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Martin Unveils Recycled Wood Guitar, While Gibson Still Fights Raid Fallout

| Thursday December 1st, 2011 | 6 Comments

If you heard the words “guitar” and “environment” in the same sentence in the last few months you were probably hearing about the raid on Gibson Guitar. While the August raid on Gibson’s factories continues to draw a lot of attention and still gets conservatives and Tea Party supporters angry, another guitar company is coming up this week with an innovative effort to connect the dots between guitars and the environment in a positive way.

On Tuesday, C.F. Martin announced that it will utilize FSC-certified recycled Sitka spruce in one of its new cutaway guitars in the company’s Performing Artist series – the GPCPA4 Sapele. Now, here comes the good part – the wood, which will be used on the tops of the new guitar, is coming from none other than dismantled Canadian bridges where it had been used in construction.

“Martin Guitar has long been committed to research and innovation to find alternatives to rare woods,” explained Chris Martin, the company’s chairman and CEO. “The use of this recycled traditional tonewood will complement the Sapele wood that this guitar utilizes, allowing us to achieve the same structural integrity and traditional Martin sound,” he added.

The search for such innovative solutions is not accidental, especially for a guitar maker with sustainability in mind like C.F. Martin. “In order for a musical instrument manufacturing company to become more sustainable, they have to look at the primary resources from the planet that they’re using and get those resources in the most environmentally sustainable way,” explains Scott Paul, director of the forest campaign for Greenpeace.

In addition to exploring recycled materials, Martin has been at the forefront in tone testing and the development of alternatives for acoustic guitar construction, having introduced new models that utilize domestic woods such as ash, maple, walnut, cherry and red birch, among others. In addition, the company is researching and implementing alternatives for some models, including aluminum tops for the Alternative X models, unique fiber laminates for fingerboards and bridges, and a shell laminate called Abalam that greatly increases the yield of precious abalone and mother of pearl for decorative inlays.

Martin is not alone. In 2007, the company and three other prominent guitar companies – Taylor, Fender and Gibson – have teamed up with Greenpeace to promote changes in logging practices that would secure the long-term sustainability of tonewoods (wood which may be used in the construction of a musical instrument). The partnership, MusicWood Coalition, was launched with a focus on Sitka spruce, which is commonly used for guitar and piano soundboards.

The main location of Sitka spruce trees is the coastal rainforest regions of Alaska and Canada, and the guitar makers were worried that within a short time there wouldn’t be enough suitable Sitka spruce trees (i.e. large, at least 250 years old) to provide wood for guitar parts. The coalition tried to work with Sealaska, a Native American corporation and the largest private landowner in Southeast Alaska, in an effort to help the company achieve FSC certification, but apparently it didn’t work and the project came to a standstill.

If you followed the story of the raid on Gibson, you might be surprised to hear that the CEO that rallied his competitors to join the Greenpeace effort was no other than Henry Juszkiewicz, the CEO of Gibson Guitar. Juszkiewicz told the New York Times in 2007, that ”this is both a public relations effort and an effort to do the right thing for our kids.”

Juszkiewicz, who has become the center of the raid story, probably still believes that sustainable practices are important for the future of our kids. This is why Gibson keeps its long-time collaboration with the Rainforest Alliance on various initiatives, from expanding FSC-certified wood supply to testing new composite materials and alternative species for use in electric and acoustic guitar fret boards, the guitar component often made from rosewood and ebony.

Yet, at the same time, Juszkiewicz seems glad to help framing the raid in terms of political persecution, telling the Wall Street Journal that he doesn’t think it’s a political issue, but at the same time saying he doesn’t understand why President Obama doesn’t reply to a letter he sent him with all the details of what happened and why he thinks it’s unfair.

Juszkiewicz probably thinks President Obama should find the time to explore the case since so many Republican politicians did so, using it to attack the Obama administration, including House Speaker John Boehner, who said, according to Businessweek, it’s yet another example of an overreaching big government.

