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Top 5 Best Koa Body Dreadnought Acoustic Guitars for Serious Amateurs or Professionals

Updated on July 23, 2019
Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw started playing the guitar when he was 12 years old. He loves nothing more than to pick one up and pluck some strings.

Beautiful Koa backside of a Martin Custom Koa Dreadnought guitar.
Beautiful Koa backside of a Martin Custom Koa Dreadnought guitar. | Source

Koa As A Tonewood

As time has gone on, and the original sorts of tone woods used for upscale acoustic guitars have become increasingly rare, a rather fine and wonderful thing has happened; luthiers and consumers of fine acoustic guitars have both had to try new things, and they've both discovered that new tone woods are very often not only good, but fantastic.

There is no reason to lament the decline in availability of fine tonewoods such as Brazilian rosewood. There are, however, reasons to conserve it, and demand that international laws be upheld to sustain ecological diversity, and old hardwoods in the rain-forests be respected, and never allowed to become extinct. Along this journey in time and music, we've all come to discover a nice large list of non traditional tonewoods which luthiers may employee in the creation of top notch, heirloom quality acoustic instruments.

A true favorite among players and builders alike, Koa wood, is not only fast becoming popular, but easily now recognized as being every bit as fine a tonewood for bodies of guitars as any of the older or more traditional woods.

Being rather more like mahogany than rosewood, but somewhat more favourable towards a balanced mid-range tonality, there is where Koa wood can be found on the tonal palette. Of course Koa is a tonewood from the islands of Hawaii, and to the eye, the coloration will range further with variables than does mahogany, and generally, will be darker to somewhat orange-ish brown.

In this article we will explore five of the best Koa bodied dreadnought acoustic guitars, and these guitars will not necessarily be inexpensive at all, but rather, they'll be the kind of guitars a very serious amateur or professional would use to make music for a lifetime. At this time the use of solid koa wood is mostly restricted to very expensive guitars, and these are certainly so.

Behold The Beauty Of Koa Wood On A Martin D 42K

1. The Martin D-42K

C.F. Martin & Company is forever at the fore of the acoustic guitar manufacturing game in the USA, but indeed their products are desired globally. Nobody truly has ever achieved the respect Martin guitars have, and Martin is forever at or near the front of the pack when new innovations, new woods, and new designs.

There is nothing new about the Martin D-42 design at all, but the K at the end of the model D-42K indicates solid Koa is used as the wood of the body, and the back and the sides of this otherwise upscale D-28 style dreadnought. If one were to beg the question, what is a Martin D-42, exactly? Then the answer would be, It's the second most expensive standard production model Martin dreadnought, but it is offered in with many different options.

Whenever one purchases any Martin D-42, it goes without saying the instrument will come with the highest quality solid spruce top available, will feature the traditional high X and scalloped bracing, beautiful abalone inlay, solid mahogany neck, solid ebony fretboard, Gotoh gold plated tuning machines, solid ebony bridge with abalone inlay, solid hard shell case, and as always, a spectacular limited lifetime warranty to the original owner.

These guitars are rare, but if you shop around, you should be able to land one for just under five thousand dollars. Yes, it is a Martin D-42 price, however, and only the D-45 is a more upscale and expensive standard production Martin instrument.

Under no circumstances should the reader assume the D-42K is the only Koa wood body Martin guitar available. In fact, there are Koa wood martin guitars available for under a thousand dollars, and then, there are guitars such as the Martin D-50 Koa Deluxe, priced at over fifty thousand dollars.

A Very Nice Bit Of Playing On a Martin D-42 Koa Wood Dreadnought

Martin D-42K Features:

  • Solid Sitka spruce top
  • Unique maple and black fiber rosette
  • Solid figured koa back and sides
  • Low profile mahogany neck
  • Solid ebony fingerboard and bridge
  • East Indian rosewood head-plate with abalone Martin inlay
  • Abalone snowflake fingerboard positioning markers
  • Black and white body binding on the front and back
  • Gotoh gold plated tuners
  • Tortoise colored pickguard

The Famous Gibson Hummingbird Dreadnought With Koa Back And Sides

2. The Gibson Custom Hummingbird Acoustic Guitar With Koa Wood Back and Sides

The Gibson Hummingbird acoustic guitar, like the D-42 by Martin, has been around for a very long time. In fact, the Gibson Hummingbird was created in the 1960s to provide a mahogany body dreadnought guitar with more upscale appointments than it's Martin competition, the Martin D-18, and was the very first of Gibson's square shouldered dreadnoughts.

The real difference here between a regular mahogany body Gibson Hummingbird and this one, is the Koa body, which will have a much more extravagant appearance to the eyes. Gibson dreadnought guitars have a slightly different body shape from Martin dreadnoughts, but are also of a slightly shorter length of scale. The lesser scale length generally decreases the unamplified volume, and for some, make such guitars easier to play.

