exotic woods for musical instruments?

Discussion in 'Off Topic [BG]' started by allan grossman, Oct 6, 2002.

  1. This is more a political thread than a "basses" or "miscellaneous" thread so I put it in OT. Mods feel free to move if if you like.

    Considering that lumber companies are clearcutting rainforests in South America and plain old regular forests in Africa to get wood for exotic furniture and musical instruments, where do you stand on the use of exotic wood in your basses?

    This is a new political stand for me. I'm not a tree-hugger by any stretch of the imagination but I think I've decided that swamp ash and maple will work just fine for me.

    Where do the rest of you stand on this?
  2. Nick Gann

    Nick Gann Talkbass' Tubist in Residence

    Mar 24, 2002
    Silver Spring, MD
    I think that you can find domestic woods that have the same tonal qualities of the exotic woods. The looks however can't all be easily replicated. I have no problem having an exotic top or anything.

    Like you, I am not a tree hugger, but also like you, I am fine with domestic woods in my basses. They sound great, look nice, and work just fine :)
  3. yoshi


    Jul 12, 2002
    England, London
    i made a bass (well the body) out of PINE! it sounded just the same as the old one though, as i used the enck, p/u's etc all from an old bass of mine.

    erm, about the woods, i dont think id consider it to be honest (shame on me). however, i have planted 2 trees in my garden..?
  4. oddentity

    oddentity Supporting Member

    Nov 20, 2000
    There are some instrument makers and exotic wood suppliers that only use certified sustainable lumber. If you really want an exotic top, you could look into one of those companies.
  5. Bingo. Warwick says they do this, as does Conklin. Anyone else know of companies that follow these business practices?

    Rock on
  6. SoComSurfing

    SoComSurfing Mercedes Benz Superdome. S 127. R 22. S 12-13.

    Feb 15, 2002
    Mobile, Al
    Alot of the upper-end acoustic guitar lines we deal with at work use only certifiable sustained lumber. FBB Custom Basses offers a discount if you commision or order a bass built of all-domestic woods.
  7. RS


    Aug 27, 2000
    Cleveland, OH
    I have read the cattle farming in south America is a much much larger threat to exotic hardwoods than instrument construction.
  8. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Knowledgeable wood wholesalers/luthiers can tell you the amount of exotic wood the musical instrument industry uses is a drop in the bucket, (with the possible exception of the piano industry and even that is debatable).

    One of the real "rapists" of rainforests is the veneer industry. Slash-and-burn farmers in developing countries are another.
  9. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    If you buy used basses that were made decades ago - then no new wood is taken from the rainforest or any sources - we should all buy old basses!

    Start a campaign for re-cycling all old basses and for no new ones to be built!! ;)

    So - I buy basses with exotic woods - but only used, from many years ago!! Sound on all grounds!
  10. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member Administrator

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    bill conklin only uses sustainable stuff, as eric said earlier, so that's cool with me.

    righteous woods is a cool place to get some really happening wood - http://www.righteouswoods.com/
  11. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Forgot to post one of my examples of who's really eating up exotic woods.

    Check out the species available under "Technical Information: Individual specie sheets" from this flooring company. They even make wenge flooring!!! The wood Warwick had to discontinue as it's become too hard to get. Honduran mahogany even though it's disappearing??? No problem!!!).

  12. RS said...

    I have read the cattle farming in south America is a much much larger threat to exotic hardwoods than instrument construction.

    That's the most interesting thing I've read in about a week - thanks.

    [goes off to research]
  13. Very true. Slash-and-burn makes me think, "Man, look at all that glorious mahogany going to waste!"

    Rickbass is dead on, too: furniture, flooring, and paneling manufacturers are cranking out exotic-wood products like there's no tomorrow. Unfortunately for a lot of these species, at this rate there is no tomorrow.
  14. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    In terms of the quantity, you're right. However, what the instrument world does is provide a strong financial insentive for clear-cutting - the high premium that instrument builders pay for the right bits of the wood can make it all the more profitable to cut the stuff down. If a guy/company who own some woodland in South America know that they can get $$$$ per board foot, then they are more likely to go with the deal than if it's just going to be chipped or burnt and the land used...

    It's all about doing your bit - not buying an exotic bass isn't going to save the world, but it will send a message to the companies that are making the instruments that we care about these things. And anyway, look at the Moduluses and Conklins - like, sustainable can't look amazing???? We're not talking about using chipboard for the tops now! :D

    ...Bruce's point is a very good one, about buying second-hand. It exists, you're not adding to the demand, you're just buying an antique... ;)

    And if you ever meet anyone from the flooring company, give them a slap from me!


