The sound of sustainability: Upcycling wood into guitar opens ways for music exploration

Upcycled wood guitars exhibition sheds light on sustainable music production

2023.12.08
By Alisa Okawara
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J-STORIES -  A world that is desolate, without a single tree or greenery in sight… that is the world that humans might have to live in 100 years from now if trees are cut down at the current pace, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Global warming also means high quality wood used for musical instruments (such as Spruce) are affected by the increased temperature, as trees grow faster due to global warming, the width of tree rings has become wider, reducing the density needed to transmit sound.
A demonstration video of the staff at the Ginza store playing the 2 guitars.     By Ridley Coyte
Through such modern life changes, the renowned Japanese instrument maker YAMAHA has found a sustainable way of producing its instruments while discovering new musical possibilities along the way. 
Yamaha is “upcycling guitars” using wood left over from piano and marimba production. These scraps are made up of the top 15% cut of the finest wood from around the world, which includes European Spruce, Rock Maple, and Japanese Sakhalin Spruce.
In Japan, 6,500 million tons of wood that can be used end up being unused and discarded. However, Hideto Matsuda, one of the developers at Yamaha, told J-STORIES that the purpose of making guitars using scrap wood isn’t just for recycling purposes but also for musical exploration. “It is important to reduce the amount of discarded materials, but this research is more focused on creating value for new guitars," he said.
Guitars made from wooden pieces left over from the production of the marimba (left) and piano (right).     By Emi Takahata
Guitars made from wooden pieces left over from the production of the marimba (left) and piano (right).     By Emi Takahata
“I think that being able to create things of great value whilst using the resources available to us now is what really leads to sustainability.” Hideto Matsuda, one of the developers at Yamaha.     Source: Yamaha
“I think that being able to create things of great value whilst using the resources available to us now is what really leads to sustainability.” Hideto Matsuda, one of the developers at Yamaha.     Source: Yamaha
 These guitars are displayed at the Yamaha store in Ginza as part of the “Wood of Instruments” exhibition from September 2023 until May 2024. Tomoko Kimura, of the marketing development unit in Yamaha, who is in charge of this exhibition, explained the purpose of the exhibition.
 “Trees are finite, and we don’t know whether it will always be possible to get such valuable, high quality wood. We are always looking at sustainable ways to ensure that we can continue to make high quality musical instruments.” In fact, Yamaha has been promoting sustainability in different ways from before including their recent sustainable keyboards exhibition, as well as future plans for sustainability projects including brass instruments.
Tomoko Kimura, organizer of the exhibition.     By Emi Takahata
Tomoko Kimura, organizer of the exhibition.     By Emi Takahata
The brown guitar shown at the exhibition is made of rosewood, a material rarely used in guitars but used in making marimbas. According to Kimura, the sound of the guitar is unique and characteristic, with the sound being thicker compared to general guitars. 
The design of each guitar also reflects what the marimba and piano looks like, with the diagonal piecing of the wood representing the tone plates of the marimba for the brown guitar, and the wood of the black and white guitar resembling the soundboard inside the piano, with the backside of the guitar having the same outer coating as the piano.
The backside of the guitars.     By Emi Takahata 
The backside of the guitars.     By Emi Takahata 
Kimura said that a lot of visitors are very interested in playing the guitar. They also praise the guitar for its visuals, and ask whether they can be sold. Since these guitars were made for research purposes, they have no plans to sell these guitars for now.
 “This isn’t just a one time thing, and through doing this, I realized that it takes a very long time to create instruments, and a cooperation of a lot of people is needed to continue making them and I hope to continue making good instruments in the future.” Kimura said.
Writing by Alisa Okawara
Photos by Emi Takahata
Editing by Desiderio Luna and Takanori Isshiki
Top page video by Ridley Coyte and Jeremy Touitou
For inquiries about this article, please contact jstories@pacficbridge.jp

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Click here to read the Japanese version of the article.


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