Category Archives: Cole Clark Guitars

The Guitar: Tracing the Grain Back to the Tree

Chris Gibson and Andrew Warren

https://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/G/bo81816665.html

I finally got around to reading this book by Chris Gibson and Andrew Warren.

It will never make the Best Seller List, which is a shame because every person who owns a guitar should read it. That small piece of wooden magic in your hands has a very uncertain future.

Which is why every music festival should have a focus on encouraging farmers to grow tonewoods. Before the magic disappears!

https://theconversation.com/friday-essay-the-guitar-industrys-hidden-environmental-problem-and-the-people-trying-to-fix-it-159211

The Table of Contents gives a good idea of how the story goes.

Introduction

Part 1 Guitar Worlds

1 * The Guitar

2 * The Factory

3 * The Sawmill

Part 2 Into the Forest

4 * Rosewood

5 * Sitka

6 * Koa

7 * Guitar Futures

Acknowledgments

Notes

Index

The book is more a social/spiritual than a economic/resource oriented journey, which may appeal to guitar players.

Unfortunately the book does peddle some of the myths of the guitar world, such as

  • guitars can only be made from large, old, slow-growing trees; and
  • guitars can only be made from a small range of tree species.

Neither of these myths is true!

Cole Clark Guitars is just one example that breaks both of these myths.

What is obvious from reading the book is that the guitar industry is in serious trouble.

The book focuses strongly on what was historically, and is no more.

Having plundered the best of the best of the worlds forests, the guitar industry is running out of resource. At least a resource that they have been accustomed too = large, big, old trees!

If solid wood acoustic guitars are to have a future, makers (and consumers/artists) must shift from 2 piece backs and soundboards, to 3 and 4 piece. Big old trees will no longer be available in any volume.

Secondly, the guitar industry and tonewood suppliers must actively encourage, support and reward the planting and growing of tonewoods. Taylor Guitars and Pacific Rim Tonewoods are the only examples I know of who are doing this. Others must follow!

Thirdly, as I said, every music festival should have a focus on encouraging farmers to grow tonewoods.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter on Koa, recognising the many parallels between Koa and its Tasmanian cousin Blackwood. The one exception is that whilst Koa has turned the corner to a brighter future, Blackwood remains bound to its colonial past of plunder and waste.

The book finishes on a bright note, giving us the impression that the entire global guitar industry has experienced an environmental epiphany. If this is so there is little evidence of it on the guitar company web pages; Taylor and CF Martin being two exceptions. This is true even here in Australia.

A big part of the problem is that most guitar companies (and more so tonewood suppliers) are small businesses that do not have the resources to put into securing their future tonewood supplies. The very existence of these guitar/tonewood companies is premised on the ready availability of plundered cheap tonewoods. The idea of Maton or Cole Clark engaging with farmers to plant tonewoods is completely off the radar!

So the key question is – how will the global guitar industry secure its future supply of tonewoods? Will only the big companies survive the resource Armageddon?

This question is not asked in the book, nor is it answered! Not directly anyway!!

The answer will be in using smaller wood sizes and a larger range of different tree species.

But who will grow these trees, where and at what price?

I see no evidence as yet to link the guitar markets with landowners.

The same problem is equally true of wood furniture makers. They have no future!!

One gets the impression from the book that the only way the guitar industry will survive is if we suspend standard western economic theory. If that is the case the guitar industry has no hope.

One aspect of the book I found difficult was the very strong anti-monoculture rant. Never mind that all our food is grown in industrial monocultures. How else do we feed 7.8 billion humans?? Native forests are ecosystems that should be managed as such, but trees as commercial crops are just that. They are no different to apple orchards or cow ranches or corn farms. A blackwood plantation that covers 5-10 hectares or even 50 ha is a commercial decision made by the landowner.

The book provides no discussion of forest certification systems (eg. FSC, PEFC). Will certification guarantee future supplies of quality tonewoods? Absolutely not!!

Will the book change the global tonewood market or the guitar industry?

It’s a shame that the book was not launched by the Musicwood Alliance – assuming the Musicwood Alliance still exists. Beside Bob Taylor and Taylor Guitars, no one is telling the marketplace what the situation is.

Right now guitar players everywhere should be mobilising and marching in the streets demanding action.

Ultimately it is consumers and artists who will determine the future of the guitar industry. The more they know and understand what is happening the better it will be for everyone.

Timbers with a sustainable timbre

Kirby

Remember my blog about the 2 academics, Chris Gibson and Andrew Warren, from the University of Wollongong, NSW, and their research around forestry and the guitar manufacturing business?

https://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/2017/07/19/unintentional-path-dependence-australian-guitar-manufacturing-bunya-pine-and-legacies-of-forestry-decisions-and-resource-stewardship/

Well here’s a great article about their research. It’s much easier to read than their academic papers.

http://stand.uow.edu.au/sustainable-guitar-timbers/

The two videos are especially enjoyable and informative.

