Wood for Musical Instruments and Bows Has Become Scarce

Classic Arts News   Wood for Musical Instruments and Bows Has Become Scarce
Woods used to make violins, bows, soundboards and guitars, among other instruments, have become scarce or unavailable because of excessive logging and harvesting.

Export of raw pernambuco (brazilwood), among the best for violin and cello bows, has been restricted this year by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), a treaty established in 1975 and ratified by over 170 countries. In June, pernambuco was listed in Appendix II of CITES at a meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES. The classification asserts that though pernambuco is not threatened with extinction, it may become so without trade controls, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior. Musicians have coveted the wood for over two hundred years for its density, color, structural integrity and role in excellent sound production.

Also highly valued is Brazilian rosewood, which was listed in Appendix I of CITES in 1992. The category contains species that are the most endangered among CITES-listed animals and plants, and export of the unfinished wood for commercial purposes is strictly prohibited.

The Associated Press reported in May that for every 3,300 pounds of wood, just 220 to 440 pounds are usable in making bows, and 80 percent of that is lost in carving. A tree with 15-feet-long trunk can produce only a few bows.

Woods elsewhere are also at risk. The Alaskan Sitka spruce used in guitars and sounding boards of pianos, in addition to bowed instruments, may be depleted in ten years, report the McClatchy Newspapers. Though Sitka spruce in general is not endangered, the six-to-eight-foot-wide variety, aged between 300 and 600 years, is disappearing.

Bow-makers are now working with stockpiled pernambuco and turning to laminates and synthetics such as carbon fiber. Price increases are also likely to make fine instruments even more unaffordable for many musicians.

"Because of tonal and structural properties, you can't make instruments out of just anything," Linda Davis-Wallen, a wood buyer for major guitar manufacturer C.F. Martin & Company, told McClatchy.

According to the AP, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that a global temperature rise of 3.6 degrees, the minimum scientists expect by the end of this century, will kill 30 percent of all known exotic species of wood.

"Climate change is a major threat, but so is trade," said Susan Lieberman, director of the Species Unit for the World Wildlife Fund. "More and more species are being threatened because of globalization."

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