A luxury from the era of colonisation and imperial control, Mahogany wood has remained extremely popular. This led to centuries of non-stop exploitation, which has resulted in a shortage of fresh Mahogany that the market is only just coming to terms with. This realisation has meant that other hardwoods became more valuable, and in turn they were rapidly exploited; meaning that many hardwoods across the world need to be protected so that they can recover. But there are alternatives to Mahogany that you can find, without exploiting these other hardwood species. When sourced responsibly, the African species of hardwood Sapele is a perfect substitution for the illustrious wood. Coming from trees that tower over much of West Africa, it is a close cousin of Mahogany and they have similar qualities to one another.
However, just because it is a brilliant alternative to Mahogany and supplies of Sapele were plentiful, doesn’t mean we can throw caution to the wind. Due to increased demand for Sapele in recent years after the lock placed upon Mahogany trading, Sapele is starting to become vulnerable. It is currently on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, which means it is definitely not thriving. Sapele’s price has also risen, because of the constant demand for the valuable wood and the low production levels in recent years.
Luckily there are now wide-scale operations underway to replant swathes of Sapele trees so global stocks can be replenished and then sold more sustainably, which should help resolve its status as a threatened species and lower the price over time.
If we can make sure that we source it sustainably, Sapele wood is a brilliant alternative to the sought after Mahogany.
First of all the main similarity is its appearance. It shares a rich golden to dark reddish brown heartwood, which can be allowed to darken over time if left to naturally age. Alongside these similar colours to Mahogany, Sapele can also have a shiny iridescent quality, with shades of light pink, gold and red sometimes appearing.
On a structural level, it also has similar grain patterns and internal characteristics, which makes it a durable wood for any task that you would want Mahogany for.
If you were looking at Mahogany as a tone wood for a guitar, Sapele has a similar tone to that of a Mahogany body. If you are building a guitar, you would be far from entering new territory, because Sapele is famous for its use as a key material in many guitars. It also grants the instrument visual appeal with its distinctive colours and grain.
It’s not just guitar’s though that Sapele is used for its musical qualities. It is now being used to create the Basque percussion instrument Txalaparta, famed for its distinctive sound.
Hopefully you have found this guide to Sapele helpful, and see how it could be used as an alternative to Mahogany.