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by Roger Sperline

Originally published as Guild of American Luthiers Data Sheet #268, 1984 and Lutherie Woods and Steel String Guitars, 1998

Bubinga is a hard, heavy wood which may be suitable for instrument backs and sides. It is as dense as Bolivian rosewood (Machaerium scleroxylon) and seems as hard. The piece I have has a beautiful mottle figure and a general tiger-eye sheen. I chose bubinga because it was available locally, relatively inexpensive, and very hard. I’d only made four classical guitars before trying it. All in all, I think I had good luck.

Several woods are called bubinga, including Guibourtia demeusei, G. tessmannii, Didelotia africana, Copaifera spp., and Brachystegia spp. All are called African rosewood and are reddish-brown. I don’t know which one I have.

Despite having many evenly-spaced coarse pores as red oak has, it has a specific gravity of 0.94. My piece was chosen from many, over half of which had evenly-spaced, generally straight growth rings. It is easy to obtain 8" widths for resawing into guitar backs. What makes a challenge is that the grain interlocks randomly, turning at times over 60° to the direction the tree grew, then turning back. In other words, though the growth rings are smooth and parallel, the runout changes severely from inch to inch. This gives a mottle pattern even in well-quartered slices, and causes some of the pores to penetrate a 3/32" plank. Shellac and varnish go right through some of them.

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