Exotic Mahogany Makes Beautiful Guitars

Talented guitar builders create guitars made from different kinds of wood. The more unique looking the wood design, the more intriguing it can be to guitarists and collectors.

Some of the most beautiful guitars are built from a mahogany tree felled in 1965 in the Chiquibul jungle in what is now Belize. For many years, no one could figure out how to retrieve the felled tree. It was 12 feet in diameter and 100 feet long. Years later, it was finally cut into quarters and sliced into 15-foot lengths so it could be brought to a sawmill able to handle a tree that big. That mahogany tree has come to be known as The Tree.

Some guitar builders, called luthiers, use wood from The Tree to build the backs and sides of the guitar. They usually use other wood for the rest of it. The wood can look like ripples on a calm sea reflected from the light of a full moon. It also can look like a topographical map, deeply curled figures with tendrils, or a repeating tortoise shell-like pattern. The guitars are beautiful and extremely expensive. Most guitarists can’t afford instruments made from The Tree. Collectors are more likely to buy them.

Belize used to have lots of mahogany trees, but they were overharvested and are severely depleted. Even so, wood from The Tree can still be found. It was divided between the two men who finally succeeded in bringing the mahogany tree out of the Chiquibul jungle. They stored it in storerooms in Sausalito, California and Miami, Florida. Some of it later went to buyers from all over the world who paid huge prices for the wood.

Thanks to an intriguing magazine article, The Legend of the Music Tree, in the April/May 2022 issue of Smithsonian, the history of The Tree and the people involved with it over the years are detailed by writer Ellen Ruppel Shell.

Today, some guitar builders grow their own trees to have the kind of wood they like to use. Now, it’s illegal to harvest mahogany and other old-growth trees in many countries because the trees are so depleted.

If you get a chance to see a guitar made from The Tree, you will be looking at an instrument made from very rare and valued wood.

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