Unfortunately, in the very near future it is likely that guitar makers will no longer be able to continue using those and other desirable tone woods due to over harvesting and habitat degradation. East Indian rosewood is rapidly disappearing and the highly sought after Brazilian variety has long been illegal to export. The same thing happened to rosewood from Madagascar, and it is now against the law to either enter or leave the U.S. with a guitar made of that wood. Mahogany is becoming very scarce and makers have turned to a similar wood called Sapele but many guitar aficionados claim that Sapele is inferior in both sound and looks. True or not, the reality is that the most desirable woods will continue to skyrocket in price and more species will disappear from the marketplace either by attrition or by governments protecting what is left of what their countries possess.
One of the latest shortages is being seen in ebony, perhaps the most desirable wood for fingerboards due its jet-black beauty, denseness for the transmitting of string vibration and its ability to hold frets securely. However, Bob Taylor, owner of Taylor Guitars is doing something about that. Here is a very recent video of Bob explaining the situation and his response: Bob Taylor talks about ebony.
Other companies are addressing the worldwide depletion of rare species of wood, too. Martin Guitars offer their sustainable wood series and these guitars look and sound great. Here is one example. Time will tell whether they will ever have the same panache as Martins made of rosewood or mahogany but kudos to Martin for making a committed effort to address the problem to a certain degree.
As with most things, what it comes down to is the Almighty Dollar. As long as guitarists are willing to spend astronomical prices for guitars made of rare and endangered species of wood I’m afraid the cycle will continue. I don’t deny lusting after those types of instruments but as a practical matter, I can’t foresee a day when I’ll be able to afford one so for me at least, the moral dilemma is purely academic. I’m not proud of my lust however.
The next ten years will surely see some huge changes in the acoustic guitar industry. Here’s to hoping the next generation of guitar players will demonstrate more restraint and compromise than mine. Because that is the right thing to do.
Peace & good music,