Taylor and three other prominent guitar companies — Martin, Fender and Gibson — have teamed up with the environmental organization Greenpeace to promote changes in logging practices that would secure the longterm sustainability of tonewoods.
The partnership, the Greenpeace MusicWood Coalition, launched its initiative with a focus on Sitka spruce, commonly used for guitar and piano soundboards. The main location of Sitka spruce trees is the coastal rainforest regions of Alaska and Canada, which for many decades have provided a source of old-growth trees that are coveted by instrument makers.
“In many regions we could be a short time away from the end of the Sitka spruce trees large enough to provide wood for guitar parts”, said Bob Taylor, referring to the reliance of guitar makers on trees that are more than 250 years old for their exceptional tonal properties. “That could change through different logging practices.”
Though the guitar industry is not a major consumer of Sitka spruce (American guitar companies together use about 150 spruce logs a year, Bob says), the wood has been steadily depleted by other industries. According to an extensive, several-year analysis of the region’s timber market initiated by Greenpeace, over eighty percent of Southeast Alaskan timber ships to Asia, primarily for home-building, with the bulk of the remaining wood used for door and window frames in the United States.
The intent of the MusicWood Coalition is to leverage the high profile of the guitar industry to draw attention to the need to develop sustainable forest management systems. Greenpeace laid the groundwork for the coalition when it arranged an educational tour in Alaska with representatives of all four guitar companies in the summer of 2006. (Bob Taylor wrote about this trip in his BobSpeak column in the fall issue of Wood&Steel.) As Bob comments in a video on the MusicWood website (musicwood.org), it’s easy to think that the region could never be overlogged as one sees a dense forest in an untouched region — until one sees firsthand a clearcut mountainside and the realization becomes starkly clear — literally — that aggressive, unmanaged logging could severely deplete the region in a relatively short time.
During their Alaska trip, the guitar group met an assortment of parties with a vested interest in the region, including local loggers, ecology experts, and board members of Sealaska, a Native American corporation and the largest private landowner in Southeast Alaska. The corporation owns 290,000 acres of surface land.
Currently the MusicWood Coalition is encouraging Sealaska to apply for certification by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which would entail adopting logging practices that would safeguard the survival of the region’s remaining ancient forests while continuing to produce high quality wood.
During the 2007 NAMM music trade show in Anaheim in January, Taylor hosted a breakfast meeting involving Greenpeace, Sealaska, and representatives from the aforementioned guitar companies, along with personnel from Walden Guitars and Asian instrument companies Yamaha and Kawai. Discussions of the Sitka spruce campaign were positive, and the group also addressed other tonewoods that are in jeopardy in other regions of the world, including mahogany.
To learn more about the Greenpeace MusicWood Coalition, visit www.musicwood.org