Ever wonder what a submerged tonewood that’s over 100 years old sounds like?
More and more luthiers are no longer just getting tonewood from cut trees, instead they are finding new ways to reclaim wood and sometimes this leads to some awesome submerged treasures. It may sound strange at first, but once you play a ‘sinker’ guitar yourself, you will discover that underwater is a perfect place to store tonewood.
Over 100 year old wood
Around 1900 it was normal to cut tropical wood in the rainforest and then tip those enormous trees in the river, just letting the water transport them to a sawmill further downstream. Easy and cheap transport and there was plenty of wood, so the fact that more than a quarter of the logs didn't make it to the sawmill wasn't a real problem. Some logs got caught behind something in the stream and the heavier, more dense ones often just sank somewhere along the way.
That's where the wood has been for all these years, because wood that's under water doesn't decay or rot simply because there is no oxygen. On the bottom of the river it can ‘ripen’ very slowly, because juices and minerals slowly seep out. This process makes the reclaimed wood stronger and a perfect tonewood for guitars. It is of the same 'old growth' quality as the Golden Era guitars, that were made from slower growing trees from a denser jungle which results in a more ‘compact’ tonewood than contemporary mahogany. Some of the recovered trees are over 400 years old! Using this wood is very sustainable, because you do not have to cut down growing trees. Instead, this wood is now mainly lifted to the surface in Belize by local divers.
About ten years ago they started some pioneering with sinker mahogany at Martin Guitars and when Nashville guitar veteran George Gruhn got wind of it, he immediately submitted a list with his specs with his ideas for the perfect use of this newly discovered tonewood.
The result exceeded his wildest expectations, as according to Gruhn, the sinker mahogany guitars, combined with adirondack score well at a balanced volume on all strings, in all positions. The sustain is great, all strings have a large dynamic range and these guitars are generous with overtones.
Now you can achieve these results with other tonewood, because a good luthier hand can steer any tonewood in different directions. But the fact that one guitar offers all of these trade-marks is exceptional. Where ‘normal’ mahogany sometimes excels in warm mids and sometimes lacks some trebles and bass, sinker mahogany seems to add some of those magical sparkling high and beautiful low tones.
More Sinker tonewood
Other luthiers soon followed and are now using sinker mahogany, just look at this beauty from Bourgeois.
In addition, other sunken woods, such as California-based Sinker Redwood, are becoming increasingly popular. That wood, too, has been submerged for years and is now used for tops by Santa Cruz and Lowden, among others. It has the warmth of cedar, but over the years it also got the punch of spruce and just looks dazzling.
In Australia, Cole Clark uses Huon Pine from Tasmania. A unique type of wood for which Cole Clark does not (yet) use the addition 'sinker', but Huon has also been submerged for years and has been rediscovered by furniture makers and instrument builders.
Would you like to dive into the deep and mysterious sound of a sinker guitar? In our magical store in Dedemsvaart we have more than 800 guitars in stock and most of the time we have some sinkers available.
Can’t wait? You can always get a sneak peak at our Youtube Demo channel