Music legends like the recently departed Les Paul and the long-haired rebels of Woodstock wouldn’t have become what they were without the help of their trademark guitars.

Unfortunately, the future of guitars and a number of other instruments is uncertain because many of the forest species that give them their unique sounds are in jeopardy. According to the conservation group Fauna & Flora International, more than 200 species of trees are used to make musical instruments, and of those, 70 are threatened with extinction. Among these are Honduras cedar, Honduras rosewood and mahogany, all of which are used in guitars.Growing awareness has led to increased protection of these species and controls on their trade, but endangered tonewoods, as they are called, can still slip past authorities. For instance, in 1992 the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species banned the sale of Brazilian rosewood, one of the most valuable and sought-after woods used in classical acoustic guitars. Yet traders still find ways to get it onto the market by calling it “old stock,” a maneuver that may or may not be legal.
Major guitar manufacturers like Gibson, C.F. Martin, Fender and Taylor have joined forces with Greenpeace to launch the Music Wood Campaign, an effort to find and increase the supply of tonewoods certified as responsibly harvested by the Forest Stewardship Council. Gibson and Martin already make guitars from certified woods: Gibson has manufactured a version of its iconic Les Paul Studio Electric from Rainforest Alliance–certified hardwoods since 1996 (the SmartWood Studio electric, about $1,500), and Martin uses certified woods from a variety of sources in its Sustainable Wood series (look for “SW” models).

What you can do

Instead of buying a new instrument, search online for a vintage or used guitar. Greener than certified wood, recycling an older instrument ensures that it will keep being played. It might even sound better than a new guitar, because high-quality instruments improve in tone as they age. 

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