Lucy Siegle: Musicians warm to sweet sound of sustainability

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Many an eco-warrior strums a guitar, but where does the wood to make it come from?

An estimated 20 per cent to 40 per cent of global wood production comes from illegal timber sources, while deforestation accounts for nearly a fifth of greenhouse gas emissions.

Musical instruments suffer from two sustainability hurdles.

First, many instruments - notably guitars - are from different types of timber, mixing the temperate with the boreal, which makes traceability more complex, while the "preferred" woods used are largely under threat thanks to over-harvesting.

The second bum note is sounded by musicians themselves.

Tonal quality is inextricably linked in musicians' heads with old-growth wood. The threatened rainforest tree African blackwood (grenadilla) is used to make woodwind instruments, while guitar players often demand mahogany necks and ebony bridges.

Fortunately, some manufacturers are trying to make instruments more sustainable.

Woodwind instrument manufacturer Hanson aims to relieve the pressure on the African blackwood by making reinforced grenadilla clarinets fashioned from a composite of grenadilla scraps and ebonite.

Similarly, Buffet Crampon has a Green Line range of oboes and clarinets made from a wood powder and carbon-fibre composite.

As for guitars, the Music Wood Coalition (, a US Greenpeace initiative, has begun to change the pervading tune.

Essentially a coalition between "tonewood" suppliers and guitar makers, its aim is to move alternative certified wood sources through the chain, forcing out old-growth and tropical wood deforestation.

It has done well so far: signatories include Taylor, Fender, Martin, Yamaha and Gibson, one of the biggies that by 2012 aims to use 80 per cent sustainable wood in its Gibson USA electric guitars.

You will have spotted the inherent contradiction with electric instruments.

I have been wracked with guilt ever since I succumbed to getting an electric Roland piano.

But its energy use is low - especially given my poor practice record - and I was heartened to find it had an environmental manufacturing certification (ISO 14001). I would have struggled to find an acoustic with even a traceability record.

Incidentally, the body of a Cyclotron electric guitar is lovingly crafted from old yoghurt pots and CDs fused into a dynamic polymer. For several musicians, notably Tom Jarvis from Reverend and the Makers, it is their guitar of choice.

Here's a product that has overcome a great deal of guitar snobbery and prejudice because players rave about its sound.

Could that be the key to genuinely sweet music?


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