Monday, April 10, 2017

Rosewood Restrictions in CITES

Import restrictions have gotten to the point where the use of Rosewood, a historical standard for guitar fingerboards, looks to be at an end.  

Much has been written about the new CITES restrictions, with one of the best articles HERE written by the popular music gear website, Reverb.

Fender guitars, according to Reidys Home of Music, is replacing Rosewood with Pao Ferro which is similar to rosewood.

Kiesel/Carvin Guitars once used rosewood as its default for most fingerboards, is now using Ebony.   

Acoustic guitar builders have long used rosewood as a body wood.  Last December, Breedlove Guitars wrote about the new regulations in an article titled, "CITES Expands the Appendix II Listings to Include All Rosewood, Cocobolo and Bubinga."  

For those concerned about traveling with their prized, Rosewood adorned guitar, check out this Aug 2016 video from "The North American Guitar."

One of my favorite magazines, The Fretboard Journal, did a short podcast in December 2016 about the updates which can be found HERE.  

With tone woods becoming increasingly difficult to harvest, import and export, the golden days of guitar that we have all enjoyed over the past 10 years or so may be coming to a close.  Looking at the issue through a wider sense, this could be a positive development both for the industry and for the management of our favorite tone woods.  In the meantime, if you've had your eyes on a specific instrument with Rosewood features, you might want to act soon while stocks of the prized wood are still on the shelves...

Stay tuned & in tune!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Royal Ebony & Other Non-Traditional Tonewoods

A lot has changed in the world of guitars over the last few years, and some of the most exciting developments are happening with the builder, Kiesel Guitars-- formerly known as Carvin Guitars.  

Kiesel Guitars "Royal Ebony" Fingerboards
Jeff and his dad Mark Kiesel explains the evolution of the Carvin/Kiesel company brand name HERE.  To briefly summarize the changes, the guitars/basses will now be built separately from the amplifier/pro-audio side of the house.  Both divisions remain owned & operated by the Kiesel family, but will now operate independently of each other, with amps/pro-audio remaining under the Carvin banner, while guitars are now built under the Kiesel brand (some models will continue to wear the Carvin name).  This move has enabled Jeff to introduce a lot of changes to the guitars/basses.  Not only in overall improvements to their instruments, but also addition of non-traditional woods!

If you are a long-time reader of the blog, you already know about the state of ebony in the world today. Cameroon is the only place in the world where Ebony can legally be harvested.  Traditionally known for its jet black color, Ebony has been a very popular tone wood.  The problem is, not all of the ebony trees yield the jet black color.  Determining which trees do, can only be done by cutting down the tree; only 1 in 10 trees yield the jet black color.  Considered "B-grade" wood, the other 9 trees were left behind.  Bob Taylor explains all of this in his video, "The State of Ebony."

Buckeye Burl top, Royal Ebony fingerboard
Kiesel Guitars is now offering ebony from those trees that were once left behind.  This is great news because not only is it a more environmentally responsible business practice, but the wood is just as beautiful-- some would say more so-- than the jet-black variety.  Ebony is not the only new addition to Kiesel's wood catalog: Buckeye Burl, Ebony as a top-wood, Purple Heart, White Limba, and Zebra wood just to name a few.  
Purple Heart top, White Limba body & neck 

These are exciting days for guitarists/bassists.  No longer are we limited to solid colors, or the same old wood combinations that we have seen on so many instruments.  While the traditional combinations are quite nice in and of themselves, embracing the freedom to be different and try new designs, new colors and new woods can breathe new life into a guitar company, as well as sparking excitement within the musician.  

All of this is good news for several different reasons:
- Woods previously discarded for being considered "trash" are now being utilized.

- Increased use of alternative woods decreases demand for threatened traditional species.

- These newly adopted woods are beautiful!

How about an 8-string headless guitar, made from White Limba, and Purple Heart? That sure makes my pulse quicken!  How about yours?

Stay tuned & in tune!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

GONE! 70k Acres of Old-Growth National Forest

As part of a Dec 2014 defense bill Congress released 70,000 acres of the Tongass National Forest to the Sealaska Corporation for logging and development.
Clearcut Logging @Amy Gulick 

Sealaska is the logging corp. featured in the Musicwood documentary that Bob Taylor (Taylor Guitars), Dave Berryman (Gibson guitars), and Chris Martin (Martin guitars) visited in an effort to protect the old-growth forrest through responsible logging methods. Most of the Sitka spruce tops found on their acoustic guitars come from this region, the future of which is threatened by clearcutting.

