Category Archives: Markets

CF Martin & Tasmanian blackwood

OM45TBc

CF Martin is possibly the name in steel string acoustic guitars in the world.

https://www.martinguitar.com/

As a tree grower, to have your product associated with the CF Martin brand is as good as it gets.

But the Tasmanian farmers who grew this wood never got that recognition and support. If they had, they might now be growing more quality tonewood.

Unfortunately the tonewood market and the guitar industry don’t work that way.

Not yet!!

Martin admits their customer base is conservative and fickle; they have a hard time introducing new tonewoods into their product range. Tasmanian blackwood has been a disappointment for them in terms of market acceptance.

Nevertheless here’s a not-so-complete summary of CF Martin’s use of Tasmanian blackwood.

For those unfamiliar with Martin’s product codes, the OM is an Orchestra Model body shape/size and D is for Dreadnought body shape; the 42/45 designates the amount of bling (abalone and other exotica) on the guitar with “45” being bling-max!

Eight months after Taylor Guitars first introduced Tasmanian blackwood into their Limited Editions, CF Martin also introduced blackwood into their Limited Edition models at the 2005 Summer NAMM Show. And whilst Taylor went for a more affordable market, Martin went for the top shelf market.

These are rare premium guitars from a premium builder!

https://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/2017/02/17/2004-fall-limited-editions-when-taylor-guitars-first-introduced-tasmanian-blackwood/

2005 OM-45 Tasmanian Blackwood (The Sounding Board Vol. 19 p. 8)

The OM-45 Tasmanian Blackwood NAMM Show Special is tonally enhanced with an extremely rare flamed Engelmann spruce soundboard, and bookmatched back, sides and headplate of highly flamed Tasmanian blackwood. Special appointments include fossilized ivory bridge pins and endpin, Style 45 abalone trim with a boxed endpiece, Style 45 snowflake fingerboard inlays, gold plated Waverly hand-engraved tuning machines, a modified torch headstock inlay nested beneath the C. F. Martin & Co. logo inlaid in abalone, and a premium Accord case. This NAMM Show Special will be limited to no more than thirty instruments. Dealers may only place orders in person during the 2005 Indianapolis NAMM Show.

Here’s a link with some images of the OM-45 TB:

http://acousticguitarforum.com/forums/showthread.php?t=287129

OM45TB

2010 D-42 Tasmanian Blackwood (The Sounding Board Vol. 29 p. 11)

Once again, Martin has produced a NAMM Show Special guitar which truly lives up to its “special” designation – the D-42 Blackwood. Backs and sides of this exquisite instrument are crafted of flamed Tasmanian Blackwood, a close relative of Hawaiian Koa both in looks and tone, and which grows primarily on the island of Tasmania off the southeast coast of Australia. Its tone is clear and bright and highly reflective, a perfect match for the D-42’s Adirondack (Red Spruce) top, prized for its resonance and big, open bass voice. Top braces, also Adirondack, are carefully scalloped and tapered. The small maple bridgeplate is typical of Golden Era 30s Martins. As a special touch, European flamed maple is used for the top binding, fingerboard binding, heelcap and endpiece. The entire top perimeter and fingerboard extension are inlaid with colorful heart abalone pearl as is the style 45 rosette. A polished and beveled Delmar tortoise pickguard accents the pearl binding. Ebony fingerboard (inlaid with Golden Era snowflake, cats eye & concave squares) and bridge (with long bone saddle). “Alternative” flower pot headplate inlay. Only 10 of these unique guitars will be offered. Orders will be taken only at the Summer NAMM Show.

Here’s a link with some images of the D-42 TB:

http://theunofficialmartinguitarforum.yuku.com/topic/103988#.WOHlJtKGNdg

 

