Category Archives: Cort Guitars

Facing the inevitable

Back in 2013 I wrote this piece about Murray Kidman and his business Otway Tonewoods:

Murray has been running a small business harvesting blackwood from public native forest in the Otway Ranges in south west Victoria, supplying the tonewood market.

As I said back then, Murray has been operating on borrowed time with the inevitable closure of public native welfare forestry in Victoria.

That time has now come.

But Murray and his son James are determined to fight to the last!

They have started a petition calling for the continuation of public native welfare forestry in Victoria:

Murray’s two main customers, Maton and Cole Clark, are remaining silent about the situation. They understand the risks involved in wading into the deeply divisive Forestry Wars.

It is likely that most guitarists would favour saving our public native forests from logging vs saving the Kidman business.

How can you claim your business is sustainable when clearly the tonewood market is anything but sustainable?

The story of Otway Tonewoods is just another step on the long slow decline of the tonewood market in Australia. The music marketplace refuses to take any responsibility for its own future.

How many people in Australia own a guitar or other musical instrument made from wood? How many of these people make a living from their music?

How many music festivals are there in Australia?

How many music shops are there in Australia?

All of this will disappear unless someone starts growing tonewoods and is openly supported by the marketplace!

Sitting on our hands waiting for politicians or someone else to fix the problem just wont work.

Trying to prop up a failed industry (public native welfare forestry) wont work.

It is disappointing that neither Maton nor Cole Clark wont even start a conversation about the future supply of tonewoods. Crisis! What crisis??

They want us to believe that the future supply of tonewoods is completely under control. Is the shutting down of Otway Tonewoods part of their sustainable future?

When will the marketplace wake up?

It can’t whilst Maton and Cole Clark continue their current charades.

With all due respect to Murray and James Kidman, their social license is about to expire with no option for renewal.

Will it be a turning point for the music industry in Australia?

I sincerely hope so!!

The Guitar: Tracing the Grain Back to the Tree

Chris Gibson and Andrew Warren

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!

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.

Frank Gambale

Here’s a bit of weekend entertainment.

A chance to leave the politics behind for a moment.

Australian jazz guitar wizard Frank Gambale is currently doing guitar workshops in major centres through Asia promoting the new Cort Frank Gambale Signature acoustic guitar made with solid blackwood.

Thanks to Roger Lee for posting this on Youtube.

Great playing Frank!


Parkwood LE061 revised


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,

Build Quality

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?

Parkwood LE061


This might just be the most beautiful commercially built blackwood acoustic guitar ever made.

Only 150 of the 2007 Parkwood Limited Edition LE061 models were built.

With Master Grade solid fiddleback blackwood back, sides and soundboard and abalone trim, this guitar is definite eye candy. The chatoyance of the fiddleback is extraordinary.

In a plush red velvet with faux crocodile skin case this guitar was designed for the collectors market.

The full page add in Guitar World magazine in 2007 was clearly designed to impress.


Parkwood is the premium brand name for the Cort Guitar company based in South Korea.

These days Parkwood guitars are hard to find with limited distribution. That’s unfortunate given their quality and price.


I especially like the matching blackwood on the headstock.

Fiddleback blackwood tonewood of this quality is very rare. A Tasmanian Blackwood Growers Cooperative could potentially supply tonewood like this under two scenarios:

  1. Occasional arising from the active management of the remnant native blackwood forest that exists on farmland across northern Tasmania;
  2. Research is needed to determine the extent to which fiddleback blackwood can be cloned. Cloned fiddleback blackwood would then only have value within the context of a commercial blackwood plantation program.

The question remains is anyone in the tonewood market prepared to support such an opportunity?

And why am I writing about this 9 year old guitar?

Because I finally got my hands on one that’s why!


In 2013 Parkwood released an updated version of the LE061 called the LE081CE. This model has a cut out and onboard electronics, again with limited production (only 60) and distribution. Check this out!