The Gibson Hummingbird is traditionally the second most expensive of all Gibson acoustic guitars. It's popularity is primarily based in the very notable beauty present from all the fine inlay work. These fine Gibson Hummingbird Koa wood guitars are also available via custom shop with Adirondack spruce tops, but the regular Sitka spruce top model is priced at around five thousand seven hundred dollars.

A Lovely Demonstration Of A Gibson Hummingbird Koa Wood Dreadnought Guitar

Gibson Hummingbird Koa Features:

  • Honeyburst Finish
  • Solid Sitka spruce top
  • Highly figured koa back and sides
  • Checkerboard marquetry
  • 8-ply body binding on top, 5-ply body binding on back
  • Solid mahogany neck
  • Gibson 24 3/4" length of scale
  • Bone nut and saddle for maximum sustain and clarity
  • Ebony fingerboard and bridge
  • Single ply birds beak fingerboard binding
  • 20 total frets, 14 frets clear of the body
  • Gibson original hummingbird in flight inlay
  • Hummingbird headstock inlay
  • Abalone orpheum bridge inlay
  • Hand inlaid engraved pick-guard
  • 1.725" width at the nut
  • Engraved gold tuning machines
  • Gibson hard-shell case

Taylor DN-K Dreadnought Koa

Source

3. The Taylor DN-K Koa Dreadnought

Bob Taylor and his terrific Taylor guitars out of California are not going to be outdone by anyone. They'll always have their unique designs, and unique internal bracing patterns allowing for their own distinctive and uniquely Taylor tonality.

I humbly submit for your approval, the Taylor DN-K, a dreadnought guitar with a solid spruce top and all solid Koa wood back and sides. This guitar is priced far better than the Gibson or the Martin guitars I've listed above, and it is priced new at around three thousand three hundred dollars.

Now again, do not think this is the only Koa dreadnought guitar that Taylor Guitars produces, it isn't, it is merely the most traditional style Koa dreadnought they produce, and so, it wins my personal selection. Taylor does manufacture other Koa dreadnoughts, it also manufactures guitars made entirely of Koa, and I do mean utilizing Koa as a top or soundboard as well as the wood used for the backs and sides.

I apologize for being unable, at this time, to find a video on Youtube of this guitar being presented, discussed, and played. It would nearly be criminal to not mention here how this guitar features Taylor's fantastic expression system electronics for plugged in play. Taylor remains at the cutting edge of creating forever better acoustic/electric electronics.

Taylor DN-K Koa Dreadnought Guitar Features:

  • Back and sides Hawaiian Koa
  • Sitka spruce top
  • Abalone rosette
  • Tropical American mahogany neck
  • Ebony fingerboard with maple binding
  • Abalone Koa series fretboard positioning marker inlay
  • Ebony headstock overlay
  • Ivoroid with Abalone top trim binding
  • Ebony bridge
  • Tusq nut and saddle
  • Gold plated Taylor tuning machines
  • 25 1/2" length of scale
  • Adjustable truss rod
  • 1 3/4 inches width at the nut
  • 20 total frets, 14 clear of the body
  • 15" Fingerboard radius
  • Sitka spruce internal bracing with relief route
  • Natural Koa color gloss finish
  • Taylor Expression System electronics
  • Body width 16 1/4 inches
  • Body depth 4 5/8 inches
  • Body length 20 inches
  • Overall length 41 inches

4. The Gibson J-45 Koa Limited Edition Guitar

The Gibson J-45 is known as the workhorse. It is a fine historic American guitar, and Gibson intended it to be affordable for working musicians, and also for it to be capable of covering all bases in regards to what a musician would use a steel string acoustic guitar for. So the J-45 is much less dressed up than something like the Hummingbird.

The Gibson J-45 dates all the way back to 1942, a year when the world was a much different place than today. One of the great things about fantastic musical instruments is they transcend the times, and will be as wonderful many years into the future as they are today, so long as they are properly cared for.

The J-45, like the Hummingbird, is traditionally a design with solid mahogany back and sides, and a solid spruce top. The beauty of the koa is undeniable, and the availability of koa is limited, and so you here have a J-45 which is going to cost a lot more than usual.

The honeyburst finish here is pretty special. Gibson had also created a J-45 with a natural top finish. Because this page is more or less focused on boutique level guitars, I chose the honeyburst J-45 to display. Gibson J-45s are fantastic for singer-songwriter types, fingerstyle players, and country blues players.

The Gibson J-45 Koa Limited Edition Guitar Features

  • Sitka Spruce top with Koa back and sides for great clarity and pleasant midrange and highs
  • Mahogany neck with an Indian Rosewood fingerboard
  • Mother of Pearl fingerboard inlays
  • 3-ply top binding, single ply back binding
  • LR Baggs Element pickup system for incredible sound when amplified.
  • Only 75 of this limited edition guitar are being made

5. The Martin Custom Koa D-41

Now in the case of the Martin Custom Koa D-41, I've simply not been able to find suitable photographs which I could use here. I hope you will kindly watch the video just above, and from there, you will see the guitar in all of its resplendent glory. It is a thing of striking beauty, and the video lets you see it from every angle you could wish for.

