Is my guitar made from sustainable wood? I am not sure if that is a question that many of us consider when we buy a guitar. However, many of the worlds biggest names in guitar production are taking this question seriously which is good for the eco-warrior guitarist.
What is the issue and why is ethical sustainability so important?
The main problem is that exotic woods utilised for the manufacture of guitars are a resource that has to be grown. Consider Spruce, a wood used to make the body of many acoustic guitars. For there to be sufficient wood to create the front of your acoustic guitar the tree has to be in the ground for 300 – 350 years! That is a very long time to wait when you think how many acoustic guitars are produced each year.
Musical instruments represent a small percentage of the wood used globally. But the wood that is used tends to be from old growth forests, that is trees that have been in the ground for a long time. Think of the Spruce tree growing for 350 years before it is ready!
Construction is by far the biggest user of wood and it is a very hungry consumer indeed. Greenpeace estimates that less than 10% of the Earth’s land area remains as intact forest landscapes. It is widely acknowledged that areas of old-growth forest available for logging are nearing exhaustion, and the associated environmental impact with some traditional forestry methods have far reaching and damaging effects. The global pressure for wood is therefore putting significant demand on this forestland. With only 8% of the forestland truly protected much of the global requirement for wood is through illegal logging. It is estimated that between 20 – 40% of global wood production comes through illegal sources.
Of course reputable guitar companies would never use wood from illegal sources would they? Well sadly Gibson was fined $300,000 in 2012 for illegally importing wood from Madagascar and India. The case grabbed national attention when agents from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service raided the companies Nashville plant, seizing raw materials and nearly 100 guitars and shutting down production.
This pushed the sustainability issue up the agenda and forced a lot of companies to review their supply chains. Greenpeace in the US formed the Music Wood Campaign which partners with the music industry with the aim of protecting threatened forest habitats and safeguarding the future of the trees critical to making guitars. Some of the biggest names in Guitars such as Gibson, Fender, Taylor, Guild, Yamaha and Martin have signed up to the initiative. The campaign also involves the wood suppliers to encourage them to harvest the forests under their management responsibly and seek eco-certification through the Forest Stewardship Council.
Some guitar manufacturers have also invested money in utilising new wood types and raw materials. For example a number of guitar manufacturers have experimented with Pine as a wood for producing guitar bodies as it is a quick growing wood and can be sourced from sustainable forests. Martin have collaborated with Sting on certified wood which culminated in the launch of their Sustainable Wood series using ethically sourced alternative woods. They also produce a range of guitars made from an innovative high pressure wood laminate. Martin have even gone to the length to insist that their dealers must stock sustainable models. If they don’t comply they won’t be able to stock Martin guitars. Gibson, the company fined for the import of illegal wood was the first to launch an eco-certified guitar the SmartWood Les Paul.
It looks like the guitar producers are acting to clean up their supply chains or using alternative raw materials. However, we as guitarists have our part to play otherwise illegal wood will continue to find its way into our guitars. Sadly many of us our resistant to change afraid perhaps that the sound won’t be as sweet if the guitar is not crafted from traditional woods. So should we start to be more questioning of how our guitars are made? Should we be asking the question is my guitar made from sustainable wood. Let us know what you think.
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