Koa or Blackwood Weissenborns?
Koa is the choice of tonewood for Weissenborn traditionalists, but Tasmanian Blackwood (aka Australian Blackwood, Black Acacia) is a vibrant, modern choice that more and more players are turning to – and for good reason.
Koa, Acacia koa is a native Hawaiian species that is synonymous with ukuleles, Weissenborn guitars and the Hawaiian music craze that exploded in the early 20th century. It's known for its wild, rich grain patterns and figuring/curl that at its most spectacular is unbeaten by virtually any other tonewood.
Tasmanian Blackwood, Acacia melanoxylon, is a native Australian species that grows along much of the east coast, though the best tonewood comes from the temperate forests of Tasmania, giving it the common name Tasmanian Blackwood. It is visually and tonally quite similar to Koa, though tends to have straighter, uniform grain.
Hermann Weissenborn used Koa for most of his guitars in the 1910s to 1930s, so when this instrument saw a resurgence in popularity in the 1990s it became the tonewood of choice for replica instruments.
Restrictions on logging has meant that the beautiful Hawaiian timber has become harder and harder to source, with the price skyrocketing accordingly. Modern Koa is usually sourced from naturally fallen trees or logging taking place on private land.
In recent years, Tasmanian Blackwood has surfaced as a viable alternative to Hawaiian Koa. It's visually quite similar, tonally it is often indistinguishable and is more readily available.
Which to choose?
Like everything in the world of guitars, this comes down to personal preference. No two instruments sound truly alike and both of these tonewoods can produce amazing Weissenborn guitars in the hands of a skilled luthier.
Koa, the traditional choice
For the purist, Koa carries on a legacy started by Hermann Weissenborn when he was at the forefront of the Hawaiian music scene. Hawaiian music, Hermann Weissenborn and Koa all go hand in hand.
Style 3 Weissenborn made from figured Hawaiian Koa - built by luthier Richard Wilson
The wild, often twisted grain pattern and often lighter colour makes Koa ideal for anyone looking for a traditional or vintage inspired Weissenborn, particularly plainer wood with less figuring as was used on Hermann Weissenborn's simpler instruments.
Style 1 Weissenborn made from plain Hawiian Koa - built by luthier Richard Wilson
Tasmanian Blackwood, a modern variation
A widely used tonewood in Australia, Tasmanian Blackwood is increasingly becoming sought after throughout the world. Koa's native Aussie cousin: it offers very similar tonal characteristics. And very highly figured Australian Blackwood is one of the most magnificent tonewoods to look at.
Style 4 Weissenborn made from figured Tasmanian Blackwood - built by luthier Richard Wilson
Like Koa, Blackwood can produce an equally stunning instrument with plainer, less figured wood.
Style 1 Weissenborn made from plain Tasmanian Blackwood - built by luthier Richard Wilson
Sustainable and ethical sourcing
Richard Wilson builds Weissenborn guitars from both Hawaiian Koa and Tasmanian Blackwood. In both cases the tonewood is sourced material from salvage material or low-impact, sustainable forestry operations that keeps the environmental impact to an absolute minimum.
The Hawaiian government and local investors have in recent years turned to this timber as a potential long term industry with forestry programs in place designed to sustainably grow and harvest this beautiful wood, though such plantation timber is still years away from being readily available in the grading and dimensions required for guitars.