Sadly, there doesn't appear to be any slowing in the logging of what little remains of our old-growth forests. 

Here are a few links to more comprehensive reports:
- Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics  
- Juneau Empire
- Alaska Public Media
- Sitka Conservation Society 

It is interesting to see how they compare to the AP story printed on CNBC 2 Feb 2015:
SITKA, Alaska (AP) — The regional Native corporation for southeast Alaska will log 3,400 acres of land this year that it received in December through federal legislation.
The federal government turned over a total of 70,000 acres of Tongass National Forest to Sealaska Corp., KCAW-radio ( reported.
"The old-growth resource that we have on the Tongass is limited," Thoms said. "And it's a shame when we see it exported overseas in the round without any processing or manufacturing in the region. And once that old-growth resource is gone, it's gone."
Sealaska contends log-preparation work provides jobs to about as many people as processing in mills. 

This short video from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership provides context missing from the AP reports:

Loosing forest such as this is disturbing, but we can still make a difference by raising awareness-- tell your friends what's happening, share this blog, start your own, and VOTE! You can also take action by purchasing guitars built only by manufactures who purchase woods from suppliers that practice responsible stewardship-- such as those who are FSC certified.

Stay Tuned & In Tune!~ 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Welcome 2015!

2014 was a great year-- and there is much I have to catch the blog up with-- so be sure to keep an eye out for weekly updates!

In the meantime, here are a few things to hold you over:

The Music Wood  documentary was one of the main reasons I created this blog. It is an excellent film-- and YOU can check it out right now  through "Hoopla."   It is an online digital resource much like Netflix that many fine libraries in the US provide free access to-- all that's needed is a library card! It is such a great film that one viewing simply isn't enough-- watch it on Hoopla, then visit their website to buy yourself a copy-- or two!

"Music Theory for Musicians and Normal People" is a wonderful resource for theory presented in easy to follow, single page format. Just click on one page each day, give it a read with your morning coffee & bagel... you'll be taking your playing to the next level~

Legendary guitar builder/designer Dean Zelinsky has partnered with the nonprofit, Guitars for Vets to offer a pay-it-forward incentive-- you buy one of his custom limited edition G4V guitars, and Dean donates one to a Veteran in need through Guitars for Vets-- an organization that helps Vets thorough the healing power of music. The guitars are VERY affordable and customizable (they even engrave your name into the neck if you like) and because the purchase helps a Veteran in need this program is truly a win-win situation for everyone~

Until next time...
                        Stay tuned, & in tune!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Seed To Song Journey of Bedell Guitars

Awareness of the worlds dwindling tone-woods has been on the minds of some in the guitar manufacturing business. Thankfully within some companies it appears that awareness has inspired action. 

Take Bedell Guitars of Bend, Oregon for example. Makers of fine acoustic guitars, Tom Bedell has this to say about his company:

"The reverence I felt for the beauty and tonal brilliance of the exotic tonewoods I was sourcing demanded appreciation and respect… respect for the centuries of life and the organic growth of these extraordinary trees. Whether or not the small quantity of tonewood sets we are using significantly impacts the sustainability of our hardwood and rain forests, the choices we make at Bedell Guitars leaves an imprint on the planet. These choices reflect what we stand for and underline our connectivity between the woods of our forests and our music."
His website continues to outline their approach to making guitars:
- All 2014 guitars are made in Bend, Oregon
- No clear-cut trees will ever be used in a Bedell Guitar
- All workshop-installed electronics are made in the U.S.A. by K&K Sound of Coos Bay, Oregon.
- All tonewoods are sourced in a manner consistent with the principles of the Bedell Tonewood Certification Project. 

That in itself is quite promising, but what really caught my attention was that last part; "Bedell Tonewood Certification Project."

