November 29, 2007

Brazilian Rosewood

"Why is it so expensive?" is a question that we field from time to time.

Perhaps the most sought after tonewood - and certainly one of the traditional favorites used in guitar construction - Brazilian Rosewood has been scarce for almost twenty years now.

In the early 1990s, Brazilian Rosewood (Dalbergia Nigra) was added to the list of endangered species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). As an endangered species, the harvesting and exporting of new timber was largely banned.

To obtain Brazilian Rosewood today, it needs to be wood that was both harvested and exported before the ban or wood that was harvested pre-ban and has the required documentation of its provenance to permit exporting today. Also allowed for export are repurposed timbers and harvested stumps (or more accurately, taproots.)

The Brazilians and the international community take this ban very seriously. In October of this year, 350 federal officers in Brazil arrested 23 people and served 67 search and seizure warrants for the illegal extraction and exporting of this endangered species.

The builders represented at The Podium take this ban very seriously as well, and only build with certified or pre-ban timbers.

So, the price of legally obtained Brazilian Rosewood, of a quality acceptable to a world-class guitar builder, is affected by supply and demand.

It is a very beautiful wood, often deep brown with red or reddish hues and black figuring. It is rather dense, and this density results in tightly focused bass notes and ringing, bell-like trebles. It looks and sounds great.

Recently, we’ve had the good fortune of having a number of beautiful, Brazilian guitars in the shop. They have been wonderful instruments.

While there are certainly other exceptional tonewoods, with each new guitar featuring Brazilian back and sides, I can’t help but think that these represent the end of an era.

May we learn from the past as we embark on the future.

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