Roger Williams Guitars

Tone-wood options


The colour and figure of wood varies enormously, and I was reluctant to provide these samples as they could be misleading.  However, they are reasonably indicative of the colour and figure available in each species so I gave in!

Woods for soundboard or table

Alpine or German Spruce (Picea excelsa, P. abies)

Sourced from high altitude European countries in the Alps, Germany, Bosnia, Ukraine etc.  Creamy, white  slightly golden-coloured in appearance. Stiff and close grained . Grain width is often variable but this does not detract from its tone unless very wide.  May take several years to develop a full range but rich in harmonic content.  The top-wood of choice for high-end Classical, Flamenco and fingerstyle-acoustic guitars.

Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata)

Grown mainly in the NW America, Canada and Alaska.  The colour ranges from light-tan to reddish-brown to chocolate-brown sometimes with colour variation and dark streaking.  Grain is usually close and consistent.  Produces a strong fundamental tone that suits some playing styles.  A soft wood that needs some care and dents easily.  Well suited to classical guitars and acoustic players needing a strong, clear sound.

Engelmann SpruceEngelmann SpruceEngelmann SpruceEngelmann Spruce

Engelmann Spruce (Picea engelmannii)

Grown mainly in the NW America, Canada and Alaska, Engelmann spruce often has a beautiful ivory-white colour and is visually very similar to European Spruce although often closer and more consistently grained.  It is a little less stiff than European Spruce and usually has little figure or "silk".  Tone somewhere between Alpine Spruce and Cedar.  A nicely balanced tone which makes it ideally suited to both classical and flamenco guitars.

Sitka Spruce

Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis)

The colour varies from white-pink to light pink-brown. Some wood displays a lot of colour variation.   Often highly figured with cross-grain silk or  “Bearclaw” effect.  A very tough wood with a strong fundamental tone and moderate harmonic content which suits its popular choice for acoustic steel-string guitars.

Woods for backs, sides and decoration.

East Indian Rosewood

A beautiful wood whose colour varies widely from brown to purple, sometimes with little figure, sometimes with bold figure.  I only stock top quality wood which has a rich brown-purple colour with a pronounced figure.  The wood-of-choice for quality guitars of all types due to its rich harmonic content and beauty.

Backs and sides, headstock plates, back decoration, bindings, bridges and purflings.

Mdagascar Rosewood

African or Madagascar Rosewood

A hard,  well-figured and richly coloured wood whose density lies somewhere between that of  Indian Rosewood and Brazilian Rosewood.  Readily available but sources indicate that a great deal of wasteful logging is carried out to harvest it.  Superior to Indian Rosewood but at a price!

Backs and sides and headstock plates only.

Brazilian or Rio Rosewood

Brazilian or Rio Rosewood (Jacaranda)

Reputedly the hardest, most acoustically bright and most beautiful wood available for guitars.  Has been used and abused for many centuries with much waste.  Logging of new wood is protected by International law (CITES) and is no longer legally available, but some old wood can be found which has been re-sawn from old stock.  It is exorbitantly expensive, expect to pay an additional £500 - £800 for a set.

Backs and sides and headstock plates only.

English Walnut

The figure was so beautiful on this set that I just had to include the whole back.  English Walnut sawn from Devon trees brought down by storm winds in the late 1980's.  Beautiful colour and figure with off-white heartwood.  Sounds warm and clear with nylon or steel strings.  Just a few sets of this gorgeous wood.

Backs and sides, headstock plates, back decoration and purflings.

Honduras Mahogany

A fairly soft wood with close interlocking grain and a deep orange-brown colour.  Has a clear, warm fundamental tone with a bias towards lower harmonics which seems to suit amplified steel-string guitars very well, particularly when used with a Cedar table.  This was the late Eric Roche's favourite combination of tonewood in his Lowden guitars.

Backs and sides only.

Spanish Cypress

An attractive, close grained blonde timber that is very light and which gives Flamenco Blanca guitars their characteristic brittle sound.  It was much used by early Spanish makers (including Torres) because it was an indigenous wood of low cost and ready availability.  Can be used to make a surprisingly fine-sounding classical guitar too!

Backs and sides only.

Brazilian Ropala Lacewood

Brazilian Ropala Lacewood (*)

An unusual choice for tone-wood but a   wood which is hard and dense with a strong, clear ring when tapped very similar to good Indian Rosewood.  I usually use this as a decorative wood for bindings and decoration but have a few sets that would make a gorgeous and very different guitar either nylon or steel strung.

Backs and sides, headstock plates, back decoration and bindings,

European Figured Maple (Sycamore)

European Maple is sourced from various parts of Europe including the Balkan states, Italy and Germany.  Virtually all bowed instruments have been made from this for centuries as have many carved-back archtop guitars.  It has a close,  fine texture which carves very well and can vary in colour from creamy-white to pale straw.  The figure is often a well-defined "flame" which gives the wood an attractive depth; the figure is variable and can vary from light flame or curly through to very prominent tight curls of "fiddle-back".  European Maple is a very transparent tonewood which is harder than American alternatives.  It adds little character of its own to the sound of the table, yet it projects well, and it is these characteristics that have made it the wood-of-choice for carved archtop guitars.  It can make an attractive classical or flamenco/crossover guitar, but is more often seen on an acoustic (steel-string) guitars.

Backs and sides, headstock plates, back decoration and bindings,

Padauk (*)

Padauk is a very distinctive colour varying from orange-red to almost red-crimson wood when cut but it does oxidize to a dark, purple-brown over time.  A little harder and more dense than Indian Rosewood it has a strong , vibrant tone with good sustain.  The initial colour is however, is not to everyone's taste but is certainly different

Backs and sides, headstock plates and back decoration.


Wenge is cut from large straight trees growing in central and west Africa. The grain of the Wenge sets is tight and straight across the entire width of backs and sides. The colour is chocolate-brown/near black, very similar to Ebony,  with evenly spaced black veins. This wood is heavier than either Indian or Brazilian Rosewood and is stiffer and with large pores.  With quite thin plates, the sound is similar to Indian Rosewood but with the projection of Brazilian.

Backs and sides and headstock plates only.

Zebrano (Zebrawood)

Zebrawood is an extremely attractive wood with about the same density and resonance as Indian Rosewood and a very similar sound.   The colour is streaked and variable from tan-gold through to brown-black.

Backs and sides and headstock plates only.

Palo Escrito

Palo Escrito is a true Rosewood, also known as "Mexican Rosewood".  It is used extensively by luthiers in Mexico.  It differs visually from Indian Rosewood in having  wider grain, better figure, and bolder colour contrast.  It is quite stiff but less dense than Indian Rosewood.   It's bright tonal characteristics and light weight make it a natural for crossover or Negra, flamenco guitars, although several American classical builders have use it successfully.  It is also excellent for smaller acoustic guitars.

Backs and sides and headstock plates only.

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Roger Williams Guitars, Lichfield, England. Tel/Fax: 44(0)1543 262543