With popular tonewoods like rosewood becoming more scarce, regulations like CITES have decreased their supply and increased their cost. This has led to an increase in the prices for guitars made with these woods.
Because of these higher costs and sustainability becoming a higher priority, lesser-known woods like ovangkol are becoming more and more popular.
But are these cheaper, newer woods as good as the tried and true tonewoods? Let’s take a look at how rosewood and ovangkol compare and find out if it is a worthy substitute.
Rosewood is one of the most popular three tonewoods along with maple and mahogany. Rosewood is used in every guitar from Fender to Ibanez, in some of their most iconic models.
Usually, Brazilian rosewood or the more sustainable East Indian rosewood is used. Rosewood is highly sought after for both its excellent tone and beautiful appearance.
Ovangkol is a relatively new tonewood that has been slowly gaining popularity over the last few years. It isn’t as well-known as rosewood, but as the industry moves to using more sustainable resources, woods like ovangkol are only going to become more widespread.
Ovangkol is sometimes referred to as rosewood’s African cousin. This is of course due to ovangkol’s African origins and its similarities to rosewood.
At face value, rosewood and ovangkol don’t appear to be too different. Both woods have a very lovely reddish-brown color. Rosewood is a slightly darker shade of brown, with Indian rosewood having slight hints of purple.
Rosewood also has a more natural-looking and pronounced grain. The curves in and swirls in rosewood’s grain gives it a nice bit of character. While ovangkol has a more subtle, almost uniform grain that isn’t too exciting to look at.
Another important factor for rosewood’s popularity is its strength. Rosewood fretboards are favored for how well they handle playing over their lifetimes.
Rosewood can go years before showing any real wear and tear. Ovangkol is a bit softer but has a similar level of durability as rosewood. To the touch, they feel almost the same and have about the same lifespan.
Underneath the surface, rosewood and ovangkol are much similar. Both woods have nice and warm tones across a wide tonal spectrum. Their bottom ends are bassy with great clarity in the highs.
Rosewood certainly has a heavier bottom end and a bit more warmth. Ovangkol, on the other hand, has a more defined top end, making it a bit brighter.
The big difference in tone lies in the midrange. Ovangkol has a much fuller midrange, giving it a more even frequency range. The difference is subtle but enough that ovangkol has a noticeably fuller tone.
Ovangkol doesn’t have quite the same amount of sustain as rosewood, but it is slightly more resonant. Open chords and strumming sound a bit bigger and more lively on guitars made with ovangkol.
Is Ovangkol Good?
If you want to know if a lesser-known tonewood is good, I think you just need to look at the companies using it and for which guitars. Companies like Taylor and Martin using it for some of their top mid-tier guitars like the Taylor American Dream and Martin OMC-16E.
With big names like Taylor and Martin and a sustainability-focused company like Breedlove investing in ovangkol, I think that the answer to whether it is a good tonewood is certainly yes.
The downside is that it isn’t as widespread yet. For the time being, the selection of ovangkol guitars is rather limited to acoustic guitars. If you’re looking for an electric guitar that uses ovangkol, the selection is pretty much limited to D’Angelico and only as a fretboard wood.
If you are looking for an acoustic guitar made with a tonewood that doesn’t fall into one sound category or another, then ovangkol is an excellent choice. Ovangkol is a very versatile tonewood suited for a wide variety of sounds and styles and a great substitute for rosewood.