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Endangered wood species concerns?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by XylemBassGuitar, Sep 27, 2008.

  1. XylemBassGuitar

    XylemBassGuitar Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 14, 2008
    Durango, CO
    Owner and Operator, Xylem Handmade Basses and Guitars
    Do any of the luthiers and musicians here share my concern that we have grown large enough as a community to have a very significant impact on the well-being of exotic wood species?

    We constantly build and demand instruments that are made of exotic wood species, especially rosewoods, ebony and mahogany.

    Do you feel concerned enough to consider taking some kind of action?
  2. Dbassmon


    Oct 2, 2004
    Rutherford, NJ
    We all should be concerned about this issue, not just from a "can we get enough quality spruce to make carved double bass tops or Pernambuco to make bows". Man in depleting the worlds resources at a rate that we can not sustain.

    I am glad you raised this issue. It's a serious one. When the best answer our leaders can come up with to address reliance on fossil fuels is to "drill more". you know we are in deep do-do.

    The Brazilian rainforest is disappearing at an astonishing rate. Rosewood, Babinga, Ebony and many other hard woods are being harvested without much thought to conservation in most places in the world. Quality spruce for sound boards and string instruments is becoming harder and harder to find.

    I know that some luthiers have embraced this issue. Bow maker Sue Lipkin and many others are supporting the International Pernambucco Conservation Initiative.

    We as musicians, have a vested interest in becomeing "Tree Huggers".
  3. Drill-more has nothing to do with a lack of exotic lumber for instruments. We should leave politics out of it. The problem is nations that have these resources have no control or care of how to harvest and replant, acres of rainforest are wiped away every second and soy bean etc are planted instead, because crops bring in more money as they export to nations like China.
  4. Im just typing as I think so please dont flame me! All of this may be completely wrong, but this is what Im thinking right now...

    I think whatever we do for work or for fun, we have to live with our own conscience as individuals. If we all behave ourselves as individuals then the comunity will behave itsself :)

    The argument, "its just me building one, not fender building a million" just doesnt hold water. If a million of us build just one, its the same outcome. (For the trees at least.)

    Most folk here have a huge respect for our raw materials and save it whenever possible.

    Theres a further problem, boutique instruments made from exotic species have fueled the market for mass produced exotic instruments, like the ESP B-4E which can be had for just over £300.

    But, as I understand it, and I may be completely wrong, the largest threat to the rain forrests is clearing the land for other commercial use such as agriculture. I have heard the argument that buying timber from well managed rainforrests increases the value of the forrest and so saves it from being cleared, which makes a lot of sense to me.

    My local timber yard has tonnes of FSC certified mahogany from central america, so I feel good whenever I buy some.

    What did you have in mind?
  5. A while ago, I went looking to see what exotic super dense timbers can be got with FSC certification.

    Whilst looking I found the Mpingo Conservation Project, website http://mpingoconservation.org - I recieved this email from Steve Ball, steve.ball@mpingoconservation.org

    I then contacted Mr Salim Fazal at salimfazal@klicksi.com and received this reply:

    I was planning to check back in December and see how they are getting on with their certification.
  6. powerbass


    Nov 2, 2006
    western MA
    Thanks for raising this issue, it is going to raise some hair but I would like to see the issue of wood conservation and instrument building addressed on TB. There are many issues why we as instrument builders should be concerned about the use of wood especially the specialty woods often used in instrument building. The supply is dwindling rapidly and the social, environmental and economic issues of wood consumption is huge for all of us. Small decisions like whether or not to use ebony on your fretboard involve a long chain of events from the often poor economies of countries that grow the wood, the delicate natural balance in the way the trees grow, the local people who depend on the sale of the wood for their lively hood: loggers, shippers, sawmill operators, cargo ships to the wood supplier to you. The question I would like to see raised is do we need to use "exotic woods" at all to make instruments? I see many basses that are being built and sold that look like cutting boards from the 1980's when everyone was using stripes of exotic woods. Good instrument design doesn't have to mean 6 laminations of mutli colored "exotic woods".
    I do see some builders experimenting with lesser utilized species and backyard lumbar. I think this is great and I think there is a good marketing angle on "green" instruments from local, reclaimed, salvaged wood etc. The best sounding bass I have yet to make is made out of red cedar I purchased at the local lumbar yard. The fretboard is a phenolic and it has piezo pickups. Total cost was about $200. Now I could do the same instrument out of basswood and maple and get all my materials from the local sawmill that is 15 miles from my house. No UPS, no "exotics".
  7. Just out of curiosity, is there anyone in North America (or anywhere else, for that matter) that actually farms wood specifically for instrument making?

    Between Canada and the United States, almost every climate on earth can be found in North America(ok, no tropical rainforest, but there is the only temperate rainforest found on the west coast/British Columbia); you would think it would be possible to farm most exotic woods locally rather than importing them from overseas where they are being removed from their natural environment faster than they can regrow.

