Birdsview business makes beautiful music
Pacific Rim Tonewoods supplies Sitka spruce soundboards to guitar-makers Taylor, Martin, Gibson.
By Patricia Blauvelt
BIRDSVIEW — If you’ve ever seen a logging truck hauling three to four old-growth logs on SR 20, it’s probably destined for Pacific Rim Tonewoods (PRT) in Birdsview. Born from one man’s quest to seek out better wood for guitars, PRT has been manufacturing soundboards (guitar tops) for more than 20 years.
Pursuit of excellence
In 1981, owner Steve McMinn, an experienced logger and Pacific Northwest native, pursued a desire to find better wood for guitars and other wood instruments. Salvaging downed spruce from Forest Service lands in Alaska and Washington, McMinn began experimenting at home and networking with luthiers, hoping to understand how to mill the right wood in the right way, to create the finest possible tonewoods.
Established in Elma, Wash., in 1988, PRT has since moved to Birdsview, where it manufactures roughly 200,000 soundboards every year. Highly prized for their quality, craftsmanship, and customer service, PRT is partnered with big brand names like Taylor, Martin, and Gibson, and is currently rated the No. 1 Sitka spruce soundboard supplier in the world.
After arriving by way of barge and truck to the mill, the logs are carefully inspected, sawed into rounds, split into blocks, and sorted into boards for guitar tops or bracewood (support wood mounted on the inside of the guitar). Once sorted, the boards get edged, stickered, and put into a kiln for slow drying to eliminate cracking. After being unloaded from the kiln, the soundboard pieces are sanded and re-sawn to the proper thickness (about .175 inches thick), inspected thoroughly, then graded based on cosmetics and customer needs. The bracewood boards are chopped, re-sawn, and ripped to the accurate length, height, and width, dependent on customer specs.
Although PRT predominately manufactures Sitka spruce guitar soundboards, they also produce soundboards for other wood instruments, including violins, cellos, dulcimers, and mandolins, and often incorporate Indian rosewood, ebony, and local woods, such as western big leaf maple.
PRT is dedicated to conservation and environmental awareness. With a continued focus on building products and equipment that last, they participate in recycling, minimize waste, and improve energy efficiency. Within the last year, they have repurposed nearly all their byproduct of soundboards into eco-friendly wood bricks for firewood. The bricks are made from 100 percent wood and can be stacked in a fireplace or wood pit for longer burning times that traditional cordwood. One pallet of bricks is equivalent to a cord of wood and may be purchased through Skagit Farmers Supply Stores or at www.pacificrimtonewoods.com.
General Manager Eric Warner believes the success of the company, especially during 2010, comes from the quality of their product, the value they add to it, good customer relations, and the company’s dedicated team. The tightly knit crew of 15 employees is composed mostly of locals, nine of whom graduated from Concrete High School, and five of them in the class of 1994.
“All employees take their work seriously, apply their knowledge, and continually put forth a sincere effort,” said Warner. “Steve (McMinn) has always invested in the company. He has created a good product, a positive workplace, and good jobs. He’s created a good life, not only for himself, but for his employees.”
To learn more about Pacific Rim Tonewoods, go to www.pacificrimtonewoods.com.