The times, they are a-changin’, and unlike Ron Burgundy, the guitar industry has heard that song.  Sustainability is the name of the game now and customers are aligning themselves with manufacturers that reflect “green” values.  Many guitar makers are aware of this sea-change and their approach is evolving to reflect those values.   

How’d We Get Here?

The old way of harvesting wood was about getting to the forest first and finding those “holy grail” trees, those that have been untouched for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.  Those trees were used in during the Golden Era of acoustic instruments and during the birth of the electric guitar in during the 1940’s and 1950’s.  Since that time, companies did everything they could to get their hands on those coveted logs and most did anything they could do make that happen.  

This approach paved the way for unethical harvesting, clear-cutting of forests, and razing indigenous people’s local fauna.  We can see the huge effects of that today – global warming, corrupt governments, and largely destroyed ecosystems.  It wasn’t until a handful of music instrument companies created coalitions to combat those practices and to make waves in the music industry towards making our industry a more ethical one.  “A rising tide lifts all boats.” 

In 1996, Gibson became the first in our industry to adopt this green approach by using “sustainably harvested” wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).  Two decades later, a large percentage of wood used in Gibson USA electric guitars is certified “sustainably harvested.”  The Music Wood Coalition, a project of Greenpeace, has seen other manufacturers join in this quest – Taylor, Martin, Fender, and Breedlove, are a few examples. 

Why Sustainability Matters

Now what is the initiative exactly?  The main purpose is to halt deforestation, promote sustainable harvesting practices, and also to build up the local communities around these forests.  Guitar makers are quite aware that supply is not what It used to be and material prices certainly are proof of this.  Guitar manufacturers have adapted to not only approaching the harvesting of wood ethically, they’re also keen to using different types of tonewood.  We can see this with the use of Cocobolo, Ovangkol, Myrtlewood, and Pau Ferro woods to name a few.

Building a Better Guitar

Breedlove is a shining example of these values.  Owner Tom Bedell is an advocate for the green initiative and understands its importance.  Breedlove’s new series of “Organic Collection” instruments is built entirely upon that idea – guitars created from 100% sustainably harvested wood, without sacrificing tradition.  These guitars use European Spruce and African Mahogany tonewoods, however, the woods are harvested from sustainable tree farms and not clear-cut endeavors.   

The result of this approach is a guitar that a consumer can purchase and play without the qualms of not knowing where the instrument comes from.  Being “Green” is something to be proud of, and as musicians, many people already assume that color runs in our blood.  It’s a great time to be a musician and to see the innovation, changes, and approaches evolve alongside our environmental values.   


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