The Anatomy of an Eco Friendly Guitar Part 2 by Steve Casper
Hello again from South Florida and welcome to another 300Guitars Guest Guru article.
Last month, I discussed the materials that go into the construction of an eco-Friendly Guitar. This included the Body, Neck, Bridge and control plates.
This month, I’ll touch on the finish, electronics (pots, pickups etc…) and the shop. So let’s get to it.
Let’s start with the finish. There are several choices when it comes to this part of the eco friendly guitar planning and construction phase. One obvious choice is to NOT apply a finish. This is more of a personal choice and one that if not given the proper thought, could destroy the guitar. Yes it can be cool and the wood will certainly absorb “MoJo” from the locations you play and store the guitar. This does add some character to the axe and can be a cool conversation piece. “Yea, that’s where the drummer spilled his drink at that gig last month at the Hard Rock.”
Most builders will opt for a thin sealer of some sort though as a protective coating to their work. A light coat of hand rubbed Danish Oil is a perfect solution here. Danish Oil, when applied properly, will seal the wood nicely and will really bring out the grain. There are many brands available and there are also Low VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) versions available. Check out your local woodworking supplier for the right finish for your project.
But you’re not finished yet if you’ve decided on the oil finish. There must also be a wax sealer applied to add some luster to the piece. Here, there are some tricks to remember to achieve a high quality finish. Make sure you use a liquid or extremely soft wax. The harder waxes are more difficult to apply over an oil finish and will tend to not buff out properly.
Next, let’s look at Lacquer and Acrylic finishes. When it comes to Lacquer, there are not many options as far as low VOC. However, the process of application and the method of application can make the difference here. What I do in my shop is to isolate the area where I will be applying the finish by using pleated paper filters stacked and attached edge wise to form a booth. The piece is suspended in the booth and I use a low volume / low flow airbrush system for the application. This application system allows precise placement of the finish and all but eliminates overspray and waste. When completed, the filters are collected and contained in paper bags and delivered to our local waste disposal facility. (Cliff Berry Inc, in the South Florida Area) Here, the material is incinerated in EPA Approved furnace to assure the material is contained and completely destroyed with no impact on the environment.
Water Based Acrylic finishes can be applied in the same manner. I tend to not use this type of finish unless it is specified by the client though. I have had bad luck with durability. The non eco friendly brands tend to work better in this instance but I refuse to compromise my shop for that. Therefore, I try to avoid acrylic as an option. If the customer wants a finish other than Lacquer, I tend to recommend a light poly finish applied using my containment system. Once again, not the finish I prefer, but I’m more of a fan of the vintage axes and they were mostly oiled or light lacquer finishes. If you are in doubt, check the label for specifics on the Volatile nature of the product. If it doesn’t say Low or No VOC, it isn’t.
Now let’s move on to the electronics and pickups. Here we have several options again. This is where it may get a tad bit tricky. The best way to choose electronics to achieve the eco friendly state of your guitar is to use recycled materials for these areas. Once again, I would direct you to one of the many Vintage Parts suppliers for this. There are several out there, but my choice would be to contact our fellow Guest Guru Jim at “The Parts Drawer”. His expertise in vintage parts should give your project some special character with some heritage to boot. This is an area where your desired tone will have to really be determined prior to moving forward with the project.
If vintage is not the rout you desire, then you can select from a wide variety of RoHS (Restriction of Use of Hazardous Substances) certified manufactures for your pups. Another option is to go used or recycled as I like to call them. If you go on e-bay or one of the other online shopping sites, you can find 100’s of items that have been removed from someone’s axe due to their quest for that perfect tone and can be picked up for next to nothing. Just be sure that the seller has some clue as to how to sell electronic devices online. Look for a photo of the pickup attached to an ohm-meter displaying the impedance the pickup. If not, buyers beware. This is also true for the potentiometers and switches to be used in your project. MCM Electronics has a listing of RoHS compliant manufacturers as well as many other supply houses. Also check out your local supplier for RoHS certified parts. There are a growing number of them out there now due to the interest. This is good for us.
Now let’s move onto the shop. Here is where you have to do some homework as it applies to your shop. Some of my other articles have described how you can help out the eco system by recycling your shop wood scraps or by reusing some materials that normally would be a onetime use item.
I’ve also discussed how I use Low Voltage (12VDC) lighting or LED’s to illuminate some of my shop areas. These systems are easy to obtain and install. My system is powered by 4 Sealed Gel Batteries that are charged by 2 Solar Panels on the shop roof. One of the items I maintain a charge with is my Laptop Computer. This is the system I use for all of my business needs and primary design and record keeping. I use flash drives for external storage / backups that require no additional power.
I also maintain the charge on my small battery powered hand tools like screwdriver, drill and buffer.
Most of the cutting and contouring take place by hand using Rasps, Files, Sandpaper and Wood Scrapers. Here is something you probably never really thought about but, most custom shops already operate this way. Given the fact that they tend to only work on something that has been purchased, or is being purchased, they reduce their waste by 80% over the larger manufacturers.
So not only can the actual guitar be constructed from completely sustainable and eco friendly materials and techniques, your shop can be Green too. These are all things that are easily accomplished if you think about what you are doing and take into consideration the potential impact on the environment. The technology is being developed and the ability for even the smaller shops to take advantage of the affordable eco options to help reduce the environmental impact and increase the ability of the small guitar manufacturing operation to be Green is more achievable now than ever. But, it is still up to us to move in that direction. There will soon be a day that the larger manufacturers will have to raise their prices due to the fines leveled for their violations of the new environmental laws. The smart shops, and the shops that build guitars out of a love of the instrument, and not the love of the Dollar, will thrive.
Next month, I’ll be discussing the steps being taken at events and venues that are helping to reduce the waste and garbage from large scale musical events and concerts. You won’t want to miss this.