Monthly Archives: August 2016

Guitaronomics: The Rising Cost of Tonewood

guitaronomics.jpg

Here is another article about the international tonewood market and the coming tonewood famine.

https://reverb.com/au/news/guitaronomics-the-rising-cost-of-tonewood

“Guitar enthusiasts love to talk about tonewood….. Rarely do the words sustainability or scarcity come up.

These terms, however, are now central to the lexicon of the guitar industry.”

The article features comments from three people in the tonewood market:

Chris Herrod of Luthiers Mercantile International [LMI], a major American tonewood retailer, which is seeing major changes in the tonewood market.

“LMI aims to provide as many “new” varieties [of tonewoods] they can find to offer alternatives to the classics while educating the customer base along the way.”

Perry Ormsby a small Perth [Australia]-based luthier provides us with this great quote:

“Using Tasmanian blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) as a substitution [for Honduran mahogany] has been a game changer.”

“A close cousin to Hawaiian Koa, it is heavier than mahogany and difficult to work with, but it sounds great. It looks cool, and it’s Aussie,” Ormsby says.

“When his customers are educated about the wide range of wood possibilities he is using and and see the results, it makes them rethink everything they wanted out of their dream guitar.”

And finally Bob Taylor from Taylor Guitars features prominently in the article.

“When the wood is in rare supply, the price goes up. Nearly all our woods have probably increased in price about 15% over the last few years. I don’t blame this on regulation. I blame it on supply. But since the supply is so low, it’s also become highly regulated to the point of illegality.”

In addition to its ebony partnership in Cameroon in west Africa, Taylor have also started a company called Paniolo Tonewoods, a partnership with Pacific Rim Tonewoods. Together they are undertaking a massive planting of Koa (Acacia koa) timber in Hawaii.

Tasmanian blackwood also gets a mention within the discussion about Taylor Guitars as a growing alternative sustainable tonewood.

But I’m not sure the article finishes on the right note.

There’s a strong emphasis on nostalgia and traditional tonewoods. There is not a strong message about the future and sustainable tonewoods.

In that regard it tends to reflect where the general tonewood market is at right now – caught between the traditional buying habits of its customers and lacking the commitment and leadership to move to a sustainable future.

But the time of the profitable sustainable tonewood will come; perhaps in the next few years.

Ultimately if the tonewood market wants to continue to access quality wood then it will have to start paying farmers to plant trees. There is no other option.

Will Tasmania be ready when the time comes?

The forests behind the label – Why standards are not enough

Here’s a great Ted Talk about going beyond Forest Certification with the focus on small scale forest growers like existing and potential Tasmanian blackwood growers.

And when I think about the synergies between their connect-with-the grower model and a Tasmanian Blackwood Growers Cooperative I get excited.

This is just what Tasmanian blackwood growers need to get the support and recognition.

It’s about connecting consumers and manufacturers with forest growers.

What a great idea!

The Ted Talk is by Constance McDermott who is a James Martin Senior Fellow and Chair of the Forest Governance Group at the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford.

http://www.eci.ox.ac.uk/people/cmcdermott.html

This is a 12 minute talk well worth watching.

Hydrowood blackwood prices at Uptons

HWs.jpg

It’s time for another blackwood timber market price review, this time courtesy of Hydrowood and Uptons.

http://hydrowood.com.au/news/hydrowood-now-available-at-uptons/

http://uptons.net.au/

My previous price list reviews have generally not named the suppliers, but in this instance I think I need too since Hydrowood is likely to be the major supplier of premium grade blackwood timber for the next 5 to 10+ years. Hydrowood will therefore set the price ceiling for quite some time.

Go here to read my reviews of other blackwood (and other species) timber price lists:

https://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/category/price-lists/

Here are the current prices are for Hydrowood blackwood from Uptons:

HydrowoodBWD

These prices are for rough-sawn, kiln-dried blackwood timber.

It’s a curious price list for a number of reasons.

Firstly there are only two grades of Hydrowood blackwood – fiddleback and everything else! The price for select (clear) grade is the same as for natural (knotty& defective)!!

The other curious feature (and I’ve discussed this in relation to other timber price lists) is the lack of price increase (per cubic metre) with increasing piece size. Whilst you can cut large trees into small pieces of wood the reverse is not true. You can only cut large dimension timber from bigger, older trees. And bigger, older trees cost more time and money to grow. Therefore larger dimension timber should attract a higher per cubic metre price to reflect the higher cost to the grower.

Of course there isn’t a “grower” in this case, but given that the owner of this resource (the Tasmanian Government) isn’t charging any royalties, and Hydrowood are a dominant supplier in the blackwood market, this creates significant pricing distortions in the marketplace.

But there’s the thing. These prices bear no relationship to the cost of growing the wood. This is salvage timber from the bottom of hydro lakes. No forest management costs, no roading costs, no expensive forest practices plans, no royalties paid to the Government!

This is low cost blackwood.

In that regard it shares much with Forestry Tasmania the other major producer of blackwood. Forestry Tasmania produces blackwood at below cost and receives a direct taxpayer subsidy for doing so.

If we want to encourage and develop a profitable sustainable forest industry then this isn’t the way to do it!

This blackwood is even cheaper than Select grade Tas Oak at Bunnings!!

https://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/2016/07/01/bunnings-timber-price-lists/

The other interesting feature of the Hydrowood price list is that there are only three pricing structures for all of their species/products, of which two are shown in the above chart.

The Natural/Select Blackwood pricing is shared with plain Myrtle, or what Hydrowood calls Western Beech (Nothofagus cunninghamii), and Tas Oak (Eucalyptus sp.)!! The fiddleback blackwood pricing structure is shared with Black Heart Sassafras (Atherosperma moschatum), Huon pine (Lagarostrobos franklinii), Marine-grade Celery Top Pine (Phyllocladus aspleniifolius), and flame-grain Myrtle/Western Beech. An intermediate pricing of $5,900 per cubic metre is applied to all Knotty Celery Top pine and plain coloured Sassafras.

Of course the impact of these pricing structures on the future of the other (non-blackwood) species is irrelevant. These other slow-growing species do not provide any investment opportunities. But farmers can invest in growing commercial blackwood provided that markets are working properly, and Government and industry policy is supportive.

No chance of that here in Tasmania.

This is the fourth blackwood timber price list I have reviewed and what these price lists show is a blackwood marketplace in disarray. Blackwood prices are all over the place, from cheaper than radiata pine, to prices that rival the most expensive premium timbers in the world!

If you were wondering whether to invest in growing commercial blackwood then this marketplace would not provide you with any confidence. I wish I could say that these prices clearly demonstrate the viability of growing commercial blackwood but I can’t.

These blackwood timber price lists do not reflect the cost of growing the wood. Nor do they reflect an industry that has a vision for its future. Instead they remind me more of a closing down sale!

They reflect an industry that has lost hope, and is now in a desperate race to the bottom.

Without a solid commercial foundation the forest industry doesn’t have a future.

So now you know where to get your cheap premium blackwood timber.

When will Tasmania get a fully commercial profitable forest industry?