One of the finest use of exotic tropical wood is musical instruments, like guitars. Exclusive woods like Brazilian rosewood are praised for their tonal quality. But unfortunately this particular wood is almost extinct and on the endangered species list. The same faith is likely for Madagascar rosewood, Honduras mahogany and many others which are logged in countries with a severe decline of tropical forest ecosystems. Guitar manufacturers and craftsmen have realized that for the future of wood and guitar building, these ecosystems are essential. And although the industry supports sustainable forestry management, the ultimate solution would be adopting alternative non tropical woods. Woods that have similar tonal quality and looks to inspire a future generation of guitar players in a sustainable way. In Europe, two luthier schools are exploring the use of common European woods for guitar building. Their journey could be a very important drop in the bucket of an industry in transition, which has only a few examples of manufacturers using alternative woods. By setting an example in musical instruments, the most delicate of wooden products, this could help changing how we look at the use of tropical timber for all sorts of applications.
Leonardo Guitar Research Project
A consortium of the luthier schools CMB Puurs in Belgium and IKATA in Finland has presented the results of the first Leonardo Guitar Research Project, which was funded by the European Commission. Through the work of thirty advanced students and renowned guitar builders they have shown that it is possible to build good looking guitars from alternative non tropical woods that also sound great. The thirty luthiers produced same traditional models to allow comparison and judgment of the influence of the wood choice. Players, builders, guitar enthusiasts and representatives from the guitar manufacturing industry now had the opportunity to reframe their judgment about the perceived superiority of tropical woods. The unanimous conclusion was that alternative non tropical woods look and sound great. A first hurdle is taken in the transition process of making these woods acceptable or even standard.
Changing the public mindset for a sustainable future
Guitars are all about nostalgia. Jazz, blues and rock were shaped in the 20th century. The great pioneers of those genres will be musical heroes for long time. Early guitars models, tube amplifiers, vinyl records are all breathing that era. People cherish the technology of those days to stay a bit closer to their source of inspiration. Although the wood choice of those days also may have depended on mundane factors, such as price and availability, changing to alternative woods with almost no history of use is a big step for everyone, and especially for consumers.
Transitions don’t happen over a day. The next step in the Leonardo Guitar Research Project will not only create a better understanding of the tonal quality of alternative woods. Most importantly it will help to build a supply chain of these woods and make then more commonly used both by amateur and professional guitar builders. As more people will be exposed to guitars of non tropical woods, an even wider audience will talk about it on social media and forums. Eventually, the big brands and the entire industry may have alternative woods in their standards product lines.
The future of forests, trees and wood
Wood is everywhere around us, in our houses, our furniture, packaging and of course in paper. We hardly pay attention to it, but in musical instruments wood is everything. By focusing on guitars, the Leonardo Guitar Research Project helps to raise awareness of the need for sustainable forestry and lowering our dependence of tropical woods. This may not only change the guitar manufacturing industry, but spill over to a wider consideration of the woods in our consumer economy.