Scientific Name: Diospyros crassiflora
Also known as: Gaboon Ebony, Black Ebony, African Ebony, Nigerian Ebony, Cameroon Ebony, Kribi Ebony
Status: VERY RARE
Origin: West Central Africa
Traditional Uses: Instruments; Fine Furniture Accents; Inlay, Artisan Carving, Royal Implementation, Jewelry Boxes, Ivory Mixed Chess Pieces.
Gabon Ebony, also known as “Gaboon” or “Black” Ebony sets the undisputed standard for true black wood around the globe and has done so throughout history. Highly prized throughout many civilizations as the purest of all black wood, it has been found in the most coveted places within Egyptian tombs. Other documented fondness by royalty shows it to have been the choice material for scepters and drinking cups by the ancient kings of India.
Today’s artisan craftsmen continue to hold Gabon Ebony in the highest esteem due to the associated lore, as well as the workable traits of the material itself. Due to the extreme tight grain density, it is capable of polishing to a glass like finish, and can provide a genuine black color with almost no visible grain whatsoever. Most often is straight grained but infrequently might have some interlocked grain.
From a musical instrument perspective, it has proven itself time and again to be of the finest material to work with, and is known for superior tonality due to the higher density over the other types of ebony. It has a long history as being used for piano keys, as well as bodies for clarinets and other woodwind instruments. Also, with luthiers it is prized for fingerboards, bridges and headplates in quality guitar building. Size limitations of available stock prevent it from being widely used for the guitar body itself, but there are some out there.
Few species can imitate the depth of blackness true gabon ebony affords. While there are a number of other species in the Diospyros genus, the vast majority of them don’t yield a true black color tone. And when they do, it is variegated with other tones. Even the best quality of gabon is subject to having sporadic caramel streaks in it, but this is not to be considered a defect rather, it is the character of the wood. The only competitor from a visual perspective would be African Blackwood, but unfortunately it is not true ebony. One of the few species that is an accepted substitute (from a grain density and tonal perspective) is Katalox (aka Mexican Royal Ebony), but it provides a purplish color tone in lieu of the solid black.
As for price and availability, Gabon Ebony is one of the most expensive lumber species on today’s market. This is driven by 3 factors. First, if & when the tree is allowed to grow to maturity they usually only grow to a maximum diameter of 2 feet. These mature trees are still subject to a varying ratio of the coveted heartwood (as are all Diospyros species). Second, a consistently high demand has spurred overharvesting and illegal logging in its native regions which has pushed the species to being unsustainable. Third, there is no easy access or viable roads to easily get to the remote areas where mature trees can still be found. The primary method for harvesting remains to be local villagers hiking deep in the jungle, manually felling the trees and then stripping them down to the black heartwood. Once this is done, they then must be cross cut down to a manageable size that a person can carry out while navigating uneven and perilous terrain over long distances. The weight of fresh cut lumber combined with the extreme density of this species translates to an average of 6’’ diameter heartwood logs that usually don’t exceed 6’ ft lengths. These combined factors render the vast majority of gabon ebony on today’s market into small sizes of varying quality. It is almost unheard of to find widths exceeding 7’’ and therefore has reduced the role of this amazing timber to that of accent wood on larger artisan projects.
Specific Gravity: 1.1
Hardness: 3220 Janka
Density: 68 pcf
Tangential Movement: 9.0%
Radial Movement: 6.5%
Volumetric Shrinkage: 15.5%
Durability: Very Durable
Fine Examples of Gabon Ebony: Note: links may take you to 3rd party Websites:
Guitar 1, Guitar 2, Pot, Pool Cue, Crochet Hook, Table