Grades of Koa Wood & Koa Tonewood
In the early 2000's we pioneered the current Koa grading system specifically for the instrument market which we adopted from the tonewood Maple, Spruce and Cedar market. Much mahalo and a big thank you to David Lapeyrouse of Timbre Tonewood in BC, Canada for all your help in those early years! Previous to that, Koa sets were often sold as "A", "AA" or "AAA" according to the models of guitars in the market especially at Taylor Guitars.
Yet, with so many different customers with specific needs and the boom of the ukulele industry, we needed more grades to fit the market, so we adopted the 1A thru 5A grade. Even now, 20+ years later, we continue to hone the grading and have been knows to offer 4A+, 5A and the ever-so-rare 5A+ aka 6A or as we have recently started calling them "Ubers"!
We use the grading system explained below for our Koa tonewood products namely Koa ukulele sets, Koa acoustic guitar sets and Koa electric guitar sets.
How do we grade Koa wood & Koa tonewood?
Please have a look at the photo above and you can see the wood grain range from the left to right from NON (1A) curly to SUPER (5A) curly. I adopted this grading system from the Maple, Spruce and Cedar market (thanks Dave!) in order to have a base line grading system when trying to sell Hawaiian Koa tonewood in the instrument market. My father had his grading system for Koa lumber that was adopted from NHLA grading rules, but that just didn’t work when speaking luthiery. While not perfect, I found this does help our buyers understand what to expect from us when they order Koa ukulele sets, Koa acoustic guitar sets and Koa electric guitar sets. We do our best to match the buyer’s expectations with what we promise to supply.
Hawaiian Koa is generally graded by strength and depth of curl or evidence of figure and character. Fancier the wood = higher the grade. All grading is within the template of the instrument supplied. Color is not a grading factor for us and Hawaiian Koa tonewood can range from a very light, golden color to a deep chocolate brown or red.
Koa is a significant tonewood native to Hawaii and has been traditionally used to craft ukuleles. Not only is it historically significant, but it also imparts a unique warm tone that differentiates the sound of an ukulele made from Koa from those made from other tonewoods like mahogany, rosewood, or maple. Among Koa woods, there's a special category known as "curly" koa which stands out because of its visual allure. This attractive variant, also termed as figured, fiddleback, or beeswing, doesn’t necessarily offer a superior sound but is certainly a visual treat. However, crafting with curly koa is notably challenging, making it a precious commodity. Its demand, coupled with the fact that a tiny percentage of trees produce this grain pattern, results in high prices for curly koa. In the tonewood industry, the "curl" grade in koa is often measured on a scale from 1A to 5A. Here, 5A represents the curliest form, while 1A, although lacking curl, possesses a straight and quarter-sawn grain that is suitable for crafting. As an illustration of the price difference, a regular solid Koa ukulele might cost $1,000, but upgrading to a 5A grade could potentially double its price, solely due to the wood's cost. This exemplifies the premium placed on the quality and appearance of tonewood, especially in instruments like the ukulele.
Grade Description of Koa Tonewood
• 1A-2A - no to light curl, but meets the criteria of having a vertical grain cut and little to no runoff at the edges
• 3A - pervasive curl yet may disappear or look stronger at certain angles or have bald spots
• 4A - strong curl and figure, usually throughout the entire plate, generally visible from all angles
• 5A - Excellent, strong, deep curl no less than 90% and no blemishes within the template
Our Supply of Koa Tonewood & Exotic Tonewoods
Log prices fluctuate wildly these days which means the prices will as well, so please understand it is really about good ‘ol economics on what we can offer. Sometimes we have lots for reasonable prices and sometimes hardly any at all and expensive.
We sell Koa tonewood by set namely "Koa ukulele sets", "Koa acoustic guitar sets" and "Koa electric guitar sets". We are a wholesale and retail tonewood supplier capable to supply one to 1,000's of sets. We do all the processing from green to final product on the Big Island and on Oahu, Hawaii. Our tonewood products are categorized by ukulele sizes, guitar sets and instrument billets. We have soprano, concert and tenor for ukulele sizes, as for acoustic guitar and electric guitar sets, we have guitar tops, sides and backs.
Currently these are the wood species we sell for tonewood category: figured curly Hawaiian Koa, spalted Hawaiian Mango, Indian Rosewood, Brazilian Rosewood, Cocobolo, Monkey Pod, Cuban Mahogany, Spruce Sitka, Spruce Engelmann and Spruce Adirondack. We're in the process of putting all these tonewood sets online but they are coming soon! We might have what you're after, send us an email and we'll get back to you shortly.