A bit about using Koa to build guitars with
Guitars made with Koa
Project Music always has a number of high end guitars in store built featuring Koa. We are impressed with how this wood looks and sounds and how individual every piece of Koa is. Tonally it is light, clear, and many would say it is fairly bright and open sounding, with plenty of harmonic content. On electric guitars most of the sound comes from the pickup and the wood itself makes less impact, however, it has been our experience that solid body guitars featuring koa just sound exceptional. Koa also stands out for it aesthetic qualities. it is an especially beautiful choice for nay musical instrument and adds a shimmering 3D gleaming quality. We get many question about the quality of Koa and what it has to offer so we have put together the following guide.
Classification: Acacia koa, or Koa, is a species in the pea family (Fabaceae). Acacias are native to tropical and subtropical regions. Acacia Koa is only found on the Hawaiian Islands, a special place with many other endemic species. It is a hardwood and its name in the Hawaiian language means brave, bold, fearless and warrior and it was historically used to make canoes. The highest populations of Koa can be found on Hawaiʻi, Maui and Oʻahu.
Sustainability: Koa is not currently listed in the CITES Appendices, and is reported by the IUCN as being a species of least concern. It has been heavily harvested, but as a nitrogen fixing plant, requiring up to 200 inches of annual rainfall it is a fast-growing tropical hardwood in the volcanic soil of the Islands and is now managed in conservation areas on the islands. Because of its popularity and limited supply its price has increased.
Appearance: Koa is known and prized for its captivating looks and figuring as the grain is interlocked. It has deep rich colours and varied grain patterns. Old growth trees usually contain high figuring and shimmer. The different colours and textures of Koa wood are determined by the tree’s age, the kind of soil, and elevation that the tree grows in. Colours range from brown to gold, with rich and varying grain, tending toward curl or flame figuring in old-growth trees. However, Koa wood tends to vary in colour when seen in different lights from different angle giving it a distinctive reflective glimmer which is gives the wood a fantastic 3D quality.
The type of wood used, particularly for the top, back and sides of the body, will noticeably influence a guitar’s tonal quality. Koa is a dense hardwood and on a guitar top will produces a solid tone, particularly at the high end, with notable midrange sounds. On the back and sides of a guitar, Koa’s has a tone that is both unimpeded and dulcet.
This wood “opens up” the more the instrument is played and the more the instrument ages, making the tone mellower over time. A Koa guitar will begin with a bright, sweet sound but will gradually become richer and warmer sounding and show more emphasis toward midrange tones. In fact the most compelling quality of Koa is its focused mids and a harmonically rich sparkling top end.
Our overview, and in comparison to other tonewoods, is that Koa is light and airy like Maple, has the stiffness and clarity of Rosewood, the warm tones of mahogany and is similar in strength to black walnut (which also opens up more with use). Although limited supply has driven up prices in recent years (a Koa back and side upgrade by Collings is around £1500) this is a wood with rich qualities and rightly regarded as a superior tonewood becoming more and more commonly associated with high end guitars.