Rosewood could be back on the menu as CITES restrictions set to be lifted

(Image credit: Neil Godwin/Future)

Over the past two years the guitar world has been adjusting to a variety of new tonewoods as CITES regulations restricted the importing and exporting of rosewood, but there is renewed hope that free trade of such instruments and of rosewood components can soon recommence.

As NPR reports, a revision of the trading restrictions has been passed by a CITES committee that would allow all finished instruments with rosewood, all parts and spares, to be traded freely, with restrictions remaining only on rosewood as a raw material. 

The move could be finalised as early as this week.

For guitar design, this is huge. There are few more prized tonewoods, and whether rosewood turns up on a fretboard, neck, bridge saddle, or on the back and sides of an acoustic guitar, there are few more ubiquitous. 

The CITES Appendix II restrictions on rosewood – which also included bubinga and kosso in its protected species list – was intended to tackle conservation issues and violence surrounding the supply of rosewood for luxury Chinese furniture, but it represented a massive enforced change to guitar design, presenting manufacturers with a costly bureaucratic headache on how to distribute instruments with rosewood. 

The budget and mid-priced ranges were the first to move to alternatives, as Fender did in May 2017 when it announced that pau ferro would replace rosewood on its Mexican-built models. Fender recently launched a limited run of Jazzmasters with all-solid rosewood necks, but it would seem unlikely that they would revise the Player Series again having just launched it in June.

Will rosewood come back in a big style for entry-level or mid-priced instruments? That is hard to say. Pau ferro has become an industry standard rosewood alternative and that it has featured on many a model that performs well, there might be less to be gained for manufacturers to go back. 

That we will have the option again is great news. 

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.

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