A look into the sustainability of guitar making

First introduced in 12th century Europe, the guitar is now a ubiquitous musical instrument. And now growing in the damp forests of the Pacific Northwest may be exactly what guitar makers need for a generation of ethical and sustainable instruments. Our environmental reporting partner Earth Fix has the story.


First introduce in 12th-century Europe the guitar is no a ubiquitous musical instrument.

And now, growing in the damp forests of the Pacific Northwest may be exactly what guitar makers nee for a generation of ethicall and sustainabl sourced instruments.

Our environmenta reporting partner EarthFix has the story.

When Steve McMinn looks at trees he tries to see their future

It's difficult to predict Thinking, 'Man, I could cu a 12 out of about here This piece would slice nicely.

For decades, McMinn has supplied the guitar industry with trees grown from Alaska to Oregon.

His customers include America' biggest guitar makers.

At his shop in the foothills of the North Cascades, he cuts them splits them... and listens to the results [ Mid-tempo music plays

I figured somebody could do a better job providing woo for musical instrument than had been done In the course of a year, we'll cut enough woo for 300,000 to 400,000 guitars

Lately, McMinn has been looking further into the future, trying to help make the guitar industry more sustainable.

Guitars use some of the rarest woods on Earth They command a high price, making them targets for poachers in parts of the worl already hit hard by deforestation

It's increasingly difficult to legally ethically source woo from the tropics So guitar makers are increasingly intereste in getting out of the tropic for their wood supplies.

One place is McMinn's backyard The Pacific Northwest is hom to the fast-growin big-leaf maple tree.

Maple is a clean, green, legal, local wood We're interested in seeing whether we can provide the with a secure supply for the long term.

To find out, he partnered with Jim Matson.

They're nice trees.

Matson studies tree at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia Big-leaf maples like these are common in the region But very few of them wil develop the beautiful appearance that guitar players want

When we think of wood we mostly think of woo that looks something lik this with a fairly straight grain But it's also quite dull in its appearance.

So many people like tree that have defects.

Defective or figured grai is popular for decorative items.

But nobody has figured out how to grow maple tree to look like this.

They find it very rarel in nature.

So what causes this defect?

Matson had a hunch.

In other kinds of trees, the wavy grain is genetic.

So Matson began taking samples of figured maple trees and cloning them in his lab.

When the trees get big enough, Matson will bring them her and turn 50 acre of old farmlan into a figured maple plantation.

It could take 10 years before McMinn know whether his experiment are working.

He's willing to wait

Left to my own, I would rather just have trees, period.

If McMinn doesn't see guitars in their future, at least he'll have trees to look at.

And that wraps it u for this time.

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You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel Until next time, I'm Hari Sreenivasan Thanks for watching.

Funding for this progra is made possible by...