Student of Guitar

Catalpa Wood Guitars: Are They Any Good? (2022 Edition)

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If you’re interested in learning more about catalpa wood guitars, you’ve come to the right post!

Catalpa Wood

Catalpa is a genus of deciduous trees native to warmer regions. It’s relatively widespread around North America, East Asia, and the Caribbean.

The plant’s wood is, overall, pretty soft. This makes it fairly easy to work with. It’s also pretty common for furniture and it’s very popular for woodturning.

And some even use it as a guitar tonewood. In fact, the wood’s properties are favorable for this purpose. It’s not just that it’s easy to work with and soft. But it also has sonic and visual traits that can work in your favor.

For instance, catalpa can provide a solid dynamic response in acoustic guitars. Additionally, its bright yellow, almost golden hue is unique and visually pleasing to some. It also comes with just a dash of green-ish tones.

Catalpa Wood Guitars

The back and sides of this instrument are made out of catalpa.

One thing you need to bear in mind is that catalpa isn’t a common guitar tonewood. Don’t get me wrong, I know I mentioned that it’s pretty useful for guitar. But for some reason, you won’t see that many catalpa guitars.

As far as musical instruments go, you’ll see catalpa with some traditional Chinese instruments. After all, these trees are widespread in Asia. Catalpa is usually present with guqin, a very unique traditional string instrument.

But let’s go back to guitars. One interesting thing is that catalpa usually finds its use for the back and sides of acoustic guitars.

Now, in most cases, we usually have harder woods on the back. Tops, or soundboards, are softer. This combo gives a better projection.

For some reason, catalpa seems to work as a great tonewood for the back and sides. Some Washburn acoustic guitars are like this. For instance, nylon-string model C5 or C5CE is one example, coming with a spruce top. And then we also have EA15 which, interestingly enough, comes with a maple veneer top.

Catalpa brings a clear and relatively bright tone. The fundamentals of each note are usually very pronounced. And there’s not a lot of overtones. I would call it more clear-cut and precise in this aspect. 

There are also some all-catalpa acoustic guitars. Bruce Sexauer or Sexauer guitars has made such guitars. But he’s pretty much the only one that I can think of. Additionally, these are also not exactly easy to find.

What About Electric Guitars?

The body of this instrument is a single piece of catalpa!

While you can find some catalpa acoustic guitars on the market. But as far as electric guitars go, there are few if any mass-produced commercial models made entirely out of catalpa wood.

The wood is even rare among small luthiers for some reason. But you can still find custom catalpa guitars, although they’re pretty rare.

This is, in a way, unusual. After all, solid-body catalpa guitars are pretty light. This makes it a very ergonomic material. As far as the tone goes, I could argue that it won’t make much of a difference. But that’s a whole different discussion.

Is It Really Worth It?

Generally, there might be a few reasons why we don’t see that many catalpa guitars. At the end of the day, it comes down to what’s available on the market. Sure, there are plenty of catalpa trees around.

But the market is full of standard woods. You have all sorts of mahogany, ash, spruce, maple, and other tonewoods. It seems that it’s much easier and more profitable for manufacturers to obtain those. Meanwhile, the consumers are also used to them.

So one important question remains. Is making a guitar, or a guitar part, out of catalpa worth it? Honestly, I think it is.

Firstly, the wood is pretty easy to work with. It’s not like you’ll damage your tools or anything. Additionally, even someone who’s not super experienced will have an easier time with it.

Secondly, it’s not that hard to find if you need it for one or a few guitars. There shouldn’t be any issue with shortages or anything.

Thirdly, catalpa wood is pretty light. And this can make for a pretty light instrument. To be fair, this is something many builders don’t pay much attention to. But I find it to be an important issue. Especially with solid-body electric guitars, which often require some form of weight relief.

Finally, we come down to the issue of tone. While I can’t really speak for electric guitars, it works incredibly well for acoustic guitars. They get that crystal clear and defined tone. Additionally, you can also notice solid dynamic response.

Also, they’re usually not super loud. However, due to strong fundamentals, catalpa helps you get a great lead acoustic tone.

I’d definitely like to see more catalpa guitars on the market. However, I’m not sure whether we’ll have that any time soon.  

Conclusion

I hope this article has helped you think through this topic.

And if you want to read more about guitar materials on this blog, check out:

Lastly, feel free to leave a message in the comments below if you have questions about this or another guitar-related topic!

2 Responses

  1. I just bought a Johnson jg 100 b student guitar, used, from a local thrift store for $80. Upon picking up this instrument, I noticed right away a tonal depth; bright and voluminous with rich harmonal overtones. Intonation was great as was the action. 12th fret at the body, with good bracing. My living room player is a Taylor 12 fret grand concert 522ce mahogany top, back and sides. An amazing guitar, but, my new favorite is this all Capalta wood cheap-o. Goes to show…you just never know.

    1. Hi Bill,

      That’s interesting! Thanks for sharing. It really is true – you never know when you might find a hidden gem in a guitar regardless of its price. I notice a phenomenon where I become accustomed to the strengths of my instrument, and then when I play someone else’s of similar quality, I’m immediately impressed by its strengths. In other words, sometimes I’m quick to discount the positive qualities of my main instrument because I’m used to them. Regardless, I’m glad you found a great instrument made from this unique material.

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