Music Wood and Sustainability

Taylor against a blue Wall

Taylor DN3- This is my guitar, it is not made from Bamboo.

I love guitars, obviously, but I am also into conservation. I have been seeing a lot recently about wood conservation and most of it from guitar makers. This comes from an industry that in realy consumes a very small percentage of the world’s lumber. Consider how much lumber goes into building one house versus one guitar. Even if the wood used for guitars is much better and is hardwood, rather than soft wood. Or consider how much paper is used in a day, all of that comes from wood pulp. Maybe a good reason to go out and buy an iPad.Music Wood is a Greenpeace based organization that has joined with Fender, Gibson, Yamaha, Martin and Taylor guitars to help advocate conservation of wood. This means that the guitars are build with sustainable woods purchased from reliable dealers. I am totally in favour of this and maybe this will help change the government’s mind about taking rosewood from Gibson. I really like supporting companies that practice sustainability and really by being careful they are helping themselves in the long run. When I first saw this list I was very proud to see almost all of my instruments came from companies who were on the Music Wood list. Now if only Schecter could buy sustainable woods.

The site is good, it has a lot of articles on differences that are being made in the music industry. One feature I thought was cool is the interactive map that shows which woods come from and which woods are used on which parts of the guitar. They *are also working on a documentary, which will be out in 2012*. I think it sends out a good message. I usually am a Sierra Club and Conservation International man, but this definitely makes me like Greenpeace more. Now if only they could stop asking me for my credit card number on the street.

On the other hand I have been seeing more sustainable resource guitars and instruments. I saw a bamboo guitar and there are a lot more carbon fiber guitars coming out now. I haven’t played any bamboo ones but I have played a RainSong carbon fiber. I like it, it sounds pretty good and it is not sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity. I still like my Taylor but if I lived in Arizona i would consider it. However, I’m not ready to give up on wood.

Here are some links
Music Wood
http://musicwood.org/index.html
RainSong
http://rainsong.com/
Bamboo Guitars – Who knows?     Also bamboo is a rapidly growing grass
http://www.bamboo-guitar.com/

* I edited this thanks to Josh G. He pointed out the documentary is not out yet. So don’t fret if you thought you had missed it.

 

Gibson Hummingbird

Gibson Hummingbird courtesy of Gibson.com

Gibson Hummingbird courtesy of Gibson.com

So far I have only really written about the guitars I own for obvious reasons. I own them, can photograph them and have had a lot of experience on them. There is a chance I will go back and revisit some of them. However, I do sometimes go out and play guitars in stores. One acoustic guitar I just love is the Gibson Hummingbird. I was playing it the other day at a guitar center and it was so lovely. One thing I always assume from the site is that these guitars are big, but that is never true. It is a really good sized instrument and it has a nice depth. It is loud too. Not like a Jumbo but it can project.

The neck is very fast and that is in part thanks to the nitrocellulose finish. It also plays very crisply and has a nice mid range, thanks to Sitka spruce. One thing I didn’t like as much was the low notes. They didn’t have the roundness of other dreadnoughts I have played, most notably my Taylor. This may have also had to do with the depth of the body. On the other hand, I love the clarity of the high notes especially up on the fret board. My song that I play on every guitar I try out is “This Charming Man” by The Smiths. It allows me to see the speed of the neck, the upper register where notes usually get lost. All in all if I had $5000 that this model cost, I would consider buying it, but there are certainly less expensive versions. One thing I would like to have is an Adirondack top, especially for that price, but it is a Gibson so I wouldn’t complain.

Last, but not least is the design. It is a beautiful guitar. The pick guard has an ornate hummingbird display which I really like. It has a simple rosette, and split parallelogram fingerboard inlays. The sunburst finish really makes the guitar glow. I love the red yellow transition and the bright finish mimics the bright tone that this guitar produces. I think the aesthetics are part of what makes this guitar a hummingbird.

Here are some of the features

Solid Sitka Spruce top
Solid Mahogany sides and back (Koa if it’s the Hawaiian version)

14 playable frets
Rosewood fingerboard
Mahogany Neck

Gold hardware
bone nut
24 and ¾’’ Scale

I know online you can choose your serial number and weight. I’m not really sure what I would accomplish know those facts, but it’s cool to do.

