I get a lot of questions about what makes a guitar eco-Friendly, a completely valid question. The answer is by using materials and techniques that have been proven to minimize or eliminate the impact on the environment in either the construction or the use of the instrument. This is where we get into the varying degrees of eco friendly.
This is a great subject to dive into for the fall season so I’ll be dividing this article into 2 parts.
The first part, will deal with the materials that go into the construction of an eco-Friendly Guitar. This will include the Body, Neck, Bridge and control plates.
The second part, will deal with the finish, electronics (pots, pickups etc…) and the shop.
Lets start off by looking at the main construction material – WOOD.
Wood is a natural resource that has been used in the construction of stringed instruments by Luthier’s for centuries. Luthier’s have also isolated some species that have exceptional tonal and aesthetic properties that are better suited for the high end hand crafted pieces. As I mentioned in my latest article, there is a self regulating agency, The FSC, which has set guidelines for tree farms to operate by that minimize the impact on the forest that they operate from. By selecting only mature trees or by selecting rapid growth species, they are able to provide 1st grade materials to builders with a minimum impact on the eco-system.
There are other techniques that a custom builder can use that also impact the material choice of the luthier. A builder can choose to build their piece using a 2 or 3 slabs laminated edge-wise to form the body blank. By using this technique, the trees that are required to form such a body, can be done by using younger trees, thus reducing the growing time associated with that material. There are several opinions regarding this technique. Some say that the lamination process works against the sound or the tone of the guitar causing limited sustain. Others feel that by laminating the material, you are stiffening the body thus creating a mechanism to enhance the sustaining properties of the guitar. Quite a few of the classic styles that we regard as the mainline of today’s guitars were designed and built using 2 or 3 piece bodies. So there is nothing really new there. Some of the top of the line instruments that are built using a single piece of tonewood are done so not so much for the tone, but for the appearance of the piece.
There is also “Smartwood”. This wood is either rapid growth lumber like Poplar, Pine, and Bamboo. These materials are not generally thought of as tonewood. I have a bit of a surprise for you. Poplar and Pine have been used in the classic Double Cut and Tele Style Guitars since the 50’s.
One of my most popular models at Casper Guitar Technologies is made from a 2-piece poplar body. The tone and sustain are extremely close to that of an Alder bodied guitar. The main difference is the ability of a poplar body to be finished in a transparent lacquer. The grain and color of the wood doesn’t lend itself well for these finishes. Opaque finishes however are completely suitable for a poplar body guitar. As you can imagine, there are literally 100’s of materials that can be used in the construction of a modern electric guitar. Some better suited than others. But keep experimenting. There are surprises everyday. The same principles are valid for the neck construction.
Now, lets direct our attention to the hardware. This includes the tuners, bridge and control plates / covers.
To build a guitar that is eco-friendly, we have to define what is eco-friendly. For our application, it is an item that is built using environmentally safe materials, responsible growth lumber and recycled metallic parts. If we are looking for a Zero Impact Guitar, then the obvious choice will be recycled parts. But our projects require a higher level of craftsmanship. Here is where a Vintage Parts Supplier like The Parts Drawer can come into play. Vintage parts that have been removed from older pieces for whatever reason and have been refurbished and presented for your special application. There are many varieties and varying levels of “Vintage” that can add special character to your project. Be imaginative here. This is where you can make a subtle statement.
For the bridge, there are several options depending upon your ability to work with metal. For the flat bridges, I use hand bending and grinding to form a bridge from a single piece of re-cycled steel. This creates an item that has taken minimal resources to fabricate and is a durable item.
I use the same process for the control plate covers on the T-Series and similar style guitars. By using recycled materials, I am reducing the amount of raw material used and am helping to minimize the amount of metal added to our landfills. This is a small step but I feel that every little bit helps. Remember, it’s our responsibility.
Other covers can be fabricated using wood. This really adds a level of eco-friendly to a piece. It also tends to have an impact on the overall aesthetics of the piece. Wooden covers can be carved from select smartwood, FSC woods or Regulated exotic’s.
So, you see that there is some thought that goes into the design process of an eco-friendly project. These principles can be applied to any project you get into. Plan out you project and try to be as environmentally responsible as you can.
Join me next month when I’ll discuss the choice and application of a finish, the electronics and the shop environment when we continue with the Anatomy of an eco-Friendly Guitar. And as always, please feel free to leave comments. We love to hear from you.