Rosewood vs Koa Acoustic Guitars: What’s the Difference?

An acoustic guitar’s tone is largely dictated by the woods used on the back, sides and top of the body, with each species of wood sounding slightly different. Rosewood and koa are both popular options for acoustic guitar tone woods and in this article I’ll be comparing them in-depth so you can decide which is the best option for your new acoustic guitar.

The Quick Answer

Rosewood acoustic guitars have a warmer tone due to their bass-frequency emphasis compared to koa acoustic guitars. Koa guitars sound brighter and have better note separation due to the treble-emphasis. Both woods are found on high-end guitars and typically suit fingerstyle players more than strummers.

Used on the back and sides of the guitarUsed on the back, sides and top of the guitar
Warmer toneBrighter tone
Rare due to restrictions on rosewood importsMore commonly used on acoustic guitars
Very expensive and rare tone woodFairly expensive compared to most tone woods
Rosewood vs koa as an acoustic guitar tone wood

Rosewood on an Acoustic Guitar

Rosewood is typically used on the back and sides of an acoustic guitar’s body, and also the neck and fingerboard. It is rarely used on the top of the body. In terms of it’s appearance, it is a dark wood with a prominent grain.

Rosewood is a dry and dense wood which makes it popular choice for fingerpickers/ fingerstyle guitarists who benefit most from its rich and warm tone. It is often described as being dense in overtones which are harmonics with a high frequency. This can make it less suitable for strummers as it means it can sound a bit too heavy when a player really digs into it.

Tonal Characteristics: rich low-end frequencies and clear high-frequencies with a slight mid-range scoop.

You’ll often find a spruce top being paired with a rosewood back and sides. Spruce pairs well with most woods and has a brighter tone which prevents the guitar from sounding too heavy.

There are several types of rosewood, the main two being:

  • Brazilian: very prominent grain, sounds the clearest and brightest.
  • East Indian: less prominent grain, sounds the warmest and darkest.

Rosewood is primarily used on high-end acoustic guitars however and has become less popular in recent years due to restrictions placed on its export by the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Brazilian rosewood in particular is listed under the strictest regulations making it particularly hard to get hold of internationally.

Advantages of Rosewood Guitars:

  • Rich in overtones
  • Suits delicate fingerstyle playing
  • Unique appearance

Disadvantages of Rosewood Guitars:

  • Very expensive
  • Restrictions make it hard to get hold of
  • Not very well suited to strummers
Brazilian rosewood acoustic guitar

Koa on an Acoustic Guitar

Koa is a dense wood that comes from Hawaii and is a fairly expensive (although not as pricey as rosewood). Koa can be used as a side, back and top wood and most guitars will feature all-koa bodies. In terms of a appearance, koa is a dark wood which has a very unique grain. It’s a very stylish choice of tone wood which is often used on limited edition and premium guitars.

Koa acoustic guitars typically sound very bright, particularly before they are “broken in”, with a very pronounced top-end to give the guitar a crisp tone with excellent note separation. Once the guitar has been properly broken in, the clarity is still retained but the tone becomes more balanced and warms up a bit.

Koa is used primarily for fingerpicking. It can be used for strumming but typically suits players who use their thumb pad instead of their fingernails as this will help warm up the tone a bit.

Tonal Characteristics: emphasis on high-end frequencies mostly with a strong mid-range when broken in and less bass response.

Advantages of Koa Guitars:

  • Bright sounding with good note separation
  • Suits delicate fingerstyle playing
  • Unique appearance

Disadvantages of Koa Guitars:

  • Needs warming up by playing
  • Not as well suited to strummers
  • Fairly expensive tone wood

Tone Comparison

Rosewood and koa acoustic both suit fingerstyle guitarists typically more than they suit heavy strummers, however they do still have different tonal characteristics.

Rosewood guitars have the most emphasis on the bass-frequencies whereas koa guitars have more emphasis on the mid-range frequencies. Both tone woods a well-pronounced top-end, although it is more emphasised with koa. The result is that rosewood guitars sound warmer compared to koa guitars which sound brighter.

This is particularly evident when comparing brand new guitars, as koa is very bright when you take the guitar out of the box and really needs warming up to get the most out of it.

Both woods are very well-suited to fingerpicking, but for different reasons and their isn’t a “best” sounding wood out of the two. Rosewood guitars sound darker and warmer, whereas koa guitars sound brighter and typically require a more delicate touch.

In terms of strumming, both guitars can be suitable but are more rarely selected. Rosewood guitars risk sounding a bit too heavy due to the overtones, whereas koa guitars can sound a bit too bright and harsh when using the fingernails to strum instead of the thumb pad.

Check out this YouTube video comparing Taylor GS Mini guitars which both use solid wood. One guitar uses koa on the back, sides and top and the other uses rosewood on the back and sides and spruce on the top.

Here are some more articles you might find helpful:


Hey, I'm Heather. I started playing an electric guitar when I was given a Squier Strat for my birthday around 15 years ago. I now own an acoustic guitar and several electric guitars including my personal favourite, a PRS SE Custom 24.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts