Rock n Roll High School
October 9, 2019 6:32 AM   Subscribe

The story of how 10 high-end guitars on their way to Hong Kong wound up in Anchorage classrooms
When Bruce Wood, fine arts director for the Anchorage School District, started unpacking a set of cardboard boxes donated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, he didn’t know what to expect.

“I think I knew they were guitars, but I didn’t know if they were little beginner acoustics or nicer acoustics or middle-school instruments,” he said.

He was shocked to open the first box, unlatch the case inside and find a handmade, high-end Paul Reed Smith electric guitar with pearlescent bird inlay and Brazilian rosewood detail. There were nine more cases.
posted by hilaryjade (16 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
’Custom built for U.S.A. only ’ is written on the back of a custom Paul Reed Smith 24-fret double-cutaway electric guitar, shown Wednesday at East High School.

So that's entirely because of the rosewood fingerboards?
posted by thelonius at 7:10 AM on October 9


Yes, and this is not a new thing. I have heard stories about other rosewood products being confiscated in the past. Here are a few articles:
https://www.gearnews.com/cites-2017-guitars-new-regulations-rosewood-species/
https://guitar.com/features/opinion-analysis/rosewood/
https://www.cnbc.com/2018/04/12/guitar-makers-hit-hard-by-new-regulations-on-prized-rosewood.html
posted by Slinga at 7:39 AM on October 9 [3 favorites]


The fretboard material has so little impact on the sound of the guitar -- despite what tonewood-sniffing fetishists will tell you -- I don't understand why manufacturers continue to use rosewood.

This is pretty amazing, though. Good for the USFWS and this district.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:57 AM on October 9 [8 favorites]


"I don't understand why manufacturers continue to use rosewood."

A lot of them aren't. Ibanez has been using a bunch of different woods (Panga Panga and Jotoba), Fender is using a lot of Pau Ferro.
posted by jonathanhughes at 9:24 AM on October 9 [2 favorites]


I got a new Telecaster with a pau ferro (ironwood) fretboard and I like it. That’s the rosewood substitute Fender are using now. It is more stripey than rosewood, but that’s ok.
On the fancier models they use Indian rosewood now, not Brazilian.

Note that you can still travel internationally with a rosewood fretboard guitar as the amount of rosewood is under the 10 kilo limit.

A solid rosewood guitar, like a George Harrison Tele Deluxe, is a rare thing, and might be another matter depending on the weight. I know the newer ones have a chambered body to reduce the weight, for ergonomic reasons but maybe with the side effect of making it exportable.

The total amount of rosewood used in guitar fretboards worldwide is tiny. It is the furniture business that uses vast amounts of the stuff for dining tables and wardrobes and other big items. Guitars just got caught in the crossfire.
posted by w0mbat at 9:35 AM on October 9 [1 favorite]


But, man those are some pretty guitars...
posted by Windopaene at 9:36 AM on October 9


(My bad, the George Harrison Tele is not a Deluxe, because a Deluxe has different pickups, although it is deluxe with a lowercase D.)
posted by w0mbat at 9:46 AM on October 9


George Harrison Tele...deluxe with a lowercase D

Well that's a custom shop model.....in practical terms, that means it is even more of a dentist's guitar than these PRS ones in Alaska. Although it does seem to be selling for less than I thought; I was guessing $10k, but I found a listing for $3,349.
posted by thelonius at 10:08 AM on October 9


> The fretboard material has so little impact on the sound of the guitar -- despite what tonewood-sniffing fetishists will tell you -- I don't understand why manufacturers continue to use rosewood.

I don't feel like scoffing at somebody who feels like they play better on a sunburst guitar with rosewood fingerboard rather than a red guitar with maple. Sure, it's a psychosomatic effect, but that's still an effect. I mean, I'm not endorsing deforestation on the behalf of feeling good; earnest shredder wanting a brand-new guitar should learn to appreciate pau ferro maybe, or one of the synthetic ebonies and rosewoods available.

My bass guitar has a rosewood fingerboard, and tonewood is probably of consequence since it's fretless. It's also from the early 80s, hopefully an era when rosewood was still a sustainable resource rather than merely an era when the U.S. was even less woke about rare woods than it is now.

Probably the best impact that current music trends will have on rosewood is the diminishing public interest in guitars. Kids these days would rather play with electronics.
posted by ardgedee at 2:25 PM on October 9 [1 favorite]


My bass guitar has a rosewood fingerboard, and tonewood is probably of consequence since it's fretless.

I think rosewood is very hard, isn't it? That makes it popular for use in fretless basses. Ebony is also used.
posted by thelonius at 3:08 PM on October 9


Right. Ebony, from what I read, is brittle and harder to work relative to rosewood so commodity instrument makers (which pretty much almost all electric guitar/bass makers are) don't like using it.

Tangentially, cocobolo guitars are unusual not only because it's a rosewood variety but because cocobolo dust is toxic.
posted by ardgedee at 3:50 PM on October 9


You do see a few fretless maple fingerboards, on the fretless P-basses they sold in the 70's for example. Sting used to play one live.
posted by thelonius at 5:06 PM on October 9


24 frets. Wow.
posted by ovvl at 7:10 PM on October 9


Fender had a reasonably priced run of production Harrison teles right as the new CITES regulations were announced, I think mine was $2200 new, though they’re going for $3k now. Rumor has it they were burning off the rest of their stock as they made he switch to pau ferro.

I think exceptions for instruments are going back in now since instruments are a drop in the bucket compared to furniture and the laws are really there to target people making 200 lb rosewood headboards, etc.

It’s really made selling used instruments harder since getting proper permits on existing guitars is a chore. Even on new ones they put restrictions into effect before having the permitting process sorted out.

I actually support the restrictions, even as someone who has a number of guitars with rosewood, including a couple with Brazilian, because it forces the industry to try new materials, they can’t just keep on using the same stuff that they settled on 70 years ago. Richlite is proving to be a great ebony substitute and pau ferro is a fine rosewood substitute.
posted by mikesch at 7:28 PM on October 9 [2 favorites]


Oh, hey, that’s my district and my FArts boss who is quoted above. I was at the meeting where the band directors found out and got to choose the instrument that would be going to their school; they’re all pretty stoked. Every high school has a jazz band (in addition to choir, orchestra, and concert bands) and they really will get used and taken care of.
posted by charmedimsure at 12:55 AM on October 10 [5 favorites]


> You do see a few fretless maple fingerboards, on the fretless P-basses they sold in the 70's for example. Sting used to play one live.

Christian McBride plays (or played) a custom bass with maple fingerboard. It sounds pretty nice, even accounting for being in the hands of somebody who could make a broken rubber band sound pretty nice.
posted by ardgedee at 4:26 PM on October 11 [1 favorite]


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