Category Archives: Tonewood

Taylor Guitars says goodbye!

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.

https://www.taylorguitars.com/guitars/acoustic/features/woods/body-woods/tasmanian-blackwood

https://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/category/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.

Alas no!

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.

https://fb.watch/bisYsyb-k8/

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.

Creating a functional wood market in Australia

Farm grown blackwood timber at Ceres Fair Wood, Melbourne. $10,000 per cubic metre. Ceres Fair Wood is one of the few businesses in Australia that cares about the future of quality wood.

The Past/Present

For thousands of years humans have been using wood for all sorts of reasons – to hunt, cook, stay warm, build shelter and wage war. And for all that time we have had natural forests to plunder. Whatever wood we could find we used, mostly with plenty of contempt and waste.

But the days of plundering natural forests are just about over.

One of the problems this history has created is dysfunctional wood markets.

Cheap plentiful wood from natural forests has meant no one has ever taken responsibility for the future. Cutting down and sawing up trees is simple. Getting trees planted and managed for the future is the real challenge.

There are thousands of businesses in Australia that rely on wood (harvesting, transport, milling, retail, manufacture, craft, music, art, etc.), and 99.99% of them take no interest or responsibility in the future supply of wood.

There is no relationship in the market between using and consuming wood and a tree being planted and managed.

Third party certification schemes such as Responsible Wood/PEFC and FSC are not building the forest industry and growing more wood for the future. Their goal is to save and better manage existing natural forests, not to grow more new wood resources.

The fact that the forest industry in Australia has never established any commercial credibility hasn’t helped the situation.

There must be a credible, transparent relationship between the price of wood and the cost of planting, growing and managing trees; and that relationship must encourage and support more tree planting to meet future demand.

My focus here is especially the premium solid wood market.

Until we build proper functioning wood markets in Australia most of these Australian businesses will disappear. Some will switch to imported wood when public native welfare forestry is shut down, but many will close. All for the want of a proper functioning wood market.

The Future

There are plenty of challenges that need to be addressed in order to build proper functioning wood markets but they are not insurmountable.

  1. Possibly the first and greatest challenge is market (and consumer) recognition and responsibility.

Proper functioning wood markets in Australia must be driven by the market and consumers.

Recent comments in the media by furniture makers and builders in Western Australia (in response to the shutting down of public native forestry) do not provide encouragement. Can you believe they would rather import timber from Indonesia than support local farm forestry?

How the thousands of wood-dependent businesses in Australia will come together to coordinate and plan their future is part of this challenge. Most of these businesses are too small to achieve much by themselves. The Australian Furniture Association could take on this role for furniture makers. Builders, cabinet makers and retailers could possibly join the AFA in this.

https://australianfurniture.org.au/

Is the AFA up to the challenge?

2. The second challenge is getting the farming community on board to plant, grow and manage the trees that the market wants.

I personally think this second challenge is by far the easier of the two.

Once farmers see the market change to being responsible and supportive they will quickly get on board.

There will need to be some serious talking and building trust, and careful management of risk.

Unlike the past where the market could pick and choose from a wide variety of natural forest woods, the market must now decide on which species it wishes to promote and support in farm forestry. Species must be fast growing and command sufficient market price to allow farmers to grow them commercially. Given we are talking 30+ years between investment/planting and harvest/revenue/profit, this will require careful consideration, coordination and planning.

The idea that farmers just randomly plant hundreds of different tree species in the hope of finding a buyer in the future just wont work. Farm forestry for the growing of high quality premium solid wood will require coordination and planning, driven by the market.

This is where organisations like the AFA must play a central role.

Final some discussion about markets.

Will there still be demand for premium quality solid wood in 30+ years time?

Certainly over my 40+ year career as a forester I have seen premium quality solid wood go from a being a common cheap product to a scarce expensive product, with all indications leading to its eventual disappearance from the Australian market entirely.

I think this is primarily a supply issue, rather than one of demand.

I see sufficient evidence that the market is prepared to pay very high prices for quality solid wood.

The problem is that in a dysfunctional wood market, these price/demand signals don’t trigger a supply response as they should. If we had a strong farm forestry culture in Australia and proper functioning wood markets, these price/demand signals would be making front page news. That is where we need to get too!

So dear reader, what do you think?

Comments and ideas welcome.

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….

Rosewood log gets record price

RosewoodLog

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kozhikode/rosewood-log-gets-record-price/articleshow/66172798.cms

This recent article in the Times of India caught my attention. That’s not surprising given my interest in log markets and prices.

The Indian Government has tight controls over the harvesting and sale of logs. These logs were Government owned. The Government retained the rights to the trees when the land was subdivided and sold.

