Now on to the reality check. J Gibson McIlvain doesn’t deal in Ebony. We have found it not to be a commercially viable trade and have many luthier customers who make outstanding instruments that have moved to different species with the same great hardness, stability, and even tonal quality (for parts other than fret boards). As a hardwood importer we have been aware of some of the waste and unethical logging practices that go on in the forest for many many years. We stay away from it entirely and only source viable and legal material. First because the US Lacey act demands we do so, second (and most importantly) because it is the right thing to do. So I respond to Mr Taylor by saying, welcome to the party! We are so glad you have joined us in these realizations. The truth is, Ebony is not the only species suffering from B grade worthlessness. Nor is it the first species where suddenly B grade has become acceptable. Look at North American woods. There was a time when no one would ever take Cherry with sapwood in it. Today it is a fact of life. Walnut used to be knot free, wide, and long. Today “character” wood is even sought after. Nature is imperfect and today’s designs seek to celebrate that by showcasing the imperfections that make the wood B grade (or whatever the grading system used) in the first place. Whether the B grade acceptance is by choice or by necessity this shift is far from new and certainly not limited to Ebony.
What is outstanding about Bob Taylor’s video is that he is not a lumber importer by trade. His job is to make guitars. Of course in the process of that, he needs to buy exotic woods. The point being that those of us who buy lumber full time have known this for a while and have been trying to convince our customers to take B grade material. Now we are seeing a manufacturer (AKA one of our customers) coming to this realization on their own and taking a leadership role to make a change. This greater awareness is what is needed because the virtual monopoly Taylor has over the Ebony market and his ability to dictate to the market just doesn’t happen in other species. We need more than one man to say B grade is acceptable. We can push Sapele that isn’t as wide or long but still just as beautiful all day long but until others begin to do the same, it will always be B grade and unacceptable. Other companies will continue to sort only for the A grade and provide that to the market. The reality is that North America is the biggest offender. Europe and Asia are already buying B and C grade material.
Sustainable forestry practices are not new and many excellent sawmills are following them around the world. To deny that illegal logging happens is folly, but we need to celebrate the mills that are doing it right as well as create for them a market to sell the B grade material. As long as this other material remains not worthwhile, it will always be at risk of being needlessly cut down and left to rot. As soon as we create a market for it, then the poachers that still exist will find that they can make a living logging legally because they no longer have to sneak around protected lands.
We have said it before on this blog. We have to buy exotic lumber to keep the forests healthy. If the market crashes because a species is banned then the land owner suddenly has no way to maintain value in their investment other than selling the land for palm plantations or cattle grazing land. Ebony is just a tiny tip of the iceberg.