Taylor Guitars' Cameroon Ebony Mill: The Last Frontier

By Michaelle Bradford | Posted: 06/22/2012 4:30PM

 

EL CAJON, CA - Taylor Guitars and Madinter Trade, S.L, a Spanish distributor of guitars and tonewoods, partnered in late 2011 to purchase the ebony mill, Crelicam, located in the west Central African country of Cameroon.

Taylor GuitarsTaylor Guitars CEO Bob Taylor. Taylor says in a video posted May 31 that the joint purchase of the mill provides Taylor with a direct source of sustainable and legally acquired ebony. The exotic ebony is a highly prized wood, especially by makers of musical instruments, because of its aesthetic and tonal qualities, as well as its strength.

This acquisition is significant, especially in light of the legal struggles of one of Taylor's largest competitors: Gibson Guitar, currently under investigation by federal authorities for allegedly importing ebony and rosewood in violation of the 2008 Lacey Act.

Cameroon is known as a source of good quality ebony but the supply of the country’s highly sought after resource has been diminished because of of export demands for the pure, all black wood; Cameroon’s economic conditions and illegal logging.

As a result, Taylor CEO Bob Taylor recently announced the company’s new goal to create a more sustainable process by using the “undesirable” wood – ebony heartwood that is not completely black because of its colored streaks — in the manufacture of his company’s guitars.

In a video message on Taylors Guitar's website, Taylor discusses the "last frontier" of ebony harvesting in Cameroon and his company's efforts to preserve the trees. Recalling a story told to him by Cameroonian workers, he describes how they would cut down trees looking for the all black heartwood with no streaks. The imperfect trees were left in the forest because it cost more to bring them back to the factory knowing they would be sold at a fraction of the cost of the pure ebony. Approximately 20 trees were cut just to find two all black trees with pure heartwood.

Taylor says he decided to offer the workers the same amount of money for the streaked ebony heartwood as for the all black, allowing them to cut down fewer trees as well as providing more ebony to the market — 10 times more.

"We plan to live within the truth of the forest," he says, "because that's the day and age we live in. We no longer live in a world of new frontiers and wasteful use of our natural resources. The people of Cameroon can't afford the luxury for us to be this picky and so things are going to change....the nature of what we thought was beautiful for 100 years is simply going to change."

Crelicam reportedly provides 75 percent of all the ebony legally cut in Cameroon.

Taylor employs nearly 700 people and currently produces hundreds of guitars per day in its state-of-the-art factory complexes in El Cajon and in Tecate, Mexico. The company maintains an active dealer network with Taylor guitars available in over 800 retail locations in North America and international distribution to 60 countries, including a distribution warehouse in the Netherlands.

 

About the Author

Michaelle Bradford

Michaelle Bradford is Managing Editor of Closets magazine, Custom Woodworking Business magazine and Custom Built Interiors Weekly eNewsletter. She can be reached at mbradford@woodworkingnetwork.com or Google+.

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Kate    
Maine  |  June, 26, 2012 at 02:05 PM

Did you notice that he's not planning to cut any less trees? He's just going to put all the trees on the market and expand the market. I don't see how that's going to preserve the resource. I agree, that using all of the tree is better, less wasteful, but the real issue is preserving the resource. Really, they need to cut less trees, less ebony on the market. Would that be so bad? As he said, "the nature of what we thought was beautiful is going to have to change."

Ed Strahota    
Mendota, IL  |  June, 27, 2012 at 02:09 PM

Hats off to Taylor for their stance with the Ebony heartwood... I wish them well! It will be interesting to see if they create a new look/niche with this shift? I personally like the variations that Ebony has within the heartwood... best wishes Bob!

 

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