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.
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.