Even as a kid, Kevin Hennig loved to play his guitar outside.
“My guitar would fall off the roof, or fall into the river and get full of water,” he says, laughing.
A few repairs and many, many guitars later, Hennig is now donating guitars to local youth who might like to play them by the trees and shores of Haida Gwaii.
From his home studio in Sandspit, Hennig runs Symphontree Music.
Started as a Vancouver music school in 2008, Hennig has made Symphontree into an online store for hand-crafted guitars made by over a dozen top luthiers, most of whom work in Canada.
One is Reuben Forsland, a luthier from Comox who recently made a guitar using a 3,000 year-oldSitka Spruce top that came from Prince of Wales Island, Alaska.
Slash, the Guns ‘n Roses guitarist, ordered another just like it. Forsland’s next project is a guitar made from the baseboards of Jimi Hendrix’ bedroom.
But of the hundreds of handcrafted guitars Hennig has tried so far — instruments made inMontreal, Toronto, Sweden, the U.K., U.S. and South Africa — the best sounding by far was made by Montreal’s Mario Beauregard using a bear-claw Sitka Spruce top salvaged from Haida Gwaii.
“The top is the heart and the most important thing on the entire guitar, and Haida Gwaii is known for having spectacular spruce,” said Hennig.
“I personally like the sound, and I just love Sitka trees.”
Traditionally, the prized wood for guitars has mainly been Engelmann spruce from Germany or Switzerland, and rosewood from Brazil.
But given the high-quality spruce that can be salvaged from Haida Gwaii, plus new laws that will restrict global trade in rosewood this January, Hennig hopes the market will change.
“It’s become more important for us to actually use sustainable wood that we have here,” he said.
Hennig already has a guitar made almost entirely from Haida Gwaii wood.
Eventually, he hopes to have people like Stéphan Fortier, a luthier who also lives in Sandspit,make guitars whose owners can trace to a single tree. The idea is to use the tree’s GPS coordinates as a serial number.
“At any point in his life, he can look inside his guitar, find the GPS, hop on a plane and come to Haida Gwaii to visit his tree,” he said.
“Nobody’s ever done anything like that before.”
Before Hennig launches that idea, he is already moving on another one — donating one guitar to a young musician on Haida Gwaii for every one that he sells.
Hennig started the one-for-one program six weeks ago, and two guitars set for donation arrived at his front door while talking with the Observer.
Although they are not handcrafted — such guitars can cost tens of thousands of dollars — Hennig said they are well made, from companies like Seagull and Norman.
“My main objective is to take care of the kids first,” said Hennig, who has two young children himself.
Eventually, he would love to see other musicians teach guitar lessons in villages across the islands.
Even now that he handles handmade wonders like Mario Beauregard’s ‘fast set’ guitars — guitars carved so they don’t need any glued braces to hold tension — Hennig still plays them all outside,and finds his best compositions are inspired by walking with them on wooded trails.
“I basically just give them a voice out here on Haida Gwaii, in the forest, and send them to their new owner,” he said.
To find out more about Symphontree’s One-for-One program, visit http://symphontreemusic.com/.