About Grenadilla Wood

Grenadilla Wood or Dalbergia Melanoxylon

Grenadilla, the wood from which woodwind instrument are largely built, belongs to the Dalbergia family. "Melanoxylon" simply refers to the kind of wood it is, which in this case is "blackwood".

Under this name the Portuguese discoverers, constantly searching for new ebony-like woods, brought the wood to the Royal court. In doing so they imported this wood, which stands next to Ebony as the darkest of woods, if not completely black. French titles such as Ebene de Mozambique, which are also applied to Ebony itself, sometimes indicate the source.

Grenadilla grows in the dry forests of southeast Africa; above all in the east African savanna grasslands, where the most important sources our found.

Grenadilla is especially treasured for the making of woodwind instruments due to its hard, smooth surface, and its strong resistance to the absorption of moisture. Portuguese musicians were themselves the first to employ it for the making of instruments.

Harvesting the Wood

In the thinly populated growing districts of the light savanna of eastern Africa, specialist tree finders scout out suitable Grenadilla trunks. This is fraught with difficulty, not so much in the search itself, for Dalbergia Melanoxylon grows abundantly, but rather in the selection. The trees can withstands long dry periods without problems, however they resemble large shrubs, growing at the outside to 10 metres in height and up to 60 cm diameter, with in the main irregular, crooked and tightly wracked stems. Assessment based on size alone often deceives: especially fine-looking specimens will grow above the internal water transport systems of termite mounds. Unfortunately they turn out invariably to be hollow.

Nevertheless the seekers are able to find more then sufficient suitable trees to satisfy the demands of all the instrument builders and other hardwood craftsmen of the world.

The selected trees are felled by local work teams with power chainsaws, trucked out to assembly points, then on occasion to sawmills but more usually directly to ports for delivery overseas. At one of these places a specialist handler assesses the trunks or sections, and grades the selection according to suitability for final usage.

Conservation is not a fearful problem in the case of Dalbergia Melanoxylon, since it easily seeds itself and the forest naturally regenerates itself quickly. A threat is posed however by the use of the wood for fuel: Grenadilla has an especially good heat value and can be burnt when freshly cut without need for kindling due to its high oil content. Fortunately the population density in these areas is very low.