    Part of what makes tree farming so unappealing is the time investment - the years it takes for the crop to grow to a proper size - but in the end, the returns are well worth it (I have experience in tree farming). There may be a lot of money to be made in farming instrument-specific woods.

    Is this happening today? Or has nobody bothered to try? Not only would it protect exotics in their natural habitat, but it would likely make the good stuff more plentiful and affordable as well.
  8. Dbassmon


    Oct 2, 2004
    Rutherford, NJ
    Unfortunately, politics has everything to do with this situation. Under developed countries lack resources, education, knowledge and have pervasive corruption and poverty. Sustainable and responsible use of resources in not even an item on the "to think about" list.

    Our country lacks any real environmental leadership as evidenced by many politicians belief that responsible use of our resources includes more drilling rather than a real commitment for research towards alternative energy independence.

    In climate like this, how much support are likely see for really trying to preserve rain forest hardwoods and promotion of responsible farming and guaranteeing the countries that produce these resources get a fair price?

    You can say leave the politics out of it, but that will preclude any serious discussion on the topic.

    I think the fact that we are discussing this issue here on TB if fantastic. Letting our favorite luthier know that this is an issue we are concerned about and expressing a willingness to pay a little more for responsibly farmed raw materials is an excellent place to start. IMO
  9. gregh


    Sep 15, 2008
    HI, I am really pleased to see this discussed as i have to buy a bass soon and was looking to get something made as sustainably as possible. Perhaps secondhand is an option as it is a form of recycling.
  10. T2W


    Feb 24, 2007
    Montreal, Canada.
    Obviously it is an issue, but also, and im very very proud of it, we got vegan hippies who take care too. I aint a vegan hippie but I planted my fair share of trees. I think it is a beautiful process to put a seed in the earth and watch it grow over the years. Its magic. Id like to say that I only build a few basses, not Mahogany kitchen cabinets... but I treat the wood with respect, at one point it was alive. I like to think Ive given life back by planting a dozen trees a year.
  11. I dont see how pointing out that we are using too much NON renewable resources is political, unless you voted to drill more eh? Or you own an oil company? Truth should not be hindered by thin skinned politicing.
  12. Like I said, you may think it is politcal and that is fine, but drilling for oil has nothing to do with the supply of wenge at your local shop. nothing at all.
  13. Dbassmon


    Oct 2, 2004
    Rutherford, NJ
    Oh it has something to do with it... follow along.

    If we are willing to continue with this type environmental policy, one puts the emphasis on doing more of the same i.e. drilling for fossil fuels, then what are the chances we going to do an about face and take up the cause of the preservation of resources in a Brazilian jungle? As long as you have petro giants pulling strings in Washington, you are not going to get true commitment to reversing environmental degradation of all sorts, deforestation, erosion, pollution, global warming. You have some saying there is no such thing as global warming.

    The point is that without a true commitment to doing everything we do in a environmentally responsible manner, we will still have a situation whereby we are depleting the earth of our resources, energy, raw materials, ebony, rosewood, purple heart, etc. included.

    We need to do more, we also need to use our influence and knowledge to get developing nations one board and help them earn a living in an environmentally responsible manner.

    If you don't see how that relates to wood, well let's just say it's part and parcel of the same short sighted slash and burn mentality that governs this country.

    Change starts one person at a time. Walk towards the light.
  14. xlows


    Oct 21, 2006
    Easiest way to avoid supporting deforestation? Buy used basses.

    If you're talking to a luthier about building you a custom instrument, you can also request for only environmentally-friendly woods to be used.

    Beyond that, some companies (like Modulus) will only use sustainable woods to begin with.
  15. ok, all wingnuts please come to the middle where responsible adults can speak. I suppose George Bush is the reason BRAZILIAN rosewood is unavailable !!!
    Someone mentioned wondering why we do not have natural resources of these woods. case in point look at the university in california where a couple of redwood trees are needing removed, protesting granola freaks have been living in them for a year, IF we did have these natural resources the environmentalist wackos would just lobby to keep them from being cut down. Then we are back to asking all the questions about why in the world would we buy wood from brazil, kind of hypocritical and silly. Just like oil, Dems want us to sit on our oil, (which if we did drill, the US would be so much more environmnentally kinder) they want us to get our oil from nigeria, where weekly oil spills and pipeline explosions fill the headlines, not to mention to exploitation of child labor.

    Petro giants in washington?, try Environmentalist wacos in washington keeping America from making progress.

    The Market place will decide, STOP buying exotic wood. Stop depending on government to make choices for you, you are a grown up for god's sake !! God bless manufactures like Modulus. I got to visit and tour their facility a few years ago when Lasner was in charge. Truly awesome people. Texas has all kinds of wonderful wood to use for making basses by the way and ash and maple really are the meat and potatoes anyway huh?
  16. T2W


    Feb 24, 2007
    Montreal, Canada.
    At one point The US wanted to 'internationalize' the Amazon. It did not go through. And this is obviously a good thing, Brazil does it in part cuz its a big source of income for them, just like madagasscar (where 1/3 of the forests have been cleared). But I do have hope, they are closing 3 plants for a few weeks in British Columbia since the need for wood just isnt as big as it used to be. I was surprised to hear this, but I guess the numbers speak for themselves. I used to work in a big kiln drying facility, all Birch, and today it is closed.

