Adding to the groundbreaking Organic Collection released earlier this year, Breedlove Guitars has unveiled new signature instruments made in collaboration with Academy Award®-winning actor, musician and environmentalist Jeff Bridges. We chatted with Breedlove owner Tom Bedell to learn how these guitars came together, what makes them unique and how "we're all in this together."
The HUB: Earlier this year you unveiled the Organic Collection, a line of affordable, sustainably-sourced acoustic guitars. How have they been received so far?
Tom Bedell: This was a breakthrough I’m not sure the market or the industry was looking for, but was delighted with. We were actually able to launch a line of products that are sustainably harvested, verified right back to the tree stump, and are all solid wood at revolutionary pricing. It was a huge breakthrough.
We worked with the U.S., China, musicians, artists, and our dealer network to say, “We care about our planet. We care about the oxygen in our planet. We care about how trees grow, how Mother Nature rejuvenates trees, and we can build incredible guitars at great pricing and still save our planet.” It’s a huge statement, and the reception to that has been remarkable and much appreciated.
The HUB: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Breedlove? Have you had to make any changes to production or sourcing?
TB: I had no idea that when a virus like COVID-19 invaded humankind all over the planet, that acoustic guitar sales would explode. I mean, how do you predict that? I’ve spent hours worrying about protecting my people, their families and their kids and keeping my company together and employed. Meanwhile, my business is having the best year ever. I never expected that.
I have been to Pokola, in the Republic of Congo, where we get our African mahogany and ebony for our Organic guitars. I’ve been to Switzerland, Austria and Germany, where we get our torrefied European spruce tops. I’ve been to the Amazon Rain Forest, where we get our granadillo. I have confirmed that our harvesting practices are 100% what we say they are, that we could go back to the stump and confirm that this tree grew in this spot, and was harvested from this place, and that it’s the tree that ended up being one of these thousand guitars that we sell.
With all this explosive growth that we’ve experienced, we had everything in place to manage to it, so there's been no issues whatsoever.
I can tell you that in January, I served on a panel at the 2020 Winter NAMM show in Anaheim, California. The head of your acoustic guitar division was on that panel, as was Jeff Bridges, remotely, and Chip Barber from the World Resource Institute spoke. We all talked about the importance of the huge breakthrough of Asian countries being willing to work with American brands to put in forestry management practices that would really hold accountable the sourcing, harvesting and tracing, so that when you're playing your Breedlove Organic guitar, you know you're playing music through an instrument that is protecting our planet. That is critical.
The HUB: You just mentioned Jeff Bridges being on that panel at NAMM back in January. Is that where the relationship started?
TB: We had a couple of friends that kind of helped introduce us to each other. Jeff’s band leader is a guy named Chris Pelonis. Chris has a small wine bar and retail shop in Solvang, California. He’s been a Breedlove guy for some time. Chris and I got to know each other and became friends, and Chris said, “Oh my gosh, you and Jeff would be magical together.”
Lloyd Baggs, owner of LR Baggs, whose incredible electronics we use in our guitars, is also an acquaintance of Jeff. He said to Jeff, “You know, Jeff, there's one human being on this planet that you would be a soul brother of and it’s Tom Bedell. You two need to get to know each other.”
So, I typed out an impassioned plea to Jeff and I said, “We don’t know each other well, but I am living the walk. I don’t sell any guitars that have clear-cut wood. I don’t use any wood that depletes the sustainability of our world’s forests, endangers wildlife habitat or the people and economies around and among the forest. I am practicing these practices, but I don’t have as big a voice as you do, Jeff. If you will help share this message, you can say it louder than I will ever be able to say in my lifetime.”
That next morning, my wife and I were sitting on the couch here in my house at 7:00 AM, and my FaceTime rings. Molly says, “That sounds like Jeff Bridges.” And I look over at her and I say, “It is. It’s Jeff Bridges.” She says, “Why is he calling you?” And Jeff said, “I got your e-mail. I’m in 100%. Let’s do it.”
The HUB: How do you hope your partnership with Jeff can amplify the conversation about sustainability in guitar making?
TB: Jeff’s not trying to say, “Buy a Breedlove because it’s a better guitar.” I mean, I think he believes that, but that's not what his message is. His message is, “Buy a Breedlove or buy other guitars, but ask the questions: Is the wood sustainably harvested? Does it contribute to the future of our world’s forest? Is the guitar you want created in a way that means our great grandkids are going to have a future on this planet? Is the company building the guitar committed to all these things? If the answer to those questions is yes, buy whatever brand you want, but stand for the future of our Earth.”
I’m a tree hugger. I’m an old hippie. When I pass on to the next life in 30 years, or whatever it is from now, I hope people would feel like I lived my life in a way that contributed to a better future for my kids, your kids, grandkids, everybody. Life of all kinds. I like to think that I can be selfless enough to make choices that make a difference. Jeff Bridges shares that passion 100%.
The HUB: The guitars feature a fretboard inlay, “All in this Together”. Can you speak a little bit to the deeper meaning there?
TB: When Jeff wanted to put “All in this Together” on the fretboard, the statement he wanted to make was, “We, as human kind, as part of life of this planet, need to think about how we collaboratively and collectively ensure that we are taking on the stewardship; making the choices in what we buy, how we buy it, and how it’s harvested, that saves this Earth.”