2011 OM-42 Tasmanian Blackwood (The Sounding Board Vol. 31 p. 27)

We should have called OM-42 Tasmanian Blackwood NAMM Show Special the “Show Stopper!” This magnificent 14-fret, longscale (25.4″), Orchestra Model exemplifies the very best that Martin has to offer the discriminating collector and player. For starters, back and sides are crafted of rare flamed Tasmanian blackwood from Eastern Australia. Visually, it’s similar to premium figured Hawaiian koa. Tonally, it shares the brightness of koa but with the rich overtones of rosewood, giving it a unique and very balanced voice. With its solid Adirondack spruce top and 1/4″ scalloped “Golden Era” braces, it’s also got a big voice, with plenty of volume when you need it. Finger-picking or rhythm, this is your guitar. In the 42-style, the top, rosette and fingerboard extension are inlaid with colorful Paua pearl. Martin’s early (and rarer) “alternate” pearl torch design is inlaid into a polished ebony headplate. The ebony fingerboard is likewise inlaid with “Golden Era” snowflakes. A vintage 1930s ebony “belly” bridge features long bone saddle, bone bridge pins (and end pin) with pearl dots. European flame maple top binding, heelcap and endpiece. Gold engraved Gotoh tuners. Modified V neck, of course. Only 15 of these beautiful instruments will be offered, each personally signed by C. F. Martin IV and numbered in sequence. Exquisite. Resonant. And oh-so-limited.

Here’s a link with some images of the OM-42 TB:

https://artisanguitars.com/2011-martin-om-42-limited-edition-adirondack-and-tasmanian-blackwood-5-8-id-6647

2011 was the last time Tasmanian blackwood featured on a Martin Limited Edition guitar. Perhaps aiming at the top shelf market wasn’t best way to introduce a new tonewood into the market.

In addition to these limited release NAMM Show Specials Martin continues to produce the occasional custom model featuring Tasmanian blackwood, some of which have featured on this website over the years, including the Martin Custom Shop 018-T-Tasmanian Blackwood and the Martin Custom CEO7 Tasmanian Blackwood.

https://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/category/cf-martin-guitars/

With CF Martin’s focus on FSC as their lifeline to a sustainable future, Tasmanian blackwood will have a hard time staying in Martin’s tonewood catalogue. There is currently no FSC certified Tasmanian blackwood available anywhere, and this is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. The best chance of FSC Blackwood will come from New Zealand as farmers there ramp up production over the coming years.

https://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/2017/03/28/c-f-martin-guitars-sustainable-tonewoods/

Tasmanian blackwood needs lots of market support to reach the stage where it may be possible to achieve FSC certification. It’s up to the market to build a sustainable future for Tasmanian blackwood. The FSC won’t achieve that by itself.

Market demand for Tasmanian blackwood

logs-on-ship-close-up.jpg

I am getting enquiries from buyers in Asian markets looking to buy blackwood from Tasmanian farmers. Here’s a recent example:

 

Dear Dr. Gordon Bradbury

How are you? I hope you all are very good!

This is Paul ███ from ███ Furniture that is a furniture wholesaler in Victoria, And in Guangdong China have own furniture factory. Our factory produces leather sofas, bed and wooden furniture. 

Recently, we knew that a Chinese company import 20 containers of blackwood logs from Tasmania, we are very interested in this product, I would like to know can you supply the blackwood to us?

Or if you can provide us the supplier for our future’s potential cooperation, that will be grateful!

Looking forward response for you soon

 

Best Regards

Paul ███  

Director

 

I’m happy to put this enquiry up on my website to help improve forest market transparency.

The question is what exactly do these buyers want, what volumes, and at what price?

The next question is what farm blackwood resource is available to meet the demand, and how do we mobilise more of the Tasmanian farm blackwood resource? The farm blackwood resource in Tasmania is generally of average to poor quality because Tasmanian farmers have mostly never considered themselves tree growers, so the existing blackwood is unmanaged.

And finally can market demand for premium Tasmanian blackwood progress to the point where Tasmanian farmers regard growing premium blackwood as a commercial profitable opportunity and begin planting?

Given the Tasmanian political and forest industry context, I suspect this change in the farming community will take more than just normal market forces. It will also require market leadership and support!

I’m happy to pass these enquiries on to any log traders or sawmillers out there, but my objective is to build the blackwood industry. This means using market demand and price to encourage farmers to establish blackwood plantations and actively manage their remnant blackwood forest.

Is anyone up for the challenge?

Please contact me if you want details.

Can premium blackwood timber once again become an iconic quality Tasmanian product?

