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South American Rosewood

South American Rosewood

by John Jordan

Originally published in American Lutherie #4, 1985 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2000



Rosewoods are among the most beautiful of all woods. Although they are native to tropical and semitropical climates around the world, we will deal in this article with those native to Central and South America. They are typically hard, very dense, and often resinous woods weighing 50–80 lb./cu. ft. One cubic foot (cu. ft.) is equal to 12 bd. ft. Because of their weight, they are expensive to ship; consequently the number of South American rosewoods available to the wood market in the U.S. will be greater than the number of African or Asian varieties due to our proximity to South and particularly Central America.

To quickly dispel some misconceptions: rose­wood trees do not produce rose-like flowers, nor are they close relatives of the Rosecae (flowering rose) family. The name rosewood is derived from the fact that the wood, especially when fresh cut, exudes a rose-like scent.

Several varieties of rosewoods were being exported for furniture, fine cabinetry, musical instruments, fine carving, and turnery long before botanical identification was established in the tropics. A Swedish botanist named Nicholas Dalberg (1735–1820) was credited with discovering that these rosewoods were close botanical relatives, hence the genus is named Dalbergia. The genus Dalbergia has over 300 species. I have gathered information on over 100 species, 15 of which, including the most popular ones, are represented here.

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