"Many of you share this respect and reverence for the connection between the woods of our forests and our music, and to honor this reverence, we will share the story of each tonewood set in the Bedell Seed-to-Song Journals that accompany every guitar we make. We will also include the registrations and certifications that assure full compliance with all international regulations and treaties, including CITES and the Lacey Act."
What exactly does this mean? Again from their new website:

1 Individual trees salvaged from the forest as dead/fallen or at the end of their lifecycle.
2 Trees individually harvested in a manner that leaves the rest of the forest and ecological system as undisturbed as possible. 
3 Tonewood from a collection of “treasured tonewood,” fully compliant with all international regulations, and harvested either before the CITES convention of 1992 or before the wood species was listed under CITES.
Additionally, the Bedell Wood Library code system tracks chain-of-custody and legal documentation for every piece of wood in our library.

Now this is really promising stuff, especially the code system to track the woods chain of custody-- lack of such a system encourages poachers, making it easier for them to sell their illegal woods (see News from the National Park Service, May 2014 ). Their website even includes an interactive map of their world-wide suppliers.

Due to import/export restrictions imposed by CITES and the Lacey Act, (both designed to protect endangered woods) valid concerns have developed about traveling with your favorite guitars. In some cases instruments have been confiscated for containing protected woods-- even if they were built long before the restrictions. For instance, Carlos Santana has two versions of his favorite guitars-- one that stays in the US, and another that travels overseas (check out this Rig Rundown for details). Bedell addresses these concerns as well:

"With every Bedell Guitar we provide a list of all of the woods used to craft it and their county of origin. This way, when you travel with your Bedell, customs officials will know your Bedell is in complete compliance with all international laws and regulations.
In the case of Brazilian rosewood, it is necessary to have a U.S. Guitar Passport issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. As all of our Brazilian rosewood is 100% CITES compliant with full chain of custody documentation meeting Lacey Act requirements, it is no problem to obtain this Guitar Passport. Please contact us at or call us at (888) 234-2210 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Pacific time."
It is exciting to find makers of musical instruments becoming more in tune with the world around them. Implementing initiatives like these is a major undertaking, but it will decrease our impact on our resources and hopefully inspire other makers to follow. 

Be sure to check back often as I will be posting more about companies who are changing their business paradigms-- those building on environmental awareness and taking action to insure these precious tone-woods will remain for generations to come.
Tom Bedell visiting the source
Stay tuned & in-tune~

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

News from the National Park Service; May 2014

A disturbing trend has been getting worse over the last few years-- tree poaching in our National Parks. Specifically Burl Poaching.

Here is the story directly from the parks website:

Date: May 14, 2014

May 14, 2014

Arrest in Burl Poaching Case in Redwood National and State Parks
Marshall Neeck, Chief Ranger, Redwood National and State Parks, 707-465-7302
Jeff Denny, Park Ranger, Redwood National and State Parks, 707-465-7760

National Park Service and California State Parks Law Enforcement Park Rangers and Investigators working cooperatively have concluded a year-long investigation leading to the arrest and charges of felony Grand Theft (CA PC 487(a)), Vandalism (CA PC 594(a)), and Receiving Stolen Property (CA PC 496(a)) against Danny E. Garcia of Orick, California for the poaching of old growth redwood burls from the park. Charges are pending against another individual who is currently serving time for unassociated charges.

On April 19, 2013, a researcher in the park discovered cuts on an old growth redwood tree within Redwood National and State Parks (RNSP) in the Redwood Creek drainage. Park rangers responded and discovered a 10-foot diameter, old-growth redwood tree that had been badly damaged by the removal of several large burls. The burls cut from the tree were massive, the largest cut measuring approximately 8.3 feet at the base, 8.2 feet in height, and 1.7 feet deep (approximately 115 cubic feet).

An anonymous tip led to the discovery of the burls at a local shop. Park Rangers matched the size and shape of the cut burls in the shop with those taken from the old-growth redwood tree at the poaching site. Investigation by NPS Law Enforcement Rangers indicated that Garcia had been in possession of the burls taken from the site, and then sold them to the shop in Del Norte County. The burl shop is not currently under investigation in this matter.

The case is being prosecuted in California District Court in Eureka, California.

Redwood National and State Parks contains 133,000 acres of federal and state land in Humboldt and Del Norte Counties, California. Nearly 39% of the remaining old-growth redwood forest in the world is found within RNSP. The parks have experienced an increase in the illegal cutting and theft of old-growth coast redwood burls in recent years.

