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Old 09-02-2011, 04:46 PM
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Kwak Kwak is offline
Super Duper Daddy
Join Date: May 2007
Location: Off the deep end
Posts: 10,807

I ahve to admit that I'm not completely up to speed on this issue. From what I know about the first incident with Gibson, they were getting a species of wood indigenous to Madagascar through questionable means. I don't know how scarce the wood is but I'd heard that there was some sort of coup in the government and they pretty much sealed the borders.

As for the status of woods in general for instrument-making, the most famous wood that is under the microscope is rosewood from Brazil. It's been under protection from export under the CITES treaty for 40 years now, though you can still give stuff that's been out of Brazil from before that time. Most builders have long since switched to rosewood that comes out of farms in eastern India. If I ever get around to building another guitar, I'll probably get some of that because word is that that stuff is starting to get scarce.

Most recently even mahogany has become endangered. Up until just a couple of years ago you could get a guitar with solid mahogany from Honduras or elsewhere in central America. It too has recently gone under CITES protection so many builders have switched to alternative woods out of Africa, such as sapale or khaya.

Another wood that used to be mainstream but is now rare is Macassar Ebony. Builders use it to make fretboards and bridges among other things. The stuff is usually all black but most of what I've seen lately has light grain streaks in it - which is OK. It's still a pretty hard wood.

The other 2 big builders in the US are Martin (in Nazareth, PA) and Taylor (in SoCal.) Each have taken steps to use "alternatives" to these hard to get (and thus more expensive) woods. Taylor was one of the first to switch to woods out of Africa, substituting sapele for mahogany and ovangkul for rosewood - though limited editions using hog and rose still come about. They're pretty famous for their use of automation and pride themselves on the process that allows them to churn out 70,000 guitars a year.

Martin OTOH has cut production and is looking to use "alternative" materials. They switched to sapele but also cherry as a "smart wood" alternative. They even done a lot of research in using higher quality laminated materials. Their factory in Mexico puts out the X series which is made with a material that is little different than formica. They've started using necks made with a material called Stratabond which was originally used to make gunstocks and is basically about 50 strips of wood laminated together. They use automated CNC machines to carve the necks out of the stuff. As for ebony, they've started replacing it with a material they call "Richlite" which is basically the same stuff they build the X series guitars out of.

I don't own a Taylor but I bought a Martin recently that's kind of a mixture of their low-end and the traditional series. The model is a D-16GT which has solid south American mahogany back and sides and a solid Sitka spruce top (which is what they traditionally use) but for the neck they use Spanish cedar (which smells nice but very strong.) They use Richlite for the fingerboard and the bridge and I'm not sold on the stuff. I'd rather have ebony but would settle for rosewood. It's a good guitar otherwise. It's got the signature Martin bass and it rings like a bell and it cost me less than $1000.

Getting back to Gibson though, they're not the same company they used to be. There are stories out there saying how disgruntled the workers are and I'm inclined to believe that this may have been the result of a whistleblower within the company. I've also heard that their workmanship is sliding as well and the stuff they contract out of China for might actually be better now. If anything, they're a black eye for the whole "made in America" campaign.

As for me, I'd just curious about the process and figure that if I want another guitar what better way to justify it than by building it yourself? It'll probably have flaws that a factory-built guitar wouldn't but I don't intend on subjecting it to much wear and tear; I'll mostly just play it at home. I'm not looking to go pro as a builder, though I do see a demand locally for those skilled with repair. That's why I was beating the crap out of one of my old guitars in another thread.
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