As the holidays are upon us, we celebrate our existence with our fellow human beings through religion, through science and through tradition. A man can travel around the world, step off a plane and be given a genuine holiday greeting far from where he’s familiar or comfortable. It’s a reminder as to how small our planet truly is. While we sit across from one another, breaking bread around the world, while we appreciate the open arms of our friends and family, it’s also important that we acknowledge the amazing world beneath our feet.
“I realized that I’m the guy that’s gonna walk across the threshold of ‘forests the way they were’ and ‘forests the way the way they will be.’ We’re the first ones that can see the light of day through the forest”, explains Bob Taylor of Taylor Guitars. “...And by the way, the light of day is a bad thing to see through the forest. You’ve got that tension going on in your head. What can I do about it? Do I pretend it’s not happening? I’m a guitar maker – I use this wood. What can I do? If you look out way into the future, a hundred years from now, I know that guitars will be there being played in people’s homes ... Will Taylor be doing it out of wood? I believe we will... [sic] When I go there and I see where the wood comes from, I knew it intellectually, but when you come and you smell it, and you walk up through it, and you trudge through it and you meet the people that do it, it blows my mind. I’ve always gotten my ebony from Cameroon and I was beginning to think, “Is there ebony forever?” Eventually I found out.”
For many years, ebony wood was the preferred wood of choice for many guitar components, and an attribute that many makers required was it’s rich, dark color. When foresters would harvest ebony trees, if they’d come across a tree that wasn’t the right color inside, it would be left on the forest floor to rot. Half of all ebony trees at one time were disregarded this way. Upon visiting one of Taylor’s supplying forests, Bob Taylor was emotional to find out how much timber was being wasted, and of that timber, how much was beautiful, under-appreciated wood. The decision was made that Taylor would expand their involvement and not only be the ones to put the finishing touches on their instruments, but also to now be involved with the acquisition of their most prized materials. Building a Taylor factory in the middle of Cameroon is a task one might speculate merely takes adequate funding, but Bob and his team quickly learned, as with many ventures pursued outside the home land, there are hidden hurdles to conquer. But, with the same selfless mindset that sought to preserve the forest and make make use of this beautiful wood, Taylor took a ‘two birds’ aim at their goal and decided to once again make a decision that gave as much as it took. “I started with the people,” says Charlie Redden, Taylor’s Director of Supply Chain. “I started with the employees to show them that we can do this, but I need their help. I can’t do this alone and Bob can’t do this alone… We want Crelicam to be a company in Cameroon, ran by the people that live there. We want them to have the sense of pride that’s not just cutting wood for the guitar industry, the music industry, but for their livelihood, but they’re actually making a product that they can sell on the world market that they can call their own, not just someone else’s business.”
Taylor’s efforts did not go unnoticed for their positive changes to the ebony trade market. They explain their reward online: “Our efforts to transform Crelicam and the ebony trade in Cameroon were recognized by the U.S. government with the Secretary of State’s 2013 Award for Corporate Excellence (ACE). The annual award recognizes U.S.-owned businesses that play vital roles around the world as good corporate citizens in supporting sustainable development, respect for human and labor rights, environmental protection, open markets, transparency, and other democratic values.At a ceremony in January of 2014, held at the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C., Secretary of State John Kerry presented Bob Taylor with the award, which acknowledged “environmentally and socially responsible sourcing, harvesting, and milling of ebony, including conserving ebony stocks by raising consumer awareness; enhancing local incomes by hiring local workers; training workers to use state-of-the art equipment; and encouraging Cameroonian legal and policy reforms to improve transparency and traceability of logging permits and respect for the rights and needs of other forest users.””
Taylor Guitars is well aware that nothing lasts forever, but with a resource as indispensable as the trees of our planet’s forest they have taken their obligation to ‘give as much as they take’ very seriously. While talking to suppliers, Bob Taylor was told there was an ample amount of ebony to last forever; a good thirty years or more. While thirty years may feel like an eternity to some, a company as big as Taylor knows that once a resource that takes decades to replace has been depleted, if actions haven’t been taken early enough, there won’t be a way to replace that asset. So why not just find the next location to harvest? Taylor’s Ebony Project revolved around the answer to that question. Like any other company, they strive to expand in every aspect a business is capable of, but not at the cost of the environment.
“The start of the plantation nursery that we have started really small,” says Vidal de Teresa, General Director of Madinter, a company in Madrid known for their selection and treatment of wood designed for a variety of musical instruments. “We quickly realized that we needed someone to help us and teach us because we didn’t know a thing on how to plant ebony.” Their first trials with the ebony seeds were all but a failure and instead of chalking it up as a good attempt, they increased their efforts until they saw positive results. “There’s actually no bibliography, how to plant it or how to disseminate the seed,” Vidal continues. “Then, suddenly something incredible happened. We found ourselves with the right person at the right place. It was pure coincidence.”
Taylor found themselves nose to nose with Dr. Tom Smith and his Congo Basin Institute (CBI). “We’re losing rain forest at an alarming rate, and with the loss of rain forest we lose species that occur in the rain forest that provide all sorts of benefits to human kind. About 50% of our pharmaceuticals come from nature, and when we just cut down rain forest and don’t replenish it, that’s a real problem,” Dr, Smith explains. “If you’re going to study the ecology of a tree to understand how to sustainably grow it, you really need to know about it’s biology. So, that’s what we’re doing by understanding it’s pollinators, [sic] what disperses the tree, how to grow it effectively, how to grow it from seeds, but also how to grow it from tissues.”
In 2016, Bob Taylor and his wife Cindy pledged to finance the ebony research project within CBI. Their goal continues to be to better understand the ecology of ebony, to promote and oversee a community-driven planting program to enhance ebony stocks and to collect additional information that contributes to improvements on how ebony is produced and managed. The institute’s influences are reflected in the replanting efforts as Scott Paul, Director of Natural Resource Sustainability for Taylor, explains: “Agroforesty, as it’s currently envisioned and practiced in a place like Southern Cameroon, is taking a community forest or a forest reserve, and stocking it with trees that will someday be of commercial value or local utilization, but also inter-cropping a lot of fruit or medicine trees… So imagine just walking through a forest, and it’s almost like a cornucopia – everywhere you turn there’s purposefully planted, intentionally planted medicine trees, fruit trees of every variety. It’s almost like an overabundance that you’d see in a natural forest, but it’s planted. It also creates a very diverse ecosystem that provides habitat. We’re taking the resource, but not jeopardizing the ecosystem so it can be around for future generations.”
Taylor’s level of involvement with the Congo Basin Institute, Dr. Tom Smith, the Center for Tropical Research, the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, the International Bilingual Academy/High Institute of Environmental Science and all the other vital components of the Ebony Project, is what contributes to the pride behind the product for Taylor vendors, like our own Heartbreaker Guitars in Las Vegas. These beautiful, high-end instruments are not only built with the mindset of satisfying the customer’s needs, but also while giving back to the environment that’s supplying the resources necessary to produce these great guitars.
Visit Taylor’s website for more information on their incredible Ebony Project and be sure to visit Heartbreaker Guitars online or in person at their one of a kind Las Vegas guitar store. Heartbreaker Guitars is a proud Taylor Guitars dealer.
Contributor for Heartbreaker Guitars
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