What is Mahogany? Part 3: Non mahoganies traded as "mahogany"
In addition to “genuine mahogany” (see What Is Mahogany? Part 1) and “true mahogany” (see What Is Mahogany? Part 2) there are other timbers which have no botanical relation to the Mahogany family at all, yet may have a trade name that includes the word mahogany in it. It may be important to know these alternative timbers so that one can make a distinction when or if required. These botanically unrelated timbers may share similar appearances or tonal qualities to genuine or true mahogany, but that is all. Often the so-called “mahogany” trade name is not the main or only trade name. I personally call them "Mainstream Media" mahoganies, i.e. FAKE mahoganies.
PHILIPPINE MAHOGANY, from the point of view of the United States furniture industry is clearly defined by the United States Federal Trade Commission, Code of Federal Regulations Title 16, Section 250.3 Identity of Woods where it states: “The following non mahogany timbers may legally be called ‘Philippine mahogany’ in the USA: Tanguile, Lauan, Tiaong, Almon, Mayapis, and Bagtikan. …” Each is a species of Shorea in the Dipterocarpaceae family which are native to the Philippines. There are 196 species of Shorea occurring in Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Sumatra, and Thailand. T
he term “Philippine Mahogany” may also apply specifically to LAUAN from Philippines, the various types of MERANTI from Malaysia, SERAYA from Indonesia, and BALAU which is native to all. In Australia all species are sometimes collectively called PACIFIC MAPLE.
There is an abundance of variety between the difference species, each with different working properties, appearances, and mechanical strength values. These timbers range in colour from grey to dark reddish brown and are usually used as veneers or plywood. Visually they are a lot grainier than genuine mahogany. Over 130 species are listed on the IUCN Red List as “Endangered” or “Critically Endangered.” The term “Philippine mahogany” also applies to native Philippine Toona or plantation-grown Swietenia from the Philippines. It may also refer to another non-genuine species Pterocarpus indicus which is the national tree of the Philippines (see following.)
Scientific name: Myroxylon balsamum is one of two species of the genus Myroxylon in the Fabaceae family. Native to Mexico, central and southern America this timber is stronger and harder than mahogany but shares a similar but darker appearance. It is used in furniture, flooring and heavy construction. It has been used for making acoustic guitars and has been said to be similar in tone to American and African mahogany but with deeper lows. It’s other species Myroxylon peruiferum is traded as QUINA and has the same timber uses. Neither species have any restrictions.
Scientific names: Tieghmella heckelli and Tieghmella africana are two species of the genus Tieghmella in the Sapotaceae family, also known as MAKORE. Both species grows throughout western Africa and although not a Mahogany family genus is very similar in properties to Khaya (African mahogany.) Timber uses for both species are interchangeable and used mainly for furniture, boatbuilding, and cabinetry as well as veneer. As a tonewood it is used as a laminate for electric and acoustic guitar tops and for electric guitar bodies. It is also used in making drums. Colour is pink-red to reddish-brown and when quartersawn can have attractive figure, especially “fiddleback”, “peanut”, and “block mottle” (checkerboard) figure. Tieghmella africana is also called DOUKA. Both species are listed on the IUCN Red List as “Endangered.”
Scientific name: Palaquium is a genus in the Sapotaceae family with 120 species found throughout Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Fiji. Wood from the species is also called NATO (Philippines), NYATOH (Malaysia), NYATUHIN (Indonesia) and MASANG (Thailand.) Wood from these species ranges in colour from pink to red-brown. It varies wildly in weight and density and is predominately used for interior joinery, furniture, plywood and some craft applications. Recently it has found its way as a mahogany replacement in entry-level Asian-made electric and acoustic guitars. Well-known guitar brands B.C Rich and Eastwood use this genus as a mahogany substitute. Another Sapotaceae genus, Payena has 20 species, 5 of which are principal sources of commercial timber and are also traded as Nyatoh. There are no CITES restrictions on Palaquium or Payena but some species of Palaquium are listed on the IUCN Red List as “Vulnerable.” NOTE: Species from this genus must not be confused with the South American genus Mora which grows in Guyana and Suriname and is also traded coincidentally as Nato, and is also used for guitar necks and bodies on some American-made guitars.
