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The Sweet Sound of Sustainability – a Guitarist’s Guide to Eco-Friendly Instruments

24/05/2021

When shopping for a guitar, there are usually three things that will catch your eye: sound, playability, and looks. But what about sustainable wood?

From the food we eat to the car we drive, leading an environmentally friendly life can seem overwhelming at times. But it doesn’t have to be difficult; even small, mindful choices all add up. So, what role do guitars play?

To help you in your search for an environmentally friendly instrument, we’ve simplified some of the jargon that’s out there and highlighted the brands that are making headway in their eco-conscious practices.

With World Environment Day coming up on 5th June, now is the perfect time to discover the world of ‘greener’ instruments. If you’re an eco-conscious musician who wants to invest in a more sustainable guitar, behold our guide on how to be kinder to the planet…

Sustainable woods – what are they?

Ideally, for your stamp on the earth to be as small and harmless as possible, a guitar constructed from sustainable wood will become your new gigging sidekick.

This means its life began in a carefully managed forest, one that will thrive for generations to come. Wildlife is protected, trees are replanted, and local communities don’t suffer – overall, a much more sustainable process than mass deforestation.

It’s a good idea to look out for FSC-certified woods for a clear indication of the brand’s eco-friendly values. The FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) approves responsible and ethical forest management and as their certification sets the international standard, you know you can trust it.

Some guitars are also recognised by the PEFC (Program for the Endorsement of Forestry Certification). This is an organisation that promotes sustainable forest management and works to protect these landscapes that are paramount to our survival.

Shopping for an eco-friendly guitar doesn’t have to be a stressful, lengthy process, it can be as simple as a quick scroll through the specs. But you need to know what woods to identify!

Keep an eye out for woods such as poplar, basswood, koa, figured ebony, ovangkol, and sapele. There are more, but these are the ones you’ll probably see the most.

Playing an LA Guitar

 

For example, our LA Electric Guitar features an oiled poplar laminate fretboard, a more sustainable material than others out there. Poplar trees grow quickly and can adapt to various soil types and climate conditions, meaning they can be easily replaced, so you won’t be contributing to desolate lands where beautiful forests once stood.

Brands to look out for

To narrow the hunt for an eco-friendly guitar, there are some particular brands that make sustainability look easy. Hartwood, Martin, Taylor, and Fender all have an awareness of the impact that guitar manufacturing has on the planet, and so they have implemented practices to lessen the effect.

From Hartwood’s use of reclaimed waste materials to Martin’s FSC certified wood, from Taylor’s responsible sourcing of ebony to Fender’s pau ferro fretboards, these brands are demonstrating forward-thinking production processes. So, browsing their guitars is a great way to start being more environmentally conscious.


Hartwood

Something that Hartwood really prides itself on is the economical construction of its guitars. A frugal eye for wood that would otherwise go to waste means that fewer amounts of fresh wood are needed, therefore putting less stress on the planet’s natural resources and reducing contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

Electrics like the Fifty6 Vibrato Electric Guitar feature thermally treated maple ply fretboards, layers of material that would usually be thrown away as it is too thin to be used for anything other than binding. To ensure this doesn’t happen, Hartwood uses an epoxy-type resin to set the wood, creating a fretboard that is smooth, durable, and that reduces the impact on the earth.

Hartwood Fifty6

If you’re more of an eco-conscious acoustic or ukulele player, Hartwood has kept you in mind too. Take a look at the Sonata Armrest Electro-Concert Ukulele, for example. It showcases a laminated technical basswood body which is not only visually striking, but also utilises reclaimed waste wood material for its sustainable construction.

You won’t be sacrificing great tone either. Technical wood is supremely sturdy and resonant, proving that you can still experience delicious sound when opting for a more environmentally friendly instrument.


Martin Guitars

The pinnacle of acoustic guitar excellence. You can’t get much better than Martin, it’s a brand that is pioneering in more ways than one. As well as producing simply exquisite, timeless guitars that stand proud in its collection, Martin is fiercely committed to leading the way to a more sustainable future.