I guess we’ll need to wait for the court’s decision (if charges will be made eventually against Gibson) to see if this raid was justified, or if it’s nothing but an example of, as the WSJ suggested “an iconic American brand under seemingly senseless federal fire.” Yet, we can only hope it will happen sooner rather than later so we’ll again hear the words “guitar” and “environment” in only a positive context, such as the one provided by Martin’s new guitar. After all, as Juszkiewicz  said, this is for the kids.

Image credit: GtrNelson, Flickr Creative Commons

Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry in the digital age. He is also an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics.


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  • graham

    Why the hate against Gibson and the Tea Party Raz?

    How can anyone support the federal raid on Gibson? It was not their fault that the Indian government changed their laws about the way their wood was to be finished. The product wasn’t even harvested illegally, the classification of how it was finished changed.

    What a crock to sell out the Rebublicans and the Tea Party here! If anything Obama and the FBI ought to be strongly criticized for raiding, with guns drawn, a guitar manufacturer.

  • Mr. Ed

    The Gibson Guitar Company was very responsible in purchasing of wood for their guitar manufacturing and openly supported conservational harvesting. Their wood had the approval of the exporting countries and the USA Customs. The Obama Justice Department sent the FBI and Fish and Game Waco-style Swat Team into the manufacturing company with automatic weapons drawn and intensively questioning management and workers on the manufacturing line for up to five hours at a time each making implied threats. The government thugs took enough materials to cripple the company. The Gibson Guitar Company paid for lawyers to defend their employees as well as management. The company was not charged with a crime or even given a hint of their wrong doing. This has happened to this company twice. The Justice Department has been dragging their feet while the company’s resources dwindle and the suggesting Gibson should move manufacturing overseas. I am not sure we want to accept the new meanings of “innocent until proven guilty”, “unreasonable search and seizure” and “due process of law”.

    Please Google “Gibson Guitar Raid”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45rv-BVz-ko&feature=related

    I say we keep the Gibson Guitar Company in the USA and exile the Obama administration to Madagascar.

  • Mr. Ed

    That is very green of Martin to use recycled spruce for guitar tops. What are the fingerboards made of? The guitar industry has a tiny impact on the environment and this is just a gimmick.

    If Martin cannot offer a word of support against this kind of tyranny, let them go the way of another Obama favored company, Solyndra.

  • Ed

    Wow, the right-wing extremists have discovered Triple Pundit:

    “hate against Gibson and the Tea Party”

    “Waco-style Swat Team”

    “let them go the way of another Obama favored company, Solyndra”

    Raz, I thought that you did a very balanced job of presenting complex issues in this short article and that you bent over backwards in your efforts to tell all sides of the story.

    (And that’s the thanks you get?)

    Of course, presenting different sides of the Gibson story comes off as hate and in the minds of some.

    Gibson should be commended for their work with Greenpeace. Perhaps when the politicizing of their Lacey Act import problems dies down, the can get back to trying to be a more sustainable company.

    Martin should be commended for using recycled wood (reclaimed from dismantled Canadian bridges!) and I wish them luck in their continued effort towards sustainability. From Guitar Site, “Martin has created a document regarding Responsible Guitar building” http://www.martinguitar.com/downloads/PDF/ResponsibleGuitar.pdf

    Keep up the good work, Raz!

  • Jen

    Here’s an account of the generally untold, in some quarters, story of the raid on Gibson for its failure to follow the 2008 Lacey Act amendments. It goes a long way in explaining the venom that the author was subjected to:

    Gibson Guitar Raid: A Fox Case Study
    http://mediamatters.org/blog/201109130020

    Confirmation bias and partisanship are terrible handicaps to truth seeking.

  • Anonymous

    What is scary about the Gibson story is that people know about it because Gibson guitars are legendary. This is just the tip of the iceberg. How many unknown companies are being persecuted by the jackbooted thugs of the government.