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Sustainability In the World of Guitars

Each day we become more acutely aware of the negative impact we human beings are having on our environment. Since many kinds of musical instruments are built from natural materials it behooves us to ask how musicians and instrument builders can help by incorporating sustainability into their choices. Dwindling supplies of certain tonewoods have encouraged new choices using sources that can be more easily renewed. The first major step in this direction took place in the late 1990s when Brazilian Rosewood was placed on an endangered list and its use in new instrument construction restricted. 

Shopping for an eco-friendly guitar doesn’t have to be a stressful or lengthy process given the steps some of the largest guitar manufacturers have taken in recent years. Guided by recommendations from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Program for the Endorsement of Forestry Certification Martin, Taylor, Fender, Breedlove and many others have shifted their wood choices.

Martin Guitars proudly notes that they are FSC certified meaning their construction process adheres to stringent social and environmental standards.  Some of their guitars, for example, feature Richlite fretboards and bridges made from 100% recycled products created through a low-energy process. 

Taylor Guitars’ Ebony Project in Cameroon actively replants trees after harvest and the company uses marbled ebony for fingerboards and bridges to avoid the waste caused in the past by using only pure black. Scraps of their ebony are turned into other products like guitar slides and instrument display stands. Taylor has also begun using Urban Ash and Urban Ironbark, two sustainable American tonewoods, for the backs and sides of some of their newest models.

You’ll see a lot of Pau Ferro fretboards on Fender Guitars these days. Pau Ferro is a sustainable alternative to Rosewood and the company offers buyers the opportunity to choose it when custom ordering a guitar. Meanwhile, Breedlove Guitars, based in Bend, OR, began using locally grown and sustained Myrtlewood on many of its models a few years ago. An excellent tonewood, Myrtlewood is a stunning alternative to the more commonly used Spruce, Mahogany and Rosewood for guitar tops, sides and backs.

When shopping for a guitar we are mostly focused on sound, playability and appearance. Without seriously limiting our choices we might also consider sustainability or eco-friendliness so that the guitar of our dreams is one whose construction was friendly to our planet.  - Saul Rosenthal, Co-Owner Denver Folklore Center