Category Archives: Taylor Guitars

The Guitar: Tracing the Grain Back to the Tree

Chris Gibson and Andrew Warren

https://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/G/bo81816665.html

I finally got around to reading this book by Chris Gibson and Andrew Warren.

It will never make the Best Seller List, which is a shame because every person who owns a guitar should read it. That small piece of wooden magic in your hands has a very uncertain future.

Which is why every music festival should have a focus on encouraging farmers to grow tonewoods. Before the magic disappears!

https://theconversation.com/friday-essay-the-guitar-industrys-hidden-environmental-problem-and-the-people-trying-to-fix-it-159211

The Table of Contents gives a good idea of how the story goes.

Introduction

Part 1 Guitar Worlds

1 * The Guitar

2 * The Factory

3 * The Sawmill

Part 2 Into the Forest

4 * Rosewood

5 * Sitka

6 * Koa

7 * Guitar Futures

Acknowledgments

Notes

Index

The book is more a social/spiritual than a economic/resource oriented journey, which may appeal to guitar players.

Unfortunately the book does peddle some of the myths of the guitar world, such as

  • guitars can only be made from large, old, slow-growing trees; and
  • guitars can only be made from a small range of tree species.

Neither of these myths is true!

Cole Clark Guitars is just one example that breaks both of these myths.

What is obvious from reading the book is that the guitar industry is in serious trouble.

The book focuses strongly on what was historically, and is no more.

Having plundered the best of the best of the worlds forests, the guitar industry is running out of resource. At least a resource that they have been accustomed too = large, big, old trees!

If solid wood acoustic guitars are to have a future, makers (and consumers/artists) must shift from 2 piece backs and soundboards, to 3 and 4 piece. Big old trees will no longer be available in any volume.

Secondly, the guitar industry and tonewood suppliers must actively encourage, support and reward the planting and growing of tonewoods. Taylor Guitars and Pacific Rim Tonewoods are the only examples I know of who are doing this. Others must follow!

Thirdly, as I said, every music festival should have a focus on encouraging farmers to grow tonewoods.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter on Koa, recognising the many parallels between Koa and its Tasmanian cousin Blackwood. The one exception is that whilst Koa has turned the corner to a brighter future, Blackwood remains bound to its colonial past of plunder and waste.

The book finishes on a bright note, giving us the impression that the entire global guitar industry has experienced an environmental epiphany. If this is so there is little evidence of it on the guitar company web pages; Taylor and CF Martin being two exceptions. This is true even here in Australia.

A big part of the problem is that most guitar companies (and more so tonewood suppliers) are small businesses that do not have the resources to put into securing their future tonewood supplies. The very existence of these guitar/tonewood companies is premised on the ready availability of plundered cheap tonewoods. The idea of Maton or Cole Clark engaging with farmers to plant tonewoods is completely off the radar!

So the key question is – how will the global guitar industry secure its future supply of tonewoods? Will only the big companies survive the resource Armageddon?

This question is not asked in the book, nor is it answered! Not directly anyway!!

The answer will be in using smaller wood sizes and a larger range of different tree species.

But who will grow these trees, where and at what price?

I see no evidence as yet to link the guitar markets with landowners.

The same problem is equally true of wood furniture makers. They have no future!!

One gets the impression from the book that the only way the guitar industry will survive is if we suspend standard western economic theory. If that is the case the guitar industry has no hope.

One aspect of the book I found difficult was the very strong anti-monoculture rant. Never mind that all our food is grown in industrial monocultures. How else do we feed 7.8 billion humans?? Native forests are ecosystems that should be managed as such, but trees as commercial crops are just that. They are no different to apple orchards or cow ranches or corn farms. A blackwood plantation that covers 5-10 hectares or even 50 ha is a commercial decision made by the landowner.

The book provides no discussion of forest certification systems (eg. FSC, PEFC). Will certification guarantee future supplies of quality tonewoods? Absolutely not!!

Will the book change the global tonewood market or the guitar industry?

It’s a shame that the book was not launched by the Musicwood Alliance – assuming the Musicwood Alliance still exists. Beside Bob Taylor and Taylor Guitars, no one is telling the marketplace what the situation is.

Right now guitar players everywhere should be mobilising and marching in the streets demanding action.

Ultimately it is consumers and artists who will determine the future of the guitar industry. The more they know and understand what is happening the better it will be for everyone.

2008 Taylor Solidbody Custom Koa/Blackwood

Back when I was reviewing Taylor Guitars blackwood models in chronological order I missed a rare gem!

