Limba: A Helpful Illustrated Guide
People frequently call asking about black or white limba wood (scientific name Terminalia Superba). Also called Korina wood. Other names used outside of the United States are Frake, Ofram, and Afara. Musical instrument applications represent the vast majority of inquiries. Specifically, Black limba guitar body wood, for example.
When compared to other exotic woods, the availability of limba is relatively low within North America. However, the apparent scarcity is not due to over-harvesting. Limba is not on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species or on CITES. Rather, it’s not exported to North America in large volumes because it’s used for instrument production and specialty millwork. Neither of which are high volume uses. Additionally, there are few markets for poor color boards. Poor color White Limba is either stained or off-white. Poor color Black Limba is bland with little streaking or interesting variation.
Vintage Blond Korina
Guitar manufacturers like Gibson, Hamer and Paul Reed Smith use Korina regularly for bodywood and neckwood. Moreover, Vintage Guitar Magazine often features vintage Korina Flying V guitars. Accordingly, it holds a dear place in the heart of many vintage guitar aficionados.
Color is a critical specification. The wood needs to be processed quickly and properly kiln dried to obtain a bright white color. If logs are not processed in a timely manner stains and mold can develop which will be visible in the processed lumber later on. As with most color-sensitive woods, the expertise of the sawmill and kiln drying play a key role in the appearance of the sawn wood.
Gibson’s proprietary trade name for Limba tonewood is Korina. Presumably, they invented the name to keep the actual specie a secret. When someone requests Korina they are most certainly looking for instrument wood.
Variegated Black Colors
Limba is a single specie. Thus, the color determines if it is Black or White. Unlike maple wood, the dark and light colors do not correspond to heartwood and sapwood.
Black Limba Veneer Matching
The highest quality logs are made into veneer rather than sawn into boards. This is for economical reasons and holds true for almost all wood species. However, when the quality of the log depends on the figure density there is often a disconnect between the appearance of the veneer and the lumber. Veneers typically look spectacular. The lumber, not so much. For projects that use both lumber and veneer together, this presents a matching problem. Hence, we bring in sawn lumber boards as close to veneer quality as possible. Because of its uniform appearance White Korina lumber is much easier to match with its veneer than black.
Why is finding good limba so difficult?
Unsophisticated sawmills sometimes designate the color based on their order deck. If a board is blond with a few streaks of black, is it black or white? There is not much consensus.
Precious Few Applications
Unfortunately, Korina cannot be commercially produced to satisfy only one particular industry niche. For example, out of every 1000 board feet of Korina produced, 10-20% may work for luthiers. As a result, Korina wood suppliers bring in more wood than they
can should sell as instrument quality. Second quality hard maple boards can be used for millwork, furniture, or moulding applications. Korina has few secondary options outside of tone wood.
Flame Figured Black Limba
What happens to the non-instrument grade limba? That is a dilemma for distributors. The instrument wood specification is proprietary and subjective. As a result, when a shipment arrives on grade but not good for instrument applications there is little recourse with the sawmill. Unfortunately, we have received containers with virtually nothing suitable for tonewood. It’s like being sucker punched in the gut.
Distributing limba is a bit of a gamble. Understandably, our customers don’t want to gamble. We take the risks so they don’t have to.
Let me know if we can help with the elusive specifications you’re after.