Limba is a West African hardwood with many names and many looks. In Ghana it is called ofram, while on the Ivory Coast it is known as frake, akom in Cameroon and afara in Nigeria. In the United States, limba is often called korina, a copyrighted name used originally for limba plywood, according to the book Wood: A Handbook, published by the USDA Forest Products Lab. Limba is also known as white and black limba, white korina and black korina, and white or light and black or dark afram, ofram, frake, etc.
Explaining the source of the references to white and black limba/korina, Rick Banas, vice president at Interwood Forest Products, said, “In some countries the trees develop a black heart which rarely exceeds 50 percent of a tree’s diameter. This heartwood is susceptible to beetles and is more often than not full of worm holes.”
Black limba is growing in popularity primarily due to the fact that black woods are in fashion, Banas said. On rare occasions, stands of trees have been found with a fiddleback figure. “The grain of black limba replicates many other species such as rosewoods, ziricote and more although this can be drastically different from tree to tree,” he added.
According to Ang Schramm, technical services director at Columbia Forest Products, limba has a slightly lighter weight than African mahogany and varies in color from light cream to warm butternut. “In fact it is often separated for color into light and dark,” he said. “In the green state it has relatively high moisture content, but it dries rather quickly, sometimes to the extent it can be quite unpredictable with respect to warp and splitting. The grain is typically coarse and straight, with occasional interlocked grain, giving it a tendency to produce a very attractive ribbon striped effect when quarter sliced or sawn.”
Limba, both black and white, is used for a variety of applications, from utility plywood to kitchen cabinets to architectural millwork, Schramm said.
Limba is also well known for its use as guitar bodies back in the 1940s and 1950s because of its tendency to produce the crisp, bright tones highly prized by musicians, Schramm noted. However, he added, spotty availability and a preference for khaya has lessened its usage.
Still Hitting High Notes
A guitar builder as well as the IT director at Ed Roman Guitars in Las Vegas, Brett W. Bertram is also a limba/korina fan.
“Korina has long been a popular choice for guitars and other musical instruments,” Bertram said. “Mahogany is considered one of the best sounding woods, but I prefer korina because it gives a great tone and it can often offer a more interesting figure than mahogany, plus korina works well. Unlike a wood like ebony, limba, or korina as we call it, is easy to work and finish.”
Bertram said the white or lighter korina can actually vary in color, offering a wide variety of light colors from white to gold and more. “The ‘black’ korina can be highly figured with a range of colors like orange and browns with dark striping. At Ed Roman Guitars we have been fortunate to have five pallets of white and black korina purchased by Ed Roman five years ago.
“Korina is great choice for guitars because it looks good and sounds good,” Bertram added.
One of the company’s classics, the Ed Roman RVC (Roman Vintage Custom) “Woody” Guitar, pictured left, was made by Mike Risinger. The guitar features a highly figured two-piece black korina body and solid black korina neck; the neck has an ebony fretboard and an ebony headstock overlay. The body has a hand-carved black korina pickguard and hand-carved black korina pickup covers.
Pictured on the right, the white korina guitar from Las Vegas Guitar Works is a “Troth” Guitar. Made by Bertram, “the double cutaway guitar is cut from a single solid piece of white korina. The neck is three-piece maple with an ebony fretboard and ebony headstock overlay. There’s also a white korina truss rod cover and a white korina recessed backplate,” he said.