I love to watch a guitar being made of repurposed or reclaimed wood. It’s exciting to observe the process as a seemingly worn-out piece of wood is given new life as a guitar or bass. I’ve seen guitar bodies made of wood reclaimed from old hockey sticks, industrial pallets, skateboard decks, surfboards, outhouses, barns, and bridges. Perhaps the coolest thing about a guitar made from reclaimed wood is that it has history already built-in; it’s a new guitar with an old soul.
Warmoth is no stranger to the philosophy of conserving and repurposing. We have always tried to “use the whole buffalo”. For us, that’s just business as usual. While the use of reclaimed wood isn’t an overt part of our branding, I know of at least one instance where we have built parts from repurposed wood, and it’s actually a pretty cool story.
Over three decades ago, when Warmoth was a fledgling company, Ken Warmoth was a father with young kids at home. The kids needed a place to sleep. Ken didn’t have a lot of money, but he did have access to a lot of wood and the engineering chops to design a bunk bed…and that’s just what he set about doing.
In those days Koa was plentiful, and only $1.80 a board foot – cheaper than even Alder at the time. It arrived in the Pacific Northwest through the Port of Tacoma, where it was pushed through dry kilns and marketed. As Ken recalls, “There were warehouses full of the stuff. I used to be able to go sort through units of Koa, searching out figured and colorful stock. I’ve always loved the smell of Koa. It’s easy to work with, and it looks so pretty. So I built a Koa bunk bed and finished it in some kind of tongue oil. Of course, the kids didn’t much care what the bed was made of. What would they know about such things? To them it was just a bed that their dad made for them, and it was so much better than a mattress on the floor!”
The kids slept in the bunk bed for years. After they were grown and gone, the bed was dissembled, and the parts leaned up against a wall in the family garage. In the time since then Koa has become a rare and coveted commodity. Today the price is over ten times what it was in the 1980’s. The rising cost of Koa prompted Ken to examine his stockpiles, and it was then that he rediscovered the old bunk bed. The end and side boards were soon recycled into Strat and Tele necks and sold. Right now, somewhere in the world, there are guitarists playing necks that were once a bunk bed. The corner posts still remain, and one day they will mostly likely become guitar necks too.
Ken sees the future of Koa this way: “Hawaii isn’t a very big place and I guess that they logged out all the readily available Koa. I’ve heard that the state has halted further exploitation. Perhaps at some time in the future there will be a new forest of Koa to cut. For the time being though we must assume that the Koa we have ratted away is all that we’ll ever get. When it’s gone, it’s gone. I haven’t been too keen on using up our stockpile of Koa, but then again I don’t want someone building my casket out of it either. I think it’ll begin to appear in the Showcase one of these days. It won’t be cheap…but it will be pretty.”