Taylor Guitars, based in El Cajon, California, recently announced the completion of a tree planting project in Cameroon’s Congo Basin area. 1,500 West African ebony trees were planted to help maintain this species, which is currently in a vulnerable state. The 1,500 trees that were recently planted are part of a larger project which intends to plant 15,000 by 2020. Taylor uses wood from this species in its guitars. Bob Taylor, Co-founder and President of Taylor Guitars, answered some questions about the tree planting work for CleanTechnica.
1. Why do you use wood from West African ebony trees to make guitars?
Ebony has been used for the fingerboard for stringed instruments such as violins and cellos for hundreds of years. It is well-suited to withstand considerable wear and superbly good for holding metal frets in place at an exact height over time on a guitar.
2. When did you start using this kind of wood?
Taylor Guitars has been using Cameroonian ebony for over 40 years.
3. Were the ebony trees planted as seeds, seedlings, or saplings?
The trees are started in a nursery from either seeds collected by the project or produced by vegetative propagation, by simply rooting a cut leaf in soil. Within 16 or 24 months they are hearty enough to be planted by the participating villages in the project. We are also researching producing ebony trees from tissue culture, but this is likely several years away.
4. Do they only grow in Africa, or could you grow them in the US outdoors or indoors?
The first thing to keep in mind is that ebony does not refer to a single species, and more often than not the word is used as a generic name referring to a black, hard, dense, fine-grained wood sourced from several species of the tropics. True ebony is from the Diospyros genus, and there are over 700 species worldwide, although only a handful are commercially traded. Disopyros crassiflora Hiern (a.k.a. West African ebony), the species used on Taylor guitars, grows in the western part of the Congo Basin. We cannot grow them in the US. Since they are still abundant in Cameroon, we feel it’s a good time to begin planting there.
5. How tall do the ebony trees grow and how long does it take them to reach maturity?
Ebony trees take about 100+ years to grow to a large, tall size of 50 feet. Mankind knows very little about this tree, which is why we have a team of scientists studying it.
6. Why did you choose to plant 1,500 of them and 1,500 fruit trees as well?
Our ebony planting program helps a village to combine useful crops of fruit alongside the ebony. This makes the land profitable for them on an annual basis while the ebony grows quietly in the background. This year, we planted 1,500 ebony trees and 1,500 fruit trees simply because that is how many trees were available and ready to be planted. We expect many more to be ready next year.
7. Are there certain parts of your guitars that use this wood like the necks, bodies, and tops?
We use ebony primarily for the fingerboard and the bridge. Sometimes for decorative elements, which are not necessarily essential to the guitar, but rather a way to use more of the wood that a tree gives.
8. How many of your guitars use this kind of wood?
We use ebony on every guitar model we make.
9. Why are ebony trees in a vulnerable state, and how many are left?
The IUCN-Red List is the world’s most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of biological species. IUCN currently lists West African ebony as Vulnerable. The Congo Basin Institute estimates that there are some 30 million ebony trees scattered across its native range in Central West Africa.
10. How important is sustainability to your company?
Sustainability is of utmost importance. Without it our company would cease to exist one day. We make guitars from wood, so we have started planting trees. Not just ebony. We have other growing projects with other species elsewhere.
Image Credit: Chris Sorenson/Taylor Guitars