Taylor has been researching and developing guitar electronics and pickup systems for many years.

This resulted in the Expression System 1 (ES1) in 2003 for Taylor acoustic guitars, followed in 2005 by the T5 hollowbody hybrid guitar in 2005, and the T3 semihollow body in 2009. Both the T5 and T3 models are still in production.

In 2007 the Taylor R&D had evolved to the point of developing pickups that suited solidbody guitars, so the decision was made to develop a range of solidbody electric guitars.

These were launched in 2008 with three models – Standard, Classic and Custom.

The initial Custom model had a Walnut top with Sapele body and neck(Wood & Steel Vol 54, p. 16).

The Custom model then quickly expanded to include a stunning Custom Koa/Blackwood model with a flamed Koa top and Tasmanian blackwood body and neck (Wood & Steel, Vol. 55, p. 18).

The Custom Koa model then changed to having a mahogany body and neck (Wood & Steel Vol 56, p. 33).

But as Taylor quickly discovered, breaking into the already crowded and conservative solidbody electric guitar market would be a long, hard battle.

On top of that the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) hit the world economy sending guitar sales plummeting.

From what I can find on the internet, Taylor put little effort into marketing and promoting their solidbody guitars, with the result that only 45 of these Custom Koa/Blackwood beauties were built (Taylor Guitars, pers. com). They are rare premium electric blackwood guitars.

The solidbody Custom models only lasted 2 years!

The Standard and Classic models died out in 2013!

“On a related note, you may notice the absence of our SolidBody from this year’s line. That’s because we wanted to take this year to explore some new design ideas. We’ll be sure to share new developments as they unfold.”

And with that simple statement in 2014 Taylor declared the end of their brief venture into the solidbody electric guitar market.

Taylor Presentation Series (PS) Tasmanian blackwood

Taylor PS12ce

The first of the Taylor Presentation Series Tasmanian blackwood models are starting to appear after they were announced in the latest Wood & Steel magazine back in January.

https://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/2019/01/29/tasmanian-blackwood-makes-it-to-the-top-of-the-taylor-tree/

They still haven’t appeared on the Taylor website yet:

https://www.taylorguitars.com/

These are top-of-the-line guitars for people with deep pockets and a love of bling.

Here is a PS12ce with V-class bracing currently at Empire Music in Mt Lebanon, Pennsylvania, USA:

http://empiremusiconline.com/products-page/acoustic-guitar/taylor-ps12ce-first-article-v-class-adirondack-blackwood-18131/#!prettyPhoto[58454]/3/

I like the fact they have given the blackwood the edgeburst effect. I just wish they would use flamed blackwood for the headstock facing instead of ebony.

As I said in my January post for Tasmanian farmers to get their product into the top of the market should be an occasion for recognition and celebration.

Unfortunately that is not how wood markets operate.

Is this extraordinary market achievement resulting in more blackwood being planted by Tasmanian farmers?

Surely it should!

Utilising market forces (price, supply, demand, achievements, etc.) to help drive the future of the blackwood industry should be the backbone of industry and Government policy.

Instead market demand just helps the Tasmanian Government/Parliament justify logging public native blackwood forest in our Conservation Reserves!

https://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/2017/10/23/tasmanian-rainforest-plunder/

Thankfully this is not where Taylor Guitars source their blackwood timber, which comes from Tasmanian Tonewoods salvaged from Tasmanian farms.

https://tasmaniantonewoods.com/

Congratulations to Taylor Guitars and to Tasmanian Tonewoods!

What a great achievement!!

We just need to complete the story….

Tasmanian blackwood makes it to the top of the Taylor tree

taylor ps tb1

The latest Taylor Guitars Wood & Steel magazine (Vol. 93 2019 Winter, p. 28) shows us that Tasmanian blackwood has finally made it to the peak of Taylors model range.

https://www.taylorguitars.com/wood-and-steel

Fifteen years after introducing Tasmanian blackwood into their limited production and three years after introducing blackwood into their regular production in the 300 series models, Tasmanian blackwood is now included in Taylor’s top-of-the-line Presentation Series (PS) models.

The Presentation Series are an annual limited edition series of guitars that feature premium woods and premium appointments.

