Common Frame Woods Used on Guzheng 常用古箏邊板木料

The names of the guzheng frame tonewoods are often directly translated from Chinese. Since they are direct translation, and ignoring the common English names, the translated names are misleading. Not to mention, a lot of the Chinese names of the different frame woods are mis-labeled in Chinese already.

One very misleading term is the "sandalwood", which is a direct translation from Chinese “檀 tan”. There are red sandalwood, black sandalwood, purple sandalwood, and etc in Chinese terms. However, most of these woods belong to the "Dalbergia" genus, that are commonly known as "rosewood" in English. They have no relation with the sandalwoods that produce fragrance.  

Also, sometimes, one common Chinese name refers to several different woods. Buyer has no idea which specific wood he/she is buying by just the common Chinese wood name.  

Here are some common guzheng frame woods in common Chinese, common English and scientific names.


红木 (hong mu), unspecified rosewood. Dalbergia or non-Dalbergia - The unspecified light-weight (0.5-0.6g/cm3) rosewood are mostly used in basic-intermediate grade models that the makers do not reveal the specific specie of the frame wood that are used. When used on guzheng, it has a sweet sounding character in general.


非檀木 (fei tan mu), African Padauk, Pterocarpus soyauxii - This is a softer padauk(0.67g/cm3) that is used on the Dunhuang 696 models. Previously translated into "African Sandalwood".


花梨木(hua li mu), Burma Padauk, Pterocarpus macrocarpus - This is a slightly heavier padauk (0.72g/cm3) that is used on Dunhuang Yun's 896 models. Some translated into "Pear wood".


缅酸枝(mian suan zhi), Burmese rosewood, Dalbergia bariensis or Dalbergia Oliveri - This is a medium density rosewood (0.6-0.8g/cm3) that is commonly used on professional-grade instruments. e.g. Dunhuang 694 series, Tianyi professional level 2 series. When used on guzheng, it has a sweet and clean character.


黑酸枝/黑檀/老红木 (hei suan zhi/hei tan/lao hong mu), Burma Blackwood, Dalbergia cultrata - This is a high density rosewood (0.86g/cm3) that is commonly used on professional or concert grade instruments. Some translated directly from Chinese into "Black Sandalwood or Aged Rosewood". When used on guzheng, it has a rich and sweet character.


特式古夷苏木 (te shi gu yi su mu), Bubinga, Guibourtia.tessmannii - This is a high density frame wood (0.89g/cm3) that is used on professional or concert grade instruments. When used on guzheng, it gives a rich and deep sound.


金丝楠木(jin si nan mu), golden-thread Nanmu, Phoebe zhennan - Golden-thread nanmu only grows in China, so there is not really a common English name for it. It is a high density wood at 1.1g/cm3. It's famously known to be used as the pillars of the forbidden palace. It is used on concert-collection grade guzheng from Yangzhou. When used on guzheng, it gives a warm and earthy tone.


老红木 (lao hong mu), Thailand Rosewood or Siamese Rosewood, Dalbergia cochinchinensis - This wood, formerly translated as aged rosewood, is not really an "aged" rosewood, but an expensive rosewood from Southeast Asia. Chinese called it "aged" rosewood to distinguish this exotic wood from the lighter rosewood species. It has high density at 0.90g/cm3. It's commonly used on
concert-collection grade guzheng. e.g. Dunhuang 695 and Dunhuang Yun 895 series. When used on guzheng, it gives a mellow sweet and rich tone.


红檀 (hong tan), Pau Rosa, Bobgunnia fistuloides - This wood is formerly translated as "red sandalwood" from directly Chinese translation. The common English name is Pau Rosa. It is not a Dalbergia genus. It grows in Africa and has a very high density at 1.03g/cm3. It's commonly used on concert-collection grade guzheng. When used on guzheng, it gives a melting sweet and clean very focused tone.


黑檀(hei tan), African Blackwood, Dalbergia melanoxylon - This wood has a very high density at 1.27g/cm3. It's commonly used on concert-collection grade guzheng. When used on guzheng, it giver a very focused, deep and muscular tone.


紫檀(zi tan), East Indian Rosewood, Dalbergia latifolia - This wood is one of the famous zitan wood. It was formerly translated as "purple sandalwood". It is a high density rosewood at 0.86g/cm3. It's used on Dunhuang 698 and Dunhuang Yun 898 series concert-collection grade guzheng. When used on guzheng, it gives a clean and rich sound.


紫檀(zi tan), Madagascar Rosewood, Dalbergia baronii - This is another type of "zitan purple sandalwood" in Chinese term. It is sometimes called the "big-leaf zitan". It is a high density rosewood at 0.93g/cm3. It's used on most collection grade "zitan" models from Yangzhou, and certain high-end Dunhuang 698 and Yun 998 series. When used on guzheng, it gives a clear and delicate tone with a full and deep bass.


玫瑰檀(mei gui tan), Bois de Rose, Dalbergia louvelii - This is formerly translated as "rose purple sandalwood". It is a also a high density (0.93g/cm3) rosewood from Madagascar. It is used on the very high-end instruments such as Dunhuang's 9698 series and Dunhuang Yun's 8898 series. When used on guzheng, it gives a clear and delicate tone with a hint of sweetness and a powerful deep bass.

小葉紫檀(xiao ye zi tan), Red Sander, Pterocarpus santalinus - Formerly translated as little leaf zitan, Red Sander is a highly valuable wood in China. It has very high density at 1.26g/cm3. When used on guzheng, it gives a tight clean and very focused sounding.

巴西紫檀(ba xi zi tan), Brazilian Rosewood, Dalbergia nigra - Brazilian Rosewood is considered the best sounding wood on musical instruments in the western world. It has high density at 0.9g/cm3. It is rarely used in Chinese guzheng. The only maker who I know that uses this wood on guzheng is Songbo. He got some old stock. Since this wood is under CITES protection and is illegal to export from Brazil, it is unlikely to see more of this wood used on guzheng