Also I want to thank Rosie of Rosierushtonstone for giving me the Versatile Blogger Award and for giving me props on her site. I have only been doing this for two months but it is always nice to be recognized. She has a very interesting blog http://rosierushtonstone.wordpress.com/ and from what I know you might want to strike up a banjo or banjozouki conversation with her.

The Gibson and their Rosewood

Pure Rosewood

Pure Rosewood

So recently Gibson has been in the news because of their problems with rosewood legality. They have been raided twice in the past 3 years because of “Illegally” obtained rosewood. Which from what I can tell seems to has little basis. I have seen a lot of people talking about how Gibson is a big evil corporation that charges too much for its guitars. To which I reply,  what about the line of melody makers that have come out recently. To me it seems like Gibson has been addressing these concerns and just try to buy a high quality American made instrument for under $1000. I’m not trying to sound like a Gibson spokesperson but I do like their guitars. However, there are a couple of inconsistencies with the federal charges. First there are no charges filed against Gibson, they are simply shutting them down and confiscating wood. Two there are a few countries where rosewood can come from Madagascar, India, Honduras and at one time Brazil although that is no longer. This means that Fender, Gretsch, PRS and every other guitar company has to get their wood from those sources. Why are they targeting Gibson? Three, guitar makers use less than one percent of all lumber for their guitar production. So furniture, construction and other industries are huge consumers of lumber. Why go after these small consumption wood users. Gibson is also part of an organization The Music Wood coalition a Greenpeace based organization for wood sustainability.

The  Lacey act at one point was a good way to keep American companies compliant with international laws. However, this is a total misuse of the law. In addition, this law has made it a nightmare for musicians travelling because any rosewood is subject to seizure. Even if the guitar was made in 1960, 48 years before the law was enacted. This is probably why Gibson has been using baked maple and obeche woods as a substitute for the rosewood and ebony that they have been forbidden to use.

Hopefully, Gibson can get back soon to making rosewood fretboards. Also I don’t want my first Les Paul to have a baked maple neck.

Fretboard Journal

Issue 23 of Fretboard Journal- Gillian Welch on the cover from Fretboardjournal.com

Issue 23 of Fretboard Journal- Gillian Welch on the cover from Fretboardjournal.com

If you are interested in all things guitar (both electric and acoustic), bass, banjo and/or mandolin, I would recommend Fretboard Journal. It is a great magazine and I think the articles and photos are far superior to many other boutique guitar magazines.  They have been publishing for about 6 years now and it’s a quarterly journal. It’s also the only magazine I don’t throw issues away. I’m not a photographer but there is something very down to earth and real about the photos they take. It makes these incredible guitars seem very accessible and tangible. Unlike other magazines that but there rare beauties on a pedestal never to b touched or played and any worthwhile musician knows that instruments were made to played not collected and kept in a display case. That is why Stradivarius violins are still played and rented out to violinists. Sure its Yitzhak Pearlman and Hilary Hahn but still they are being used.

They recently released their fall issue with Gillian Welch on the cover. She is one of the most important women in Folk and Americana music today, and I love it. When I found out about his magazine about a year ago, it really started to motivate me to read about different tone woods and try experimenting with guitar building and modifying. I guess you could say along with Old Crow, Fretboard Journal helped make me the man I am today. It also has opened me up to the wide world of independent luthiers and builders. That may also mean I’ll make my next guitar a small business one rather than a corporate one.

The issues range from $8 to $18 depending on how you buy it, at the stand vs. subscription. This is the only magazine so far that I bought a subscription to the day I saw it. If that isn’t enough to convince you I don’t know what is.

Wonderful magazine, great topics.

Americana Music Festival

This is America

Although, the Americana Music Festival was over a month ago the concert broadcasted by the Austin City Limits series. What a concert! There were some many guitars and banjos. If you were looking at the guitars like I was you could see almost everyone there had a L style Gibson blues guitar. Emmylou didn’t have a guitar but if she did she would be packing a J-200.

