We visit home, California, a couple times a year. While here we bask in the fresh food, family fun and general goodness that is the Bay Area. It also gives me an opportunity to visit with the wood workers and craftsmen that consume the hardwoods we work so hard to cultivate and protect in the tropics.
A few days ago I had the opportunity to visit the Taylor Guitar facilities in Southern California. Taylor is a world class acoustic guitar producer that has become one of the leading proponents of sustainable hardwood sourcing. They use Genuine Mahogany, Cocobolo, Sapele, Koa, Rosewood, Ebony and other species for their guitar components. After a substantial number of processes, including milling, drying, sanding, laser cutting, treating, sealing and more, the incredible aesthetic potential of these woods is revealed in spectacular fashion. The shapes, patterns, color and luster were a vivid reminder of why these woods have been sought and traded for so long.
My host was Chris Cosgrove, wood buyer for Taylor Guitars. He, better than most, understands the finite nature of these endangered woods (most are cites appendix I or II listed) and we’ve been discussing long-term sourcing solutions for their instruments. To the company’s credit, they work with responsible suppliers and concessions and do their best to buy from sustainable sources. Recently they’ve invested in a concession and mill in Cameroon, a move that was risky but possibly necessary to secure the medium term availability of precious hardwoods, particularly ebony (Diospyros crassiflora).
Since I’ve always been a huge fan of Mahogany and its viability as plantation species we spent quite a bit of time discussing its qualities and availability. In their warehouses we saw Mahogany from Fiji, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras. (Only the Fijean lumber is plantation sourced, however Fijian politics and bureaucracy have severely limited its viability.) Tropical Mahogany is one of the most important tonewood species, used by generations of instrument makers for its workability and balanced tonewood qualities:
In general most tropical tonewoods are sourced from natural (non-plantation) forests, which means of course that they are being depleted without being replaced. Species like Cocobolo and American Rosewood are already difficult to acquire and must be extracted from isolated forests, which even if purchased legally (bought through a concession) will be subject to less oversight. (see National Geographic’s recent issue on Mahogany for the many problems with concessions: June 2013) Essentially there is and will continue to be a need for plantation tonewoods, even moreso in the next decade when the concessions dry up. Musicians and lute makers alike would do well to consider the future of their craft and consider and support the only viable, not to mention sustainable, solution for their longterm raw material needs: meaning an international tonewood reserve & plantation needs to be established and supported as soon as possible.
A few photos from my visit: