Vanuatu Blackwood. Tonewood profile

Acacia Heterophylla | Tonewood Profile | “Vanuatu Blackwood”

Acacia Heterophyllia. Tonewood Profile. Vanuatu Blackwood

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Quick Facts
Scientific name: Acacia Heterophylla
Trade names: Vanuatu Blackwood, Highland Tamarid
Janka: 1200 approx
Uses: Tops, Veneer, Back and sides
RIYL: Walnut, Mahogany
Bling factor: Curl and colour variation is not uncommon
Availability: Uncommon
CITES status: Not listed. No restrictions

Note: (RIYL) Recommended If You Like

Acacia Heterophyllia. Tonewood Profile. Vanuatu Blackwood

Natural History

Vanuatu Blackwood is endemic to Reunion Island thriving in humid forests between 1000 to 2000 metres altitude. It has relatively quick growth of about 1 meter per annum and is often planted as an ornamental along roads, the flowers also provide nectar for honey bees.


The wood is valued for construction, joinery and handicrafts. In particular it was a key component in building small boats until recently. Important stands still remain in Reunion, covering around 7500 ha of natural and secondary growth forest.

Physical properties

The wood is fine-grained with heartwood of pink-yellow to orange-brown tones and often display fiddleback figure. The janka of Vanuatu Blackwood is around 1200 and it has a specific gravity of 0.55.

As a tonewood…

Unlike the more plentiful Koa, Vanutau Blackwood guitars are rare, although I recall playing a few in the UK. Richard Cross of Shapelywood guitars had this to say:”As far as my memory of working with the blackwood, well it is a long time ago, and it is the only time I have worked it. Having said that, I have just found a blank for a soprano ukulele that I jointed (at 15 degrees) for use some time, on the principle of never throwing any wood away if it could be useful.

It is a very hard wood, but machines well, and can be made very thin. Routing makes a very clean edge with no tearing. Finishing takes a lot of fine sanding and virtually no filling is needed if the sanding is taken down to about 1000 grit or better. The whole panel will shine and have wonderful tactile features long before any finish is applied. The grain and the rays at right angles glisten as for good koa or curly maple.”.

Subjective tone…

I would broadly characterise the tone of Vanuatu Blackwood as being similar to Australian Blackwood & Koa, with a woody, open tone somewhere between mahogany and rosewood


As a rare semi-managed species, Vanuatu Blackwood stocks are still available although in very limited quantities. Alternatives exist, namely close cousins Australian and Koa. Read more about Australian Blackwood here and Koa here.

©Terence Tan.

References: Wikipedia

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Shapelywood guitar courtesy of Richard Cross.

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