Regulations Concerning Use of Tropical Woods

Take a walk through any music store today and the instruments you will see, particularly on high end guitars, represent a wide range of exotic and valuable woods from the four corners of the globe: spruce from Alaska, mahogany and rosewood from South America, ebony from Africa and a host of other lesser known species.
These fine woods are much sought after for their tonal quality and appearance.

Unfortunately, increasing demand for exotic woods on global markets has led to the destructive and often
illegal logging of the forests where these species are found. Global demand has driven many species to the
point of commercial extinction and others are becoming increasingly scarce, as are the plants and animals
that share their environment. 

As such many of these exotic woods used in guitar production are now protected under international law.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is an international agreement among governments that aims to ensure that international trade in species of plants and wild animals does not
threaten their survival. Species covered under CITES are afforded varying degrees of protection depending in which of three Appendices the species are listed:

Appendix 1 includes species threatened with extinction and prohibits commercial trade in these species.
Brazilian rosewood has been listed under Appendix 1 since 1992 and international commercial trade in
Brazilian rosewood harvested after that date, including guitars made from it, is prohibited.

Appendix 2 includes species that although currently not threatened with extinction, may become so without trade restrictions and controls. This classification covers mahogany, particularly from Latin America.

Appendix 3 includes species for which a country has requested CITES help to ensure effective control of international trade in that species. This classification covers Spanish cedar from many Latin American countries, ebony from Madagascar and rosewood from Madagascar and Honduras.

* List of Restricted and Endangered Wood Species on this page

Additionally, the US has the Lacey Act. This is a conservation law dating from 1900 that was amended in 2008 to expand protection to a broader range of plants and plant products including exotic tone woods. It is now illegal to import, export, buy, sell or otherwise acquire any plant if it is in violation of US or any other international conservation law. The Gibson Guitar Company has recently (August 2012) been fined over $300,000 under the Lacey Act for using ebony from Madagascar and rosewood from India. They have also had their entire stocks of these woods confiscated.

Leonardo Guitar Research Project: Reason for Being

Guitar manufacturers and luthiers unanimously agree on the vital need to protect forest ecosystems, and many initiatives are being worked. However, the environmental focus of guitar manufacturers so far has been on the sustainability and management of forests to ensure a continuing supply of their current tone woods for future generations. 

Very little has been done to move away from the exotic woods commonly used today. What has been done on alternative woods has focused on electric guitars (Gibson has a target to reach 80% sustainable woods in their electric guitars by 2012). Exotic tone woods remain the bedrock of high end acoustic guitars. The reason for this is that alternative woods just do not cut it for traditionalists. Tonal quality is inextricably linked in musicians’ heads with old growth exotic wood.

This is where the Leonardo Guitar Research Project comes in. By demonstrating that everyday common woods can be used to make high tonal quality and beautiful looking guitars, by having recognized artists play the instruments, and by sharing the knowledge and innovative techniques across the international guitar community, we hope to make a mindset change that will benefit everyone in the long run, providing luthiers with a broader and more secure supply base of guitar woods, musicians with highly desirable instruments, and at the same time avoiding loss of valuable tree species and animal habitats for future generations

How relevant is our project ?

Only a very small proportion of exotic woods are used for crafting guitars. The majority is used for furniture (e.g. mahogany, rosewood, maple), paper production (e.g. spruce) and for building materials (floors, doors, window frames, terraces etc). However, if high profile guitar makers and musicians can be convinced, they can have a big impact on the public and logging companies and in turn influence these people to use and promote alternative sustainable woods. This can make a difference to the ecology of our forests...

Are we alone ?

Fortunately there are other people and groups who are concerned about the use of alternatives for tropical timber in instrument making. Here are some links:
Salvaged Wood / Tonewood for musical instruments in crisis
/ The future of tonewoodsTrevor Semple Eco-guitars   / Green-your-Guitar/   Green_Guitar / Eco-Friendly-Guitars / Martin and other makers go green / Greenpeace_Musicwood_Campaign 

We recently received a mail from Chris Larkin: "For the last ten years I have been specialising in using non traditional and locally sourced wood in my instruments  acoustic, semi acoustic and solid bodied. They have been well received and accepted by the parts of the musical establishment who can see further than the myths put about in the general music industry and some players who should know better - basically by customers with ears and eyes rather than prejudice.
So, this is just to let you know that I support what you are doing."

 CALL: If you have more links or sources about this subject, please let us know>

More Background material sources:

·How Green is my Guitar; Lucy Siegle, The Observer, May 3 2009

·Making Guitars with Sustainable Woods; The Houston Chronicle, Jan. 26 2009

·Play Responsibly: Guitar Makers seek Sustainable Sound; Sara J Martinez Nov 29 2011, (Greenpeace-initiative)

·Restricted and Endangered Wood Species; Eric Meier,

·International trade in Plants and Wildlife; information for musicians and musical instrument manufacturers:
 The US Fish and Wildlife Service,

·Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species,

- About deforestation and climate change

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