Scientific name Cercocarpus is a genus in the Rosaceae family with eleven species, native throughout the United States and Baja California, Mexico. Other names include ALDERLEAF MOUNTAIN MAHOGANY, BIRCHLEAF MOUNTAIN MAHOGANY, HAIRY MOUNTAIN MAHOGANY, and CURL-LEAF MOUNTAIN MAHOGANY, usually but not always depending on the specific species. The species found on Catalina Island in California for example is called CATALINA ISLAND MOUNTAIN MAHOGANY. The trees are usually very small and are not often harvestable for timber but the leaves have been used as traditional medicines by the native Americans.
Scientific name Cariniana pyriformis is a timber producing tree in the Lecythidaceae family, native to Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Venezuela, and Bolivia. It is also traded as ABARCO. There are a total of 9 species in this genus, all of which are native to South America. Because of it’s similar appearance and properties to genuine Swietenia mahogany Colombian mahogany has been used as a mahogany replacement for over 100 years and in that time has become heavily exploited. The Colombian species is almost extinct due to unsustainable logging. As well as being used as a mahogany substitute it is also suitable for exterior and interior joinery, cabinetwork, construction, furniture, plywood and veneer.
Scientific name: Eucalyptus resinifera is a hardwood native to eastern Australia and used for furniture, flooring, panelling, boat building and general construction. It is one of approximately 800 species of Eucalyptus in the family Myrtaceae, most of which are native to Australia. It has been introduced into Southern Africa, Italy, Portugal, and Hawaii as a plantation crop. Much of the 4500 hectares of red mahogany plantations in Queensland Australia were destroyed by Cyclone Yasi in 2011. “Red Mahogany” is also an alternative name for Khaya anthotheca, i.e. African mahogany.
Scientific name: Eucalyptus acmenoides is another Australian eucalypt native from eastern New South Wales to southern Queensland and is regarded as a high quality timber. The timber has various uses, including heavy engineering, poles, railway sleepers, bridge and wharf construction, framing, decking stumps, fence posts, joists, flooring, plates and weatherboarding, and furniture. Its native Aboriginal name is BARAYLY and in Queensland it is often called YELLOW STRINGYBARK. I am not aware of this timber being used as a tonewood. Be aware that outside of Australia “White Mahogany” is an alternative trade name for Khaya anthotheca (African Mahogany.)
Botanical name Eucalyptus robusta is another Australian eucalypt native to a narrow coastal area in south-eastern Australia, from southern Queensland to southern New South Wales. Internationally It is one of the most widely planted Eucalyptus species having been introduced into many countries in Asia, South America and tropical Africa as well as Hawaii and the United States. The wood is generally used for construction, poles, ordinary furniture, wheels, boat building, wharf construction, shingles, pallets and boxes. The wood is also suitable for mine props, railway sleepers, vehicle bodies, agricultural implements, food containers, joinery, turnery and musical instruments such as the didgeridoo. In many countries the tree is used for firewood and as charcoal, in erosion control, as a roadside shade tree, and in Uganda it is used to drain swamps.
Scientific name Eucalyptus botryoides is a fourth species of Australian Eucalyptus with a “mahogany” trade name (the others being “red”, “white”, and “swamp” mahogany.) It is native to south eastern Australia, from New South Wales to Victoria. The timber is used in cabinetry, furniture, flooring, decking, and veneer applications as well as general construction, poles and firewood. Historically it was used in heavy construction for sleepers and posts. It’s local name is BANGALAY. I am unaware of it’s use as a tonewood. Plantations exist in New Zealand.
Scientific name: Calophyllum inophyllum is one species in the Calophyllaceae family which is native to eastern Africa, Asia, the south Pacific and Australia. There are 187 species in the genus, most of which are found in Asia. No species exist in Europe. Its colour is pink to reddish-brown. It is the main species with commercial value and trade. Timber from the various Asian species are collectively traded as BITANGOR. Other common trade names in use are ALEXANDRIAN LAUREL, LAURELWOOD, and POON. Timber uses include boat building, furniture, flooring and plywood. It is also used for backs and fronts of entry-level acoustic guitars. An Australian species, Calophyllum costatum is known in Australia as SILKY MAHOGANY. Unlike Swietenia (genuine mahogany) and Cedrela (true mahogany), all species of Calophyllum are resistant to Hypsipyla grandella enabling plantations of the South American species Calophyllum brasiliense to be successfully established in Brazil.