Jeff didn’t come into this project to endorse a Breedlove guitar and sell Breedlove. He came into this because he cares about the planet and knows we can work together to be a voice that speaks to how people make decisions when buying a guitar, flooring, a house, lumber, any materials, any process, to maximize the long-term viability of Mother Earth.
Jeff has become a huge partner with me in that process. I respect him a hundred percent. He is totally who he says he is. He believes in what he speaks. It’s a real honor.
The HUB: Outside of the “All in this Together” inlay and the sustainability aspect, what makes this a “Jeff Bridges Breedlove guitar”?
TB: From the beginning, Jeff cared very much about the guitar, and he loves to FaceTime. So, he calls me up and says “Tom, let’s talk about this guitar. Tell me about your due diligence on the Oregon coast when you're in the forest and you're looking at these myrtlewood trees.” So, I’d tell him about my adventures looking at myrtlewood trees.
He asked me “What’s the single thing that most attracts you to a myrtlewood tree?” And I said, “Well, Jeff, that's easy. Its uniqueness. Every myrtlewood tree is completely different. It’s battered by the wind, the rain, the cold, the saltwater on the Pacific coast. It’s a gnarly tree. A nasty tree. I think of it as kind of a ticked off tree asking, ‘why do I have to put up with all of this abuse from Mother Nature?’ All of that is reflected in the flamboyant figuring, color and excitement of the wood.” And he said, “Wow. You just described Jeff Bridges. I want every one of the guitars that you build—Jeff Bridges Breedlove Oregon Concerto Bourbon—I want them to demonstrate the story you just told me.”
So, I called up my wood buyer, Angela Christianson, and I said, “Angela, every tonewood set that we put in a top, back, or side of the Jeff Bridges guitars needs to be an individual story of inner dynamics with Mother Nature. You need to be able to look at that piece of wood and see rain, wind, cold, excitement, challenge, pain. It needs to be…every piece of wood needs to be emotional. She asked, “Are you kidding me?” And I said, “Nope. That's what Jeff wants and that's what we’re building.”
The HUB: Let’s talk about the two Organic Collection models.
TB: We’re also introducing the Jeff Bridges Breedlove Amazon Concert CE, made with a torrefied European spruce top and granadillo back and sides, as well as the Jeff Bridges Breedlove Signature Concert Acoustic-Electric, which has a torrefied European spruce top and African mahogany back and sides.
Both of the guitars are incredible, and sustainably harvested. They have the Jeff Bridges, “All in this Together,” inlay on the fretboard, and his signature on the back. They’re beautiful instruments. They have his full endorsement and a percent of the royalties are going to saving our forests. Part of the monies of our project, go to one of Jeff’s favorite charities, a group called the Amazon Conservation Team. They’re interested in preserving the Amazon Rain Forest, but specifically in preserving the unique human culture that lives in the Amazon Rain Forest. Jeff serves on the board of that group.
My marketing director and I went to Suriname in the Amazon Rain Forest, on the very north end of South America. We went way back into the interior, to where a tree called granadillo grows. We made sure they were being sourced 100% sustainably, that they would re-grow and that there would be more granadillo trees in five years than there are today. Based on their forestry practices, we could comfortably take a container of these trees and build Jeff Bridges guitars and feel that we were living up to our promise of making the world a better place.
It was an adventure. We were stuck on an island overnight. There was piranha in the lake. I mean, well, it’s the Amazon. It was crazy. It was cold. Oh, my God, it was just an incredible trip! But you know what? I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. We accomplished that due diligence.
Then, I took a charter plane up to Pokola, which is back up in the Congo River Basin rainforest in Republic of Congo, that's where we get our African mahogany and African ebony. I went and confirmed that, 100%, 50 years from now, those forests are going to be even more prolific than they are today. The gorillas, the bonobos, the chimpanzees, the forest elephants, the indigenous African forest people, their habitat is protected. We care about them.
I’ve been to all these places to make sure that these Organic guitars are built with our pledge. They're not clear-cut and they're harvested in a way that's protecting the wildlife and the human habitat of the forest. The forests are going to be stronger and more prolific 5, 10,15 years from now, so we can hold our head high delivering this story and these instruments.
The HUB: How do you get people to understand that everything from the cars they drive to the guitars or drums they play have an impact on climate change? What’s the best way to communicate that from where you sit?
TB: How can it not have an impact? I know that when I get up in the morning and I breathe in, the trees outside my window are feeding me that air. I can honor and respect that, and it can become part of what makes my life meaningful. I can treat my surroundings in a way that affirms the importance of my appreciation of life. What we pump in and out of our lungs every day is what we share with all the billions of plants, animals, and other life on this planet. There's a connection, a relationship, with how we choose to live and what we choose to buy, with the forests, the lungs of our planet. How do we not celebrate this home that we have, honor it, respect it, and live in harmony with it? That just seems obvious to me.
The HUB: What’s your hope for these guitars? What do you want players to take away from them?
TB: If the statement on the fretboard, “All in this Together,” actually sinks in…If that's embedded in the person that’s playing that guitar, that would be perfect.