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Building a Sustainable Guitar

When you listen to a guitar, what you hear is not the strings. It’s the wood – known as tonewood – that vibrates, defines tone and creates sound.

Each fine guitar requires several rare tonewoods from around the world, representing the highest grade of the top 1 percent of all commercially available wood, a niche product with a small supply, large demand and high sales: $1.2 billion in U.S. domestic retail sales in 2014 alone.

Our six-part blog series, Building a Sustainable Guitar, examines how guitars can be built sustainably, looking at six of the most popular tonewoods, found across 34 countries: Sitka spruce, koa, bigleaf maple, rosewood, ebony and mahogany. Each installment focuses on a different species of tree used for a specific part of the guitar, each of which presents its own specific challenges and possibilities surrounding sustainable harvest.

We show how guitar construction relates to the U.S. Lacey Act, which governs the taking of endangered flora and fauna, including trees. The series also looks at the future of tonewoods and on innovative ways to redefine how humans interact with forests.



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Many guitar makers use "figured" wood, desired for its wavy or rippled appearance. Bigleaf maple from the U.S. Pacific Northwest can act as a sustainable and beautiful source of figured wood.

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Building an acoustic guitar traditionally requires several different woods, but in select cases, the guitar body can be made from just one wood. Hawaiian koa trees produce wood with the versatility to make single-wood guitars. They also have the potential to be harvested sustainably.

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