Plantation Koa tonewood in Hawaii

Because traditionally all tonewoods have come from native forests from trees that are hundreds of years old, the tonewood market is pretty obsessed with the opinion that no good tonewood will ever be grown in a plantation environment. It’s almost a religious dogma!

But a handful of people are out to prove otherwise.

My own research on blackwood wood quality and genetics shows that wood quality in blackwood is more about genetics and less about environment or speed of growth.

Bob Taylor from Taylor Guitars and Steve McMinn from Pacific Rim Tonewoods are two people out to show that plantation wood, combined with good research, selection and breeding, will provide a significant source of quality tonewood in the future.

Here’s a great video of what these people are looking to achieve in Hawaii with Acacia koa.

I would love to see a video of the story of making the young planted koa trees into guitars that is mentioned in this video. I think that is a significant story that the tonewood market needs to see and understand.

Paniolo Tonewoods has been working with Haleakala Ranch and Native Nursery on the island of Maui, Hawaii to selectively harvest and to propagate koa.  Here, Bob Taylor of Taylor Guitars, Scott Meidell of Haleakala Ranch, and Steve McMinn of Pacific Rim Tonewoods, discuss this exciting project.

Paniolo Tonewoods, a joint venture between Pacific Rim Tonewoods and Taylor Guitars, is a new project based in Hawaii, aimed at bringing koa and other ethically-sourced tonewoods to market.

Native only to Hawaii, koa has long been prized for its beauty and versatility. It has traditionally been the wood of canoes, surfboards and guitars.  Koa forests have been much diminished, and good koa lumber is now scarce. All over the world, hardwoods are becoming more difficult to responsibly harvest, yet the demand for beautiful wooden instruments keeps growing.

Paniolo Tonewoods is dedicated to meeting this growing demand with good forest management, reforestation, and innovation.  With Hawaiian groups, we are collaborating on new ways to plant, grow, and manage koa forests to ensure their vitality.

If only I had a few benefactors like Bob and Steve supporting farm-grown Tasmanian blackwood.

PS. I especially like Bob Taylor talking about the “heart and rind of the melon”, and the fact that the guitar industry has to stop only using the “heart” and tossing the rest away. I shall await the arrival of plain-grain maple guitars with much interest!

6 responses to “Plantation Koa tonewood in Hawaii

  1. Interesting that the article mentions using koa for surfboards and canoes as well as musical instruments. As I understand it, blackwood is very closely related to koa. Assuming relevant material characteristics are similar could blackwood also be used for surfboards and canoes?

    Or did the locals use koa because it what was they had available.

    I read a shipbuilding thesis the other day that mentioned using blackwood as wooden nails on ships. Apparently it had good qualities for that purpose.

    • Hi David,

      I suspect the market for blackwood canoes, surfboards and ship nails is pretty limited.

      As I understand it koa was the dominant tree species in Hawaii before it was all cleared for sugar and beef, so the natives were just using what was available.



  2. I believe Indian rosewood has been plantation grown successfully for years.

    • Hi Chris,

      There are mentions of Indian rosewood plantations in various countries, but I’ve never seen anything in detail at all – areas, growth rates, ages,???? Nothing!! None of the tonewood retailers talk about plantation rosewood, so I’m assuming it isn’t being widely used in the luthier trade. I’m in the process of writing an article about rosewood so would be interested to hear what you know about the trade.

      In fact the whole Indian rosewood trade (native or plantation) seems to be shrouded in secrecy. None of the Indian State forest agencies seem to be particularly transparent about it. Given the recent CITES changes I would think that people would be rushing to greater transparency.



      PS. And not forgetting that guitar companies are now starting to use plantation-grown mahogany from Fiji.

  3. Have you used blackwood or koa, Chris?

  4. Love my Mahogany Taylor but sure would enjoy have a koa guitar

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