My favourite performances of the night were Justin Townes Earle singing his gospel single ‘Harlem River Blues’ and ‘I’ll Fly Away’ with Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris and Buddy Miller. I really dig the gospel and soul style in “Harlem River Blues’. The organ makes for a strong, driving melody. ‘I’ll Fly Away’ is another gospel song that has a simple powerful message and the banjo really makes this song. It gives an old time feel that is the embodiment of Americana.

I also liked The Civil Wars performance ‘Barton Hollow’ is a great song and it reminds me of  ‘Copperhead Road’ by Steve Earle. It has that haunting quality to it that really makes a powerful impact. I personally, I would throw a banjo is there but that’s my bias.

Joy Williams and John Paul White of The Civil Wars perform at the Americana Music Association awards show in Nashville

These were the performers and later on I will probably put some more info about them.

Emmylou Harris

Greg Allman

Buddy Miller

The Civil Wars

Jessica Lea Mayfield

Robert Plant

Justin Townes Earle

Alison Krauss

Amos Lee

Jim Lauderdale

The Avett Brothers

Elizabeth Cook

The Secret Sisters

There are a lot of You Tube clips you can see the individual performances  and below I have a link for the Americana Music Association homepage.

http://americanamusic.org/acl-presents-americana-music-festival-november-19-pbs

Obeche Wood Revisited

So it looks like my posting on obeche wood has been getting a lot of attention so I decided to look into it a little further. Most notably, Gibson, has started to use obeche more. The gothic morte guitars lines, SG and Les Paul both, use it for their fretboards. The most common fretboard materials are ebony, rosewood and maple.

However, there is something very interesting when you look on wood provider sites, not musical instrument sites. The wood is described as light and cream coloured, which does not match its ebony appearance on the fretboards of the pictures from Gibson. Also on http://www.connectedlines.com/wood/wood46.htm they say that the wood is not good for use in musical instruments. This probably means as a resonating tone wood it is poor.

One thing guitar maker could be doing is staining the wood to make it look more like the traditional rosewood finger board. Guitar fretboards are also known for using hard and dense woods but this one seems to be light, easy to carve and bendable. I have yet to try one of the guitars but it seems like a weird change to go from these hard woods to a softer one.

It also is listed here as plentiful, but on the Wikipedia page it is classified as a least concern endangered tree. What I am getting from this is that there are some wild inaccuracies, or there are 2 different types of wood colloquially called Obeche, but both sources site Triplochiton scleroxylon  as the genus and species name. Curious.

ed 11/18/2011 – Now I know that least concern means not endangered at all, my bad.

Les Paul Junior with Obeche Fretboard from Gibson.com

Les Paul Junior with Obeche Fretboard from Gibson.com

Here are some links to things I referred to earlier

http://www2.gibson.com/Products/Electric-Guitars/Les-Paul/Gibson-USA/Les-Paul-Gothic-Morte/Specs.aspx

http://www.shergold.co.uk/faq.html  – This is the FAQs from Shergold guitars who used to make Obeche guitars. In the section on the wood he talks about qualities that to me seem inadequate for a guitar body and much less a fretboard. However the wood grain does look nice.

If anyone has any more information, leave a comment or email me at Verdi429@gmail.com . This has opened up a lot more questions than answers for me.

On an unrelated note Country Music Awards are on ABC tonight at 8 pm.

Obeche wood, new fingerboard wood?

I was looking at the specs for the new Gibson flying V, and I saw they are using Obeche wood instead of  ebony for this really dark fingerboard.

http://www2.gibson.com/Products/Electric-Guitars/Flying-V/Gibson-USA/Flying-V-Tremolo/Specs.aspx

Gibson Limited Edition Flying V

Gibson Limited Edition Flying V Image from Gibson.com

I have ebony, rosewood and maple necked guitars, but I have never seen obeche. Maybe it’s my ignorance, but might this have something to go with Gibson being busted for having “illegal” woods. Will other guitar makers turn to different fingerboard woods? I always like a shake up.

I personally don’t like the Flying V because its hard to play unless you are standing on a stage shredding like Rhodes, but I would like to see how the neck feels. In my opinion the neck and the bridge are the most important parts, and I ain’t a tremolo user. It would be nice to see some other woods catch on to the guitar world. Everywhere I look it’s Spruce and Mahogany.