What Is Pau Ferro?

Pau ferro is the common name of Machaerium scleroxylon, a hardwood species native to tropical South America. Mostly found in Brazil and Bolivia, it’s also known as Morado, Brazilian rosewood, and Santos rosewood. Aside from being an increasingly popular tonewood, pau ferro also finds use in veneers, flooring, cabinetry, and wood ornaments.

Although some of the wood’s commonly used names may imply that pau ferro is a type of rosewood, it actually isn’t. However, the Machaerium genus is closely related to rosewood’s Dalbergia genus.

How Is Pau Ferro Used in Guitars?

Offering similar performance to rosewood but far better availability, pau ferro is an obvious choice for guitar makers looking for more sustainable tonewoods. The most popular use of pau ferro is undoubtedly on fretboards. It has excellent strength, density, and stability, making it shine in this role. That said, it’s also a perfectly viable choice for acoustic guitar back and side wood. Here, the wood’s clarity can really shine, giving guitars great projection and a dynamic tonal range.

While it isn’t common, pau ferro could also be an option for guitar necks. However, there are better, more effective, and cheaper options available.

How Does Pau Ferro Sound?

While not identical, pau ferro shares many of the physical and tonal properties that make rosewood such a great tonewood. It offers similarly excellent clarity, with a solid low-end and treble. However, there are some differences. It’s a touch warmer than rosewood and, at the same time, has a snappier, brighter attack that some say is reminiscent of a toned-down maple.

Is Pau Ferro Sustainable?

Increasingly, guitar makers recognise pau ferro’s abilities as a high-quality substitute for rosewood. Many of the world’s top brands now use it in their instruments, including luminaries such as Fender, Cort, and ESP. As such, you can rest assured that pau ferro is a perfectly sustainable choice. It isn’t listed on the CITES Appendices, and the IUCN labels the wood as a species of least concern.

Is Pau Ferro Durable?

With a Janka hardness rating of 1,960, pau ferro is a little less hard than East Indian rosewood. That said, it still offers more hardness than maple, another noted fretboard wood, so there are no concerns about the amount of abuse the wood can take. Furthermore, pau ferro offers slightly more density than rosewood, giving it excellent stability.

Are Pau Ferro Fretboards Easy to Maintain?

When used as a fretboard material, pau ferro can be cared for exactly like rosewood or ebony. It’s unfinished, so you’ll need to occasionally use a good quality guitar oil to keep it hydrated, and you can use a slightly damp cloth to clean away dirt. For particularly tough cleaning jobs, feel free to use some ultra-fine #0000 steel wool.

If you’re the proud owner of an acoustic guitar with pau ferro back and sides, go ahead and care for it the same way that you would any other guitar. Use a finish-appropriate polish, dust with a microfiber cloth, and consider storing your instrument in a protective case when not in use.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Pau Ferro?

As an increasingly popular alternative to rosewood, there are plenty of reasons to pick up a guitar that features pau ferro:

  • Excellent clarity

  • Good projection

  • Dynamic tonal range

  • Nice warmth

  • Bright and sharp attack

  • Sustainable

But before splashing the cash, consider the following possible dealbreakers – especially if you’re looking for a rosewood alternative:

  • Both warmer and brighter than rosewood

  • Less hard than rosewood

  • Lighter in colour than rosewood

Is Pau Ferro a Good Alternative to Rosewood?

Pau ferro is undoubtedly at the forefront of modern tonewoods that are starting to replace the old classics. It offers some excellent tonal properties that make it a great choice for acoustic and electric guitars and basses. That said, someone looking for a sustainable rosewood alternative that is as close to the original as possible could be a little disappointed. Pau ferro does have plenty of similarities to rosewood, but it’s different enough to warrant being judged on its own merits. And with or without comparisons to rosewood, pau ferro is an excellent tonewood choice that will only become more popular in the future.

Pau Ferro Fretboard Alternatives

If pau ferro isn’t for you, plenty of other alternatives are available nowadays for you to consider. If you like to keep things fairly rosewood, take a look at Indian laurel, ovangkol, or wenge. For a more robust mid-range response, consider jatoba, or, for more brightness and extra snap in the attack, maple could be the way to go.

Find Your Pau Ferro Guitar

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