Songs from the Wood: Ebony in Cameroon
In 2011, Taylor Guitars became the co-owner of an ebony sawmill in the African country of Cameroon. The Ebony Project takes you there to learn more about the people, the challenges, the work, and the improvements being made in the sourcing and processing of West African ebony (Diospyros crassifloria Hiern), a wood you’ll find on every Taylor guitar. We hope you come away with a deeper appreciation for the important steps that begin the process of bringing those guitars to life. You’ll also learn more about the lives and families you are supporting when you buy a Taylor guitar, along with Taylor’s efforts to cultivate a more sustainable future in Cameroon through a scalable replanting program.
Video: A Message from Bob Taylor
WHY EBONY MATTERS
The Threat to Tropical Tonewoods
Many of the woods traditionally chosen to make acoustic guitars — ebony, mahogany and rosewood, for example — come from tropical regions of the world, often in developing countries. More than ever before, those forests are at risk due to a range of factors, including rising global consumption patterns, land conversion for large farms and plantations to feed export markets, and too often, a lack of good governance.
As Taylor Guitars has evolved into an industry-leading guitar company over the past four-plus decades, we have traveled the world to learn more about the realities of sourcing wood, from different forest management practices to the communities that rely on forest resources for their livelihood. As a company that uses forest resources, we understand our responsibility to be a good steward, a good partner to our suppliers, and to operate in a transparent, legal and ethical way. As a result, we are striving to become more directly involved in the sourcing of many of the tonewoods we use.
Video: Ebony Forever
Bob Taylor reflects on his evolution in thinking about wood as a guitar maker and how traveling the world to see how woods were sourced led him to Cameroon.
“We’re the first ones that can see the light of day through the forest, and by the way, the light of day is a bad thing to see through the forest.”
Ebony’s Rich Musical Heritage
Ebony has long been one of the most desirable tonewoods among makers of stringed musical instruments, tracing all the way back to the ancient Egyptians. Its density, durability, and dark color uniquely suit it for fingerboards on guitar and violin-family instruments. It’s also used for piano keys, pool cues, and smaller artisanal sculptures. However, due to ebony’s weight and tendency to crack, global demand for the species remains surprisingly small.
Video: Why Ebony Matters
Taylor master guitar designer Andy Powers explains why ebony is so valued in the musical instrument world.
Buying an Ebony Sawmill in Cameroon
What grew into the Ebony Project began with two companies — Taylor Guitars and Spanish tonewood supplier Madinter — who partnered in 2011 to purchase the Crelicam ebony sawmill in Yaoundé, Cameroon, from its retiring owner. Although Vidal de Teresa from Madinter had spent time in Cameroon and was already familiar with Crelicam, when Bob and Vidal researched the company and came to understand Cameroon’s business environment in greater depth, they found themselves conflicted.