The Ebony Project: The Truth of the Forest (3)

The Truth of the Forest 

The State of African Ebony

Many different species of ebony grow across the tropics, from Madagascar to southern India and Sri Lanka, and from Indonesia to West Africa. We at Taylor believe that today, the best species for instrument fingerboards is West African ebony (Diospyros crassiflora Hiern) and based on recent modeling research data, Cameroon currently has a healthy inventory. In Central and West Africa there are some 190,000 ebony trees above the minimal harvest diameter of 60 cm, and more than 30 million ebony trees with a diameter in the range of 10-59 cm. With proper management, including replanting, the prospect of maintaining a sustainable population of ebony trees in Cameroon is good. This said, the world is full of cautionary tales.

For example, the island nation of Madagascar had long been a traditional source of ebony, but decades of mismanagement, coupled with political turmoil following the overthrow of the government in 2009, led to an increased spike in illegal logging, including within the country’s national park system. As a result, the export of ebony and rosewood was suspended entirely, and much of the market shifted to Western and Central Africa. Taylor has been using Cameroonian ebony for over 30 years, and for ethical reasons both Taylor and Madinter had stopped buying ebony from Madagascar long before the trade was formally suspended.

All-Black vs. Marbled Ebony

In the musical instrument industry, the long-established aesthetic standard for ebony fingerboards has been a uniformly jet-black color. This preference led to a wide discrepancy in market value between the desirable all-black ebony and ebony wood featuring color variegation, even though the differences are purely cosmetic. Yet, as Bob Taylor and Madinter’s Vidal de Teresa became more deeply involved in the ebony trade, they made a surprising discovery, as Taylor’s Director of Natural Resource Sustainability, Scott Paul, explains.


Video: Black vs. Marbled Ebony


This realization about ebony coloration, along with the fact that for years countless trees were cut and abandoned if their wood was not all-black, prompted Taylor to buck more than a century of tradition and start using, and promoting, marbled ebony on its highest-end guitars.

The intent was to spread awareness within the stringed instrument industry and encourage broader adoption of variegated ebony, with the hope that fewer trees would be wasted. Crelicam also agreed to pay contractors a price for marbled ebony that was more comparable to the jet-black ebony. There’s nothing wrong with black ebony. But there’s nothing wrong with marbled ebony either. You can pick either when you buy a guitar. In fact, in the same way that customers appreciate the unique visual characteristics of other woods on a guitar, having some color variation in different fingerboards contributes to each guitar’s distinctive personality.

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