Instrument Makers Saving Trees

Christian F. Martin IV with his daughter, Claire Frances Martin. Photo by Tim ShafferThe New York Times ran an article yesterday about guitar makers C.F. Martin, Taylor, Fender and Gibson joining forces with environmental activist group Greenpeace in an effort to save tree species vital to their trade.

One wood the article focuses on is Sitka Spruce from Alaska which Greenpeace says could become as rare as Brazilian Rosewood in only six years if current harvesting practices continue. What I found interesting is that the bulk of Sitka Spruce being cut in Alaska is not used for the construction of instruments. This old growth wood is being sent to Japan as framing material for homes. C.F. Martin estimated that a total of three million acoustic and electric guitars are sold in the US each year, but that accounts for less than 20% of the Sitka Spruce that’s cut each year in Alaska.

Martin just last month hosted the C. F. Martin Inaugural Wood Summit ‚Äò07 where wood suppliers from around the world spoke concerning the historical and future availability of their particular species, as well as issues surrounding it’s availability.

What the instrument manufacturers are seeking is not a complete ban on logging, but rather some sort of solution that relies on better forest management. The word that comes to mind is conservation. Let’s hope they are able to make a difference in the larger marketplace and create a situation where our children will be able to buy instruments made from the great woods we love at something less than the cost of a pre-war Martin!

  • f5joe

    More BS from our big manufacturers. Get serious about changing woods and/or rebuilding the forests. Joe

  • I don’t know. It seems to me like they are making an effort. Here are three points to consider.

    1. The story mentions guitars Martin is building out of sustainable woods (red birch and cherry). But it does seem that certain woods just sound better than others. If they stop using those woods altogether, the consumer won’t be happy.

    2. It’s clear from the story that instrument construction is not the major offender in the case of the sitka spruce, it’s other industries. But the instrument manufacturers are the ones making an effort to conserve the forest. I applaud them for that.

    3. It’s not in their own best interest to indiscriminately use up a resource like this. If they want to be in business 25 years from now, they’ll need to find ways of preserving and sustaining the required resources, in this case trees. So I don’t see them deciding to do nothing real about it and just planning to go out of business in a few years. I think they genuinely want to create a scenario in which they can continue to build good sounding instruments that people will want to buy for many years to come. That means figuring out how to sustain a supply of the necessary trees.

    It takes many years, in the case of sitka as much as several hundred years, to “rebuild” the forest. It’s not going to happen overnight, and they can’t do it by themselves, every industry that profits from the trees needs to be involved. I think the instrument makers are on the right road: raise awareness, look for alternative materials, work with others to conserve a natural resource. Sounds like a good plan to me.