Freeman Vines made guitars with wood from a tree in which a man had been hanged. Trees bear witness to the many things humans do to the environment, and to each other – and can remind us of the past but also provide hope for a better future.
Hawaiian music took the world by storm in the first part of the 20th century and catalysed new guitar types and playing styles. Hawaiian koa also become one of the most desirable tonewoods, and after history of over-exploitation is now being actively conserved and restored.
The ash trees that produce Fender’s iconic Telecasters and Stratocasters are being threatened by an invasive beetle and changing rainfall and flooding regimes.
I’ve been a researcher in ecology for 40 years, but recently jumped into the world of guitars. These foci intersect in the increasing concern for how the natural world continues to be affected by human activities. Two recent books provide fascinating accounts of recent research in both these areas.
Cigar box guitars were an inexpensive means to make music by using discarded materials and are gaining popularity again today.
Consumer choices are increasingly influenced by environmental and social factors – Gibson’s corporate behaviour is alienating many guitarists
Some amazing guitars came from Gibson during World War II and were made by women – but the story only recently surfaced.
Gibson has made great guitars, dabbled with sustainability, fallen foul of environmental trade rules and was often poorly managed.
Redwoods were extensively logged for structural timber and remaining stands are precious but vulnerable. Recycled redwood has stories to tell and music to make.
Cheap Stella guitars from the 1920s-30s were made from local woods, were played by many well-known blues artists, and show the value of ordinary things.