The world has changed.
My world has changed and I’ve only been in this job for just over a decade! The general state of the planet used to be the concern of a few ‘out-there’ tree-hugging hippies but those hippies have grown up, had children of their own, and figured out how to change the world we live in.
Beyond the basic commercial motivation of knowing where your next tone wood plank was coming from, most guitar builders did not think twice about the original source of their timber. Now adays, in contrast, everything from Brazilian Rosewood to Indian ebony has become the subject of government raids, lawsuits and counter law-suits.
The Gibson company’s current strife is beyond my remit to intelligently comment on. Many writers, more clued up than I, have written many column inches on the whys and wherefores of the whole sorry debacle.
One has to laugh though, that the US government thought it necessary to go into a guitar building business wearing body armour and with automatic weapons drawn. What were they expecting? Seriously, it’s a building full of semi-skilled mass-production workers and accountants with a bunch of really cool cnc machines. I’m willing to bet that not one person, or cnc machine (they’re that smart!), would think to try and physically stop a legal(ish?) search!?!
Anyway, I don’t want to concentrate on one single case. As entertaining as that may be, it is hardly constructive and the only good thing, in my opinion, is that the Gibson raid has brought the plight of our guitar building timbers to the forefront of the minds of not only guitar builders but the general guitar buying public!
A few points that I think can be taken as read, our forests are disappearing -frighteningly fast, hence the supply of quality ‘tone’ wood is slowing down and getting much more expensive. The other, much more important, thing that really needs internalising is that most big guitar manufacturers are purely and simply businesses! They use mahogany and maple because they are, or at least were, easy and cheap to get into the factory.
What I am saying is this, there is no such thing as a tone wood. More accurately… ALL wood is tone wood.
I can make a world class custom guitar for Robert Fripp or Joe Bloggs out of the finest quality mahogany, maple, ebony, snakewood etc that money can buy and they will love that instrument and create sounds with that conglomeration of materials that will make your soul weep, or… I can use my brain a little, go down the local recycling center and pick up a load of old magazines and newspapers. I’m laying down a bet for all takers, for £2000 I will build a guitar from old paper (a tone-wood after all) that will sound and play, feel and look just as good as anything that has come out of my workshop in the past.
I am a guitar builder, I am not constrained by tradition or technology, I am not scared of losing my ebony or figured maple. What scares me are the people that remain convinced that a guitar is all about the wood from which it is made, and forget that music is a journey from a craftsman’s shed to a guitarist’s fingers, the wood is only the middle part of that story and there truly are substitutes.
Without my hands and yours there is no music.
All my best,
To find out more about Ben, click HERE