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The panelists: Tom Bedell, Breedlove and Bedell guitars; Brad Johnson, Guitar Center; Mary Luehrsen, NAMM; Chip Barber, World Resources Institute.

How To Secure Sustainable Wood
For The Guitar Industry

Panel discusses legal and cultural changes in acoustic instrument building.

THE WORLD'S FORESTS sustain the acoustic guitar sector, but what is the acoustic guitar sector doing to sustain the world’s forests? In a NAMM Show panel, a varied group of stakeholders discussed trends and strategies in sustainable acoustic guitar building—with a focus on how legal change has been followed by cultural change. Panelists included Tom Bedell, owner of Breedlove and Bedell guitars; Brad Johnson, director of merchandising for acoustic instruments at Guitar Center; Mary Luehrsen, director of public affairs and government relations for NAMM; and Chip Barber, director of the Forest Legality Initiative within the World Resources Institute.

In 12 years since amendments to the U.S. Lacey Act made manufacturers responsible for sourcing their wood in line with laws in its country of origin, attitudes toward responsible sourcing have changed for the better, said Bedell: Where U.S. guitar makers once protested the new constraints, many now embrace a mission of preservation. “Helping to sustain the world’s forests has just become part of the acoustic guitar industry,” he added.

Sustainable guitar building is
"not only the right thing to do,
but the right thing to consider for a business’s
identity and branding."

The more difficult issue, panelists agreed, is what to do about imported guitars—especially instruments from China, which account for half of the guitars sold in the U.S. “We can’t seriously engage on these issues without talking about the role of China,” said Barber. “China is such a big part of the world’s economy.” At Breedlove, that quandary led company leadership to look inside China for a solution: The guitar maker emerged last year with its new Organic collection, a range of affordable guitars manufactured through a Chinese partner factory that agreed to document sustainable sourcing from the tree through the finished guitar. With those guitars now on the market at retail prices as low as $499, “We’ve proven you can do it,” said Bedell.

Another factor working in favor of sustainability: generational change. Today’s consumers consider ethics and transparency in their buying decisions—and encouraging that is good for business as well as the environment, said Johnson. “Guitar Center sold 900,000 acoustic instruments last year,” he said. “If we can help educate consumers on why sustainability is important, it will become a more important feature when they’re buying their next guitar.”

As these factors converge, said panelists, market pressure could shape new manufacturing standards in China and elsewhere. As Barber added, consumer attitudes are already pushing guitar makers to not only meet their legal requirements but promote a broader vision of sustainability. “I don’t see too many people branding themselves as ‘legally compliant’ or ‘not currently under indictment,’” he quipped. In that sense, said Luehrsen, sustainable guitar building becomes “not only the right thing to do, but the right thing to consider for a business’s identity and branding.”

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