Burl poaching involves the cutting of burls from both live and dead trees, felling of living old-growth redwood trees to access burls from higher up the stem, and the cutting of down logs for ornamental furniture, veneer, and souvenirs. This uncontrolled and illegitimate harvesting of burls directly threatens individual old-growth redwoods, the prime resource of RNSP, a designated World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve, and includes related impacts to the surrounding ecosystem, threatened and endangered species, and the parks' scenic values.

Park law enforcement rangers are currently conducting several investigations in Humboldt County and Del Norte County regarding theft and damage to redwood trees inside RNSP. Anyone with information regarding the theft of redwood burl or wood from RNSP may call the park's Law Enforcement Tip Line at 707-465-7353.

Download this press release here.

Read more: The Redwood Burl Poaching Background and Update.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Week In The Dojo

Zen Guitar p14

Since taking up a new instrument-- the bass guitar--I have revisited Philip Sudo's Zen Guitar. The book brings Asian philosophy to the West, and it centers on what is arguably one of the primary icons of pop-culture, a symbol of rebellion-- the guitar. Even though I am a long-time rhythm guitarist, I have just begun learning to play bass; this is part of that journey.

Last year I reviewed Zen Guitar to provide the proper context for my project (this blog). Last November I talked about the instrument of my choice and the tools I chose within the context of Zen Guitar. For this entry I think it would be fun to chronicle a full week in my Bass-Guitar Dojo. Throughout the weeks to come I will focus on different parts of the book rather than following it page-by-page-- which would take... well, a lifetime. "The way of Zen Guitar is a life long path..."
Mon. 27 Jan: Practice.
Zen Guitar p39
"The purpose of this dojo is to provide a training ground for those people who have the will and discipline to know the Way of Zen Guitar. The Japanese call this kind of practice shugyo-- literally, mastering one's deeds. Understand as long as you follow the path of Zen Guitar, you will be in shugyo. There will never come a point where practicing ends, even should you reach the black-belt level or beyond. The path of Zen Guitar goes on forever" (p39)
My practice session began with a specific goal in mind-- to learn six songs for our upcoming Sunday morning service at church. Since this particular service is called "Softer Sunday," it's geared to people who prefer a mix of contemporary and traditional music-- with an emphasis on the traditional. It is a mix that stretches my ability since I am unfamiliar with most of the songs, it adds to the challenge. With all the craziness in my life, setting aside an hour or two to practice has been difficult, but doing so is a welcome break from the days stress.
Tues. 28 Jan: Common Missteps.
Zen Guitar p17
"...are potholes along the path that every player must work to avoid at every point. Endeavoring to know the Way demands moment-to-moment vigilance. In one small detail, we can deviate from the path. If left unchecked, these deviations can, over time, lead to a wide divergence from the path. Like the alcoholic who says, "I'll only have this one drink this one time," many unsui think they are on the right track when they actually have fallen off it. Fro some people that "one drink" may be an excuse to skip practice; a year later, the guitar is shrouded in dust and cobwebs. Selfishness, egotism, laziness-- a single act can lead to a long detour. You must check your path constantly and make corrections as you go. Failure to acknowledge these missteps can lead one far astray." (p41)
Again, it was tough to set time aside-- as is anything new to ones routine. but building on Monday's practice session was important-- I want to keep the momentum going, and keep chipping away at the stone-- learning these new songs. Since I have to deal with a sever case of dyslexia, I can't simply rely on chord sheets. Doing so would result in "seeing" the notes in the wrong position and playing the wrong chords. This makes practice sessions a bit more involved since I've got to really concentrate more on musical cues (drummer, singers , keys, etc.). The extra practice helps enable me to make corrections during the actual performance, and improvise when necessary. At the end of the nights session I had three of the six tunes down pretty good.
Wed. 29 Jan: Seven times down, eight times up.
"If you slip in your training, get up. Even should you think defeatist thoughts-- "I can't learn this, "My hands aren't strong enough," "I'll never be any good" --never voice them aloud. Burn such thoughts from your mind before you make a singer utterance. The famed martial artist Bruce Lee was said to have done that exact thing" Whenever a negative thought came into his head, he would visualize writing the words down on a slip of paper and putting it to flames. Apply this thinking to your own training." (p45)
