African Blackwood. Tonewood database.

Dalbergia melanoxylon| Tonewood Profile | ”African Blackwood”

Dalbegia Melanoxylon African Blackwood

Tonewoods Database

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Not to be confused with Australian Blackwood (an Acacia) or Malaysian Blackwood (an Ebony), African Blackwood is a true rosewood from East/South Africa with a threatened future.

Quick Facts
Scientific name: Dalbergia melanoxylon
Trade names: African Blackwood
Janka: ~3500lbf
Uses: Back & sides, drop tops, veneer
RIYL: Rosewoods
Bling factor: Tends to be Homogenous
Availability: Patchy
CITES status: Not listed. No restrictions

Natural History

Bashkin GuitarAfrican Blackwood
African Blackwood
This beautifully made guitar by Michael Bashkin has an African Blackwood back and sides. Check out the entire guitar here.

Dalbergia melanoxylon is small semi-deciduous tree/ shrub. It is often found in the open woodlands of East and Southern Africa. Melanoxylon attains heights of 20 m in height and trunk diameters of 1m.

The trees are relatively drought and fire resistant with a large root system. It is slow growing requiring an estimated 70-100 years to reach a size suitable for harvesting- plantation trees in Senegal took 7 years to attain heights of 4m.

African Blackwood is widely used throughout Africa in herbal remedies and is greatly prized for it’s timber for the tonewood and carving trade. Most of the timber felled locally enters into the tourist trade as cravings. In 2002, the value of crafts containing African Blackwood was estimated at US$100 million.

Status

African Blackwood is has been successfully introduced to India and Western Australia, it is under severe pressure due to over harvesting. In Kenya, commercial stocks are now exhausted and in many parts of it’s range is considered threatened. It has been eradicated in Australia where it behaved as an agressive weed.

Physical properties

The heartwood is dark brown to purplish black and sharply demarcated from the yellowish white sapwood. It has a straight grain, and very fine texture with an oily surface.It has a high tolerance to climate fluctuations.

It has a Janka rating of around 3500 and a specific gravity of 1.8. It contains quinonoid constituents which may be the cause of an allergic contact dermatitis in woodworkers exposed to African Blackwood.

As a tonewood…

As a tonewood, African Blackwood has been championed as a substitute to Brazilian Rosewood although it’s rarity and pricing is similar to Rio. It holds a finish very well but is difficult to work with, being hard but brittle.
Traditionally, it has been the choice for woodwind instruments where it’s ease of turning + stability are fully utilised.

Subjective tone…

I would classify this wood as providing a dark and bell-like overtone content with a slow response.

Availability

Very limited in large sizes.

Quotes from the makers

John Mayes says “I’ve used it as well and it’s very nice. Powerful. Crisp, but robust. It’s also heavy. I prefer Brazilian, but AFBW is nothing to sneeze at.”

Kevin Gallagher says: “My experience has been that it bends very well in most cases, but there has been an occasional piece that can be stubborn. Tonally, I would say that it can be as good as a great set of Brazilian when matched with the right top and allowed to make its contribution to the overall tone of the guitar that it’s used in. It has that nice quick bottom and great harmonic blanket that Brazilian lends to the final complexity of the guitar in tandem with thecontribution of the top and the builder’s work to maximize it.”

Tonewoods Database

References:
Wikipedia
Prota database
US deparment of agriculture-  topical timbers of the world.
http://www.mpingoconservation.org

©Terence Tan.

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