Special Timbers in Western Australia

FPCSTA

Forest Products Commission (FPC) of Western Australia (the Government forest agency) puts all special timbers that come from Crown land and State forest to public auction. The objective is not for the Forest Products Commission to maximise revenue (unfortunately that is not one of their corporate objectives), but to be impartial in terms of who gets access to the limited resource, and attempt to ensure some kind of fair market price is paid. I’m guessing much of this because the FPC actually tells us very little about their special timbers operations.

http://www.fpc.wa.gov.au/timberauctions

http://www.fpc.wa.gov.au/speciality-timbers-go-under-hammer

There are generally four auctions per year, the first for 2017 is this Saturday the 6th of May. Over 100 lots are to be auctioned this Saturday totalling over 1,000 tonnes of specialty woods.

Here’s the auctioneers website:

https://www.auctions.com.au/auctions/2017/05/06/wa-log-burl-burl-slices-craft-packs-and-slabs-auction.html

Western Australia doesn’t have a Special Timbers Management Plan. Whatever wood is salvaged from other activities on Crown Land and State forest is what special timbers are available and that’s it.

There are no taxpayer subsidies (that I can see anyway) and no logging of parks and reserves just to pander to the wood craft people.

In 2016 FPC auctioned approximately 3000 tonnes (approx. 3,000 cubic metres) of specialty timbers. That’s 150 truckloads of specialty timbers. Compare that with just 200 cubic metres tendered by Island Specialty Timbers/Forestry Tasmania last year.

The FPC is reluctant to talk about their specialty timbers operations, apart from announcing the auction dates. Here is the sum total of what the last FPC Annual Report had to say:

Local buyers bid keenly for a variety of Goldfields timbers for musical instruments, wood turning projects and unique pieces of furniture. Wood from this region is difficult to access, and bidders at the auction were impressed by the bold colours and patterns found in the timber.

Also on offer was a selection of South West native forest specialty feature timbers including marri, blackbutt and sheoak.

That’s it!!

Just some motherhood statements!!

No discussion about sales highlights, market conditions, total volume sold or total revenue.

If the FPC wanted to engage with stakeholders and the general public this would be a great opportunity. Apparently not!!

Like Forestry Tasmania the Forest Products Commission is not run as a commercial business but as a community service to achieve political objectives. Being a profitable tree grower is not the vision of either of these public forest managers.

Remember the only basis for a successful forest industry is profitable tree growers and public auctions are a great way to maximise profitability and create greater market transparency.

Taylor 2008 Spring Limited Editions

426ce

In my last spotlight on Taylor Guitars use of Tasmanian blackwood I described the 2008 Spring Limited Edition models as enigmatic.

The reason is it is difficult to find any information on these models.

As far as I understand only 2 Limited Edition models were issued Spring 2008, both of them featuring Tasmanian blackwood. But Taylor’s Wood & Steel magazines for 2008 make no mention of any Spring Limited Edition releases; and today the internet contains little residual record of their release.

Taylor’s own website makes no mention of these models.

https://www.taylorguitars.com/

I have been aware of the all-blackwood 426ce model for many years but only recently became aware of the Sitka-topped 416ce model thanks to my correspondence with Taylor Guitars.

Both of these models are essentially the same GS (Grand Symphony) design with the 416ce having a Sitka spruce top and the 426ce having a blackwood top, otherwise they are identical. Production was 325 and 676 units respectively (1001 total).

Compared to the 2007 GS4e these two models were only available with the cutaway body and with better quality appointments such as the abalone rosette.

The 2008 Spring Limited 426ce was also the subject of an “Ask Bob” letter in the 2014 Wood & Steel Vol. 78 (p. 6). Both the letter and Bob Taylor’s response say a lot about the potential of blackwood as a tonewood. Here is the letter:

I picked up a used [Grand Symphony] 426 with Tasmanian blackwood back, sides and top. After playing it a few weeks, it seemed to meld with my playing style (I got used to how to fingerpick it), and I’m one of those people who believes that good guitars will adjust themselves to a player’s sound. It sounds absolutely stunning with the kinds of blues I play. I think it sounds better than any all-koa, mahogany or walnut guitar I’ve heard. I’d bet you could find a pretty good market for this model with acoustic blues players looking for that really old-fashioned sound that can be elusive. Have you considered making this a regular model?

Jim S.

