Cocobolo. Tonewood Database.

Dalbergia Retusa| Tonewood Profile | “Cocobolo”

Alberico guitars. Cocobolo back.

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Quick Facts
Scientific name: Dalbergia retusa
Trade names: Cocobolo

Janka: 1136
Uses: Backs, veneer
RIYL: Rosewoods
Bling factor: Can have some figure
Availability: Steady
CITES status: Not listed. No restrictions

Note: (RIYL) Recommended If You Like
Bling factor rated out of a maximum of 10, based on the most highly figured sets we have seen.

We present and highly recommend viewing the pdf version of this article first as it contains the most up to date information and more photos.
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J.Kinnaird GuitarJohn Kinnaird Cocobolo guitar A highly figured Cocobolo set on a Kinnaird guitar.  This Cocobolo is highly unusual in that it features lots of color variation as well as curly figure.
Check out the entire guitar here.

Natural History

Dalbergia retusa is the most common rosewood sold as Cocobolo. It ranges in the drier  elevations of Central America, from Panama to southwestern Mexico. It is a small to medium tree with heights of 45 to 60 feet (13 to 18 m) and trunk diameters of 20 to 24 inches (50 to 60 cm).


Populations of Cocobolo have been reduced through logging although populations are protected in reserves and parks.

Physical properties

Cocobolo has variable heartwood coloration from bright orange to dark brown and purple. Oxidation darkens the lighter colors and merges them with the darker which can produce a deep red with irregular markings of purple or black..

The heartwood is straight grained, occasionally interlocked and very fine, oily texture. It has a Janka of 1136 lbf and a specific gravity of 1.0.

As a tonewood…

Cocobolo is a common option in most luthier’s lists, with it’s own beauty and tone. The density and it’s ability to take a fine finish.

Chris Bozung is a big fan ans writes:”Cocobolo is probably closer in tone, color and figure to the finest-grade Brazilian Rosewood used on the classic guitars of yesteryear than any tone wood available today, and for far less money than the inferior-quality Brazilian currently available.  Cocobolo offers everything Brazilian Rosewood offers, and more: increased power, increased sustain, increased volume, along with beauty of color and figure not available in Brazilian Rosewood for years. “

Subjective tone…

Cocobolo back and sides characteristically have an abundace of low overtones resulting in a complex bottom end and strong upper register. The overall effect is also a bell like tone with clear, slow decaying harmonics.

Additional Info…

Bruce Sexuaer says:

“I first encountered Cocobolo in 1974 when I made a trip toward South America looking for Brazilian Rosewood. I had seen samples of it brought back from Mexico by a Lady Friend as she thought I might be interested. I found my way to the Indian Village/Tourist Enclave of Yelapa an hours boat ride south of Puerto Vallarta where a native of nearby El Tuito, Javier Rodriquez, was making a living turning Cocobolo knick-knacks for the tourists.

I hired him and his chainsaw as well as a local Indian guide who claimed to know of a large diameter trunk that had been suspended across a gully in the mountains for at least 75 years. We rode into the mountains for several hours on mules and indeed, the situation was as described. We cut several bolts from a 2′ diameter trunk and loaded them onto the mules and led them back down from the mountains.

Locally, the wood is called Tampiciran (Tom-Pee-See-Ron), and is said to be sexed. Mostly females which have the red/black color most common, but also some males which have a much more brown character. Unless I’ve turned it around over the years. In any case this might help explain the nearly jet black stuff I have built several instruments from. People like to say that Cocobolo is the closest thing to BRW, or even that it is better.

I think that it is certainly harder and more brittle, both as a material and in it’s sound. Most Cocobolo guitars I’ve heard seem to have so much cutting edge that they sound harsh to me, but there are things to be done about that, and my last several please me just fine.purple. Oxidation darkens the lighter colors and merges them with the darker which can produce a deep red with irregular markings of purple or black..”


Steady. Several sources apparently managed sustainably.

Tonewoods Database

Links/ References:
Woodworker’s Source
Chris Bozung
John Kinnaird
Rc tonewoods- Photo at beginning of article

©Terence Tan.

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