Our Presentation Series celebrates the finest in materials and craftsmanship detail. This year we’re thrilled to introduce the wood pairing of figured Tasmanian blackwood and Adirondack spruce to the collection. Tonally, we love blackwood — it’s loud, responsive and warm, yet with a clear focus. The sets we’ve selected boast a beautiful blend of variegation, figure and grain structure reminiscent of Hawaiian koa, featuring golden-brown and dark amber ribbons of color. Together with a top of creamy Adirondack spruce, this guitar is no mere showpiece; its dynamic voice is ripe for the picking (or strumming). Or, if you prefer the rich, dark variegation of a sinker redwood top, the option is yours. We’ve also shifted from a beveled armrest to our radius contouring, which ensures comfort for players of all sizes. Our elegant suite of aesthetic appointments saves the understatement for other models, tracing the lines of the guitar with sparkling paua and other eye-catching ornamentation, including our intricate Nouveau fretboard/ peghead inlay. From every angle, these guitars deliver stunning aesthetic appeal.

Tasmanian blackwood Presentation Series models to become available are: PS12ce, PS12ce 12-Fret, PS14ce, PS16ce, PS56ce, PS18e.

These guitars are so new they haven’t yet made it onto the Taylor website. Stay tuned!

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

Prices for Presentation Series guitars start around $US9,000. These are top-shelf guitars for people with deep pockets.

Even despite the inevitable “koa’s poor cousin” comparison, Taylor are obviously confident they are making progress getting Tasmanian blackwood accepted into world guitar markets.

Congratulations Taylor Guitars!!

For Tasmanian farmers to get their product into the top of the market should be an occasion for recognition and celebration.

Unfortunately that is not how wood markets operate.

Is this extraordinary market achievement resulting in more Tasmanian blackwood being planted by Tasmanian farmers?

Surely it should!

Utilising market forces (price, supply, demand, achievements, etc.) to help drive the future of the blackwood industry should be the backbone of industry and Government policy.

Unfortunately market demand just helps the Tasmanian Government/Parliament justify logging native blackwood forest in our Conservation Reserves.

Thankfully this is not where Taylor Guitars source their blackwood timber, which comes from Tasmanian Tonewoods salvaged from Tasmanian farms.

https://tasmaniantonewoods.com/

But in the opaque world of the global timber trade politics and greed often confound good intensions.

So here’s the take home message:

Tasmanian blackwood timber achieves another major international market milestone (thanks Taylor Guitars!!!), but no Tasmanian farmer will learn anything about this achievement, let alone be moved to invest in planting blackwood for the future.

Are you beginning to understand the problem we face?

Taylor Tasmanian Blackwood Guitar Alert!

Taylor 712ce LTD 12 fret

Ok. Here is a Taylor Limited Edition special.

A 2018 Taylor 712ce LTD 12 fret with Torrified Sitka and [Tasmanian] Blackwood.

It’s not often that Taylor put out a 700 series model featuring Tasmanian blackwood.

This one is a beauty!

Here’s one for sale on Reverb but there are a few others around:

https://reverb.com/item/14352660-2018-taylor-712ce-ltd-12-fret-w-torrified-sitka-and-blackwood

Made using farm-grown Tasmanian blackwood from Tasmanian Tonewoods:

https://tasmaniantonewoods.com/

Taylor 358e LTD

Taylor358eLTD

I haven’t done a guitar feature for ages so here we have the latest from Taylor Guitars featuring farm-grown Tasmanian blackwood courtesy of Tasmanian Tonewoods.

I wonder who were the lucky Tasmanian farmers who grew this premium product?

https://tasmaniantonewoods.com

This is a limited edition Grand Orchestra 12 string model in the 300 series.

This guitar was introduced at the 2018 Winter NAMM show in Anaheim, California.

It’s so new it isn’t even featured on Taylor’s website yet.

https://www.taylorguitars.com

In 2016 Taylor Guitars introduced Tasmanian blackwood into their regular production in the 300 series, becoming the first major guitar company to do so. The 300 series is the entry level series featuring all solid wood bodies.

To date the 300 series has not included an Orchestra Model in the line up. I guess this is Taylor testing the market to see if there is demand for a large body 12 string model in this price range. Currently 12 string Orchestra Models are only available in the 400 and 800 series.

Here’s a great review of the guitar from Alamo Music:

If you are after a big guitar with a BIG sound this is your axe!

Enjoy!

PS. I do like that shaded edge-burst on the blackwood back and sides. Good one Mr Taylor!

Taylor Custom Shop Grand Auditorium all Blackwood

Taylor Custom GA BW1

https://www.maxguitarstore.com/products/taylor-custom-shop-grand-auditorium-all-blackwood/

Here’s a great Taylor Custom Shop Grand Auditorium (GA) all blackwood guitar currently on the market at Max Guitars in The Netherlands.

Imagine a unique Taylor guitar that’s just yours, brought to life with Taylor’s legendary craftsmanship. Your Taylor. Your way! It’s possible.

