Tone woods used by most North American and European guitar makers have evolved to be a mix of local timbers and specialist imported timbers largely from Africa and South America. These include the various Spruces, Western Red Cedar, Californian Redwood, Indian Rosewood, various Ebonies, North American Maple, various Mahoganies and Koa.
Many of these have become endangered as world human population has expanded. It is easy to find the status of all these timbers. All you need to do is Google “Red List” and put in the common name for the timber you are wanting to know the status of. It became illegal to export Brazilian Rosewood logs in 1967. Only 7% of the original Brazilian Rosewood forests remain. Many species including Indian Rosewood, Ebony, Cocobolo, and most Mahoganies are listed as vulnerable or endangered.
Spruce requires 250 year old trees to get two piece tops out of. The main source of Spruce for guitar makers is Sitka in Alaska. It has been reported that there is only a few years of this old growth timber left. The species is not endangered, but the old growth timber is limited. When this runs out guitar makers will start to make three piece tops.
The unfortunate thing about the Spruce situation is that the guitar industry uses very little. For example, the whole North American guitar industry uses only about 120 trees a year. The problem is most of these forests are clear felled for furniture and pulp. The guitar industry is swept along with the rest of the timber industry.
From the start, Cole Clark has made guitars that included many of these endangered timbers but at the same time we used the lessons learned from guitar makers in North America and Europe and explored our own country, Australia. We looked for tone woods which are sometimes similar and sometimes unique to traditional tone woods. Sometimes they are the same species that are endangered in other parts of the world but sustainable when grown and harvested sustainably in Australia.
As of October 2015 Cole Clark production and sales show only 3% of our tops are Spruce, Rosewood back and sides 14%, 86% of finger boards are Rosewood, and 8% Ebony. The rest of the timbers used by Cole Clark do not appear on the Red List of endangered species and are sustainable.
56% of our tops are Bunya from plantations in Queensland, 12% of our tops are Australian Blackwood sustainably harvested from private farms around the Otway Ranges in Victoria and private land in Tasmania. 16% of our tops are Californian Redwood grown in Australia salvaged from fallen trees or plantations. 8% is Western Red Cedar from the Pacific North West which is not an endangered timber. The remaining tops are all sustainable and include Cedar Of Lebanon salvaged from fallen trees grown in Western Victoria, a limited run of sustainable African Mahogany which were a couple of stray trees from one of the plantations we get other timber from in Queensland. Our Huon Pine was recovered from a lake flooded in 1972 in Tasmania.
56% of our backs and sides are sustainable Australian Blackwood, 22% are sustainable Queensland maple which is from a plantation in Queensland. 7% of our backs and sides are the limited run Australian grown African mahogany, and 1% Queensland Maple Silkwood from private land in North Queensland.
With the exception of some of the Mahogany models, all our guitar necks are made from sustainable Queensland Maple and sustainable Queensland Maple Silkwood.
The search for a sustainable timber to replace Rosewood fingerboards has been longer and harder. In mid-2015 we discovered Blackbean which is a sustainable Queensland timber that works well as a Rosewood fingerboard substitute on acoustic guitars. At the time of writing this, 6% of our guitars come with Blackbean finger boards making them a one hundred percent sustainable guitar.
Apart from the fingerboard and bridge, around 85% of our guitars are made from 100% sustainable timbers.
We are not FSC certified at this point. Right now we can produce a guitar with sustainable timbers which do not appear on the endangered lists for the same price as the non-sustainable instruments. FSC certification would make the sustainable models considerably more expensive. We hope to go down the FSC road in the future but we do not want to link sustainability with lack of affordability.