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A Third Life for a Pittsburgh Hemlock Tree: The story of the Marianna guitar

April 19, 2024

Designed by creator of Castedosa Guitars Carlos Lopez, the Marianna Standard Hemlock guitar represents family, community, and a second life for otherwise discarded materials. With the growing interest in eco-friendly and durable products, guitar manufacturers have broken into the reclaimed wood space, creating quality instruments with nontraditional materials. “Whenever I can reuse or repurpose something I’ll do it,” Carlos said. “I love to bring things back to life that have been forgotten.”

Carlos became known for this love of reviving materials and ideas while working at Fender Guitars. Hired directly after graduating from an East LA trade school, Carlos began working in the industry in 2006, earning the prestigious “Fender Master Builder” title in 2019. His first masterbuilt guitar, a reproduction of the nearly forgotten 1960s Electric XII, was created using only a 1966 version to go off. With no templates, drawings, or blueprints, Carlos designed a historically accurate reproduction, bringing the Electric XII out of the archives. His second masterbuilt guitar, The Brawler, put a spotlight on the lesser known baritone guitar.

Instead of staying in this role with Fender for a decade or two, which is the norm, Carlos went off on his own just two years later, creating Castedosa Guitars with his wife Stephanie. “I knew it was a risk, but I felt like I was at a crossroads,” Carlos said. “I knew there was an opportunity to create something that will continue after me, for my family and children, so we took it and haven’t looked back.” Carlos now works on guitars with his wife, who hand winds pickups—the coiled device placed under the strings—for each of the electrics. The pickup converts string vibrations into electricity, altering the electric’s sound based on how the coil is wound. Through their work together, the couple found Stephanie’s natural craft in winding pickups, which she places on each Castedosa Guitar.

In his own business, Carlos continues to bring life to old stories, seen clearly in the Marianna Standard Hemlock. Like its maker, there is a soft-spoken boldness in the guitar; what used to be hidden support beams in an 1800’s Pittsburgh home now takes center stage as the body of this electric. “Hemlock is native to [Pittsburgh], and it’s so cool to know that this tree served a purpose—it housed people, it was architecture, it was something beautiful,” Carlos said. Though hemlock is not a common material for guitars, it was used in construction for decades due to its strength and durability, which holds true in the form of an instrument.

The 200-year-old abandoned house where the hemlock was salvaged from would have been demolished, but a deconstruction project between nonprofits Urban Wood Economy and Construction Junction saved the wood and the house’s story from the landfill. Through their partnership, Urban Wood Economy deconstructs vacant buildings and aggregates wood sources around Pittsburgh to feed a processing, milling, sales, and distribution operation based at the Construction Junction building resale location. Not only was the wood salvaged from Pittsburgh, but the house coincidentally stood just a couple blocks away from Empire Music: Carlos’ largest Pittsburgh distributor. “I thought it was fate,” Carlos remembered, “that [the wood] could stay in Pittsburgh and be repurposed into something great.” The localized project embodies the missions of both Urban Wood Economy and Construction Junction: strengthening local economies and communities while reducing waste.

“Urban Wood Economy encounters all kinds of wood that has a really good story,” Urban Wood Economy’s Co-Founder Mike Born said. “And the people who work with reclaimed wood and the natural resources we keep out of the landfill add to the wood’s larger story.”

Carlos continued to build onto the Pittsburgh hemlock’s story. After crafting the body and adding a quartersawn roasted maple neck, Carlos went a step further in the reutilized wood concept. He began to take apart a table his wood supplier gifted him. The Indian Rosewood table was a former family heirloom which had been put into storage for years, but Carlos had a vision for it. Transforming the table legs into the guitar’s fingerboard, Carlos mixed unconventional with traditional. With the finishing touches—his wife’s pickups—the Marianna Standard Hemlock stands as a symbol of a second chance, for family, community, and reclaimed wood. “It’s a huge honor for me to do something like this, to give these materials new life and a new purpose,” Carlos said. [They’re] part of something, and to be taken apart and reborn into something else…it’s rewarding to be the vessel for these materials.”