Q: Is there such a thing as musical instruments made of sustainably harvested wood?
A: If anyone has any objections to music, it's usually along the lines of "Turn that crap down - it sucks." Never "I can't believe he's playing with an endangered pernambuco wood violin bow!"
But in the quest for trees that produce the best tonal qualities for drums, guitars, oboes and violins, music has become part of the over-harvesting problem. In fact, most prized species are endangered, and some, like Brazilian rosewood, which take years to reach just the right size for guitar making, are so rare it's no longer legal to trade them internationally.
Of course, that hasn't stopped many instrument makers from using such materials, but it has encouraged some to come up with lines made from certified sustainably harvested wood. Yes, they can be pricey, but before you flip out about the cost of making green music, remember you can always go the second-hand route (more on that later).
SmartWood-certified acoustic guitars have been made by CF Martin since 98 ($2,500 and up at Long and McQuade on Bloor West). Dave Maize is a smaller California-based company that supplies Pearl Jam and U2 with acoustic guitars made of certified woods as well as wood reclaimed from demolition projects, street trees and driftwood (www. maizeguitars.com, from $4,050, used available for less).
If you're looking to rock out on an electric guitar, Gibson makes two lines of electrics almost entirely of certified sustainably harvested woods like mahogany, another species at risk of extinction. The lines are Les Paul SmartWood Exotics and Les Paul SmartWood Studio (from $1,300 at Long and McQuade and Steve's on Queen West.) Modulus guitars are mostly wood-free electrics thanks to their graphite composite necks, but the company is in the midst of switching to sustainably harvested wood for any they use (from $2,500 at Long and McQuade).
If you're shopping for strings, cut back on waste by purchasing D'Addarios that aren't individually packaged (from $5.50/set at Long and McQuade and Steve's). Some strings come coated for easier playing and longer life, but the NanoWeb coating used on Elixir's, for instance, comes from the same chemical family as Teflon (a widespread contaminant). But if you're a pro player and go through a ton of strings, the six-month guarantee on these means you'll be buying fewer of them (from $18.99 at Steve's and Long and McQuade).
Need an amp to boost your sound? Yamaha makes many models that use Energy Efficient Engine technology, sucking up much less power without degrading sound quality (special order at Long and McQuade from $800).
More of a banger than a strummer? Drums can also be made with threatened woods, but Long and McQuade sells ceramic ones for $95. Just Drums on Yonge sells clay doumbeks. Drum-maker Drum Workshop donates a portion of drum sales to tree-planting org American Forests (drum sets from $1,500 at Long and McQuade). Yamaha makes snares from fast-growing, sustainable bamboo (from $400 at Just Drums, Steve's and Long and McQuade). If you're not into using animal skins, know that most drum sets are made with plastic mylar, and while hand drums tend to be made with real skin, Remo makes heads with recycled hardwood-fibre-based Acousticon and other synthetics (Steve's, from $39.99).
Most drumsticks are made from American hickory, which isn't considered at risk. But if your sticks are made with endangered rosewood, it's time to toss 'em into the audience at your next show. Note: aluminum sticks may last longer, but their replaceable covers are made of polyurethane - a nasty plastic.
Many exotic drums available around town make a killing off the people who actually craft them in developing countries, so why not thumb on some fair trade bongos (Blue Moon on Danforth) or clay drums (Ten Thousand Villages on Yonge). Ten Thousand carries other interesting instruments like Peruvian bamboo pan flutes and clay bird water whistles.
Filmmakers know violins can pluck at people's heartstrings like no other instrument, but who knew that violin bows themselves are the real tearjerkers. Slow-growing pernambuco or pau-brasil forests (the traditional wood source for bows) have been decimated by over-exploitation. Though connoisseurs would cringe at the notion, synthetics made of carbon fibres are available at Remenyi House of Music on Bloor and the Sound Post on Grenville (from $325).
The sorrowful sounds of oboes and clarinets also threaten endangered trees, namely African blackwood, or mpingo. Buffet Crampon's Greenline blends carbon fibre and powder from the unthreatened grenadilla tree to make its clarinets ($2,500 at Steve's). Yamaha wind instruments, by the way, are now made with lead-free solder, unlike most brands.
If you're looking for straps or cases to lug your gear around from show to show, www.rawganique.com sells vegan hemp guitar straps ($19) and drum straps ($22), and Just Drums has hemp bags for snares, sticks and cymbals for $115.
Second-hand instruments are available from specialty vintage shops like Capsule on Queen West, pawnshops and music stores like Steve's and Long and McQuade (which also rent). If you have an old instrument that hasn't played a tune in years, why not give it away to jazz star Jane Bunnett's program that sends used instruments to Cuban music schools. Drop off otherwise dust-gathering horns, guitars, etc at 26 or 11 Sorauren Avenue. It does a conscience good.
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