Whether we like it or not the acoustic guitar world is in for big changes over the upcoming years. For almost 100 years acoustic guitars have relied on a relatively small number of tree species to provide the tonal characteristics of our instruments. Unfortunately, due to deforestation, many of these woods (Spruces, Rosewood, Ebony, etc) are becoming harder and more expensive to source. Woods such as Adirondack Spruce are already classified as threatened species and their future as a tonewood is hazy at best. Others, such as the beautiful and sought after Brazilian Rosewood (Dalbergia nigra) are already too threatened to harvest any longer, leading to extremely high prices for what little of it there is left for manufacturing. The possible extinction of these species along with countless others will have ramifications not only for guitar manufacturers (who do, all things considered, have only a small part of the blame for this threat when compared to other industries), but for the world’s environment in general.
Luckily, many guitar manufacturers are already trying to get ahead of this problem and have for years been looking for alternative materials with which to build their instruments. Man made materials such as carbon fiber have been used by some acoustic guitar manufactures with varying degrees of success. Other companies are looking towards more responsibly sourced woods with which to build their instruments, both for their more positive impact on the word at large as well as the security they will provide for the manufacturer years down the line. Martin guitar is among these, both with their FSC certified instruments as well as their more experimental Sustainable Wood series guitars, which will be our topic for this week.
What exactly is sustainable wood?
“Sustainable Woods” is essentially a blanket term for ways to source wood which are more friendly towards the environment. This can include recycled or reclaimed woods as well as woods taken from more easily managed species of tree. Woods which are considered sustainable come from faster growing trees which can be replanted and replaced much quicker than the long growing trees currently used for our current common tonewoods. Sustainable woods are also able to be harvested without causing too much damage to the surrounding fauna (unlike solitary growing trees like Ebony which require many surrounding trees to be cut before the Ebony can be harvested).
How are they built?
For both the SWDGT and the SWOMGT Martin is utilizing two sustainable hardwoods, Cherry and Katalox. The cherry compromises the back and sides of the instrument while the Katalox is being used for the fretboard and bridge in place of the more common Ebony or Rosewood. Both guitars feature a solid Sitka spruce top, solid Cherry necks, A-Frame ‘X’ bracing and a simple Dovetail neck joint made using a solid Cherry block.
How do they sound?
The Cherry being used for a tonewood gives both the SWOMGT and the SWDGT a unique, complex tone. The best way I can think of describing the Cherry is to simply say that it seems to come across as a mix of the characteristics found in Mahogany and Rosewood constructed instruments. Without a doubt both of these instruments have an emphasis on the high end, with bright articulate notes both when flat picked and for fingerpicking, similar to a guitar built with Mahogany. However, unlike Mahogany these instruments also have a relatively full sounding harmonic range, and there is that bell-like chime filling in the gaps between notes similar to a Rosewood instrument. It’s an interesting hybrid kind of sound that still retains that indelible “Martin” quality. While Cherry guitars may be novel in today’s market, they are certainly more than a novelty
Who is it for?
We live in a day and age where the environmental impact of our purchases is becoming a more pressing question, not only in the political arena but in our daily lives. For better or worse, the world we live in is changing and smart companies are going to come up with new ways to keep up. With their Sustainable Wood series Martin is showing the foresight that’s required in order to remain an industry leader well into the future.
But the real beauty of the Sustainable Wood guitars is that they’re more than just a demonstration of what is to come. When you get right down to it these aren’t just good sustainably made guitars, they’re great Martin guitars. While they do offer a different sound than their peers they still unquestionably sound like a Martin guitar and fit right in with the rest of the company’s offerings. So if you’re in the market for a new, affordably priced solid wood Martin, don’t overlook the Sustainable Wood series.
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