  15. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
  16. The only problem I see with buying used instruments is that unless the seller is retiring from music somewhere down the supply chain someone is going to replace the instrument he sold with a new one.

    You know, I really don't know what the solution is. It's easy for me to sit here and spout conservationist rhetoric with my 100% USA swamp ash and maple bass on my lap - but I'm fortunate that that particular combination of woods provides a tone I'm pretty happy with.

    If I had an opportunity to snag a killer bass at a great price I don't think the use of exotic woods in the instrument would stop me - so I'm more thinking out loud than anything else, I guess.

    This is a new political position for me - it's about ten days old - so I'm still trying to figure out how I feel and where my personal limits are.
  17. RS


    Aug 27, 2000
    Cleveland, OH
    Better the South American landowner sell the wood for commerical use than just burning it up!
  18. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    But far better still that the woodlands are left to remain as the habitat for all the wildlife and plants that exist only there, and that we keep those areas of forest that are so vital to just keeping the oxygen cycle going... Part of the drought problem in West africa can be traced to the rain forests no longer being a source of rain clouds that used to drift across the atlantic...

    Buying a bass made of certified wood is another way of raising the issue, it supports the companies and organisations that are trying to make a difference, to encourage us to consume responsibly. There's no need at all for us to be using endangered hardwood for basses...

    It's all about doing your bit, as Dostoevsky's character Raskolnikov put it in 'Crime and Punishment' - "I contribute my stone to the building up of universal happiness"... it's all about each of us doing what we can...

    the modulus website used to have a couple of really good articles about this on it, dunno if they are still there - check www.modulusguitars.com for more info...


  19. DanGouge


    May 25, 2000
    Responsible harvesting should be the goal of every manufacturer/luthier etc. I'd hate to see a day where basses are only made from composites and the only old-growth forests are museum mock-ups. Yeah other industries might be worse for this but that doesn't mean that we can't do our part and be responsible - even lead by example. I'm getting sick of the world not solving its problems because everyone thinks someone else should do their part first.

    Just my $.02
  20. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Actually, as an industry, luthiers are more often part of the solution, not the problem, Dan. They just don't get props for it.

    (Excerpt below is from BP Roundtable Discussion, "Pushing the Envelope" that included big names in bass luthiery; Gould, Tobias, Spector, Sadowsky, and others) -

    "Joe Zon: A lot of people are concerned about endangered woods, but I don't think it's the instrument industry that's depleting the supply.

    Stuart Spector: A lot of that stuff is getting cut up into veneer for conference tables, as far as I can tell.

    Joe Zon: Actually, most of it's being burned. It's the slashing-and-burning for agriculture that's the real problem.

    Michael Pedulla: I heard a report that only six container loads of ebony came out of Madagascar last year. That was *it*. The rest of what was cut down was burned. The deforestation problem is not being caused by fingerboards.

    Michael Replogle (of Steinberger): A lot of people don't realize that our industry is actually helping to promote preservation of the woods we use. My family is from Oregon, and when they moved there 60 years ago, they clear-cut the hills. They went through the trees and pulled out the straight lumber, and the rest was left to rot. The quilted and curly maple was considered trash wood. My uncle said that when they hit a tree that had all this beautiful figure in it, they'd chip it up or burn it. Before quilted maple became popular for guitars and basses, they used to make particle board out of it....... We've taken our lumps as consumers of wood, but actually we're raising awareness and making it more viable for people to farm exotic woods.

    Michael Pedulla: You have to say, "Hey, this wood *is* acceptable, because I'm putting it on my bass. It sounds great." But it can be a tough sell when people just want curly maple.

    Geoff Gould: We've been investigating some new woods. For instance, we've been using this new wood from Mexico called chakta kok. It's being farmed in a certified program. Hopefully, the players will buy it.

    Greg Curbow: If you don't introduce a new material, they're not going to ask you for it. The players ay not even be aware that it exists. If I hadn't decided to try Rockwood, the neck material I've been using, nobody would have know about it. And I've done well with it; in fact, those are the best-selling basses I've ever had. The sound is phenomenal. But nobody would have used that unless I had said, "Well, I'm going to give it a shot."

    Joe Zon: Well, if enough of us do it, it will force the issue......."