Max Guitar stocks a great selection of these Custom Made Taylor Guitars. And lots of customers either pick one from stock or use our stock to inspire them to compose their own design! Simply Choose your category of guitar, pick your body shape, select from a rich assortment of our finest tonewoods including non-standard species and grades, choose from a full palette of appointments, and more. Then we’ll get to work building your Taylor guitar that’s uniquely personalized for your tastes. Ready? Talk to us?

Taylor Custom Shop 9009 is a Unique Custom shop model made at the Taylor El Cajon factory and picked especially by Robbert for Max Guitar!

The exquisite Grand Auditorium Custom model is a special order made in El Cajon and sports a Venetian Cutaway. Built up out of superb tone woods. A Blackwood back and sides and a very resonant Blackwood top that sounds really full! Furthermore ebony fingerboard, MOP binding, dot inlay, Gotoh 510 tuners, The whole instrument is finished in a warm Sunburst and extremely thin gloss finish. Comes with COA and Hardcase.

Bring Your Dream Guitar to Life! Imagine a Taylor guitar that’s uniquely yours, brought to life with Taylor’s legendary craftsmanship.

At €4930 or $A7480 it’s not cheap.

But then it is a custom build.

Things I like about this guitar:

  • The all blackwood body
  • The shaded edgeburst
  • The gold Gotoh 510 tuners (I think gold goes well with blackwood)
  • Those neat fretboard inlays look pretty cool too!

Taylor Custom GA BW3

Made with farm-grown Tasmanian blackwood courtesy of Tasmanian tonewoods:

https://tasmaniantonewoods.com/

https://www.taylorguitars.com/

Taylor 2010 Spring Limited Editions

2010SpringLTDsa

Above L-R: Tasmanian Blackwood 514ce-LTD, Walnut 414ce-LTD

For the fourth consecutive year Taylor Guitars included Tasmanian blackwood in a limited edition set. Spring 2010 saw 9 limited edition models of which 2 featured Tasmanian blackwood, this time in the 500 series thanks to the highly figured blackwood.

Bob Taylor and his design team herald spring’s arrival with a quartet of limiteds that promise to invigorate the senses.

Our Spring Limiteds have become one of those typically atypical Taylor design projects. Rather than making a firm commitment to come up with something each spring, Bob and his fellow designers wait to see if the product development stars align. Are there any reserves of exotic woods available that invite special treatment? Which models are generating lots of excitement around the factory? We think you’ll be happy with this year’s outcome (Wood & Steel Vol 63).

Tasmanian blackwood is often compared to its better-known cousin, Hawaiian koa. We gathered an assortment of impressively figured backs and sides for this run, making this a special upgrade to our 500 Series. Tonally, blackwood shares koa’s blend of midrange bloom and top end brightness, and will grow sweetly mellower over time, with great dynamic range.

Both models are topped with Sitka spruce and include Ivoroid binding, an abalone rosette, and an all-gloss finish [and gold-coloured tuners].

Tasmanian blackwood is often compared with Hawaiian koa as a tonewood. It’s a natural comparison to make but it can quickly turn to blackwood’s disadvantage if overdone as a marketing strategy. I think Tasmanian blackwood is more than capable of standing on its own two feet (roots??) as a quality tonewood.

Here’s a Spring Taylor 2010 516ce-LTD for sale on Reverb:

https://reverb.com/item/4445536-taylor-516ce-ltd-spring-limited-2010-tasmanian-blackwood-sitka

Production numbers (courtesy of Taylor Guitars) were:

MODEL PRODUCTION
514ce-LTD 301
516ce-LTD 215

 

https://www.taylorguitars.com/

Over four consecutive years 2007-2010 Taylor Guitars produced almost 2,700 guitars across 9 Limited Edition models featuring Tasmanian blackwood.

My next spotlight will be on the 2012 Spring Limited Edition GS mini models.

Previous Taylor spotlights:

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

Taylor GS4e 2007 Fall Limited Edition

Taylor 2008 Spring Limited Editions

Taylor 2009 Spring Limited Editions

Taylor 2009 Spring Limited Editions

2009SpringLTDs

Above (L-R): Tasmanian blackwood/Sitka spruce, 416ce-LTD, Sapele/ovangkol T5-LTD, Madagascar rosewood/Sitka spruce 714ce-LTD

Following the release of the mysterious 2008 Spring Limited Editions Taylor Guitars continued its steady promotion of Tasmanian blackwood in 2009 with 4 Spring Limited models.

