Monthly Archives: August 2015

Record price for blackwood sawlog at tender!!!

The results of the August 2015 tender at Island Specialty Timbers have just been posted.

Two small blackwood logs were included amongst the 27 lots tendered.

One of the logs (Lot 23) was a plain-grain Utility Grade (NOT Cat 4) blackwood log. The description read:

A good straight log, several bumps, attractive dark stripes in growth rings at butt end. Length 2.7 metres, large end diameter 64 cm, small end diameter 50 cm, volume 0.68 cubic metres.

IST 0815 log23double

This small log sold for the incredible price of $850 per cubic metre!

This is by far the greatest price ever paid for a plain grain blackwood log.

Remember that a commercial blackwood plantation aims to grow sawlogs that are 6.0 metres in length and an average volume of 1.5 cubic metres. The above tendered log would represent the lower half of such a plantation-grown blackwood log.

In other words at this price a single plantation blackwood log could be worth $1,275!

At 300 cubic metres sawlog per hectare that equates to $250,000 per hectare at harvest for a blackwood plantation.

Remember these prices are equivalent to mill-door delivered prices, so harvesting and transport costs need to be deducted to approximate stumpage paid to the grower.

And this is only one small, low quality log sold at tender in Smithton, north west Tasmania.

The other Cat 4 blackwood log sold for $550 per cubic metre.

This is an extraordinary price for a small plain-grain blackwood sawlog and again demonstrates the commercial potential of farm-grown commercial blackwood.

Is anyone interested?

Ooops! Not such a success


For the past few years Taylor Guitars have been heavily promoting Tasmanian blackwood as the great new sustainable tonewood.

But it seems the promotion plan has come off the rails.

This commentary is speculative but from what I know it fits the available evidence.

After the big release by Taylor of the 2014 Fall Limited Edition (FLE) models things appear to have come unstuck.

The Taylor 2014 FLE models put Tasmanian blackwood up against some serious competition in the way of Hawaiian koa and Tasmanian black heart sassafras, and without too much surprise, the competition appears to have won this race at least.

Sales of the koa and sassafras models were apparently so good that the all koa GS mini is now part of the standard GS mini range. Taylor then came back to Tasmania for a second order of sassafras timber which has now been included in the 2015 Summer Limited Edition (SLE) models.

No such joy for Tasmanian blackwood however. Clearly the 2014 FLE blackwood models failed to ignite the market.

Without too much hindsight this result isn’t a surprise.

The fact that the Winter 2015 Wood & Steel magazine from Taylor had a major focus on future tonewood supply but made no mention of Tasmanian blackwood, reinforces the likelihood that Taylor have shifted the focus away from blackwood.

Don’t get me wrong. I think Taylor Guitars are a great company and they make fantastic guitars. But everyone makes mistakes. I’m no marketing expert but here’s why I think the Tasmanian blackwood models failed to fire the market:

Too much serious competition

Of the four styles on offer for the 2014 FLE models, the blackwood models were by far the plainest and least visually appealing. Two of the models featured koa which is a well established quality tonewood in the American market. The Tasmanian blackheart sassafras, whilst new to the international commercial guitar market, was just so visually stunning and unique. Without any tonal heritage sassafras stole the show like a supermodel on the catwalk. Do I guess the premium acoustic guitar market is dominated by men? But who can blame them for being visual slaves. Of course not everyone wants a visually stunning guitar. Some people prefer the plain and unadorned. But that’s definitely not the dominant market.

Taylor sassafras 2014LTD

Product development and design.

Even ignoring the competition the blackwood design in the 2014 FLE lineup was just ordinary especially by Taylor’s very high standards. Taylors have a very strong sense of the aesthetic. So what happened?

If Taylor uses the limited editions to test new products in the marketplace then the 2014 FLE models merely reinforced existing market preferences for the rare, the visually stunning, and the familiar. In terms of pushing Tasmanian blackwood into the international tonewood market it failed.

