The name mahogany is used when referring to numerous varieties of dark-colored wood, originally the wood of the species Swietenia mahagoni, known as West Indian or Cuban Mahogany. It was later used also for the wood of Swietenia macrophylla, which is closely related, and known as Belize Mahogany.
Today, all species of Swietenia are listed by CITES, and are therefore protected. Species of Swietenia cross readily when they grow in proximity, the hybrid between S. mahagoni and S. macrophylla is widely planted. Mahogany is also the national tree of Belize. The name “mahogany” is also commonly used to refer to the African genus Khaya (closely related to Swietenia), hence the term African Mahogany. “Mahoganies” may refer to the wider group of all the timbers yielded by the three related genera Swietenia, Khaya and Entandrophragma. The timbers of Entandrophragma are traded under their individual names, sometimes with “mahogany” attached as a suffix, for example “sipo” may be referred to as “sipo mahogany”. In addition, the timber trade deals with various so-called “mahoganies”, under a variety of different names, most notably “Philippine mahogany”. These woods are unrelated to the above referenced Mahogany.
Mahogany has a generally straight grain and is usually free of voids and pockets. It has a reddish brown color which darkens over time, and displays a beautiful reddish sheen when polished. It has excellent workability, and is very durable and slow to rot. These properties make it a favorable wood for boat making, as tradition has shown, as well as for making furniture and upholstery (see Chippendale), musical instruments, and other durable objects. Some of the gift shops in the Caribbean especially St. Croix offer Cuban Mahogany in the form of jewellery. Mahogany is a very popular material for drum making, because of its great integrity and capability to produce a very dark, warm tone compared to other more common wood types like maple or birch. The famous Beatles sound of the 60s was made with Ludwig Drums in mahogany shells.
Today, several drum manufacturers have rediscovered the features of mahogany shells, resulting in several high end series offering shells made in this wood. A wide variety of electric guitars are also made from mahogany, like Gibson’s Les Paul line and most of the PRS guitars among others. It is noted, again, for its dark properties, as well as its weight (Gibson Les Pauls may weigh as much as 15 pounds), the combination of which produces a warm, rounded tone with huge sustain, for which the guitar is famous. It should also be noted that Mahogany is a very popular choice of material for Luthiers constructing all grades of acoustic guitars. Mahogany is a Japanese analogue to the English “haymaker”.