Sustainability in making musical instruments

Tonewoods of tropical rain forests

As a guitar and bass builder, you are always looking for wood that gives the instrument the desired sound and its unique look. No piece of wood is grained or colored like any other. The richest variations are found in tropical woods and it is tempting to use them.

For a long time I believed that the use of the relatively small amounts of tropical woods used to make musical instruments was unproblematic. In particular, the quantities that we small manufacturers consume are almost negligible. All of this may be true if you look at it in isolation. But is it possible? I think no.

Species protection agreements such as CITES aim to protect endangered species from extinction. But a species cannot be effectively protected without also protecting the ecosystem that supports it.

For example, when tropical woods are used in the manufacture of guitars and basses, musical instrument manufacturers, as a whole, are a demander of the rainforest resource.

Wood is not the only raw material that the tropical rain forests have to offer. Pasture and other agricultural land, mineral resources, plantations, and settlement land. The demand is served and the forest areas are decimated, disappear.

If we stop using tropical woods to make our guitars and basses, that alone won’t save the rainforest. But it is a question of ethics and rethinking whether you want to be a part of the destruction of the rainforests or whether you don’t want to be. Wouldn’t it be better to do your part to preserve these unique, diverse ecosystems that are essential for the Earth’s climate?

Patrick Roller, bassist, luthier, geographer and geoecologist.

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