“The Tree” Mahogany. Feature Article.

 

Honduran Jungle

Tonewoods Database

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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The Maya Forest is a lowland tropical rain forest boasting 375 plant species found nowhere else on earth. It stretches from the Caribbean coast of Mexico, through Belize and into Honduras and the Peten region of Guatemala.

In 1965, within the heart of this jungle, a group of loggers came across an exceptional mahogany tree. Measuring 10 ft wide at the mid-trunk and 50 at the base, it had a spiraled back. This was a sign the wood could be highly figured.

The loggers camped at the base of the giant and felled it with axes. But they were robbed of their prize by fate. On the way down, the tree twisted and landed in a steep ravine. Two D7 tractors were brought in to extricate the fallen tree, but to no avail.

So there it lay until 1971 when a sawmill owner called Robert Novak heard of the giant figured mahogany tree. In 1983, after some searching, he found the log. The tree was halved then quartered with the resulting eight pieces were dragged, carried and floated for 200 miles to a steam powered bandsaw mill.

 

Novak outbid several veneer manufacturers to saw the logs into timber. The cutting operation lasted 12 days and yielded 12,000 board feet of lumber of which one third was a bilster/quilt figure, another third had a waxy quilt figure and the remaining length, a combination of the two. This wood was air dried to 35% on site then kiln dried in Miami. Half the shipment was sold direct from Miami and the other through Handloggers Hardwood in California

 

A lot of interest was generated through Mark Berry’s article in the sept/oct 1985 issue of Fine Woodworking. Mark, now a noted Classical and Flamenco luthier, had purchased wood for several projects during his time in a woodworking firm.


Today, boards of this striking tonewood continue to be sawn and used by luthiers such as Breedlove guitars, R Taylor Guitars, Brock Poling and
Ken Miller. Ken has worked several sets of the tree mahogany [see sidebox] says “it’s more brown than red and is denser and stiffer than usual for mahogany. It sounds closer to rosewood than mahogany.”


R Taylor Guitar with tree mahogany

© Terence Tan.
Pictures
©
R Taylor Guitars, Jay Howlett, Ken Miller, Breedlove guitars, Wikipedia
Original article “Quilted Mahogany” by Mark Berry in 1985 Sept/Oct Fine Wood Working magazine

Any infringement of copyright or errors is entirely unintentional- although we try very hard not to make them. Any guitars represented remain property of their current owners. Any issues should be address to: writers@guitarbench.com. We will attempt to resolve these issues quickly.

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12 comments

  1. Yiannis says:

    Simply stunning….
    Thanks for your articles Terence.You’re doing a great job,which is much appreciated.

  2. cadam7777777 says:

    Great illustration with stunning pictures! I played guitars with such mahogany and I remembered it didn’t sound like the usual mahogany tone I know. The beauty of the grain, great curvy contrast created by the quilted pattern will not fail to capture your attention, indeed such guitar is an object of desire. Thanks for giving it the attention it deserves.

  3. I’m just simply amazed with the guitars! They’re well-designed and i love the fact that they’re made of first rate wood. Thanks for this well-laid out article.

  4. Treemendous Article! My Master Teachers called this “Unobtainium” & Mr. Novak himself decided to not pay so much attention to the odds & again managed to do what most would consider impossible!! I plan to get back to the Peruvian Broadleaf Evergreen Lowland Amazonian Rainforest again soon & cooperate with the native people in legally securing these rare types of figured trees as well as replant many times over to help replenish what man has destroyed… In doing so we can help secure a better & brighter future for the Natives like the rare & only “Yagua” Indians we encountered on the tropical rainforest biology expedition while attending Pittsburg State University. Namaste’ _/\_ :D danielamusic@sbcglobal.net

  5. terence says:

    Thank you all for your kind words! I’ve been working away quietly on this for sometime so I’m pleased you all find it useful and informative.

  6. Jay Howlett says:

    Terence, great article on my favorite wood.

    I happy to report the big 13 1/2 by 3 foot board was seen off from it’s home in Texas out to California. I think it is the was board in the wild, It came right from Robert Novak to him to be. He’d had the the board since 1994.

  7. David Baker says:

    I have two custom Martin guitars made from the tree. The tone of this wood is warm in the bass and bright in the treble. The wood from this tree will always be a best kept secret in our world of wonder.

  8. M says:

    It’s been 27 years since the tree was rescued and ‘sawn us under’. Obviously, the wood has become more valuable…
    I am in possession of several boards of ‘quilted mahagony’ – I’d like to know what it is worth. Would it be worth more
    if I have it cut into veneers or “don’t touch it!”

  9. Jay Howlett says:

    M,

    I’m sure you’ve gotten replies. Boards from “The Tree” can run about $800 a board foot depending on the board. I know of one stash that is priced at more. I paid less. Having had a bit of this wood I’d love to see photos. I just helped one guy who bought some.

    There is a difference between “Quilted Mahogany” and “The Tree”. What others call quilted mahogany is not the same, not as prized and not as valuable. It can however make nice guitars.

    Jay

  10. Graham Hein says:

    Yes this is truly excptional wood, both visually as well as tonally. I had a custom guitar built by Roger Stuckless in Ontario with a set I got off Todd at Allied lutherie a few years back. My Engelmann spruce master grade top…what a dream. Sure would’nt mind some more…

  11. Rob Gower says:

    There has several other sources of highly figured mahogany that some times is represented as being from the “tree”. I sold a small lot highly figured quilted mahogany guitar sets to CF Martin in the early 90′s that they used for a limited edition guitar. I’ve never heard of anyone paying $800 a board foot for any raw lumber but it’s not impossible. I’ve seen prices as low as $40 up to $100 a board foot. When I purchased my material it was in the $20-$25 range. In any event, nice article and keep up the good work!

  12. Jay Howlett says:

    Rob, yes I bought a few of your sets that were excellent figure that made me some very nice guitars. Some sets With the right figure and some provenance for “The Tree” I’ve paid $800 a board foot for. It’s hard to imagine 14 foot by 39″ boards completely figured not being from “The Tree”. I have purchased 4 large boards over the last 12 years or so. All with provenance that leads to “The Tree”, Of course it wasn’t called “The Tree” until years after it was felled. It’s was just “quilted mahogany”.

    When “The Tree” went on the market in the 80′s it was for around $25/$30 a board foot. I paid $350 for my first “Tree” Guitar set in 1993. It was a BIG tree.

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