It was one of the first guitar manufacturers to develop an ecological policy in 1990, and since then it has become renowned for its mission to create eco-friendly instruments.Martin Acoustics

The first thing you’ll probably notice when browsing Martin guitars is their FSC certification which is recognised by the Rainforest Alliance. This means that every aspect of the instrument’s handcrafted construction adheres to extremely stringent social and environmental standards.

 

For example, many Martin guitars, such as the D-10E Electro Acoustic and D Jr-10E StreetMaster, feature Richlite fretboards and bridges. Richlite comprises 100% recycled products and goes through a low-energy manufacturing process, whilst its smooth finish means you’ll be granted a glorious playing experience too.


Taylor

One of the main things the experts at Taylor pride themselves on is the ebony sawmill they co-own in Cameroon. If you’re investing in a Taylor guitar and you want to know that you’ve made an eco-friendly choice, you can rest assured knowing that responsible and sustainable sourcing lies behind its West African ebony.

The Ebony Project provides full transparency, giving you an insight into the background of your ebony fretboard. Rather than wasting trees that are both black and white, in favour of all-black trees, Taylor embraces the beauty and tone of marble ebony.

The sawmill also creates opportunities for surrounding communities, and the whole process works to protect the vast biodiversity as well as the luscious forests. To ensure we don’t see a derelict landscape in 50-100 years, Taylor then replants trees. So when you buy a Taylor guitar, you’ll be giving back to the earth.

You can find Taylor’s sustainably crafted ebony fretboards on models like the 114e Grand Auditorium and the Big Baby Acoustic.


Fender

Fender knows the importance of excellent playability as well as eco-friendly values. That’s why you’ll see a lot of pau ferro fretboards on models like the Noventa Stratocaster. Pau ferro is a brilliant alternative to rosewood and it represents Fender’s commitment to maintaining eco-conscious practices.Noventa Strat

When CITES (an international agreement that ensures trade doesn’t threaten endangered plants and animals) introduced restrictions on woods such as rosewood, many manufacturers switched to pau ferro, including Fender. But when the restrictions were lifted, Fender continued to utilise pau ferro, reaping the wood’s benefits for the sake of the planet.

A scroll through our range of Fender guitars shows a selection of different fretboards, and choosing pau ferro gives you the chance to lean towards a more sustainable guitar.

What about accessories?

So, you’ve bought a guitar that you know has ethical practices behind it; you’re ready to strum on some scrumptious-sounding, sustainable tonewoods. But there are a few more bits you need before you can take to the stage.

When it comes to accessories, two of the best things you can do is opt for recycled plastic and avoid leather. Make the most of your plectrums and then when you want the fresh feel of new ones, donate them – along with any other unwanted accessories – instead of throwing them away. This will ensure that nothing goes to waste and sits on the earth for years to come.ortega vegan strap

The production of leather requires huge amounts of energy, water, and dangerous chemicals, not to mention the masses of land needed for the animals to be raised. Animal agriculture is one of the leading contributors to climate change, so avoiding leather where you can is a step towards being a more eco-conscious musician.

But you don’t have to sacrifice the strong, durable qualities that come with leather. There are plenty of alternatives that work just as well.

Ortega offers a brilliant range of vegan guitar straps crafted from laminated synthetic material. They are completely recyclable and are made with low power consumption, and yet the finished product is so close to leather you’ll never even notice any difference.

Find out more

Strum your way to sustainability and save the planet with your eco-friendly riffs.

You don’t need to change your whole setup or spend thousands on a guitar that you’re not used to, just having an awareness of the practices behind the instrument and knowing what wood to look out for are great places to start.

To read further on sustainability in the music industry, take a look at Taylor’s Ebony Project and the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council).

 

Content Writer - Guitars

Maisie is a pianist who has recently completed her master’s in Music at university. She is interested in pop, rock, and the role of women in music. She spent her degree focusing on music journalism, specifically the way in which female artists are portrayed in the media. Sometimes, she plays guitar, but that is very rare.

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