I’m laughing at myself today!
I realised that I crashed into my own blind spot with this story on the Parkwood guitar.
I focused the entire story on the maker, the beautiful wood and the guitar…….
and completely ignored where the wood came from…who grew the wood!!
I chew this old bone everyday thinking about luthiers and the tonewood market and their obsessions and blind spots.
Wood is a pretty unique resource because the wood we use today started as a seedling 30, 50, 100, 200, or maybe 400+ years ago!! No other renewable resource has this extreme production time-lag characteristic.
So the people who manage the forests and plant the trees so that we can have beautiful wood in 30+ years time are pretty extraordinary people.
But these people are rarely acknowledged or appreciated by the tonewood market. In fact have I ever seen the tonewood market acknowledge a tree grower? Many in the tonewood market don’t even understand these people exist.
The story of a guitar does NOT begin with a piece of wood (no matter how beautiful, exotic, rare or endangered)! Wood doesn’t magically appear out of thin air.
It begins with a tree and a grower!
Hopefully a grower who makes a profit and is therefore encouraged to plant more trees.
The tonewood market is running out of traditional tonewoods. It is time to support and acknowledge tree growers. Without tree growers these beautiful guitars will cease to exist.
Every new product launch, every guitar review should acknowledge where the timber comes from.
To continue to perpetuate the myth that tonewood magically appears out of thin air is dishonest and undermines the future of the guitar industry.
So to complete the Parkwood story:
This beautiful blackwood timber came from the public native forests of the Otway Ranges in south western Victoria, Australia. The Otway Ranges run parallel to the coastline facing the great Southern Ocean. The cool wet climate (average 1700 mm rainfall per year) provides ideal growing conditions for blackwood.
The wood was harvested by Murray Kidman from Otway Tonewoods who has a special permit to harvest blackwood in these forests.
You can read my story about Murray here:
It’s not an ideal situation from a commercial private blackwood growers viewpoint. I’d like to acknowledge the people of Victoria for growing this blackwood and allowing Murray to harvest it. But it’s a taxpayer-funded community service not a commercial operation.
Maybe one day the tonewood market will acknowledge and support commercial blackwood growers.
And while I’m here I may as well write a review of the Parkwood LE061.
I think the Parkwood LE061 and the newer LE081CE guitars deserve much more recognition; all 210 of them!
I bought this guitar secondhand and after a trip to my local guitar tech for some repairs I’ve now been playing it for a month.
I bought the Parkwood a month after I also bought a new Cort AS-06, which is a solid blackwood back and sides, spruce top guitar with the same body shape and size as the Parkwood, but with a 45mm compared to a 42mm neck. So I can at least compare the two guitars. I also have an old Washburn dreadnought.
I’ve been learning the guitar for 6 years.
To my ears the Parkwood sounds much like my old dreadnought with a big, rich round sound, maybe without the big bottom end of the dreadnought. It’s a great sound and others, including my teacher, have commented (without prompting) on the quality of the sound. I haven’t noticed any dead spots on the fretboard, and even up high on the fretboard it still rings loud and clear.
How does the 9 year old Parkwood compare with the new Cort?
Given how similar these two guitars are in design and materials the sound is very different. Why are they different? Is it age? Solid wood guitars are supposed to improve with age but there’s no scientific evidence to support this idea. Is it the spruce top vs the blackwood top?
Sound is a very subjective thing.
To my ears the Parkwood has a rich full sound, while the new Cort sounds more “dry”, less “deep” and “full”. I enjoy the sound of both; they are just different that’s all.
My old dreadnought has a 42mm neck and one of the reasons I bought the Cort AS-06 was the wider fretboard. I tend towards being a fingerstyle player and I was hoping the wider neck would make playing easier. It did, and one of my concerns about buying the Parkwood was the narrow neck. I have big hands with fat fingers so getting good lefthand technique has been a real challenge. I needn’t have worried, the Parkwood is easy to play up and down the neck. Maybe it’s the neck profile, I’m not sure. By contrast the wider neck on the Cort makes for a very different, very spacious playing experience,
The Parkwood is superbly built, with (to my eyes) a great aesthetic in the style of Martin 42s. The ebony fretboard, one-piece mahogany neck, all solid master-grade Australian blackwood, Gotoh tuners, dovetail neck join and the bling all add up to a great quality guitar.
I bought the Parkwood second hand at what I consider to be a very good price. If this guitar was made in the US it would sell for many times its current value. Will the guitar market ever recognise quality made outside the USA? The only comparable guitars on the market are the Taylor Koa series which get rave reviews and sell at a premium price.
So how sustainable are these tonewoods? The rarity of master grade Australian blackwood tonewood does not currently allow for guitars of this beauty to be in regular production. But plain grain blackwood is in reasonable supply, and has the potential with enough market support, to be fully sustainable into the future via a growers cooperative.
Who knows where Parkwood got their ebony from. The mahogany neck shows wide growth rings so I’m guessing it is plantation-grown. Fijian mahogany perhaps!!
A footnote on tonewood grading:
I think the current tonewood grading system is part of the industry’s problem. The grading system is all about the visuals, and it is blatantly discriminatory. The grading system keeps the tonewood market obsessed with the rare, exotic, beautiful rainforest/oldgrowth timbers. Shouldn’t tonewood grading be more about “tone”, and perhaps sustainability; rather than rare, exotic, beautiful and endangered?