[ ecology policy ]This is one of the most difficult issues we face. Luthiers have an obvious choice to make about their use of timbers, but we are all consumers in one form or another, and our daily choices may have significant repercussions in the future. It is part of living to use. All life uses resources like air, water and energy. Aristotle called life the "mutual eating" because that is roughly how natural recycling works. Even our solar system and possibly the universe itself have a lifespan, and may eventually grow old and die.
Having said that, there is a difference between using and plundering the resources of our planet. Although we may disagree about the priorities, all of us who live with conscience agree that we have a duty to husband and protect the natural world and to pass on the wonders intact to the next generation. We all draw the moral line somewhere, and for me the line is crossed by the wanton exploitation of the animal kingdom. To this end, I have always refused to work with ivory. Not part of any of my instruments has ever contained ivory, and no part ever will. For those who argue that ivory is for some reason essential to their work, there may be other imaginative solutions. For example, a significant amount of mammoth ivory comes onto the market from Siberia. Since mammoths are extinct, there is no obvious objection to using dead tusks.
Guitar makers habitually use wood from tropical rain forests. This is a very difficult dilemma because so many different issues are involved. Most of the rain forest is destroyed for reasons unrelated to the timber trade. For example, prospecting for precious minerals causes far more damage than logging. Also, a great deal of forest is cleared so as to convert the land to farming. In a sane world, timber would be an ideal material to use for the creation of beautiful things. With careful use, it is almost infinitely sustainable. If we were to farm trees, not only would we benefit from the timber, but we would also preserve one of the most important natural habitats on the planet. This does not happen currently either because of greed or stupidity or desperation, and there are no easy answers. It is important for those of us who use timber commercially not to lose sight of the goal - sustainable farming of the world's forests. However, in the shorter term, I have tried to use timber species that were less threatened by mass deforestation. Much of the tropical timber I use comes from Central America, including the glorious Honduras Rosewood that is very difficult to work with, but has an almost bell-like ring and massive sustain. This is the reason it is used for marimba keys.
Finally, I have always been open to experimental partnerships with my customers. For example, when one of my customers requested a guitar made entirely from temperate woods, we both felt it was a valuable issue to explore, and an important demonstration that luthiers have many ecological and non-traditional choices available to them. The results were very pleasing for both of us. Although we may not always agree as to the best course of action, if we all act with conscience, however we may perceive this, we can make a difference. Both as makers and as players, we have certain individual powers - to educate, to encourage and to boycott, and it is essential we exercise our powers. Preserving the planet's eco-system is not a luxury.
More about eco guitars.