The various State forest agencies in India conduct regular log auctions with the objective of improving market transparency, reducing corruption, and maximising the value adding for its forest products.

That’s right! Unlike here in Australia, the Government of India is not interested in subsidising sawmillers, boat builders and craftspeople.

East Indian Rosewood (Dalbergia latifolia) is a high value timber, and these numbers certainly confirm that.

Species: East Indian Rosewood (Dalbergia latifolia)

Log Class: I

Girth (cm): 246

Diameter (cm): 78

Length (m): 3.1

Volume (m3): 1.49

Unit price ($AUD): $14,400

Total price ($AUD): $21,500

No comment is made about the wood grain of the log, whether it was straight or feature grain.

I’ve converted the Indian prices to Australian dollar prices.

The log was purchased by Gemwood a company that amongst other products specialises in supplying the international tonewood market.

http://www.gemwood.com/

I wonder what impact such transparent competitive log prices have on the planting of trees in India? Do Indian farmers really plant rosewood trees knowing that in 100 years time someone will make money harvesting the trees? Do they appreciate that the rosewood trees they harvest today are due to the far-sighted benevolence of people 100 years ago?

In my 40 years as a forester I’ve never seen a newspaper article like this in Australia. That is because the forest industry in Australia believes that log prices and competitive transparent markets have no part to play in the industry’s future.

Across the Tasman Sea the very successful New Zealand forest industry has the opposite viewpoint.

Will we ever see prices like these for Australian logs?

And if we did would it have any impact on the tree-planting behaviour of our farming community?

When will Australia get a real forest industry?

PS. Just discovered this earlier news article about the harvesting of these rosewood trees. Certainly makes for an interesting story.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kozhikode/centuries-old-rosewood-trees-in-wayanad-face-the-axe/articleshow/63791118.cms

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/

2012 Martin Custom Shop 000 Tasmanian Blackwood

MartinCS000TBa

https://reverb.com/item/13292794-2012-martin-custom-shop-000-tasmanian-blackwood

Just LOOK at the fiddleback Tasmanian blackwood on this one-off CF Martin guitar!

https://www.martinguitar.com/

It’s currently for sale on Reverb from Brothers Music Shop in Wind Gap, Pennsylvania, USA.

Price is $AU5,900.

Carpathian spruce top, 14 frets, Waverley tuners, herringbone binding and the popular Martin 000 size. What’s not to like?

The detailing is equivalent to a 28 series Martin 000.

Very nice!

MartinCS000TBb

 

Maton Guitars Tonewood Guide

MatonTonewoods

Maton Guitars of Melbourne, Australia has released a stunning new brochure on tonewoods.

https://maton.com.au/timbers

But does the marketing work?

Is it the message for the 21st century?

Whilst we acknowledge and have a deep respect for traditional tonewoods, we are also excited by the potential we have discovered in non-traditional (alternative) woods.

The musical instrument making community is becoming increasingly concerned about the lack of availability of some of their favorite traditional tonewoods. … it would be environmentally irresponsible to keep utilising these timbers without looking for alternatives.

We are fortunate enough to have the support of many of Australia’s most knowledgeable and skilled timber gatherers and continue to try new species….

This last statement completely bowls me over!

Maton still don’t get it do they?

Tonewood is about hunting and gathering??? WTF!!

I thought we had left those days behind. I thought this was the 21st century.

If you want tonewood for the future you need to plant, grow and harvest trees. It is not about hunting and gathering! Those forests have gone!

In the 21st century the future of tonewoods is about THE GROWER – who manages the forest, who plants the trees!

To their credit Maton devotes a beautiful two page spread to blackwood. But the idea that we should be actively growing blackwood for tonewood production still hasn’t entered Maton’s conscience.

MatonTonewoodsBWD

In all 15 tonewoods are described, but very little about where the wood comes from, who grows it or whether is it sustainable. Once upon a time I would have mentioned certification (PEFC/FSC) but my faith in forest certification is gone.

In today’s market it’s not enough to just say “it’s not rosewood” or “it’s alternative”.

The whole point of the “alternative tonewoods” story is not just to demonstrate the woods have good acoustic and aesthetic properties, but that they come from ethical, sustainable, profitable (for the grower) sources.

Maton needs to demonstrate commitment not just to using alternative tonewoods, but to supporting those who grow these quality timbers.

“Gathering” isn’t good enough.

Maton Guitars was a pioneer in the use of alternative tonewoods long before they became important.

It’s now time for Maton to take the next step in their commitment.

Unfortunately this glossy brochure just doesn’t do it!

PS. In their defense most other guitar makers are on the same page as Maton.