    I might have something to say concerning the US and its oil. according to the above post, Oil could be coming from nigeria... There is, as we speak right now, a pipeline being built from Fort McMurray, Alberta to Chicago, but fortunately the US is slowing down, they arent buying as much oil from Canada as it could have been selling. Since Oil from Alberta is three times higher in toxic emmisions than regualr drilled oil. In fact they were 'upgrading' 9 oil refinieries in Alberta, the result (pollution, yearly) of these upgrades will be equal to 10 million cars running 24 hours for a week straight.... I do believe there is a strong relationship between cutting wood and oil drilling. Both are run by the federal government, and in our case (in Quebec) it would be more 'environmentally' friendlier if it were the province running this business.

    I feel good hauling my Maple and Ash out of the forest on my shoulders, from dead but standing trees. They would have fell and decomposed and nourish the soil for other life but its better than cutting entire forests and annihilating so many animals homes. I try to do this as much as possible, that and recycling wood from old houses to build furniture. Yes, indeed, change starts within ourselves.
  17. T2W


    Feb 24, 2007
    Montreal, Canada.
    Im guessing its hard to tell a customer that the wood he wants to use is endangered and he should choose something else instead. But its definetely something we could all start by doing. For example, African Mahogany is not as endangered as Brazilian Mahogany (for the moment) so the choice on which to pick is obvious.

    Here is a link to the CITES site. http://www.cites.org/eng/app/appendices.shtml
  18. eleonn


    Aug 24, 2006
    Lima - Perú
    What is funny here is that almost all pieces of mahogany cutted down goes to US mainly and are not used for local commerce. Since 2000 peruvians have seen a lot of species that are not know out of the borders and its what we are mainly use nowdays. Cedar and tornillo is really common now and great substitutes of mahogany. Other species like ishpingo, moenas and a few otheres are more and more used everyday. Even pine have been used a lot lately and just 20 years ago pine was unknown. In my parents days everything gotta be from magohany or they would spit at you :D.

    A good thing here is that the goverment have being talking with several extremely poor towns (if you think US economy goes bad these days you should really see those towns) too grow species. The first town did that about 10 years ago with pine and they are now selling it to Lima's markets. Read somewhere that the goverments is in conversations with two o three towns to dothe same with mahogany mainly due to its market price. The huge problem here is that a tree doesnt grow as fast as other things.
  19. XylemBassGuitar

    XylemBassGuitar Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 14, 2008
    Durango, CO
    Owner and Operator, Xylem Handmade Basses and Guitars
    I'm really glad to hear someone with that sentiment.

    One of my main goals is to build all of my instruments with 90-100% reclaimed wood, local "backyard" wood, or truly sustainably-grown wood. I'm also going to start planting one or two trees for every bass or guitar that I build.

    I'd like to think that my customers will be willing to pay a little more for the time it will take for me to plant the trees, track down instrument-quality reclaimed wood, mill logs I see laying around people's yard, and find suppliers of sustainably grown wood. Maybe I'll offer some kind of price break for those who are willing to find sources of "responsible" wood and/or plant a tree themselves.

    I'll be the first to say that I'll have a very hard time giving up using woods like ebony, cocobolo, purpleheart, etc. in my building. It's not to say that I don't think it will make an impact on the environment (far from it), nor that I don't have a huge amount of respect for all of the wood I work with, it's just that amazing amount of satisfaction and admiration I get from working with the wood.

    So, anyone else have any good ideas as to what we should do as a community to help prevent over-use of these species so we can ensure that our children's children will get to build with and play instruments of exotic woods?
  20. No need to name call, just state the facts if you have them. You blame environmentalists and make false accusations and projections of the availability of natural resources. The control of natural resources resides strictly in the political and corporate space. There is a very high vested interest in the resources of many countries, so much so that innocent people have come to extreme harm for no good reason. External entities can control resources. Political parties draft sets of policies that covers all this. Political parties also have frequent discussions with the corporate sector. Logging and construction companies are involved in various contracts locally and in different countries. They have authorisation to do this and that in itself is entirely political... So where does the responsibility lie for the regrowth of a depleted forrest I wonder. It's not just the trees in a depleted forrest, there are life forms that are impacted directly and indectly over time. Regrowth can never give back what was taken.

    There are a few luthiers who are mindful of endagered species. It seems to me that many customers are also. Kind of like informed shoppers to a degree. But it seems that perceptions need to change because there is a lot of BS in the market place. Luthiers can make instruments that sound great without using threatened species.

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