Solid Koa Body

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by SnakeAnthony, Mar 2, 2006.

  1. I've been wondering, what kind of overal tonal qualities would a solid Koa body have? I was looking at a Phish FAQ, and noticed that Mike Gordon's orignal bass through-out the 80's and 90's (before the Modulus) was achieved through a solid Koa body, with some other kind of top that I don't remember. I dig his tone and was thinking about using Koa as a body wood on a bass my dad and I want to build. So what kind of tone does it get? What tops match, tonally speaking, well with koa? Yes I do know how difficult Koa is to come by lately, but I was still wondering.
  2. tribal3140

    tribal3140 Banned

    Nov 9, 2004
    near detroit...uh
    It has a rich warm tone.
    Koa isnt hard to come by the really nice figured stuff can be pretty hard to come by and be prepared to pay!
    [Koa isnt cheap either and 5bd ft = a solid body.]

    it is an excellent body wood and a figured koa top goes nicely with a regular koa body! or if you could get your paws on a solid block of very curly for the whole thing youd be stylin!
    If you didnt mind the sticker shock!
  3. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    I've played an old Peavey that had an all koa body and neck (except two purpleheart strips in the neck). Sounded nice.
  4. When I met luthier Ken Lawrence he had his personal 5 string with him.
    The back was Koa and the top was maccasar ebony.
    That bass is to this day the sickest thing ive ever played
    So my biased partial opinion would be, hunt down a nice piece of Maccasar Ebony and glue it up!:)
  5. Holmann


    Dec 23, 2005
    Ashland, WI
    I've never dona a Koa bass, but I did a solid Koa lap steel for a guy once. Sustain for days, great tone, weighs a ton. Koa sounds very similar to walnut to me, so unless you're using a nice figured piece where it will be seen, it's hard to justify the cost. I seem to remember Carvin pushing Koa guitars in the eighties, not sure if they made a bass as well.
  6. KayCee


    Oct 4, 2004
    Shawnee, KS
    I had a Carvin bass with Koa neck-thru, Koa wings, and an ebony fingerboard. The tone was on the bright side, and really sounded nice. Wish I still had that one.

    I don't remember the bass to be heavy, however.

  7. Good reason right there to not use it.

  8. Marcus Willett

    Marcus Willett Supporting Member

    Feb 8, 2005
    Palm Bay, FL
    Endorsing Artist: Bag End - Dean Markley - Thunderfunk
  9. Musiclogic

    Musiclogic Commercial User

    Aug 6, 2005
    Southwest Michigan
    Owner/Builder: HJC Customs USA, The Cool Lute, C G O
    You can find Koa on Ebay from Cook Woods, or Buzzsaw products. You have to treat koa like cocobolo though. the surfaces to be glued MUST be prepared correctly, or they will seperate quite abruptly. Any good really hard wood will be a nice tonal match with Koa. Wenge, Bubinga, Ebony, Rock Maple, Impingo, Narra, Purpleheart, redheart, bloodwood. Look for something that really catches your eye. I am a big fan of 1.25 in Koa with a .5 in bloodwood top, and possibly a veneer of ebony or wenge between the two for definition. Woodcraft has wood prep for gluing up oily woods, so if you go with Koa, check out Woodcraft's site for the wood prep solution.
  10. Holmann


    Dec 23, 2005
    Ashland, WI
    Koa is not endangered- overlogged, yes, but not endangered. It's generally protected on public land, but logging is permitted on private lands. It's also being replanted all over the islands, and is a fairly fast growing tree. I can't put my hands on it at the moment, but Guitarmaker magazine ran a special issue on sustainable wood use a few years back- they had encouraging things to say about the continued availability of instrument grade Koa.
    However, it's a tree in high demand that grows in a limited area. I struggle with quite a few of the woods that I use, largely because I'm so far down the line from the logger that I have no idea how the tree was harvested. I also have not taken the time to research each wood that I use to see where it grows, how endangerd it is, and what niche it fills in the ecosystem. I'm doing a neck through right now out of maple, walnut, and padouk. I know where the maple came from (offcut from the veneer mill down south of me- they buy locally, but I don't know if it was clearcut or sustainably harvested). The walnut I'm not worried about, only because I've seen a whole lot of walnut trees. The padouk? The extent of my knowledge about padouk is that it's orange and makes a very pleasing "bonk" when I strike a stick of it. I justify my usage of exotic woods by saying "hey, I only do a dozen guitars a year- It'll take me a lifetime to use up a single tree". Dumb, I know, but I like using these woods. Guys like Dave Maize do great stuff with local woods, but I don't want to limit myself. I'm not sure what it would take to change my mind.

    Sorry for the ramble- too much coffee today.

    Also, I've used Koa on dozens of instruments and never had any problem gluing it. It's not particularly oily & requires no more preparation than mahogany/walnut/etc.

    Here's the steel I mentioned in an earlier post
    scourgeofgod likes this.
  11. tribal3140

    tribal3140 Banned

    Nov 9, 2004
    near detroit...uh
    the biggest supplier of koa for hawai
    has a contract with the state and is overseen by the local gov't to make sure they dont intertfere with the ecology of the land.
    they however dont do reseeding and grafting of the oldest heartiest trees (which is something they should do!).
  12. Showdown

    Showdown Supporting Member

    Jan 21, 2002
    Honolulu, Hawaii
    I live in Hawaiian and a close friend of mine used to supply wood to luthiers (mostly ukulele makers). Koa is protected and only fallen trees can be cut. As far as I know this applies to private land also. There is some illegal poaching going on, but most of the luthiers here will not use poached wood.
  13. Phil Mastro

    Phil Mastro

    Nov 18, 2004
    Now that pretty much everyone here has stated the obvious about koa, you should definitely check out Black Acacia, or australian blackwood.
    It's a close cousin to koa (koa is an acacia) and visually and tonally they're very close. There's a brief description here:
    LMI page
    The back of one of my basses is made out of it, and I think it looks swell, and it's also pretty easy to work with. I second the comparison to walnut.
  14. tkozal

    tkozal Supporting Member

    Feb 16, 2006
    New York City
    I have two Koa Carvins, one with a maple neck thru, and one with a 3 piece Koa, 2 piece maple neck, and beuatiful curly sides.

    The one with the all maple neck is brighter than the 5 piece neck one. Both are strung E-C.

    I get a nice warm, rich tone, like melted chocolate....

    I had to wait on the second till their most recent Koa shipment they had got had matured enough (matured, is that the word?)
  15. klocwerk


    May 19, 2005
    Somerville, MA
    My old '82 Rich was Koa with maple stringers. Sounded nice and warm, but had very active electronics so I can't tell how much of that was the wood. like any other wood, YMMV. :D
  16. my bass' top came from bigisland. you might want to speak with them about your project.


  17. ZakY


    Mar 10, 2015
    Koa is very comparable to mahogany. I am currently building a bass with a koa top. Your not going to get much more tone out of koa than mahogany. However the look is amazing. Unfortunately you will see the price going up due to the boom in Ukulele companies and the use of Koa in high end acoustics
  18. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    Holy necrothread batman
    JIO and michaelwayneharwood like this.


    Dec 12, 2013
    I have a solid Koa Carvin neck through that has an incredibly warm tone. It is one of the lightest solid body basses i have ever played weighing in at 6 pounds with the strap. My $.02
  20. tink9975

    tink9975 Supporting Member

    Aug 10, 2006
    MoCo, MD
    6 pounds? thats nuts! my LB75 in Koa is just a hair under 8lbs. still my lightest bass.