What Is Walnut?

Walnut trees belong to the Juglans plant species. They’re perhaps most famous for their popular edible seed, a food source for over 9,000 years. However, several walnut tree varieties also provide attractive and versatile hardwoods with many uses. In fact, besides musical instruments, walnut wood is a standard option for everything from furniture to ornamental carvings and even gunstocks.

Walnut Variations

When it comes to guitars, there are several different walnut varieties that luthiers can choose from, each with slightly different characteristics.

Black Walnut

Black walnut, or Juglans nigra, is native to the eastern United States and features a heartwood that ranges from pale brown to dark chocolate.

English Walnut

Juglands regia is commonly known as English walnut, European walnut, or Persian walnut owing to its Iranian origins. Compared to black walnut, English walnut has a similar appearance but is much slower to mature. Because of this, black walnut is often the preferable species to plant for harvesting wood.

Claro Walnut

Claro walnut, or California black walnut, is scientifically known as Juglans hindsii and has similar physical properties to black walnut. However, Claro often features more figured grain patterns and streaks, giving it a highly desirable appearance. This usually means that Claro is more expensive than other walnut varieties.

Peruvian Walnut

Peruvian walnut comes from several varieties native to Southern Mexico and Central and Southern America. Its usage isn’t as common in guitars, though it is one of the walnuts of choice for some guitar makers, such as Larrivée. Peruvian walnut tends to be darker than temperate walnut species alternatives.

Bastogne Walnut

Bastogne walnut, or Juglans x paradox, is a hybrid of the Claro and English walnut varieties. This hybrid was likely an attempt to create a faster-growing walnut wood specimen. It’s the densest of all walnut varieties and is comparable to Claro walnut tonally.

How Is Walnut Used in Guitars?

The most common use for walnut in guitars is for the back and sides of acoustic and hollow-body electric instruments. Walnut possesses excellent tolerance to bending and shaping, making it a great wood to work with for this purpose. The wood’s natural density means it doesn’t project as well as some other options, so walnut isn’t a typical pick for acoustic top woods. Similarly, its density makes walnut heavy, so it’s generally off the table as a solid body guitar choice. There are exceptions to this, though, especially when combined with other woods in a laminate finish.

It’s also relatively uncommon to see a full walnut neck, but again, it is an option in laminated pieces. Similarly, walnut isn’t the number one choice for fretboards, as it is softer than some of the more popular picks for this role. There are walnut fretboards out there, but with a Janka score of 950 – 1200 (depending on the walnut species), expect them to wear quicker than, say, a rosewood or ebony fretboard would.

How do Walnut Guitars Sound?

Walnut offers a natural warmth with a tremendous mid-range response that sits somewhere between mahogany and rosewood on the tone charts. That said, its density means that the wood also offers bright trebles and a tight low-end that grows richer over time.

Is Walnut Easy to Work With?

Luthiers prize good quality walnut as one of the easiest woods to work. It’s a generally durable wood that responds well to hand and machine tools, steam bends with ease, and glues well. However, one common issue that woodworkers may encounter with walnut is a relatively high number of knots in the wood, which can cause something of a headache.

Is Walnut Sustainable?

Walnut sustainability is a complex subject, owing to the varying vulnerability and cultivation of different wood varieties. No walnut species are listed in the CITES Appendices. However, several are listed or close to being so in the IUCN Red List. In the case of the English walnut, it has experienced significant reductions in wild populations that may see it appear on the Red List in the future. But because most wood from this species comes from cultivated trees, its use in guitars, for instance, is unrelated to its declining wild stock.

Are Walnut Guitars Easy to Maintain?

When used in guitar bodies, walnut doesn’t need any more care than guitars made from different woods. Make sure to keep it clean and at a stable temperature and humidity – walnut tends to be more stable at between 40% - 60% humidity, which is also about the ideal range for guitars in general. It’s also a good idea to keep your guitar in a protective case when you aren’t laying down riffs.

If you have a walnut fretboard, you can treat it similarly to any other unfinished fretboard. Wipe with a microfibre cloth, polish with #0000 steel wool, and use a good quality guitar oil to keep it from drying out.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Walnut Guitars?

Great mid-range toneNot as dynamic as rosewood
Bright highs and tight lowsTypically more expensive than other options, such as mahogany
Nice warmthLess durable than most alternatives when used as a fretboard
Durable body wood
Attractive, and often nuanced, grained appearance
Generally easy to work with

Is Walnut a Good Wood for Guitars?

Walnut is one of the few kinds of wood that can appear in most guitar parts. However, better options are available in the case of necks and fretboards. But when walnut is used in the right place to take advantage of its natural strengths, it is one of the finest tonewoods around. The wood’s tonal characteristics - between rosewood and mahogany, yet simultaneously with unique textures – make walnut a great complementary choice for acoustic and hollow bodies or as part of a laminated body.

Walnut Alternatives

If you like walnut but want to boost the mids and warmth even more, then mahogany is a great choice. Or, look at rosewood for a more dynamic and scooped sound with incredible highs and lows. Ovangkol or koa are also certainly worth considering if you want the sound of rosewood but with more high-end and a fuller mid-range performance.

Find Your Walnut Guitar

If a walnut guitar sounds like the axe for you, then why not head over to our Finder tool? You can enter all your guitar requirements, such as price, wood, and body shape, and pick out the ideal walnut guitar.