We all make decisions about how our lives and work affect the world around us. In this, guitar making is no different from anything else. Here are some issues pertinent to my work, and my responses.
For guitar makers the most obvious issues of responsibility relate to the woods we use. The classical guitar developed its recognisable form in a time of empire and an abundant supply of tropical timber into europe. In the 500 years since Columbus set foot in the New World, several of the traditional timbers used in guitar making have become endangered. Although the vast majority of worldwide deforestation is not caused by musical instrument makers we are not blameless.
Using these beautiful timbers from around the world, to build instruments that will sing for generations, is an honour and a privilege. I believe that with great care it is a privilege that can continue into the future. There are some timbers where the opportunity for responsible harvest has already passed. For this reason I choose not to use Brazilian Rosewood, or Madagascan Rosewood. Beautiful as both are I cannot justify contributing to the situation surrounding them.
There are several superb projects around the world already practicing sustainable timber harvest. Some of these are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). I use FSC African Blackwood from the Sound And Fair project in Tanzania. This project allows traditionally forest-dependent communities in Tanzania to sustainably harvest their own wood, sell it with an FSC label and retain 100% of revenue. The timber from this project is exquisite, as good as any Brazilian Rosewood. The Spanish Cedar for my necks and blocks is also FSC certified. FSC do not seem to have made inroads to India, but my Indian Rosewood is plantation grown, and this supply seems to be well managed. More must be done to develop sustainable timber harvest worldwide. To this end I support the Rainforest Alliance (see "Charities" below).
When I was at school, in the west of Scotland in the 1990s, going into vocational training or practical work was strongly discouraged. Self employment was never mentioned. Anything other than studying at university was seen as failure. My own stubbornness caused me to disregard this prevailing attitude, but I'm sure many were deflected from careers that may have suited them well.
My route to guitar making came through studying first at college, then at university. Throughout I benefited from the knowledge of experienced teachers. Once established as a professional I continued to receive generous advice from a number of makers, dealers, and guitarists. Indeed I still do.
Since 2019 I have had the opportunity to pass this knowledge on, teaching two days each week at Glasgow Clyde College.
Besides my official teaching, I always respond to younger makers who contact me for advice (email is best!). Generally, if you are polite and ask good questions you will find most makers quite helpful. Due to a busy schedule, young kids, and a small workshop I do not currently take apprentices. Instead I support the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust to help makers access training and apprenticeships (see below).
A long held aspiration of mine was to devote a portion of my week to charitable work. However, as a guitar maker I have developed a highly specific set of skills, few of which would be especially useful to most charities. Although luthiers rarely get rich, the reality is that I earn more from my specialised work than a charity would have to pay to employ the people they need. So the most efficient thing for me to do is to just keep on making guitars and to donate a portion of the income from that to charity. To that end: for all direct sales, including commissions, 10% of the total price will be divided equally between the following charities:
The Rainforest Alliance - Run many projects to preserve rainforests and encourage sustainable enterprise for those living in and around them, including sustainable timber harvest. They were instrumental in setting up the FSC.
Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust - Support excellence in British craftsmanship through scholarship and apprenticeship funding.
Dunoon Burgh Hall - A creative, cultural hub for Cowal. This is our local concert hall, art gallery, and venue for workshops and art classes. Community owned and run. During the Covid-19 pandemic they have operated a Community Kitchen.
Médecins Sans Frontières - Provide medical assistance to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, or exclusion from healthcare.