My frustration with one of the songs was beginning to get the better of me. It has a lot of changes, and doesn't follow a set pattern. Each of the verses build on each other, and the chorus is quite different. Add to that the tempo is ssooooo slow. A bass players job is to lock in with the drummer and establish the groove; the band follows the rhythm section. This song is much different. And quite frustrating. Following the advice from Zen Guitar I'm letting it go. Tomorrows a new day.
Thur/Fri. 30-31 Jan: When it has to be done.
"When you feel that you have so much to do you don't know where to begin, start with one task, however small, and get it done. Then proceed to another. As the samurai say, 'Attack the corners' --the little things that stick out-- then work your way in to the big things. A famous zen teaching illustrates the attitude required for this kind of discipline:
A monk approached the zen master Joshu and said, 'I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me.' Joshu said, 'Have you eaten your rice porridge?' The monk replied that he had. 'Then you had better wash your bowl,' Joshu said" (p58).
For the last five or six weeks I have been working on my grad school application. It has been a real challenge completing the required essay, personal statement and resume, coordinating recommendation letters, and collecting all the transcripts-- while trying to keep up with my undergrad coursework. The priority deadline for the application is Monday 3 Feb, and I still had some lose ends to tie up to make the deadline. I also had to catch up on our course reading-- both nights pushed into the wee-hours... So I had to put off practicing for a few days as it was time to attack the corners.
Sat. 1 Feb: Prepare the Mind.
"The best way to make decisions about playing in the moment is to have already made them. That is, do your practicethinking ahead of time. Think before the time comes to act, think before the time comes to speak, think before the time comes [to] play a note. Then when the moment arrives, do not think. Just play" (p110)
"To play the truth, you must already have the correct attitude. When you look for it during the moment, you will still be looking for it when the moment has passed" (p111).
Having missed the last two days of practice I was excited to pick up where I left off, and prepare for tomorrows service. I spent the first few hours making sure I got the changes down and each song worked out. The notes I make on my chord sheets look confusing to my bandmates, but they are an essential part of my preparation. Next I set up my gear exactly as it will be on stage and play along with recordings. It always surprises me how fast time seems to pass during my practice sessions-- tonight's ended at 11pm, but I am ready to play.
Sun. 2 Feb: Play the Changes.
"What counts most in this dojo is not the difficulty of one's music, but its spiritual depth. The true unsui of Zen Guitar become one with the changes. They know that to be fully present in the moment means to be constantly changing like the clouds. If one is fully present in the moment, every change occurs as naturally as the weather. This is the way of Zen Guitar" (p114).
sunday12The day began with an early visit to Starbucks for a large mocha-- breakfast in a cup. I took my time setting up my gear when our leader came in announcing some changes to the mornings setlist. Thanks to my week-long preparation I was able to handle the changes easily and embraced the challenge. The first song was changed without notice while we were playing, but the changes made for a much better feel to the song.  Another song was completely re-worked to a more traditional rendition. This tune was originally written to favor the piano and vocals, but again we were able to add our own flavor to it-- changes that I would not have been able to play without the proper mindset and preparation. The theme of the morning became one of collaboration, and that is when music sounds the best. Of course the purpose of us benign there in the first place was to praise our creator-- the one who put "the sound of the divine spark" within us in the first place! (p24).
"White belt in this dojo signifies the spirt of beginning. No matter how adept you are with the guitar already, wearing the white belt here means you have agreed to set aside all knowledge and preconceptions and open your mind to learning as though for the first time. In zen circles, this attitude is called carrying an empty cup" (p26).
I really enjoyed working the Zen approach into my practice routine. Integrating the book into my practice routine brought a fresh, new perspective to learning my new instrument, making practice sessions much more enjoyable. I actually found myself looking forward to practicing. It also helped me make connections between music and other aspects of my life as well. As Sudo writes;
"The Way of Zen guitar... provides a framework from which to tackle any new task. Once you learn the principles of Zen Guitar, you can apply them to any endeavor outside music. Follow the samurai maxim that says, 'from one thing, know ten thousand things.' Music can teach you everything you need to know" (p20).
 Stay tuned, & in tune~