Here’s one of them.

Unfortunately we still haven’t got the tonewood narrative going back to the tree growers yet. It is still about the players, the makers and the sawmillers. The trees just magically exist in the current narrative.

Where are the people planting and managing these tonewood resources?

Enjoy!

Unintentional path dependence: Australian guitar manufacturing, bunya pine and legacies of forestry decisions and resource stewardship

Bunya-Mountains-Bunya-Pines

Back in July last year I wrote about two academics from The University of Wollongong, NSW (Chris Gibson and Andrew Warren) who came down to Tasmania as part of a project they are working on concerning the guitar industry and its response to changes in the tonewood market.

At that time they had just published the first paper from their research:

https://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/2016/07/10/resource-sensitive-global-production-networks-gpn-reconfigured-geographies-of-timber-and-acoustic-guitar-manufacturing/

They have now published a second paper which looks specifically at the Australian industry and its use of Bunya pine (Araucaria bidwillii).

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00049182.2017.1336967?journalCode=cage20

Once again like the first paper, this is not an easy paper to read, containing dense academic text.

Being a forester I was already aware of the history of Bunya pine, and the trial plantings made by the Queensland Government in the early to mid 20th century on public land.

New to me was some of the history about the use of native timbers in the local guitar industry, particularly Maton and Cole Clark. Bunya pine is a major sound board tonewood for these two companies.

But the article makes clear that both these companies are now relying on the old Government Bunya trials for their supply, and the future of those trials is clearly subject to the whims of political fortune. The pressure to clear the Bunya trials and replant with the faster growing more profitable Hoop Pine is always there. Future Bunya tonewood supply hangs by a thread unless alternative supplies can be established.

BunyaPineS

Maton and Cole Clark are clearly struggling to secure and control their future tonewood supply.

It’s a complex and difficult challenge. Not the least of the challenges is that Bunya takes 60+ years to reach a size that allows soundboards to be sawn from the logs.

Unfortunately the article provides few clues as to how the problem can be resolved.

Long term thinking and commitment is needed.

Both of these companies appreciate that relying on Governments for their timber supply doesn’t work.

What we need here is a business model that encourages farmers/landowners to plant tonewoods for both commercial return and non-commercial planting. This will involve the collaboration and support of many players, especially Maton and Cole Clark. These companies are too small to have the resources to grow their own tonewoods.

Perhaps a “Tonewood Alliance” is needed to get the ball rolling?

It’s All About The Wood

Here’s a great new video from Cole Clark Guitars about their use of Australian grown timber.

Cole Clark is breaking all the rules and for that they must be congratulated!

http://www.coleclarkguitars.com/

Faced with a diminishing supply of traditional tonewoods, Cole Clark is challenging the marketplace and looking towards a sustainable future.

Their use of non-traditional, and especially the use of fast-grown woods for soundboards, is revolutionary.

At the moment Cole Clark are trialling these woods from salvaged planted trees, of which this video tells a great story.

Cole Clark is also a big user of farm-grown Tasmanian blackwood.

So if you are looking for a sustainable guitar Cole Clark is a good option. Check them out.

Eventually I hope Cole Clark will take the next step on the road to sustainability and promote farm-grown tonewoods.

It’s all about the farmer!

Plant a guitar today!!

Cole Clark ‘Australian Eco’ series

Some good news for a change from the usual political/forest industry dramas.

Cole Clark FL2EC-BLBL-AE

Melbourne-based Cole Clark guitars have just announced their all-Australian Eco series.

These new models feature 100% sustainable timbers by replacing endangered timbers with sustainable Australian substitutes“.

Farm-grown Tasmanian blackwood features prominently in the series.

For those wanting to avoid rainforest timbers these are a great alternative.

The idea of an all-Australian commercial guitar has finally become reality.

Now the next step is to get farmers to actually start to plant and manage these timbers. I suspect most of these timbers are salvage logged rather than the result of active management.

But one step at a time.

Congratulations Cole Clark!

 

Cole Clark Fat Lady 2 – all Tasmanian blackwood

Cole Clark is the “outsider” of the Australian commercial guitar world.

http://www.coleclarkguitars.com/

They are new(-ish), innovative and untraditional.

In this age when the acoustic guitar market seems to go from strength to strength, makers are exploring everything new and everything old in order to supply the ever-growing market. All-mahogany and all-koa guitars were popular in the 20’s and 30’s, and they have recently made a big comeback.

So the idea of an all-blackwood guitar seems pretty straight forward to me. It should become an Aussie classic model!

But until recently they have been one-off custom makes.

Now Cole Clark of Melbourne is offering a range of all-blackwood models.

This is farm-grown Tasmanian blackwood!

They are quite understated in appearance, which to my mind fails to capitalize on blackwoods natural beauty. But it’s a great beginning. I hope they sell well.

Here’s a recent review by Cranbourne Music.

 

 

I hope one day to write a story that begins at the farm and finishes with the performer/artist. That would be a great story!