Eleven years ago when I started this blackwood cooperative dream I hoped that the international tonewood market would play a significant role in the resurrection of the shrinking Tasmanian blackwood industry, and particularly the American tonewood market. In the mid-2000s CF Martin and Taylor Guitars, two of America’s biggest guitar makers, had both started using Tasmanian blackwood on a limited basis, with Taylor bringing it online in 2016 in their 300 series.
Unfortunately CF Martin’s strategy with blackwood failed in the marketplace, and Taylor Guitars have now taken a different road.
No doubt the international profile of Tasmanian blackwood as a premium tonewood has expanded enormously over the last 10 years, thanks largely to the support of Taylor Guitars.
I had hoped that Taylor Guitars would play a more active role in Tasmania as they are doing in the Cameroon. For many years Taylor Guitars were singing blackwoods praises.
With Taylor Guitars taking on their Urban Wood initiative, and with Acacia melanoxylon being a common planted tree in California, Taylor Guitars are now sourcing their blackwood locally, as announced in the latest Wood & Steel vol. 102 magazine.
Many Taylor guitars made with blackwood have featured blackwood from Australia, but we’ve mostly ceased using wood from there and have been using the same species planted here in California, which comes out of urban landscapes as those trees die or become a danger. Yes, even though we don’t market it like we do Urban Ash, many of our blackwood guitars are now from an urban landscape; in fact, most of them are now. Here, people call them black acacia, and they’re called Tasmanian blackwood or Australian blackwood when they come from Down Under.
I can understand why Taylor has chosen to pursue their Urban Wood initiative. It makes enormous sense from many business and environmental points of view.
But it leaves Tasmania with yet another missed opportunity.
The forest industry in Tasmania is so conflicted, politicised and toxic it is virtually impossible to attract overseas investor interest. The risks here are just too great. Buyers come here to plunder not to plant!
So we must say goodbye to Taylor Guitars and thank them for their support over the last 18 years.
The Table of Contents gives a good idea of how the story goes.
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
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.
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.
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!
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?
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!
PS. I do like that shaded edge-burst on the blackwood back and sides. Good one Mr Taylor!
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!
Made with farm-grown Tasmanian blackwood courtesy of Tasmanian tonewoods:
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:
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: