Gui­tar maker cham­pi­ons use of lo­cal woods

Quebec luthier us­ing Van­cou­ver fes­ti­val to pro­mote value of lo­cally sourced wood

Vancouver Sun - - FRONT PAGE - DENISE RYAN dryan@post­media.com

In the world of high-end gui­tars, there are two kinds of buy­ers.

There are the mu­si­cians who get by with their re­li­able work­horse in­stru­ments, the Lar­rivees, Martins, Gib­sons and Tay­lors.

Then there are the col­lec­tors — afi­ciona­dos with deep pock­ets who scout hand-crafted in­stru­ments that feature ex­otic woods and metic­u­lous artis­tic de­tail­ing. These en­thu­si­asts, who may or may not play gui­tar, col­lect them the way other wealthy buy­ers col­lect wine or fine art or cars.

The emer­gence of gui­tar shows around the globe, like Berlin’s Holy Grail and the Van­cou­ver In­ter­na­tional Gui­tar Fes­ti­val, sched­uled for Aug. 11-12 at Creek­side Com­mu­nity Cen­tre, are a tes­ta­ment to this emerg­ing trend, at­tract­ing mu­si­cians, afi­ciona­dos, luthiers (gui­tar builders) and mu­sic fans.

Quebec luthier Marc Sau­mier who will be at the VIGF in Au­gust, is de­ter­mined to build a bridge be­tween the two gui­tar col­lect­ing com­mu­ni­ties when he brings his “lo­cal wood chal­lenge” to gui­tar builders at the Van­cou­ver fes­ti­val. The lo­cal wood chal­lenge was orig­i­nally run at Berlin’s 2016 Holy Grail gui­tar show, and Sau­mier was so ex­cited about it, he de­cided to bring it to Canada.

In ad­di­tion to work­shops, con­certs, gui­tar demos and craft work­shops, some of the world’s top luthiers will present gui­tars crafted en­tirely from lo­cal B.C. woods such as Sitka spruce, red cedar, curly maple — per­haps even re­claimed or sal­vaged woods.

Col­lectible hand-crafted gui­tars of­ten feature rare and ex­otic woods such as Ebony, African black­wood or rose­wood on their sides, backs or necks, but are gen­er­ally con­sid­ered too valu­able and im­prac­ti­cal for tour­ing mu­si­cians, Sau­mier said in a phone in­ter­view from his home in Quebec.

Sau­mier, who has al­ways spe­cial­ized in us­ing lo­cal wood to build gui­tars that are both beau­ti­ful and func­tional, wants lo­cally sourced woods to get the re­spect they de­serve.

“Rose­wood, ebony and ma­hogany are very sta­ble and they sound good,” said Sau­mier, “but their use doesn’t re­flect best sus­tain­abil­ity and eco­log­i­cal prac­tices.”

Many ex­otic and trop­i­cal woods prized for high-end gui­tars, such as Brazil­ian rose­wood, are con­sid­ered en­dan­gered and their use is re­stricted un­der the in­ter­na­tional CITES agree­ment (the Con­ven­tion on In­ter­na­tional Trade in En­dan­gered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).

“If you show up at a bor­der with a gui­tar made of one of the pro­tected woods, and you don’t have pa­per­work to show its wood was har­vested re­spon­si­bly, you could lose the gui­tar,” said Sau­mier.

For luthiers, the wood is­sue is dou­ble edged, said Sau­mier: Col­lec­tors will­ing to pay top dol­lar for an in­stru­ment want some­thing unique or rare — the beauty of bub­inga or African black­wood.

“It takes 100 to 200 hours to build a gui­tar, and you want to be able to sell it for a good price. It’s never sure you’ll sell a lo­cal wood gui­tar, but one of the goals of the chal­lenge is to ed­u­cate the buy­ing pub­lic.”

There is no place bet­ter to hold the chal­lenge than B.C., which sup­plies 80 per cent of the tone wood to the global gui­tar mar­ket.

B.C.’s En­gle­mann and Sitka spruce are two of the most sought af­ter B.C. woods, but Dave Nadin of Bow River woods in Chilli­wack has seen a grow­ing in­ter­est in other do­mes­tic woods. “There is more in­ter­est in lo­cal woods. None of it’s en­dan­gered and it’s a re­new­able re­source. It’s won­der­ful to see a nice piece of cherry used for a gui­tar rather than floor­ing,” said Dave Nadin who sources wood for Bow River.

“Cherry was once con­sid­ered one of the best tone woods by Euro­pean builders and now be­cause cherry (is cheap) it’s con­sid­ered a bad wood,” said Sau­mier.

As a lo­cal-wood luthier who uses found and fallen cherry, but­ter­nut and Maple, Sau­mier says he has of­ten felt like “the poor kid on the block.”

When he at­tended his first gui­tar show in 2009, Sau­mier says the flashier gui­tars made of rose­wood and ma­hogany were get­ting all the at­ten­tion. “They were call­ing me the crazy French­man be­cause I was us­ing wood from my neigh­bours’ farms.”

But in­ter­est in re­gion­ally sourced woods has been steadily grow­ing as sus­tain­abil­ity and pro­tec­tion of nat­u­ral re­sources be­come more im­por­tant — and Sau­mier be­lieves us­ing lo­cally sourced wood is the way of the fu­ture.

His­tor­i­cally, Euro­pean stringed in­stru­ments were al­ways made from lo­cal wood: maple, spruce, box­wood, cherry and cy­press. The trans­port of ex­otic woods like Brazil­ian rose­wood and ma­hogany was linked to col­o­niza­tion and ex­ploita­tion of re­sources.

In a way, says Sau­mier, us­ing re­gion­ally sourced woods is a re­turn to the ori­gins of the craft. The lo­cal wood chal­lenge doesn’t of­fer a cash prize, and there won’t be a win­ner but if a con­ver­sa­tion is started, that’s good enough for Sau­mier.

“The chal­lenge to gui­tar mak­ers is to start think­ing out of the box,” says Sau­mier.

Dozens of luthiers will be on site at the Van­cou­ver In­ter­na­tional Gui­tar Fes­ti­val Aug. 11-12 to show­case their hand­made gui­tars, among them Van­cou­ver luthier Michael Dunn who will be awarded the 2018 Luthier In­dus­try Builder Award.

Marc Sau­mier will be at the Van­cou­ver In­ter­na­tional Gui­tar Fes­ti­val, which runs Aug. 11-12 at Creek­side Com­mu­nity Cen­tre, where he will try to bring to­gether both mu­si­cians and col­lec­tors with his “lo­cal wood chal­lenge.”

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