Exotic, mythic, famous, and yes, very expensive. Those are the perfect words to describe one of the most stunning woods the world has ever seen: “The Tree”. Known to be the most famous tonewood in the guitar’s –and ukulele– industry, this exquisite wood soon to be extinct is the Holy Grail for guitar and ukulele builders, and a true gem for ukulele collectors.
Although it sounds kind of odd that something called “The Tree” could be this important, the fact is that the wood of this tree is a one in a lifetime mahogany piece that has a very characteristic quilted wavy figuring that’s very attractive for instrument builders such as Robert Taylor, Michael Greenfield, Richard Hoover, Dana Bourgeois, and Ervin Somogyi; collectors and musicians like Slash:
The history behind The Tree
The history behind The Tree starts 500 years ago when this beauty started growing in what now is part of the Chiquibul Jungle in Central America. In 1965 a group of loggers was walking through a part of the jungle full of Mahogany trees when something caught their eyes: A tree over 100 feet high and more than 10 feet in diameter at the base. The loggers described that tree as “ginormous”.
To understand the size of this tree, imagine a tree that’s wider than a bus:
According to the information provided on several websites, the loggers decided to cut the tree and sell the wood to luthiers, but the size of this tree made it almost impossible to accomplish. Weeks passed until the tree was finally able to fall, but instead of falling to the side that the loggers intended to, the tree fell backward into a ravine. At that moment it was physically impossible to recover the tree, so it sat down under that ravine for more than a decade.
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After more than 10 years of sitting down under the ravine, the legend of the precious tree came across the ears of Robert Novak, an American who specialized in the import of great woods, who decided to get that tree back to life thanks to his experience in figuring out the true beauty in hardwoods: The Tree is the “prettiest wood I’ve ever seen”, claimed.
He didn’t hesitate and made the purchase while still laying at the bottom of the river, and then figured out a way to recover that wood “from the Gods” despite the obstacles such as its enormous weight, the terrain, the wet conditions, and the actual ravine.
Novak decided to cut the tree into quarters and then use some tractors to drag the woods out of the ravine. “They dragged the timber out of the ravine using a large tractor and placed them on trucks, three heavy sections at a time. The wood was then transported a perilous 100 miles through the heart of the jungle to the Chiquibul river”, according to the Stewmac, a website that specialized in woods for instruments.
After 2 weeks of hard work, the wood was shipped to the United States.
The Tree’s entrance into the music industry
10 years passed from the moment The Tree arrived in the United States to the start of its use in musical instruments. Although the mahogany wood wasn’t that popular in the ’70s and ’80s (Rosewood was the leader for luthiers), the quilted wavy figuring and the tone that The wood had, immediately amazed everybody after luthiers like Tom Ribbecke and Richard Hoover (owner of Santa Cruz guitars) decided to use The Tree in some guitars.
“When I first saw the wood, I was impressed by its spectacular beauty… The sound is warm and beautiful… [with a] bass response that is almost overwhelming”, said Tom Ribbecke in an interview when talking about the beauty of this wood.
According to the explanation of several wood experts, the tone that comes out of this wood is “unlike any other wood available”: The density, response, and headroom rival that of the best Brazilian rosewood, and it has an open, ringing quality at first strum.
Is it easy to find wood from The Tree to make more instruments?
No. This wood is no longer available, and when you find it for sale, it usually costs at least $40,000. So, when you come across an instrument with The Tree wood, you grab it!! And here at Uke Like The Pros, we have now the luck to have one of those instruments in stock: An spectacular Cornerstone ukulele that has its rosette made out of this wood:
We only have 1, so if you’re interested in getting this one-of-a-kind ukulele, we recommend you take action now before it’s too late. As you can see, there was only one gigantic tree in that jungle and it was found 57 years ago.
So, there you go! We now have a better understanding of what “The Tree” wood actually means and why is considered one of the best woods ever used! What do you think? let us know in the comments below. Remember that we also have a learning site where you can learn a bunch of techniques and songs.