John, owner of Brooklyn-based Grado Labs, says he was intrigued by the cannabis story and really curious what it would be like. We would have felt uncomfortable if we hadn’t tried it, but we did anyway, and my goodness, it worked really well.
Wood has always been involved in the creation of instrumental sounds, from the Steinway piano to the Martin guitar. Grado’s first wooden helmets were made of mahogany, but since then everything from whiskey barrels to fallen trees in Brooklyn has been used.
About two years ago, John and his sons thought about trying hemp and were pleasantly surprised by the results. They got it from HempWood, a Kentucky company that was the world’s first producer of hemp wood.
We think of each helmet as a recipe of sorts, John says. Like all experienced leaders, John knows that experimentation is essential for growth. They even experimented with the glue used to connect the headphones to get the best sound.
Grado Labs has been making headphones and microphones by hand for three generations. The company was founded in 1953 by John’s uncle, Joseph, after manufacturing handmade cartridges outgrew his kitchen table.
At the age of 12, John apprenticed with Joseph and learned about electrical engineering and the world of sound: I don’t know if I have golden ears, but my uncle taught me to listen.
Grado Lab Interior – Photo courtesy of Grado
Joseph retired in the early 90’s and then John took over the business and started building helmets. At the time, most helmets were made of plastic and metal. In 1994, John woke up in the middle of the night and decided to experiment with wood.
John explains that everything has a resonant frequency, the natural vibration of an object. Sound is the harmony of all these natural vibrations interacting. I consider myself an expert on direction, damping and how to make different resonant frequencies work together rather than against each other.
The Grado family is always looking for ways to improve the Grado sound, and it takes time to make even the smallest quality adjustments. The height bracket is used to adjust the fit of the helmet on a person’s head. A few years ago, John and his sons shortened the bracket by only a quarter of an inch because they felt it made a difference to the sound. It wasn’t night and day, but we felt it was important enough to cut for total revenue.
To test his production, John listens to three 15-second tracks by Aretha Franklin, Duke Ellington and Eric Clapton. I love this detail inside where you can listen and almost walk around the musicians. It’s really something, but you have to listen.
They sound great, says Greg Wilson, owner of HempWood, referring to Grado’s hemp headphones. The acoustics of hemp wood have everything to please.
According to John, this is due to the density of the hemp wood, which gives the helmet its stability.
According to Wilson, the high density hemp wood makes it versatile for other brush work, such as duck, elk or turkey hunting.
Wilson did some experimenting with hemp wood in some of the nanotechnology labs where he worked: It was simply a new natural building material that fit into the algorithm we use for bamboo, eucalyptus and recycled wood.
Crafted hemp wood is a new industry and has only been on the market for three years, since Wilson started three years ago: Large corporations were not allowed to do this because it was only legal at the state level, not the federal level. And so we had time to get in there and get the intellectual property.
Wilson estimates that hemp timber will be worth $1 billion a year: We’ve done it with bamboo, we’ve done it with recycled wood, and now we’re going to do it with hemp. Wilson plans to open branches in Oregon, Pennsylvania, Saskatchewan, Montana, Italy, Poland and Tasmania over the next decade.
I think the world of hemp building materials is just beginning, says Tommy Gibbons, founder of Hempitecture. I mean, this country has always depended on wood materials, but now there are serious concerns about the cost of those materials and the deforestation associated with them, whereas with cannabis you can take the same piece of land and grow building materials every year.
Gibbons introduced HempWool to the building insulation market, with 92% of the products being made from hemp fibre. Hemp wool is used in the same way as other insulation materials, for example with fiberglass or mineral wool: It’s just a greener, healthier option.
According to Gibbons, apart from sheep’s wool and HempWool, there are not many eco-friendly cooler bags on the market yet. In addition to the health risks posed by spray foam, many people want to keep their carbon footprint as small as possible.
I think the world of hemp building materials is just beginning, says Tommy Gibbons.
Facilities are just beginning to be built in the United States, and there are many conflicting opinions about what type of cannabis should be grown for industrial purposes. I knew it had to be a long fiber variety, tightly grown plants that grow toward the sun because they have long stems that barely flower and allow you to harvest a lot of fiber on an acre.
Gibbons says he is not interested in growing or processing cannabis, preferring to focus on building material components. I think farmers and processors need to work together to make sure they use every bit of the harvest they can to maximize the income from their crops.
Brandon Curtin, head of culture at New York’s Hudson Hemp, believes there is still work to be done to cross that threshold. I hope things evolve genetically here and we can get plants with high CBD yields that are also suitable for fiber.
Hudson Hemp specializes in the production of sun-grown cannabis for the manufacture of CBD distillate. We’re just trying to be strategic for the long term, because of the lower costs and the general flattening of the market over the last year and a half, Curtin says. According to Curtin, the price of CBD has gone from $40 per pound at %10 CBD to $1 per pound at %10 CBD.
Curtin says they compost the cannabis stems after the flowers are harvested, but they’re intrigued by processes that use the remaining biomass of CBD cannabis to make fiber. I like the idea of working with people, because we can’t do everything.
John says he doesn’t want to push people to spend money. People call and say: Is it good for me to take this listener or should I go to this listener and the first question I ask is: Are you satisfied? Oh, yeah, I’m happy. That’s what I’m saying: Be happy.
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