“East Indian Mahogany”
Scientific name: Pterocarpus dalbergioides is one of 35 species of Pterocarpus, a Fabaceae family genus native only to the Andaman Islands of India and some parts of mainland India. The timber of this species is also traded under the name ANDAMAN PADAUK or the generic term NARRA which is used for all commercial Pterocarpus species originating from Asia. It is a major export timber from India and bears visual similarity to mahogany although much redder and a lot heavier. It is used as a rosewood substitute in acoustic guitar making. There is an African species, Pterocarpus soyauxii usually traded as AFRICAN PADAUK (or sometimes as VERMILLION in the United States) which is used as a tonewood for both acoustic and electric guitars and for xylophone bars. This African species has no “mahogany” alternative trade names. Acoustically it is quite dark with low to mid-end prominence. It is suitable for both necks and bodies of bass guitars. Of the 35 species, six occur in Africa and the remainder occur throughout South East Asia.
Scientific name: Pterocarpus indicus is another of the 35 species of Pterocarpus and is native to Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Singapore, and Solomon Islands. (The Tanesserim Hills are a 1700km long mountain chain extending through Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia.) Pterocarpus indicus is also known generically as NARRA and specifically as BURMESE ROSEWOOD and PHILIPPINE MAHOGANY. It is the national tree of the Philippines. Wood from this species is used for the manufacture of fine furniture, cabinetry, cart wheels, carving, construction and musical instruments including guitars and pianos.
Scientific name: Aucoumea klaineana, also known as OKOUME is a single-species, large timber-producing tree native to the west coast of equatorial Africa of the family Burseraceae. It is one of the most important timber species in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, accounting for more than 60 percent of timber production. The wood is pink in colour. It is used in light interior construction, carpentry, furniture, sports equipment, cigar boxes, packing cases and as plywood. As a tonewood it apparently sounds like maple and can be used for backs, sides and tops of acoustic guitars. Its IUCN Red List status is “vulnerable.”
Scientific name Andira inermis is one of approximately 40 species of Andira in the Fabaceae family, native to the area from southern Mexico through Central America to northern South America (Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil.) It has been introduced to the Caribbean, the Antilles, United States (Florida), and Africa. It has many Spanish names. Other English names include CABBAGE BARK, ANGELIM, and PARTRIDGE WOOD. The wood is used locally for heavy construction, crossties, house framing, and exterior siding. Other uses are for turnery, furniture and cabinet work, parquet flooring, and decorative veneer.
There is only one genus in the Mahogany family that is considered to be “genuine” mahogany. This is Swietenia.
Natively grown Swietenia is almost extinct and what’s left is heavily restricted. It is basically impossible to obtain American-grown mahogany today. American mahogany today comes from Asian and South Pacific plantations.
“Genuine mahogany” as a term applies to Swietenia only.
“True mahogany” as a term applies to Mahogany family timbers in use that are not specifically Swietenia. These include Aglaia, Cabralea, Carapa, Cedrela, Chukrasia, Dysoxylum, Ekebergia, Entandrophragma, Khaya, Guarea, Lovoa, Melia, Pseudocedrela, Synoum, Toona, Trichilia, and Turraeanthus. Each of these have timber uses, although not all are commercial timbers.
Not every genus in the Mahogany family yields timber.
Not all true mahoganies are suited as tonewoods.
Fiji is the main supplier of plantation Swietenia mahogany today.
At this time Swietenia cannot be regrown in its native locations due to permanent damage to the environment and unsolvable problems with pests.
There are other timbers that have no botanical relation to the Mahogany family but are traded as “mahogany” in name only. Often these have other trade names which may also be better known.
You may need to ask more questions when someone talks about “Indian mahogany”, “Indonesian mahogany” or “Philippine mahogany” etc. It could be a mahogany or something completely different.
No guitars made in a factory (mass-produced) are made of genuine mahogany. Zero.
Only high-end custom shop guitar builders make instruments with genuine mahogany. If it is genuine mahogany (Swietenia) it will be plantation-grown or possibly old stock American mahogany obtained before the ban in 2003.
If someone tells you a guitar is made of “mahogany”, using this guide may help you ascertain what it has actually been made of. I hope you can use these and be well informed!