One Tree Might Have Produced Your Favorite Guitarist’s Favorite Guitar

This has the makings of a great documentary

Andy McKee
Andy McKee is one of the guitarists who owns a guitar made from a distinctive tree.
Andrea Friedrich/Redferns

Slash has one. So does David Knopfler of Dire Straits. The “one” in question here isn’t just a guitar — it’s a guitar made from the wood of a very particular tree, which has attained a near-mythic status among guitar players for the instruments that it’s produced. That tree has, in turn, become known as The Tree – and while it sounds like this is the stuff of legend, the story behind it is very real.

In a new article for Smithsonian Magazine, Ellen Ruppel Shell chronicled the tangled history of The Tree — and those of the acclaimed luthiers who have turned its wood into instruments for a small group of musicians who can afford it. (Having a guitar made from wood from The Tree is a five-figure process, easily.) Luthier David Smith told Shell that “[i]t’s the rarest and most coveted wood in the world.”

The Tree itself is a mahogany tree that was felled in the Chiquibul jungle in 1965 — and promptly became stuck where it had fallen, resulting in it remaining in the jungle for years to come. The distinctive pattern of its wood may be due to a genetic mutation, contributing even more to its legend. Eventually, it was harvested and milled in the mid-1980s.

One of the lingering questions the article poses is whether the wood from The Tree does possess some intrinsic quality that makes for better instruments, or if the quality of the guitars made from it stems more from the talented luthiers who were hired to turn the mahogany into instruments. That’s a question we may never have an answer for — but when a host of talented guitarists swear by something like this, it’s hard to argue with them.

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