I select wood for both unique appearance and tonal qualities.
I believe that Koa is not the only wood that can be used for ukulele and I do not feel restricted to the exclusive use of this valuable resource. Following are just some of the woods that I have used in custom ukulele construction: Bamboo, Bocote, Black Limba, Bloodwood, Bubinga, Carob, Cedar (species), Chechen, Ebony (species), Granadillo, Imbuia, Indonesian Blackwood, Keawe, Koa. Lacewood, Lace Oak, Magumba, Mahogany (species), Mango, Maple, Melaleuca, Monkeypod, Myrtle, Nara, Paduk, Pau Santo, Palo Escrito, Redwood, Rosewood (species), Spruce (species), Sycamore, Tasmanian Blackwood, Tiger Wood, Walnut (species), Wenge, Zebrawood, and Ziricote. Each wood brings to the instrument it’s own unique sound and distinctive look.
Presently my favorite woods for custom ukuleles are:
Black Walnut: This wood is usually dark and straight grained to curly with an elegant look that pairs well with almost any top wood. Density varies among the different varieties with my favorite being the wood from the Willamette Valley in Oregon.
Koa: The Hawaiian classic. This wood varies in color from blond to dark chocolate brown usually with reddish hints. Koa is particularly valued for its variety of curly looks and chatoyance. Even with cutting controls and reforestation efforts, the demand for this wood for musical instruments and furniture is very high and quality stocks are diminishing and becoming scarce as well as very expensive.
Myrtle: This wood is from Southern Oregon and Northern California and has more variety in appearance than Hawaiian Koa. In my opinion, this wood matches Koa closely in tonal quality. The color of Myrtle varies from blond to almost black and almost every color in between. This wood can be straight grained to very curly.
Maple: This wood is a classic used primarily for arched top, jazz guitars and the violin group but now seeing new popularity in acoustic guitars. This wood is usually blond in color and can be straight grained or very curly.
Black Limba: This wood is from Africa. It really shines in electrical instruments but is very responsive for instruments the size of the ukulele. The appearance of this wood is light grey to mottled and dark to black. This wood does not exhibit a lot of curl. It is not unusual to have beetle holes in this wood which allow for moisture to enter the wood creating “eyes” of burnt orange and red.
Mango: Mango is just plain fun. It is usually less dense than the other woods I have used which helps for those inclined to have a light touch. The appearance can be similar to Black Limba but usually with pinks, mustard yellows and sometimes some blues as well. Straight grained to curly and very plain to psychedelic.