Gibson's tone wood viewpoint.
Frequently asked questions about Tone Woods
Will Indian rosewood ever be used by Gibson again?
Yes, and it is actually being used now. At this time, Gibson is not using traditional Indian rosewood fingerboard blanks. The Gibson R&D team engineered a new process that is sonically virtually indistinguishable by layering two thinner pieces of Indian rosewood together with the grain of one in reverse direction of the other.
How good is a guitar with a layered fingerboard?
Very. Consider that guitar Gibson necks have always been layered - a fingerboard onto a neck. The body of a Les Paul guitar, for example, has always been layered; maple on top of mahogany.
Will prices be affected by this new process?
While this process, which improves the stability of the fingerboard, is actually more expensive due to the additional labor required, we do not anticipate passing on this additional cost to our customers.
Are there any drawbacks to using the layered rosewood fretboard?
Only in the factory because of the additional labor required. However, we believe the extra work enables Gibson to continue to produce the highest quality American-made guitars.
Why change wood now?
As you may know, Gibson has recently been the subject of an investigation regarding certain rosewood and ebony fingerboard blanks that we purchased through a reputable, long-term supplier who purchased the fingerboards from both Madagascar and India. This investigation has resulted in a supply disruption that was felt industry-wide. After more than two years, no charges have been filed. This investigation has emphasized the importance of Gibson's commitment and continued involvement in sustainability efforts.
Gibson has always been an innovator. We continually research new and interesting combinations of materials and construction. Many of the changes being introduced now were already planned. Engineering, designing and matching disparate species of wood has always been part of the Gibson luthiers' skillset. Our unchanged goal, in the end, is that each Gibson instrument is more than the sum of its parts.
Why didn't you use these materials before?
The recent disruption of supply caused us to move up some plans we already had in R&D. We were also contacted by a variety of new suppliers with alternatives we had not yet tried which we found to be excellent for guitar construction.
Do the new materials look "correct" for a Gibson?
Absolutely. All materials are chosen for their sonic and aesthetic "correctness" for each model. Gibson will not offer any instrument which is inferior in any way.
What are the differences between new woods Gibson is using on some models and traditional materials?
Over 40 years ago, when it became clear that "traditional" Brazilian rosewood was no longer sustainable, India became the new "traditional" source of rosewood. There has been relatively little incentive for experimentation with other woods since that time, due to its suitability and plentiful supply. All Indian rosewood fingerboard blanks purchased by Gibson come from certified or controlled sources. However, when other beautiful tonewoods were recently brought to us, we tested and prototyped guitars using them. We liked some and rejected others. Many of the "friends of Gibson" (resident players and top Nashville recording artists that help us with product development) found some of the new alternatives sonically indistinguishable or, in some cases, they liked them better. So, going forward, Gibson will be using these woods on some models in addition to sourcing rosewood from India for other models. The Gibson tone palette just gained some new sonic colors.
All wood combinations offer a particular set of tonal characteristics. While the changes are often subtle, they allow us to make guitars that have individual voices. Like flavors of ice cream, people develop personal preferences and we want to build a Gibson for every player's taste.
What processes did you use to come to these decisions?
We had two key criteria: Tonal excellence and a sustainable, legal supply. We did a significant amount of tonal testing on many different species of wood. In addition, we focused our efforts on finding controlled/certified suppliers of these tone woods which meet our legality and compliance standards and third-party chain –of-custody verification. We then built prototype guitars with various materials to ensure that we could manufacture with the material and still achieve the same high-quality final product.
Are the new woods Gibson is using as stable as traditional materials?
Gibson will not produce any instrument with inferior workmanship or materials. All materials chosen by Gibson are premium, with the expectation of satisfaction and are backed by the Gibson limited lifetime guarantee to the original retail purchaser.
How do you tell the difference between wood species by looking at it?
The differences are often subtle, though some aficionados may be able to notice the cosmetic differences. Granadillo (also used for the tone bars in marimbas) is brown with a slight orange tint as opposed to the purple tint of traditional Indian Rosewood. Katalox is very dark brown, especially when oiled. Our testing showed that top studio artists trying guitars with Indian rosewood, Granadillo and Katalox could not distinguish a sonic difference between them. One thing is clear; tone is subjective and will be discussed and debated for years to come.
Will Gibson be using more USA wood varieties?
Gibson uses a wide variety of materials and will continue to do so, including maple and rosewood from North America. As we introduce the expanded capability of additional new models, "the Gibson sound" will always remain the sound of quality.
Will Gibson make guitars with ebony fingerboards?
Yes, Gibson is making a number of models with ebony today, such as the new Custom Division's Les Paul Custom Ace Frehley model. Several models from Montana have ebony and our Memphis division is using ebony for some of its legendary guitars. We have the ebony we need for production.
What's the story with North American Rosewood?
Many trees not originally native to the United States have been growing here for many years, including rosewood. We recently found a vendor with a good supply and were pleasantly surprised to find it was a beautiful, viable guitar tonewood. We also verified the chain of custody and sustainability through our legality and compliance review. Plentifully available in Florida and Southern California, and the same species once found only in the Amazon, these trees have met Gibson's sustainability and legality compliance standards.
What is baked maple?
Torrefaction is a process of heat-curing wood in a special kiln. This process makes the wood significantly stronger and virtually impervious to moisture, making it structurally ideal for fingerboards. As a natural byproduct of the process, the wood gains a warm, brown finish and looks remarkably similar in color to rosewood. Tonally, though, it's closer to ebony due to its hardness.
Tonally, if baked maple is closer to ebony than rosewood, why is the maple not being used across-the-board as an alternative to ebony?
On certain guitars, ebony is chosen more for aesthetic reasons than for tone. In addition, ebony was specified on some guitars simply because certain rosewood species (like Indian Rosewood), tend to "bleed" into light-colored lacquer finishes. The blackness of the ebony is not aesthetically duplicated by maple, even when baked. So, we don't use baked maple as an across-the-board substitute.
Is it possible to bake the maple to the point where it is black like ebony?
Not without compromising its structural integrity… and turning it into charcoal.
How does a player care for the new fretboard materials?
As with all fine wood, periodic treatment of the wood with lemon oil or orange oil will nourish the wood and enhance the grain. However, Richlite will not absorb the oil, so it is not recommended for those models so equipped.
Why is the Gibson Obeche black when, in its natural state, the wood is light in color, similar to maple?
Gibson uses Obeche that is specifically engineered in Europe to be used as fingerboard material. This material can be dyed many different colors as it is processed; we chose black for some current models. (We may use other colors in the future.) The surface of the wood is not stained; the color goes through the entire piece of wood. It will not rub off or lose its color.
Will there be samples ready to check out at NAMM?
We are beyond the sample phase and well into production of the 2012 models. We invite everyone to come play them at NAMM and schedule their orders.
Will there be an official explanation for the running changes on the Gibson website to educate/comfort consumers?
Consult the Gibson website for the latest information about all Gibson products.
Will Gibson provide paperwork declaring the wood origins (per Lacey Act) for Customs if I take this new guitar out of the country?
No. There is no known official form for a manufacturer to provide to a customer.
Too soon we grow old, too late we grow wise
"I once played notes so fast that light emanated from the strings whereupon, I saw God.... who then told me to relax and start playing music."
"You know, once you've had that guitar up so loud on the stage, where you can lean back and volume will stop you from falling backward, that's a hard drug to kick." David Gilmour
Truefire Science Officer (dabgonit....where's my blue shirt!)