The best acoustic guitars are made of four materials: spruce (the soundboard), rosewood (the body), mahogany (the neck) and ebony (the fretboard). It's been that way for hundreds of years. And when looking at a beautifully made acoustic guitar, what most music lovers don't consider is that the tightly packed grain of a spruce soundboard is a visual reminder that this vital piece of the instrument is often cut from a tree that's between 300 and 500 years old.
Musicwood, showing at the Cleveland International Film Festival today at 4:30 p.m., is a look into the construction of hand-made guitars and where that wood comes from. The film focuses on Tongass National Forest and the native Alaskans who have the sole right to log the enormous spruces that grow there. It follows a Greenpeace lobbyist who asks three guitar company executives to help him encourage Sealaska Corp. to stop the clear-cutting that promises to decimate the trees.
Guitar construction accounts for a sliver of where the Tongass spruces end up, with most of them shipped to markets in Asia. But as the company representatives for Gibson, Taylor and C.F. Martin & Co. explain in the film, guitar companies stand to lose the most from the disappearance of the woods so vital to the sound quality of their products.
The Greenpeace and guitar company representatives travel to Alaska to meet with the logging executives and discuss sustainable forestry practices. But their visit becomes a complicated clash of cultures and interests where long-held land rights and the economic needs of native Alaskans run up against the desire to preserve beauty in both natural and man-made forms.