European Yew. Tonewood Database

Taxus baccata| Tonewood Profile | ”Yew”


Taxus baccata. European Yew.

Tonewoods Database

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European and Pacific Yew are very similar species, in terms of physical properties.

Quick Facts
Scientific name: Taxus baccata
Trade names: Yew
Janka: approx 1,600 lbs-force
Uses: Back & sides, drop tops, veneer
RIYL: Maple, Walnut
Bling factor: Often very plain
Availability: Limited
CITES status: Not listed. No restrictions

Natural History

Taxus baccata. European Yew.European Yew is a very slow growing small/medium evergreen attaining heights of 28m and a trunk diameter of up to 4m. Some stands in Scotland are estimated to be approximately 2,000 years old. The fruits are soft, bright red and berry-like. Whilst the seed itself is extremely poisonous, the aril not harmful and very sweet tasting.

The Yew has been exploited throughout history for it’s timber as well as for taxanes. In the Middle Ages, yew was extensively harvested for bowstaves whereas more recently, chemotherapy agents called Taxanes have been extracted from the leaves of European Yew & bark of the Pacific Yew.


Adrian Lucas
(click for fullsize)Nigel Forster guitar model J
Arbour Model
Douglas fir top

English yew b/s

Read more about this guitar here.


This species is threatened by disease as well as demand from pharmaceutical companies. However, conservation efforts are ongoing.

Physical properties

European Yew as a narrow, white sapwood which is sharply demarcated from the orange-brown heartwood. It takes an excellent finish, but is prone to tearing especially in cross-grained material.

It has a Janka rating of approximately 1,600 lbs-force and a specific gravity of 670kg/m3. It can be stable and durable although the sapwood is susceptible to woodworm attack and many newer trees have spiraled trunks creating problems especially when bending sides.

As a tonewood…

As a tonewood, Yew has been only infrequently used and predominantly by the UK luthiers. In my experience it is modestly difficult to work with, although care needs to be taken when bending the sides.
UK based luthier Adrian Lucas says “the colour ranges from pale brown to purple in the heartwood and a creamy white in the sapwood. The grain patterns are quite striking as this is a softwood, being evergreen, although it has a density higher than many hardwoods.It grows in quite a twisted fashion and has a lot of knots and cracks. This makes it difficult to plane without tearing, so it’s best scraped and sanded. It’s also quite difficult to find in large sizes that are free of large knots and cracks, so I tend to make multi-piece backs using only the clear wood.” (read more about Adrian Lucas here)

Subjective tone…

I have found it to be appealing tonally with maple like clarity but very sweet, intimate and appealing overtones. Adrian Lucas finds it “imparts a woody, springy quality to the tone of a guitar.”


Very limited.

Tonewoods Database

Adrian Lucas

©Terence Tan.

Pictures copyright individual holders. Lucas guitar picture courtesy of Adrian Lucas.

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