We Must Become Better Stewards of the Forest
The exotic woods that we are accustomed to using in the musical
instrument field are in very short supply. Ebony, in particular,
is only legally exported from the African country of Cameroon.
Almost all other countries have forbidden the export of ebony
due to the carelessness with which it has been harvested, which
has resulted in the forests becoming nearly exhausted.
It has been standard practice to only process 10% of useable
ebony trees that are cut down; any trees exhibiting mottling
were left to rot on the forest floor. Industry leaders such
as Bob Taylor of Taylor Guitars is trying to improve the situation
to help ensure future availability of ebony, as well as helping
to fairly compensate the local people who work in the industry
where the Ebony is grown and harvested.
Quality vs. Appearance
The solution that Bob Taylor (who also owns one of the larger
ebony mills in Cameroon) is bringing to the table is that much
more ebony will be processed for use. The ebony that is harvested
which is mottled or streaked is still of excellent density;
it is only the appearance that is not what we expect.
As wood quantities dwindle and harvesting strategies change,
we will have to become accustomed to what Bob calls, "the
truth of the forest". Unless we learn to accept ebony that
is not pure black it may not exist as an option for musical
fingerboards in the future, as current strategies are unsustainable.
We have visited the manufacturers of violin fittings and fingerboards
in Europe, and had a look at their supplies of rough sawn ebony.
While there is some remaining inventory of jet black wood, their
newer billets are streaked marbled. This will become the norm,
and we in the music community must learn to appreciate it for
what it is.
With education on this matter, we can learn to appreciate the
beauty of ebony differently that we have in the past. This is
the only responsible way forward. Whereas we will continue to
try to source the blackest fingerboards for our customers, please
know that the global supply of ebony is changing and that we
must be willing to accept a different aesthetic going forward.
"This [striped ebony] is the ebony that the last
place on earth's forests produce, and that's just simply the
truth of the forest." - Bob Taylor
This is a picture of Taylor's 800 series, professional level,
solid Rosewood guitar. Notice the obvious stripes in the ebony