Black Cherry. Tonewood Profile.

Prunnus Serotina | Tonewood Profile | “Black Cherry”

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Cherry actually can refer to several species of prunnus species with the most common in use for instruments being  Black Cheery or Prunus serotina

Quick Facts
Scientific name: Prunnus Serotina
Trade names: Cherry, Black Cherry, New England Mahogany.
Janka: 950 approx
Uses: Back and sides, veneer, necks
RIYL: Maples
Bling factor: Curl
Availability: Common
CITES status: Not listed. No restrictions
Note: (RIYL) Recommended If You Like

John Arnold Guitars
(click for fullsize)

Figured Cherry Back & Sides on a John Arnold Guitar

Natural History

Black Cherry attains heights of 30 metres and a trunk diameter of approximately 1 metre in it’s native range from Eastern North America to to Texas and central Florida.

It now considered an invasive specifies in Europe where it was widely introduced in the 20th century.

Today, it is largely used as a food tree as well as being processed into veneer and timber for the furniture trade. It is of course famous for it’s sweet fruit but also for the poisonous potential of it’s seeds. Like apricots, cyanide can be extracted from the seeds.

Physical properties

General: Black Cherry is widely considered the equal of mahogany in the USA. It is stiff ,strong and easy to work with a high natural heartwood resistance to rot.

Appearance: The heartwood varies from a red-brown to light red with flecks and gun pockets being common.It can display curly figure and is UV sensitive- changing to a reddish-brown mahogany tone. It has a rich and satin like luster.

Working: Black Cherry has a fine grain and a strong likeness to mahogany- it is sometimes referred to as New England Mahogany.

Values. The Janka of Black Cherry is approximately 950 and the specific gravity is 0.55.

As a tonewood…

It is used for back an sides for guitars, where it compares favourably to the true rosewoods.

Al Carruth is a fan and says: “I tend to think of cherry as in the ‘maple’ class of tonewoods; maybe a bit less ‘dry’ sounding. Most cherry is very close in density and hardness to soft maple, but some of it can be very hard. Often the hard stuff is what I call ‘enriched cherry’: it has buckshot in it. You don’t usually actually see the shot; that dissolves pretty rapidly in the acidity of the sap. What you do see is the tracks of the shot in the wood, and, quite often a lot of somewhat random figure.” Reference: here

Tim McKnight is also a fan and says: “Cherry has a wonderful aroma as it wafts around the shop as it is being worked. It will burn easily so you have to pay attention when thickness sanding or machining it with high speed cutting tools.

To my ear, the tone is both clean and articulate leaning toward maple with more sustain and clarity. Its not overly bright just crisp. IME it pairs well with warmer sounding soundboards like Sitka, Engelmann or Cedar. Its a highly under appreciated tone-wood for sure.

Subjective tone…

I would broadly characterise the tone of Cherry as falling between Maple and Mahogany- it has more distinct bass and more midrange than Maple but has better clarity and balance than Honduran.


Stocks of Cherry are good at the present time with good availability from sustainably managed sources.

Links/ References:
Rc tonewoods

John Arnold, Tim McKnight
Wood Workers Source

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