What do lemurs and guitars have in common?

When he’s not playing blues in dimly lit bars, our loyal lead guitarist can be found slaving away behind an editing suite putting together awesome wildlife videos for an independent production company called Earth-Touch . As an eco-conscious bluesman, he’s wary of scooping up a good deal on a guitar that was made from the hearts of bluefin tuna, or more realistically, from the wood of an endangered tree. So, here’s a copy of an article he wrote recently for the Earth-Touch blog (you can find the original here).

Gibson vs Fender: Which one kills lemurs?

By Andrew Dickinson

It turns out that lemurs and a certain guitar manufacturer both have a keen interest in the rapidly vanishing forests of Madagascar. The lemurs because they happen to live there and the guitar manufacturer for far less legitimate reasons.

At the crux of this story lies rosewood: the material of choice when it comes to the fingerboards found on many electric guitars (it’s also used to make acoustic guitars). Since I’m a guitarist with green inclinations, I’m pretty interested in where this wood comes from. Which is why I decided to do a bit of research to see which manufacturers use wood from well-managed forests. In the process, I also inadvertently settled that age-old debate in the musical fraternity: Gibson vs Fender. It turns out that the question of which of these two major guitar manufacturers is better actually has a pretty clear-cut answer, at least from an eco perspective (debates about playability, quality and tone rage on).

So what did I find?

At first glance Gibson appears to be a very eco-friendly company. I mean, their head Henry Juszkiewicz was once on the board of the Rainforest Alliance. So they must be squeaky green, right? Wrong. The story of how Gibson got into hot water goes all the way back to 2009, when the Gibson factory in Nashville was raided by US wildlife authorities for allegedly importing endangered Malagasy rosewood (which is a violation of the US Lacey Act). At the time, the company denied any wrongdoing. But just last month it emerged that indictments are now likely in the Gibson investigation (as you can imagine, Juszkiewicz is no longer on the board of the Rainforest Alliance).

So why is trade in illegal rosewood bad for the lemurs? Because it’s driving rapid deforestation in Madagascar and wiping out the lemurs’ habitat in the process (let’s remember that these primates are found nowhere else on the planet!). Click here if you want to find out more.

So it looks to me like the winner here is Fender. It uses primarily Indian rosewood that’s legally harvested (as well as Brazilian rosewood for some of its top-end guitars). So what have I learned? If I’m honest, I still think there is nothing better than a ’59 Gibson Les Paul. And I hope Gibson mend their ways. In the meantime, I’m playing my Fender with a clearer conscience.

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~ by Ian on February 10, 2011.

One Response to “What do lemurs and guitars have in common?”

  1. Great article!

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