The DM essentially started the whole laminate movement, and those are phenomenal sounding guitars. Do you think that laminates will ever get to the point of being able to have that extra harmonic push that the solid woods have?
Solid rosewood back and sides probably make the best sounding guitar on earth, and anything we do may come close, but I haven't come across a wood that is better. If you're going to try and recreate that sound, you'll have to start looking at some of the other aspects of building a guitar - the design, the internal construction, and the bracing - to counteract some of the deficiencies in the materials.
How does the situation with Sitka spruce compare to what you guys experienced with the Adirondack spruce?
Well there was more Sitka spruce than there was Adirondack. What happened with Adirondack spruce was that it all got cut down for whatever purpose, because everybody thought that, "Oh, there's more, over the next mountain there's more." Then you go over the next mountain and suddenly you're back where you started.
I think my generation of guitar builders is experiencing what my grandfather experienced with Adirondack spruce - the difference is there's no other mountain to cross. I can't say to my daughter, "When you grow up there will be plenty of trees in Russia." Maybe there will, maybe there won't. I've often said that I don't want to be the person who cuts the last tree down; I don't want to be known as that guy.
Adirondack spruce seems to be coming back into the market lately.
Yeah, it's hard to get, but the good thing that has happened is that the people who are harvesting the wood know what guitar builders want. When my ancestors bought wood, they basically just bought it from people who cut wood for whatever purpose. Now, people are harvesting wood for guitar builders, so we're getting a better yield.
Some people will argue that the best acoustic guitars are being made today - a lot of the guitars that you are making and that the other companies are making hold up well against stuff from the pre-war golden era.
Well, I think the customers are more discerning. Even cheap Chinese guitars now, by and large, are pretty acceptable; nobody can sell junk anymore. Now, if a father or a mother who plays the guitar goes into the music shop with a son or a daughter, they're not going to be conned into buying something that doesn't function.
Everybody's had to improve, and I'll give credit to Bob Taylor because he pointed out that you can make an acoustic guitar play more like an electric guitar, and that was something that we weren't really conscious of, so that's improved the ability of the guitar to function. And remember, with a lot of those old guitars, only the good ones survived. The bad ones are gone.
Spruce has to be at least 250 years old for the appropriate tone, which makes replanting a non-feasible solution for quite some time. Do other woods have a similar age requirement?
Yeah, pretty much. One of the things that happened when my father was running the business - when they were running out of Brazilian rosewood - was that someone out in the plant discovered that we had pieces of Brazilian Rosewood in the plant with defects. They realized that if they used three pieces in the back instead of two, they could use the pieces with the defect around the edge. There is a case where you can make the back of the guitar out of more than two pieces, and use smaller pieces.
Is that how the D-35 was born?
That is how the D-35 was born. It came into being because we were running out of rosewood and it was an economy move. You're probably going to see guitars with four-piece backs or four-piece tops. We're going to have to educate people, and say, "Hey, it's still wood." We've always glued them together - we're just gluing more pieces together.
How do you get people to realize that it's about changing, not about buying up the last remaining Brazilian rosewood guitars?
Well, we will continue to raise the price, because we have to, on the exotic hardwoods, just because the costs that we're incurring are going up. We'll keep showing them, we'll keep talking about it, and you'll keep writing articles; it's inevitable, it's just a question of whether we are going to get it before it's too late or not.
Do you think that teaming up with your competitors helps draw attention to the issues?
It certainly should. This is a pretty collegial business. We share information and we visit each others' factories. There are guitar making conventions where those of us that make guitars meet other guitar makers and we just talk about guitar making. As competitive as it is, it is a very friendly business.