattern, as the direction of the grain reverses direction multiple times across a board. But we suspect that the mechanical conjoining of these wood fibers creates an ability to transmit sound that is unique; that somehow the way the wood is interlocked enables a strength-to-weight ratio that is ideal for the passage of sound. Just as dense metals conduct heat readily (why copper is valued as a cooking pot), so the physical properties of a certain wood species conducts or transmits sound in ways that sound good to us.

Whatever the reason, to us Mahogany is particularly faithful in re-producing sound. The attack, sustain and decay, note separation, articulation; all seem very natural and authentic. It’s not everyone’s favorite, and it certainly has its own unique appearance which may or may not fit with your décor. But if no other variable brings you to another selection, we think Mahogany is a great choice.


Learn more about our other tonewoods

Black Walnut ›

Cherry ›

Maple ›