Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mpingo: Viable Guitar Tonewood?

More famous in hi-fi circles as a resonance-controlling widget, does Mpingo qualify as a viable material to make good sounding guitars from?

By: Ringo Bones

The hype probably began in the 1990s where various widgets made out Mpingo seems to an inexplicable ability to improve the sound quality of hi-fi systems just by placing Mpingo made cones and other widgets strategically in various parts of your hi-fi. Some hi-fi enthusiasts have even suggested that a piece of Mpingo should be mortised into the bell of Miles Davis’ trumpet or he uses a mute made out of one. Maybe it works more being fashioned as a woodwind instrument like a clarinet to be played by Benny Goodman. With such impeccable credentials, does Mpingo truly be a viable source of tonewood in order to make a more musical sounding guitar for the 21st Century?

For those unfamiliar with the material, Mpingo is a dense African swamp-ebony hardwood that has been manufactured by hi-fi accessories makers – like Shun Mook for example - as a resonance-controlling widget like cones and LP record clamps. On their brochures, Shun Mook says Mpingo wood absorbs resonance, but I find this explanation somewhat inadequate. And as of late, there still is scant evidence that Mpingo absorbs resonance better than other hardwoods more commonly used in the guitar making / luthier industry like Honduran mahogany, ordinary ebony, or even nitrocellulose lacquered maple used in making Gibson Les Pauls.

During the early days when large-scale guitar manufacturing was at its infancy, Martin & Co. – famed for their acoustic guitars that are as expensive as entry-level South Korean made family sedans – used ordinary ebony as their original tonewood of choice back in the 1920s. But as time went by and due to the increasing scarcity of prized ebony, many luthiers / guitar makers shifted to using South American and South East Asian mahogany and other related tropical hardwoods. Currently, ordinary ebony had been dethroned by Hawaiian koa as the ultimate tonewood of choice. Mpingo, at present, is still untested as a guitar making material. But as you may know, both hi-fi enthusiasts and guitar makers probably already know by now that a prized dense African swamp-ebony hardwood called Mpingo is somewhat rare and a species has probably the fecundity of a great white shark. Which is probably the reason why it is not coomonly used as a guitar making material due to its rarity and expense. And also explains the reason why Mpingo is seldom seen in pieces larger than a bowling ball.