And here is Bob Taylor’s response:

Actually, Jim, in some ways we prefer the sound quality of Tasmanian blackwood to koa. Both are acacia trees and are nearly identical, or as close as cousins can be to one another, but blackwood has a very nice sound. We have been considering using blackwood on a regular basis for many years, but the challenge is getting a regular supply of guitar-grade wood. We have spent considerable time and energy in the country, working and developing relationships. We want to obtain wood in the most ethical and environmentally sound manner, so we’ve backed away from the traditional logging supply in favor of more sustainable methods that benefit local people. Tasmania has so much going for it with the species available there, and the added plus is that it’s a well-developed country rather than a poverty-stricken country. This condition puts many wonderful rules in place, and we are now working on some wonderful possibilities for obtaining blackwood. Currently we have a great relationship with a man who gets blackwood in the most ideal way. You can expect to see at least limited runs of guitars with this wood for years to come. Someday it may also become a standard model, but it’s too soon to tell at this point.

So here we are 3 years later, Tasmanian blackwood is now part of regular production at Taylor, but the 2008 426ce Ltd is still the only all-blackwood model produced in volume by Taylor to date. All-blackwood Custom or Prototype guitars are occasionally made. Perhaps they want to avoid market confusion with their highly successful Koa “K” Series:

https://www.taylorguitars.com/guitars/acoustic/features/series/koa

Here’s a video review of the 426ce:

My next spotlight will be on the 2009 Spring Limited Edition models.

Previous Taylor spotlights:

2004 Fall Limited Editions – when Taylor Guitars first introduced Tasmanian blackwood

Taylor GS4e 2007 Fall Limited Edition

C F Martin Guitars & Sustainable Tonewoods

CFMFTF

Martin The Journal of Acoustic Guitars is a glossy magazine published by CF Martin Guitars every 6 months.

The latest edition (Vol. 7, p. 64 – 69) contains a great article about what CF Martin are doing about promoting sustainable tonewoods.

https://issuu.com/cfmartin/docs/mag808_martin_journal_vol7-final_li?e=23350636/43337570

CF Martin has a problem, a problem called success.

Most of the world’s premium guitars are built from a combination of mahogany, rosewood, and ebony. However, these traditional tonewoods often come from areas of the world that are under severe pressure from logging and development.

“We’ve done such a good job of convincing the customer that these traditional, rare and exotic timbers make the best guitars, that it’s difficult to move customers away from those materials,” said CEO Chris Martin.

Being an old company can have its advantages and its disadvantages. In the case of CF Martin tradition and heritage can prevent change, even if that change is desperately needed. And in the international tonewood market change is definitely needed; change away from using rainforest and old growth timbers to a more sustainable future.

The customers of CF Martin are becoming a problem.

They are addicted to rosewood, mahogany and ebony!

So Martin Guitars approach to sustainable tonewoods is to establish a close working relationship with a third party forest certifier, in this case the Rainforest Alliance and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

But…

one of the biggest challenges the FSC® and the Rainforest Alliance have had over the years is consumer awareness. “One of the goals has been to make the consumer more aware of these brands and, in turn, for these brands to become more relevant to the consumer.”

Hence the Rainforest Alliance has created the Follow the Frog program, which Martin Guitars has signed up to support.

https://www.martinguitar.com/FollowtheFrog

http://www.rainforest-alliance.org/followthefrog

www.fsc.org

Here’s a great video with Martin CEO Chris Martin explaining the history of the company’s relationship with the FSC and the Rainforest Alliance. Well worth watching:

In the mean time Martin Guitars are caught between an inflexible customer base and a rapidly changing tonewood market.

In the coming years, Martin will introduce a new line of guitars using temperate hardwoods from North America that relies on both historical and new shapes and designs.

I have absolutely no doubt about CF Martin’s commitment to sustainability, but I do have a few suggestions for them:

  • Can the FSC logo be displayed on the front page of the Martin website?
  • Under the “Guitars” section of the website, why can’t I select and view FSC guitars?
  • Even when I find an FSC guitar using the Search facility, the FSC logo isn’t prominently displayed.
  • And if I go to this page under Custom Shop (https://www.martinguitar.com/custom-shop/tonewoods/) the message is all about rare and exotic tonewoods.  Nothing about a sustainable future at all.

