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