So how do you introduce Tasmanian blackwood to the international tonewood market?

How do you introduce a plain grain premium tonewood to a market addicted to feature grain and visual appeal?

Here are some ideas:

  • Don’t introduce the product in competition with other products that already have an obvious market advantage;
  • a clear price differential is needed between plain and feature grain to reflect the fact that feature grain tonewood is a rare commodity;
  • if market resistance to new product is expected/encountered then perhaps introduce the product at a lower price bracket. If the product is good it will quickly move up into the premium market;
  • if introducing a new “plain” product into a premium market then extra effort is needed in product design, development and marketing.

Tasmanian blackwood has the potential to become an internationally recognised profitable, sustainable, premium tonewood but the road ahead remains uncertain.

I hope one day Taylor Guitars come back to Tasmanian blackwood.

Hooray for Peter Adams

The Talking Point in today’s Mercury newspaper by furniture designer/maker and artist Peter Adams is a rare and much welcome alternative opinion in the ongoing nonsense around special timbers and the prospect of logging the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.


It is just so rare for someone within the forest industry to come out and publically challenge the current industry and policy orthodoxy.

From today forward, all timber workers, myself included, have to re-examine their use of speciality timbers.

That said, what I will never do is use any timber cut within the boundaries of a World Heritage Area. Nor should anyone.

My suggestion to Peter Adams and others (including consumers) is to:

  1. Use only farm-grown Tasmanian timbers;
  2. encourage Tasmanian farmers to grow more quality wood;
  3. pay Tasmanian farmers a price for their wood that reflects its real value and encourages more tree planting;
  4. support organisations such as mine that seek to encourage and teach farmers how to grow commercial blackwood in both plantations and remnant native forest.

Wood is not a taxpayer-subsidised community service. It is a commercial product.

Planting trees and managing plantations and forests costs real time and money.

The only way for Tasmania to have a successful forest industry, and realise the vision of Peter Adams, is for tree growing to be blatantly and transparently profitable.

Only Tasmanian farmers can make this happen; farmers who are passionate about growing a quality product.

I was up in the north west of the State this week for the first time in a while, and driving around imagining a rural landscape dotted with well managed forest remnants and plantations of blackwood. Instead I saw opportunities being wasted. Most farms have wet gullies, steep slopes and small areas too difficult to manage. Good land going to waste. These areas are just ideal for growing commercial blackwood.

One of the key things missing is the right commercial and political context to get these areas planted.

Peter Adams points the way to the future.

Award winning Tasmanian blackwood double bass


Sydney-based double bass luthier Matthew Tucker has recently won the Silver Medal for Tone at the 2015 International Society of Bassists (you didn’t know such a group existed did you??) Convention in Fort Collins, Colorado.

As the website says double bass judging consists of two quite different but very important factors: workmanship and tone. Certificates and Silver Medals are awarded in each class.

For an instrument to receive the coveted Gold Medal, it must have been recommended by all judges for a Silver Medal in both the workmanship and tone categories. In the history of the ISB Makers Competition there have been only four Gold Medals awarded.

So a silver medal in Tone is a huge vote of support for Matthew Tucker and for Tasmanian blackwood as a quality bass tonewood.

I took the bass over in June and entered it into the international makers competition, in a field of 25 makers. The Silver Medal is the highest award given in that category.


Here’s what the Judges said:


“Very easy to play. Lovely upper register G string, with a refined sound, excellent projection and good balance overall across the strings … the solo quality is striking. Although delicate, the sound has wonderful bottom to reinforce it.” – John Clayton


“Beautiful, clear and compelling tone, good consistent dynamic range and seamless response. Truly exceptional ergonomics … too easy to play! A fantastic, versatile bass” – Or Baraket


“This is a wonderful, easy to play travel bass especially for solo, jazz and chamber group.” – Nick Scales

 The bass is now on sale and can be played at AES Fine Instruments in New York.

Congratulations Matthew! Fantastic result.

Some more pics of this beautiful instrument: