By Tom Bedell | Bedell Guitars
The efficiency of energy traveling through wood is proportional to the woods stiffness and weight. The stiffer and lighter the wood, the more it accommodates the transmission of frequencies. Old-growth Sitka spruce has a uniquely high strength to weight ratio making it one of the most preferred soundboard material for acoustic stringed instruments.
Germinating in a dense 1,000 year old forest, a Sitka sprout competes for water, nourishment and sun. Taking 500 years to reach its potential 300 feet in height, the growth rings are ever so close together limiting the amount of cellulose fiber between them. It is this struggle for growth in the old-growth eco-system that gifts us the magnificent music wood.
When the Tongass has been scarred by clearcutting, the Sitka trees do return. But free of the competition of the old-growth forest, they find plentiful sunshine, nourishment and water, growing five times faster. The growth rings far wider apart, the cellulose fiber more plentiful…the strength to weight ratio diminished. If the purpose of the mighty Sitka is agriculture to enable two-by-fours and pulp wood, second generation forests suffice. But if we wish to craft musical instruments with beautiful tone and robust projection, it takes the centuries old, old-growth Sitka spruce.
There are many climates in America well suited for forest agriculture. There are species of pine and other conifers that are fast growing and productive for the wood and wood fiber important for many products. The efficiency of planting and harvesting these dedicated forest lands contribute great value to many industries. But the economics of clearcutting the Tongass do not work. The US Forest Service has subsidized the horror of clearcutting old-growth forest by over $1 billion since 1980 with very little positive economic benefit to the people and communities of SE Alaska.
For ecological and economic reasons it is important to stop clearcutting the Tongass.