The forests of the world are dying and our favourite instruments contribute to global deforestation. What is the problem? Traditionally, many tropical timbers such as rosewood or mahogany are used to make musical instruments. The wood of these tree species is often very hard and resistant, has good sound characteristics and looks good as well.
Photo: Adobe Stock/ Fabian
But especially the tropical forests of the planet are being cut down at breathtaking speed https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/ar4-wg3-chapter9-1.pdf.
Every second our planet loses an area of forest the size of a football field! Sixty soccer fields a minute, 86,400 soccer fields every day! One of the main reasons is the use of tropical wood https://blog.globalforestwatch.org/data-and-research/agriculture-drove-recent-record-breaking-tree-cover-loss
Is tropical timber also used in your instrument? There are many alternatives to tropical timber in guitars, basses or violins. Any tropical wood can be replaced by native woods that grows in your country.
Photo: Marcio Isensee e Sá
Why should we avoid using tropical timber? Tropical wood is very often felled illegally. Interpol, the international police authority, assumes that between 50 and 90% of all tropical wood is felled illegally! Land grabbing, violence and corruption go often hand in hand with tropical deforestation. Export certificates are forged, quantities are misstated and the poorly equipped police and customs authorities in the countries of origin are often bribed.
Sad but true, our Les Pauls, Strats, Teles and Jazz Basses – if they contain tropical woods, there is a high risk that they too have contributed to the destruction of the forests.
Where does my information come from and is everything I write true? Make up your own mind. Here are some sources:
Global Forest Watch is a non-governmental organization that monitors the world’s forests through satellite imagery: https://www.globalforestwatch.org/
The Thünen Institute for Wood Research, based in Hamburg, is a German federal institute and conducts research on materials, health and environmental issues relating to wood as a material and also provides policy advice. The local Competence Centre for Wood Origins is the central contact point for authorities, the timber trade, consumers and associations for questions concerning the proof of species and origin of wood and wood products. Experts there are able to determine wood samples at the level of genus or species and can verify indications of the geographical origin of wood for an increasing number of tree species.
Questions and answers (in German )from the Thuenen Institute on the subject of illegal wood: https://www.thuenen.de/de/infrastruktur/thuenen-kompetenzzentrum-holzherkuenfte/fragen-und-antworten/
Further information on trade and placing on the market (German): https://www.thuenen.de/media/institute/hf/Kompetenzzentrum/ThuenenRatgeber5_Holz_und_Holzprodukte_legal_handeln.pdf
The international police authority Interpol on illegal timber: https://www.interpol.int/Crimes/Environmental-crime/Forestry-crime
The online magazine Mongabay describes the overexploitation in the national parks of Bolivia: https://news.mongabay.com/2020/01/rare-trees-are-disappearing-as-wood-pirates-log-bolivian-national-parks/
Probably the most famous guitar manufacturer in the world, Gibson, has repeatedly been guilty of importing huge quantities of illegal wood and was finally sentenced: https://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2011/08/31/140090116/why-gibson-guitar-was-raided-by-the-justice-department?t=1595772560373