The name mahogany is used when referring to numerous varieties of dark-coloured hardwood. It is an American Indian word originally used for the wood of the species Swietenia mahagoni, known as West Indian or Cuban mahogany.It was next applied to the wood of Swietenia macrophylla, which is closely related, and known as Honduras mahogany. Today, all species of Swietenia are listed by CITES, and are therefore protected. Species of Swietenia cross-fertilise readily when they grow in proximity, the hybrid between S. mahagoni and S. macrophylla is widely planted for its timber. Mahogany is the national tree of Dominican Republic and Belize. It also appears on the national seal of Belize.
“Mahoganies” may refer to the largest group of all Meliacae. the timbers yielded by the fifteen related species of Swietenia, Khaya and Entandrophragma. The timbers of Entandrophragma are sold under their individual names, sometimes with “mahogany” attached as a suffix, for example “sipo” may be referred to as “sipo mahogany”. Kohekohe (Dysoxylum spectabile), a close relative, is sometimes called New Zealand Mahogany.
In addition, the US timber trade also markets various other FTC-defined species as “mahoganies” under a variety of different commercial names, most notably “Philippine mahogany,” which in reality is actually a Shorea.
Mahogany has a generally straight grain and is usually free of voids and pockets. It has a reddish-brown color, which darkens over time, and displays a reddish sheen when polished. It has excellent workability, and is very durable. The size of the trees meant that wide boards were once available (and still are of the non-endangered varieties). These properties make it a favourable wood for crafting furniture.
Much of the first-quality furniture made in the American colonies from the mid 1700s, when the wood first became available to American furniture makers, was made of mahogany. Mahogany is widely used for fine furniture; the rarity of Cuban mahogany restricts its use (likewise Honduras mahogany). Mahogany resists wood rot, which makes it suitable for boat construction. It is also often used for musical instruments, particularly the backs of guitars.
Mahogany is used for drum making because of its integrity and capability to produce a very dark, warm tone (as compared to other more common wood types like Maple or Birch). Ringo Starr was said to have used mahogany drums, on the Beatles recordings of the 60s, manufactured by Ludwig. Contemporary drum manufacturers, including C&C custom, offer several drum kits featuring high-end shells made of mahogany.
A wide variety of electric guitars are also made with mahogany, like Gibson’s Les Paul line using a sandwiched body with generous use of Mahogany as the back, and a thinner plank of Maple on the sculpted top featured on the bulk of Les Paul Models. The Maple with tighter grain generally yields a brighter tone, the combination of woods produce a warm, rounded tone with huge sustain, for which the guitar is famous. The Gibson SG, and most of the PRS Guitars among others make use of Mahogany for the entire body, and often for the Neck material. Mahogany is noted, again, for its dark tonal properties, as well as its weight (Gibson Les Pauls may weigh as much as 12 pounds),
Mahogany is also commonly used in acoustic guitars. The wood is most often used to make the back, sides, or neck of a guitar, but it is sometimes used to make the top (soundboard) as well. Guitars with mahogany soundboards tend to have a softer, darker tone than those made from spruce.
Mahogany is now being used for the bodies of high-end stereo phonographic record cartridges and for stereo headphones, where it is noted for “warm” or “musical” sound.