Playing for time: Wood shortages threaten world's best guitars


Adam Sherwin
Monday 01 August 2011 00:00 BST

The electric guitar has survived ritual stage smashing and the rise of electronic pop. But now it faces a bigger challenge: guitar makers are running out of wood.

The head of Gibson, home of the Les Paul guitar, has warned that the rare and exotic woods used to craft the best instruments are running out at such a rate that the guitar could become an endangered species.

"The true wood guitar is disappearing quickly. We need to act now because it just won't be around in 10 years," said Henry Juszkiewicz, the chief executive of Gibson, whose instruments are brandished by rock legends including Slash, Dave Grohl and Jimmy Page. The wood traditionally used to fashion premium guitars – rosewood, maple, ebony, mahogany and spruce – is being lost as a result of over-harvesting and the depletion of rainforests.

The quality of the wood used lends each guitar its distinctive tone and resonance. Mahogany provides a rich, dark sound, while rosewood creates a bright, brilliant tone.

Madagascar boasts 47 types of rosewood and more than 100 ebony species. But many are threatened with extinction.

Gibson's factory in Nashville, Tennessee, was raided in 2009 after a tip-off that the company was using banned rosewood. No arrests were made but Gibson, which manufactures 2,500 guitars a day, is working with Greenpeace to source sustainable alternatives.

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