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Sustainability: An Issue Confronting Luthiers

Sustainability: An Issue Confronting Luthiers

by John Curtis

from his 1992 GAL Convention lecture

Originally published in American Lutherie #33, 1993 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Three, 2004

All around us we see people whose livelihoods are undergoing change. For some the change is minor; for others it is cataclysmic. How would you like to be a furrier or a slide-rule manufacturer? While most people can conceive of life without a mink coat, these same people have trouble conceiving of a world without musical instruments.

What can we do to keep building instruments that sound great and keep our customers happy? Let’s look at where we are and where we want to be a few generations down the line. A few items in our favor are:

▶ People would have low tolerance in a world without music. It would be hard to celebrate, to dance, sing the blues, or create a common ground among people.
▶ We are learning to manage our forests sustainably.
▶ There are other woods that would probably make very good instruments until we can ensure the survival and healthy propagation of species which have come to be preferred over the ages, even though this ensured survival will probably not happen in our lifetimes.
▶ Support for woodworkers who “source” their raw materials more responsibly is growing among consumers.
▶ Methods of verifying claims of sustainably-produced woods is starting to reward producers and users.
▶ Changes in the trade have begun to be seen as opportunities and not obstacles.
▶ There are organizations ready to help luthiers make adjustments: crafts organizations, schools of design, the media, galleries, forest-products laboratories, even CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).

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