Scientific Name: Dalbergia retusa
Also known as: Cocobola, Rosewood
Status: RARE / VULNERABLE – IUCN Redlist / CITES Appendix 2 Restricted.
Origin: Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Costa Rica
Traditional Uses: Instruments; Fine Furniture, Flooring, Cabinetry, Artisan Carving, Gun Grips, Pool Cues, Knife Handles, Jewelry Boxes.
Cocobolo Rosewood has garnered a reputation around the globe as one of the highest quality rosewoods of the Dalbergia genus. Denser and oilier than most of the other true rosewoods, cocobolo has been coveted for centuries by the local tribal communities within its growing region for carving and structural fortification. Specifically, the combination of density and natural oils give cocobolo a very strong resistance to water penetration and further compound it’s durability regarding weathering, insect attacks and natural decay.
In addition to these longevity attributes, cocobolo also boasts a broad spectrum of eclectic grain patterns and colorful hues that few other tropical hardwoods can match. Patterns of distinguished black streaks and erratic lines are commonly seen, and spiderwebbing reminiscent of Brazilian rosewood presents itself periodically. This signature grain further pops to life because of the rich color this timber provides. Color shades range from vibrant yellow and orange to heavier reds, purples and chocolates deepening to saturated black accents.
Cocobolo is indigenous to the Pacific edge of Central America and ranges from Mexico down to Costa Rica. It prefers the drier upland areas for optimum growing conditions, which gives it a thin strip growing region down the Pacific coast of Central America. Currently, cocolobo is CITES restricted in Guatemala and the Panamanian government has issued a moratorium on logging it. Cocobolo has all but disappeared in Costa Rica due to illegal logging practices. Therefore the primary legal sources for true cocobolo rosewood are Mexico and Nicaragua. The Nicaraguan variety has established a reputation for consistently producing vibrant reds and oranges while the Mexican variety leans more towards the darker spectrum. While there are many differing opinions on which variety is superior, both varieties share equivalent density, working properties, character and tonality. Ultimately beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
As with most tropical species, the working properties of cocobolo present the artisan craftsman with both benefit and challenge. The density and oil content combine to provide a high natural luster that can be polished to a glass like finish. Adding this trait to vibrant color hues with striking grain patterns is one of the primary reasons cocobolo is considered to be the best true rosewood rivaling even the (now unavailable) Brazilian Rosewood. Cocobolo responds extremely well to machining and is now even starting to infringe on African Blackwood’s dominated realm in woodwind instrument crafting. The tonality, specific gravity, hardness, and visual appeal all culminate to qualify cocobolo as excellent musical grade material. One of the main challenges of cocobolo is that the natural oil makes it resistant to gluing. When gluing is necessary, the proper approach is to wipe all joining surfaces with acetone and apply a slow setting epoxy immediately afterwards. Additionally, cocobolo dust is known to cause asthma like symptoms in some people so dust masks or respirators are recommended when working the timber.
Taylor Guitars describes the tonal qualities for cocobolo as this: ”Cocobolo is a dense, stiff tropical hardwood with a fairly bright tone. Sonically, it’s similar to koa, but resonates a little deeper on the low end, although it doesn’t have quite the full low end of rosewood or ovangkol. Fast and responsive, with moderate note decay, it’s articulate with lots of note distinction. We like it on a GS because it really pairs well with what the body shape is doing, blending the low end and midrange of the body with the wood’s brightness. We also like it for fingerstyle on a GC.Goes Well With: A wide range of playing styles (depending on the body shape). Also, with players who want a brighter rosewood sound with a little less low end and a little more treble zing.”
Specific Gravity: 1.1
Hardness: 2960 Janka
Density: 76 pcf
Tangential Movement: 4.3%
Radial Movement: 2.7%
Volumetric Shrinkage: 7%
Durability: Very Durable
Fine Examples of Cocobolo Creations: Note: links may take you to 3rd party Websites