Play it Again

Making sweet music from reclaimed materials

By Nancy Powell

Long before recycling became a hot topic, luthiers—individuals involved in the manufacture or repair of musical instruments—adapted discarded hardwoods into their supply repertoire and made beautiful music. They converted mahogany church pews into guitar necks; turned fire-damaged red cedar into guitar tops; and created guitar backs and sides from salvaged driftwood.

The reasons for using recycled or reclaimed hardwoods were selfish; reducing our carbon footprint by uprooting fewer trees occurred as an afterthought. According to, deforestation proceeded at a rate of 13 million hectares each year between 1990 and 2005. Much of the wood went into the production of products we use, such as furniture, cabinets and musical instruments. By switching to recycled materials, luthiers found they could make a higher quality and lower cost instrument than by felling another tree. Chalk it up to the economics of supply and demand.

Japanese drumming ensemble Jodaiko benefitted from such craftsmanship. Victor Fukuhara, a respected drum maker and player for Kokoro Taiko Kai and owner of a Long Beach-based lawnmower shop, built four taiko drums from wine barrels for the Jodaiko back in 2002. His act of kindness helped facilitate the growth and popularity of this traditional form of Japanese folk music.

Jim and Michael Ferguson, the father-son team of Pacific Otter Musical Instruments, built an online business around Native American flutes fashioned out of antique hardwoods. The value-added bonus is that most of these reclaimed woods are native to Southern California.

Instead of wood, Daniel Perkins of Couch Guitar Straps in Signal Hill creates guitar straps and wallets from automotive and upholstery vinyl or reclaimed seatbelt materials. Like reclaimed wood, Perkins found that industrial-strength vinyl produced stronger guitar straps than brand new (and much pricier) lookalikes. These second-hand, fashionable finds have curried favor with the likes of Matt Skiba (Alkaline Trio), Laurita (The Randies) and Blake Miller (Moving Units).

If we honor the Native American adage “We do not inherit the land from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children,” then we recognize the sweet refrain that comes courtesy of our neighborhood landfill.

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