You will also note quite quickly here there is something about the D-41 Custom Koa which is very unlike all the previously discussed guitars. Of course the difference is the top wood of this instrument, the soundboard, is also of koa. All the other instruments were of koa back and sides, and with spruce tops. Koa as a tonewood, however, is something which can also be used for the soundboard.

The differences between a Martin D-41 and a Martin D-42 are typically extremely minute, but in this case, however, the difference between the D-42 Koa and the Custom Koa D-41 are going to be immense, and it is all about the soundboard. Because koa as a tonewood is very similar to mahogany, you should imagine this guitar to sound much like a Martin D-15. It's only going to cost many times that price for the dressed up appointments, and the striking beauty of the koa wood.

Martin Custom Koa D-41 Features:

  • Highly figured koa wood back, sides, and top
  • Martin scalloped bracing
  • Gloss finish
  • Modded V neck 1.75" width at the nut
  • Black ebony fingerboard
  • Black ebony bridge
  • Waverly gold 4060 tuning machines with butterbean knobs
  • Highly flamed figured koa head-stock overlay
  • Compensated bone nut and saddle for maximum clarity and sustain

Finally

Finally I'd like to say these are all used guitars. If any of these are in current production, then production has only just resumed, and I've yet to become aware of it. Because these are all used guitars, the prices for them will vary. The prices are typically going to be in the realm of three thousand dollars at the absolute minimum. For the Martin models, you'd better be ready to dig deeper still, and expect five thousand minimum.

Koa wood only grows in Hawaii. It simply doesn't come from anywhere else. Hawaii isn't a big place, and so you can rightly assume there simply isn't a huge lot of koa wood available, ever. Prices will remain high. The only upside to this is koa is a fast growing species of hardwood tree. Someone like myself will simply have to be prepared to forever be a bit jealous of that buddy who's got the solid koa body dreadnought, and hopefully I'll be allowed to play it from time to time. Thanks for reading.

© 2013 Wesman Todd Shaw

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    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      6 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Thanks very much, Aleister888! I love little more than visiting guitar stores and ...playing every acoustic guitar in the store if they'll let me!

    • profile image

      Aleister888 

      6 years ago

      These guitars are simply beautiful, excellent Hub, really enjoyed reading it.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      6 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Thanks very much, Good Sir! If there were a guitar store nearby, I'd beg them daily for a job.....I'd be there constantly anyway :)

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts

      Very interesting hub and great review of these very beautiful guitars !

      Vote up and more !!!

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      6 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      True, Fiddleman, but I've got an uncle that paid $10 dollars for a Martin D-18 at a flea market.

      Nobody knew what it was because some damned fool had spray painted it black.

    • profile image

      Fiddleman 

      6 years ago

      Like finding a needle in a haystack but it does happen. My luck somebody else beat me to it! lol

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      6 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Hell Yeah!

      I've probably got all the guitars I'll ever have. I've got three really good ones. I'll never ever get tired of "tire kicking" in guitar shops though, and the really good places don't mind you doing it either. Hell, guitar stores are where I learned what all I did like, and didn't like in fine guitars.

      $3,500 for ANY Brazilian guitar is a total steal these days.

      I'd like to find late 60's Martin's that are scratched to hell, maybe need a reset neck...somewhat trashed out old guitars....but if it's a 28', then it's Brazilian! I'd love to be able to locate some stuff like that on the cheap. I know just the guy to take something beat up to to have it all fixed just right!

    • profile image

      Fiddleman 

      6 years ago

      Probabably impossible but wouldn't you like to walk into a guitar shop and try all 3 out, you know just kick the tires. I was 50 before I could ever get a Martin but once I held it in my hands, there have not been any regrets. Gary has a fairly new Brazilian Rosewood D42 and got a steal at $3500. It doesn't fit my hands as well as it does his and needless to say he is a very happy camper.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      6 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      HAHAHAHAH!!!!!!!!!!! Them suckers are expensive!!!!!!

      If it were me, I'd probably grab that Taylor...it's at least in the sane sort of price range.

      I think the Koa really sounds a whole lot like mahogany. I don't think a whole lot of folks would be able to hear the difference, but some could.

      I do think the Koa is a bit more attractive to look at than mahogany though :)

    • profile image

      Fiddleman 

      6 years ago

      I have heard only rave reviews for the Koa wood guitars. One of my former GE Managers ordered a Koa wood tenor guitar but I never got to hear it played. Three great makers and options available for the Brazil and Indian Rosewood. Wes you have just flung a craving on me, I want one of those Martins!!!

    working

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