With value on people’s minds, we’ve cooked up a special batch of LTDs for spring — inspired by Madagascar rosewood, Tasmanian blackwood and ovangkol — and added premium features, all at a sweet price point (Wood & Steel, Vol. 59).

The blackwood models were once again released in the 400 series.

Sounding just as good as they look, the 400 Series Limiteds feature a honey-colored Tasmanian blackwood back and sides and are dramatically accented with creamy maple binding and [back] mini-wedge. With a Sitka spruce top, a sparkling abalone rosette, stylish mother-of-pearl diamond fretboard inlays and a high-gloss finish on the top, back and sides, the blackwood 400 Series Limited Edition is available as a 410ce-LTD, 412ce-LTD, 414ce-LTD or 416ce-LTD. Along with the 700 Series, the 400 Series features a sloping Venetian cutaway and Taylor’s Expression System® for high fidelity plugged-in playing.

Production numbers (courtesy of Taylor Guitars) were:

MODEL PRODUCTION
410ce-LTD 115
412ce-LTD 62
414ce-LTD 332
416ce-LTD 241

 

https://www.taylorguitars.com/

My next spotlight will be on the 2010 Spring Limited Edition models.

Previous Taylor spotlights:

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

Taylor GS4e 2007 Fall Limited Edition

Taylor 2008 Spring Limited Editions

The Green Shoots of Recovery

Green Shoots

Here’s a great article in the April edition (Issue 129, p. 41-46) of Acoustic magazine where Bob Taylor of Taylor Guitars talks about sustainable tonewoods.

http://www.acousticmagazine.com/

Green Shoots

In the article Bob Taylor makes some excellent observations and comments which I fully support. Here’s my selection:

there is plenty that smaller guitar manufacturers can do to promote sustainability. “Each guitar maker has the ability to do something,” he says. “If a guitar builder is large like Taylor, they should do ethical sourcing of wood and replenishing. A small luthier cannot replenish, but they can ethically source wood. One part of ethical sourcing is to care about the quality of life and the pay of the people closest to the wood. We must each know that our wood is coming from places where laws are followed and people are paid”.

Totally agree with this comment. I find it extraordinary there are so many luthiers out there more than happy to help keep plundering the worlds rainforests. Even in Tasmania and Australia this is true!

And the same goes for consumers! Please stop plundering the worlds rainforests!

If people think that growing trees is or should be charitable work, then they don’t understand sustainability at all. Are tomatoes sustainable? Of course they are, because it’s profitable to grow them. We just have to make trees profitable to grow. This will happen in many different forms, because in many industries like construction lumber or plantation teak, it is already profitable. Small operations such as our Paniolo in Hawaii, or Crelicam in Cameroon, attract attention. This magazine is interested, as are the readers, and so are some industrialists or landowners. We can· show that it can be profitable if you’re in the right situation to do so. In the case of ebony, we have to start it with investment from us, which looks like charity really, but others will be able to profit from it someday, and the sustainable cycle can start. Without selling something there is no sustainability.

But I do think it’s possible to farm guitar wood, if I can be so basic in my description.

A huge round of applause for these comments!!

That’s it! It’s all about profitable tree growing. Unless and until tree growing is profitable there will be no tonewoods in the future. Bob Taylor understands this.

That means paying higher prices than what we pay now for plundered wood.

 

This move [the recent CITES regulations around rosewoods] has already had an effect on Taylor’s guitars: “All the rosewoods we use will be used in lesser quantities and on more expensive guitars. Why? Because there is expense associated with using the wood and exporting and importing both the wood and the guitar. That expense for permits is the same for an expensive or a cheap guitar. Consequently, we’ll see fewer1ow-priced rosewood guitars in the market.

As rosewood is one of the major tonewoods used worldwide, this means that other species must now come into the market to replace the reduced supply of rosewood.

“no [tonewood] species now can be sustainable without a proper planting programme”.

Here in Tasmania we have no blackwood planting plan. In fact we have no blackwood plan at all. All we have is a plan to continue to plunder our public native forests using taxpayers money. For details see here:

https://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/2017/05/08/a-strategic-growth-plan-for-the-tasmanian-forests-fine-timber-and-wood-fibre-industry/

“I often say that most guitar buyers are environmentalists, except on the day they spend their hard-earned money on their dream guitar. But I forgive them and understand. If we work together, we will find a new excitement. We are working hard to make beautiful guitars that please all the senses”.

Farm grown Tasmanian blackwood has the potential to become a profitable sustainable tonewood, but it will be a long slow road ahead under the current circumstances.