From log to guitar
The stump in the photo above is Japanese red pine tree that suffered damages caused by pine weevils and was forced to be cut down, and the guitar was made out of the tree. Since we determined to develop the exceptional guitar taking advantage of the damaged red pine tree, we have carefully been looking into every process from cutting down the damaged trees to making them into completed guitars. Through this project, we had an opportunity to learn one of the environmental issues Japan’s forests were facing.
Tonewoods imported from overseas such as alder, ash, mahogany and etc.. have been dominant materials in the Japan’s guitar industry for a long time as those woods have traditionally been considered to be the most suitable for electric guitar’s tone. It doesn’t mean that Japanese guitar manufacturers never tried to use woods harvested in Japan. But unfortunately, such domestic woods have generally been considered as cheap alternatives of the authentic tonewoods imported from overseas.
One of our aims in this JRP guitars project is to develop an exceptional guitar to defy the conventional common sense about domestic tonewoods. Differently from typical wood materials used in guitar building, the Japanese red pine tree has lots of knots and holes made by pine weevils. Instead of hiding such knots and holes by painting solid color, we dared to finish the wood in transparent color to leave them as they are and even emphasize them as a unique feature of the wood. After testing various finishing methods, we ended up in picking up a few new finishes that add a feel of warmth associated with worn out vintage clothes to the wood.
The official city tree of Matsumoto
Matsumoto city is nestled between the Japanese Alps and Utsukushigahara heights and surrounded by mountains whose height is ranged from 2,000m to 3,000m. Its relatively cool and dry weather is suitable for wood working, which has been the major industry of the city since a long time ago. When the guitar culture began being transmitted into Japan in ‘60s, many traditional furniture builders around the area shifted their jobs to guitar building. Some of them has became major guitar makers that represent Japan’s guitar industry today.
Japanese Red Pine is the official city tree of Matsumoto and woods of the red pine are seen almost every mountainside of the city. Apparently it looks like a peaceful scenery of Japan’s typical rural area, but actually, lots of the woods are suffering serious damages from pine weevils. Nagano prefecture has the largest amount of suffering from pine weevils among prefectures of Japan.
Satoh Tadasi, the accounting manager of Deviser is also in charge of regional forest management of Okada area of Matsumoto city. Red pine woods of the area has been suffering serious damage from pine weevilles withut an exception. The trees are made to wither due to the damage and sometimes fall down, being harmful to people. So the withered trees are cut down before falling down to prevent accidents from happening. Satoh is the one who initially suggested taking advantage of such damaged red pine tress in our guitar building.
Red Pine Timber
It was March of 2017 when a customshop builder of Headway acoustic guitars Yasui Masto attended the process of logging one red pine tree receiving the suggestion of Satoh.
Even though guitar builders like Yasui deal with wood on a daily basis, they are rarely involved in the process of logging. The stump just after logged was wet and felt quite different from seasoned timbers that guitar builders usually deal with.
Yasui and other staffs carried the log to a lumbermill with feelings of both anxiety and expectation.
Designing an electric guitar
When we brought the timbers of Japanese Red Pine to our factory and investigated the wood, we concluded to make bodies of electric guitar out of them. The timbers had lots of knots and holes made by weevils and the wood itself was relatively softer than maple which is commonly selected for material of electric guitar’s neck. These features shortly made us aware the wood would not be suitable for a neck or a fingerboard that requires stability and density.
Finish jobs to bring out the uniqueness
The problem was we had to deal with knots and holes. Such features are generally considered as flaw in the guitar industry. After some discussion, we decided to have the knots and holes remain visible on the guitar body rather than avoiding or hiding them because our aim was to develop an exceptional guitar that differs from ordinary guitars and has unique appearance.
After having the basic idea of keeping knots and holes visible, we entrusted our experienced builder Kajita who handles custom finishes to figure out a special finishing method that would suit the wood.
Usually, we sand a guitar body with a fine grid sand paper in advance of coating process so that coating material will be evenly applied. If a body is not properly sanded, the finish will be irregular and there will be color spotting. However Kajita dared to use a coarser grid sandpaper to sand the body made of Japanese red pine to intentionally create irregularity in the tone. He thought this finishing method would match the wood whose grains are not even but have lots of knots and holes.
As the result, the body came to have the warm feeling like an old, worn-off furniture. The hardware and parts were also relic’d to match the finish.
It had taken around 8 months to complete the first prototype of JRP guitar since we had attended the logging in March of 2017. The prototype is very light-weighted and produceslight sound that associates us of fresh wind blowing over Matsumoto plain.
This project gave us a good opportunty to learn problems held in Japanese forests and consider the meaning of using domesic tonewoods in our guitar building. If there is an opportunity, pleaes take the guitar in your hands and try out.
The prototype of JRP SURF BREAKER was featured on several domestic newspapers, local radio program and TV programs.
December 5th 2017, Shinano Mainich Newspaper
SBC Shinetsu Hoso "Zukudase TV"
December 20th 2017 SBC radio "Motto Matsumoto"
December 28th 2017 Yomiuri Newspaper
Yomiuri newspaper website