In this episode of the WRI Podcast, Lawrence MacDonald sits down with Chip Barber and Austin Clowes of the Forest Legality Initiative to talk about their work on sustainability in the guitar industry.

The music industry sells millions of guitars a year, and the instrument is integral to musical traditions from blues and rock ‘n roll to flamenco and classical music. These traditions rely on specific types of wood, known as tonewoods, to produce the distinctive timbre of the guitar.

Some of these species are endangered by overharvesting and trafficking. Ebony, for example, is used for guitar fretboards, but has been so depleted that it is only commercially available from one country in the entire world. Rosewood, known as the “holy grail” of tonewoods, makes up 35 percent of global wildlife trafficking—nearly double that of ivory.

What to Do?

Guitar companies won’t stop building their guitars out of tonewoods, but they do have an interest in safeguarding their future. Some companies are starting to build their guitars out of more sustainable woods, like koa, or are identifying more sustainable supply sources, such as innovative co-ops that put ecology first.

Chip, director of the Forest Legality Initiative, and Austin, WRI’s tonewood specialist, have been the driving force behind the research and production of the Building a Sustainable Guitar blog series. On this podcast you will hear them talk about:

  • how a wood impacts the instrument’s sound
  • how the Lacey Act plays an important role in preventing illegal logging
  • how consumers and leading manufacturers are driving the guitar industry towards sustainability

Best of all, you’ll get to hear these two classically trained musicians play a bit for us.

Listen to the podcast here.

Past podcasts from World Resources Institute are available for download on Soundcloud.