Here’s one currently for sale on Ebay:

Addendum: Here’s an LE061 for sale in the USA on Reverb:


Cort Guitars expanding use of blackwood


Giant Korean-based guitar manufacturer Cort continues to expand its range of guitars featuring Australian blackwood.

Cort produce guitars for other well known brands under license but also have their own brand.

In addition to limited edition models for the Australian market, Cort is now expanding the use of blackwood in its international models.

Here are a few examples:

Frank Gambale Signature (FGS) model

I previewed this new model back in February:

AS 06 Orchestra Model (OM)

The AS series is Cort’s flagship series of premium acoustic guitars. The other models in the series feature Indian Rosewood and Mahogany. The AS06 is the first AS model to feature an “exotic” non-traditional tonewood.

Both the AS06 and the FGS models are top-of-the-line acoustic guitars featuring solid blackwood back and sides. Both retail for about $AU1,500 but neither is currently available in Australia.

But if you want something really special from Cort check out their 1200 series models. To date only three 1200 models have been produced the Earth 1200 dreadnought, the L1200P parlor and the MR1200FX dreadnought. All of these models feature solid rosewood, but I do have concerns about the legality and sustainability of rosewood timber. Now if a 1200 blackwood model should ever come along I’ll be down the shop in no time, and ringing bells on this website!!

Grand Regal GA5F-BW

Another recent addition to Cort’s international range. A Grand Auditorium body in a mid-priced guitar.

This model is available in Australia and retails for around $650.

MR710F –BW

A mid-priced Dreadnought workhorse featuring blackwood that retails for around $600.



Cort’s answer to the ukulele craze that has gripped the planet for the past 10 years is a series of solid quality blackwood ukes.

Cort SJB Blackwood

And for the bass players the Cort SJB Blackwood. This model is currently only available in Australia.


Cort’s ability to gain exposure for blackwood tonewood by catering to the mass guitar market can only be a good thing. Blackwood may be highly regarded in the domestic Australian guitar market but it is still largely unknown overseas.

With a production capacity of over 1,000,000 guitars per year (I read somewhere that this represents 30% of total world production!) even if 1% of that production included blackwood it would provide a significant boost to local demand for blackwood timber. All of these guitars use plain-grain blackwood which is another bonus to growers.

It would be fantastic if Cort joined the growing trend for guitar companies to demonstrate greater environmental and social awareness and engagement as a good global corporate citizen.

Cort Frank Gambale Signature Model


Australian jazz guitarist Frank Gambale has teamed up with Cort Guitars to produce the world’s first artist signature model acoustic guitar featuring Australian blackwood.

Unveiled at the Winter NAMM Show in January 2016 the Frank Gambale Signature Model is a concert body shaped acoustic guitar. This model features a solid Adirondack spruce top, a flamed blackwood back and sides, a mahogany neck, an ebony fingerboard featuring a custom inlay, an ebony bridge, gold tuners, and a 43mm nut. Each Frank Gambale Signature Model is equipped with LR Baggs EAS-VTC EQ onboard electronics.

Developed in conjunction with legendary guitarist Frank Gambale, this is a true signature model in that the artist had a great deal of input on each detail of the guitar. Ideal for high-speed soloing, this innovative acoustic-electric guitar also features custom wooden rosette and custom fingerboard inlay designed by Frank Gambale himself. This is a truly unique acoustic guitar as envisioned by a true guitar legend.

Frank Gambale has spent nearly four decades playing, writing, recording, performing, and teaching. His sweep-picking technique revolutionized guitar playing and continues to inspire generations of musicians in all genres.

Here’s a video review:

The Cort distributor in Australia has advised “it will be a little while before we can get our hands on it here in Australia”. I’ll keep readers informed.

Cort Guitars has been steadily increasing its use of Australian blackwood on a range of models including acoustic guitars and basses, and ukuleles. This signature model guitar throws Australian blackwood well and truly onto centre stage.