Basses come from trees...did you know that?


oh, cute! Koa trees have flowers and bean pods!

i'm making this page because sometimes it's easy to forget how things are connected. i mean, we readily describe our basses as being made of bubinga, koa, flamed maple, or whatever. but what's our relationship to the living things (yes, trees are living things!) from which this flesh is taken? for example:

...do we even know what a koa tree looks like? do we care?
...have any of us ever sat in the shade of a koa tree? will we ever?
...what kind of birds perch on and sing from its branches? does it matter?

so if you've ever wondered what a koa tree looked like before it somehow got turned into your bass guitar, here's a picture of one.

before wood is transformed into a bass, it's already lived a long life as a tree. and trees, in turn, live somewhat of a dual existence - they have a life within their natural environment, and also within the realities of human-controlled economies. for example, here's something i found - it's an excerpt from a recent report from Africa Commodity News:

"Bubinga: This species...is currently classified as either Extinct, Endangered, Rare, or Vulnerable in Gabon. Its environmental status in the wild is listed as unknown because of insufficient information in Angola, Cameroon, and Nigeria... The geographical distribution of the species is reported to be in West Africa, primarily in Gabon. Bubinga trees are reported to be fairly large in size, reaching heights of 100 feet (30 m) or more...

The market for hardwoods from Western and Central Africa is characterised by limited availability of logs, a heavily booked forward market, and firm demand amongst overseas customers. The rainy season continues in the principal tropical supplying regions north of the equator. European demand for sawn lumber is still good, boosted by the weakness of the euro which means prices are competitive against Malaysian meranti, despite recent price falls for the Asian species... Prices remain stable at high levels... The Liberian government has proposed a log export ban from 2001. Analysts, however feel that tis would be an unrealistic move. Liberia does not have the infrastructure to process logs domestically and investment is not forthcoming in such an erractic political climate..."

<--- bubinga logs from africa

by the way, koa trees, which only grow here in hawai'i, are also on the endagered registry due to concerns about the vanishing habitat it used to provide for (also endangered) native hawaiian wildlife.

anyway, i thought it was real interesting to read the above report. for some reason, i keep on forgetting that before a tree can be transformed into a commodity, it's always a living thing. you'd think it'd be obvious, but the whole way we talk about and think about things leads us away from remembering this simle fact. it's like when economist marilyn waring points out how a tree has a measurable value when chopped down and sold, but not while it is growing and giving us oxygen. this way of thinking is not a fluke of logic or reasoning - it is our Economic World View.

<--- looking into the leaves of a beautiful maple tree...

but i guess it's not just me. when most of us buy a bass, i'm guessing we probably don't imagine what kind of tree this bass 'used to be', or wonder about who cut this tree down, who they're paid by, or how much they're paid. nor do we think about rainy seasons, "european demand", the strength of the dollar, or the stability of national governments. in short, we generally see our nice bass guitar (and by extension, ourselves and our music) as being neatly disconnected from questions of history (what is colonialism?) or power (who gets to decide? who benefits?). but just like teak in africa (an entire continent, colonized by european powers), sandalwood in hawai'i (colonized twice - once by missionaries and again by the u.s.a.), or coal-mining in appalachia (an "internal colony"), the patterns of first-world exploitation of natural resources has been, and continues to be, historically based on broad forms of economic, political, environmental, and cultural domination.

i'm not saying we (first-worlders) are bad people for not thinking about all of this kind of stuff, nor am i saying that you should mail your beautiful warwick bass back africa to be re-planted (it's too late!). but i do think there's a price for not seeing these connections. it's also probably true that we're usually not the first ones to pay the price for our lack of consciousness - the billions of people upon whose backs and shoulders and heads and hearts we stand will always feel and know it before we do. that's how it works. we live in a topsy-turvy modern world of space stations, digital telephones, HDTV, laser scanners, interconnectivity, jet-setting, multiculturalism, interfaith coalition-building, miltary industrialization, specialization, consultation, fragmentation, alienation, cultural raiding, class warfare, widespread panic, oppression, poverty, death and spiritual death.

but hey - everything is always changing, that's a universal truth. i guess i just want to know: which way are we going? will we change things for the better? i'm in the process of trying to find out more about sustainable economies. i'm trying to learn more about these things because i feel like the earth has taken good care of us for a long time, and we also have a responsibility to take care of her in return. modernity has both created and destroyed.

so what does this have to do with bass guitars again? (and if we answer "nothing", are we then free to feel nothing?)

take care,
mimi

p.s. click here to see more pictures of beautiful (not dead) trees...

p.p.s. and for those of you who may be interested in learning more about the woods and bass making, you might want to visit these places:

· the Forest Certification Resource Center learn about conserving & managing forests...

· david king shows you how he makes a bass guitar...
· you can see some basses taking shape at our tour of rob allen's shop...
· ken smith shows you the many kinds of woods he uses in creating bass guitars...
· michael tobias discusses the relationship between wood and tone...
· ed roman goes off about wood...
· brian barrett's page called "the theory of wood"...
· warmoth guitar products sells bodies, necks, hardware and all that stuff...
· exotic woods company sells wood and wood related stuff (duh)...
· stuart macdonald has lots of tools and parts for making musical instruments...

 

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