Wood from Kochi strums the best

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Vipin V. Nair

Kochi, Sept. 10

IF Mr M. Gopalakrishan sets out to discover who all are the end-users of his exports, he may well bump into the Stings and Eric Claptons and the Mark Knopflers of the musical world, strumming their guitars.

It's because legendary guitar makers such as C.F. Martin, Gibson and Taylor source rosewood from Mr Gopalakrishnan's Kochi-based Gemwood to make guitars that go into the hands of pop icons.

"We are now directly supplying to C.F. Martin, Gibson and Taylor," said Mr Gopalakrishnan, who has been exporting rosewood since 1981.

He supplies cut timber to make back and side, fingerboard, bridge, headpiece and neck of guitars. Gemwood exports about 30,000 back and side, two lakh each of fingerboards, bridges and headpieces every year.

Gemwood, by the way, is not the only wood exporter in Kochi catering to guitar makers. A number of firms such as Athena Exports, Associated Timber, Malabar Timber, Wood House Ltd and New Tech together export guitar parts worth Rs 60 crore a year.

How come Kochi has emerged as a global supplier of timber for guitar makers? "Rosewood gives the best tone and now it is available only in India," Mr Gopalakrishnan said.

In the past, the preferred wood to make guitars used to come from Brazil. But, in 1992, the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species, an international treaty signed by 115 countries, banned the exports of Brazilian rosewood.

Now only very limited quantities of this wood are available, which goes into expensive, limited edition guitars. Indonesia also supplies rosewood, but its quality is low and used mainly to make cheaper guitars.

With Brazilian rosewood going out of the scene, the East Indian rosewood (Dalbergia latifolia), which is considered the next best timber to make guitars, emerged. This wood was available in plenty in Kerala forests, though now Gemwood and others get it mainly from Karnataka.

Mr Gopalakrishnan dreams of making a complete guitar one day at his unit, located in the outskirts of Kochi, and has started trying out making some parts himself.

One issue that he would like the Kerala Government to address is a recent taxation problem. An entry tax of 12.5 per cent levied when timber is brought from Karnataka into the State and on top of it, a similar percentage of value added tax is added, making the total tax on timber 25 per cent.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated September 11, 2005)
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