Magazine article Guitar Player

The Long View: Sowing the Seeds of a Sustainable Future for Taylor Guitars

Magazine article Guitar Player

The Long View: Sowing the Seeds of a Sustainable Future for Taylor Guitars

Article excerpt

ENSURING THAT TAYLOR GUITARS WILL HAVE THE woods it needs to produce instruments far into the future has become a top priority for Bob Taylor, who understands perhaps more clearly than anyone in the guitar manufacturing industry what is at stake if measures are not taken to create and/or preserve habitats for essential tonewoods such as ebony, mahogany, maple, and spruce. Having placed much of the responsibility for guitar design in the hands of the Ober-talented Andy Powers, Taylor has freed himself to concentrate on the heavy lifting that's required to create sustainable harvesting operations in various parts of the world--from as nearby as the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii to as far away as Tasmania and the West African nation of Cameroon.

As Taylor sees it, what's on the line here is the viability of his company into the distant future, and it takes someone with extraordinary vision and sense of responsibility to expend the time and financial resources in order to achieve a goal that is well beyond his lifetime. It's a high-stakes challenge for Taylor, who is steering his company along a path that points to a whole new way of thinking about how we deal with the world's diminishing resources. I sat down with Bob Taylor at Summer NAMM in Nashville in July to learn more about what he is doing to stay ahead of the forces that are endangering many of the woods we take for granted on our guitars.

Give us an overview of the current status of wood procurement at Taylor.

It's really the law to know where your wood comes from now, and every piece of wood we get is vetted pretty closely When you think about guitars, of course, every wood we, as an industry use, is a poster child for everything that's endangered or close to it, so a lot of real corrective action needs to be taken to make sure that the wood we get from everywhere--whether it's traditional wood or a new wood--is copacetic all the way through. A lot of people feel that we need to be discovering new species of wood, but, in reality, there's no new frontier. Any new species we get will still come from a forest, and is still going to come from an exotic place, and is still is going to receive the same potential mistreatment as any other wood. So there's really a multi-pronged approach with wood procurement. Sometimes, you go out and find a new species and you sustainably harvest it--like the "black" wood we get from Tasmania, or black heart sassafras. These are dead or dying trees on private ranches, and they're being taken out by someone who has been there for a long time, and who knows every rancher in the area. These are trees that are coming out anyway, and rather than being turned into, firewood, they're turned into something that's valuable in the form of guitars. So the farmer gets some money, the cutter plants new trees in their place, and propogates a cradle-to-grave practice.

How far does that approach go toward supplying the needs of your company?

Well, it's a really great story, but it's not going to feed the world with guitars. We think a lot about our food sources now, and how we all need to grow organic stuff, but the fact is, there's not enough organic food to feed the world. And so while some of us can go that direction, others can't. So you also have to fix the mainstream problem, too--not just what you can buy at Whole Foods or something like that.

So then we come back to our normal wood, and we start looking deeper into the future. I think a lot of your readers are probably aware that we own an ebony mill in Cameroon. The reason we bought that mill is to take over the governance of how it's done, and to improve the ethics, the sustainability, and the return on that wood that the people in the country get. Because the government is getting its fees and taxes-- which is good--but it's the people involved in it that really need better pay, better conditions, and a better future. So I'm spending a great deal of my time and a great deal of Taylor Guitars' energy and resources to improve this particular system. …

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