So whilst the commitment to sustainable tonewoods is there I think the marketing and promotion at CF Martin still needs extra work, whilst at the same time the focus on traditional, rare and exotic timbers needs to be ramped down.

I wish CF Martin all the luck in the world in their endeavours to change the acoustic guitar market.

Milling blackwood in the Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand

The latest edition of New Zealand Tree Grower produced by the New Zealand Farm Forestry Association, contains a nice article by blackwood grower and sawmiller Paul Millen (NZTG 38(1) p. 7-8).

http://www.nzffa.org.nz/

Paul runs a business called Marlborough Timbers.

http://www.marlboroughtimbers.co.nz/

Here’s the story in summary:

  • 8 plantation blackwood trees milled
  • Tree age: 30 years
  • Tree dbh: 30 – 60cm
  • Pruned height: 4 – 6m
  • Total log volume: 10 cubic metres
  • Total sawn recovery: 4.0 cubic metres
  • Total sawn recovery: 40%
  • Three to four logs per tree were milled, at lengths between 2.4 metres and 3.6 metres, including unpruned logs from above the pruning lift that were targeted to produce decorative knotty flooring.
  • Knotty boards were rough sawn 157 x 27mm and sold green at $NZ1800 per cubic metre. In future they hope to sell this grade of knotty blackwood for $NZ2,500 green or $NZ3,000 kiln dried.
  • They hope to sell kiln dried clear (select) grade blackwood for $NZ4,000 per cubic metre, which equates with what Malcolm Mackenzie is selling select grade blackwood into the NZ market:
  • https://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/2016/11/21/new-zealand-blackwood-market-report/

Here’s a link to the article (pdf file):

Milling blackwood in the Marlborough Sounds NZTG 38-1

I got the extra information from Paul to help fill out the story.

Blackwood is a niche timber that I suggest is like the pinot noir variety of New Zealand exotic timbers. The timber has some incredible colour and diversity, and it is a relatively easy hardwood to saw and season. There is a lot of satisfaction in producing a really top notch product. I know there is some excellent mature well-managed farm forestry stands and these growers deserve to receive a high return given the demanding silviculture required to manage these early plantations.

Maybe the New Zealanders should market blackwood as Noirwood!!

As more of the New Zealand farm-grown blackwood resource matures we will be seeing more of these success stories.

Thanks to Paul Millen for the story and further information.

Good news story – Great returns from small blocks

Great returns.jpg

https://nz.pfolsen.com/about-pf-olsen/case-studies/great-returns-from-small-blocks/

Following on from my previous blog about the importance of front line troops in the forest industry, here coincidently is a recent fantastic example from New Zealand.

This is the kind of media the forest industry needs to generate on a regular basis to stimulate interest and investment.

New Zealand has a very successful forest industry which is a major contributor to that country’s economy, without taxpayer subsidies.

Sure they have their challenges – that’s fundamental in business. Any business that doesn’t have challenges is going out of business quick smart.

Those clever Kiwis know how to run a proper forest industry.

It’s nothing to do with blackwood apart from showing that farmers can grow trees on a small scale and make very good money, provided Government and industry policies are right and the market’s working properly.

Kevin Thomsen, a small farm forester at Hawkes Bay, harvested just 8.6 hectares of well managed pine grown on land not suited to other land uses. And here are the results:

The harvesting results far exceeded expectations for 24 and 25 year old trees. Key statistics averaged across the two blocks (both Radiata pine) are:

 

Per hectare log yield of 875 tonnes over 8.6 hectares.

 

Net income (stumpage) of $NZ528,297

 

Net income (stumpage) per hectare $NZ61,430

 

Net income (stumpage) per hectare per year of $NZ2,507

 

Net income (stumpage) per tonne of $NZ67.63

Kevin credits a lot of this successful result and “stress-free harvesting” to PF Olsen and “the specialised marketing division based in Rotorua who have access to a number of competing overseas buyers of our logs.”

Clearly Mr Thomsen, besides having a well managed quality resource to sell, was close to markets and had easy harvesting conditions.

What a great story!

And another thing we don’t have here in Australia – great forest product market information like that provided by PF Olsen:

https://nz.pfolsen.com/market-info-news/

When will Tasmania get a fully commercial profitable forest industry?