Taylor Guitars, the 45-year-old acoustic guitar giant based in El Cajon, is playing a part in making the world a more sustainable place.
The guitar company last month announced the successful April planting of 1,500 West African ebony trees in Cameroon’s Congo Basin, part of a reforestation initiative begun by Taylor Guitars co-founder Bob Taylor in 2011 called “The Ebony Project.”
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has classified the species as vulnerable.
The Ebony Project is a partnership between Taylor Guitars, several local farming communities in West Africa and a group of researchers working to keep the tree, known scientifically as Diospyros crassiflora Hiern, flourishing in the region.
The Ebony Project is said to be the largest known planting of West African ebony.
“I’ve dedicated most of my life to building the best guitars I can make,” Taylor said. “Taylor is known for its high standards of quality and performance, but now I want to make sure we’re also creating a better future for ebony and leaving more than enough resources for generations of instrument builders long after I’m gone. That’s why this planting is so meaningful.”
Taylor Guitars produce nearly 150,000 guitars a year. All of the ebony used for Taylor’s guitars come from the trees of Cameroon.
Ebony is the only wood the company uses for its fretboards, the part of the guitar also known as fingerboards. The fretboard is a thin, long strip of wood laminated to the front of the neck of the instrument.
Taylor Guitars and Madinter International purchased the Crelicam ebony mill in Yaoundé, Cameroon eight years ago with the goal to create a legal, socially responsible value chain for ebony musical instrument components, according to Scott Paul, Taylor’s director of natural resource sustainability.
Taylor has worked alongside the West African mill workers, having installed state-of-the-art machinery to process the wood to Taylor’s specs, and trains Crelicam employees to operate and maintain the machines.
Paul, who lives in Carlsbad, is the former forest campaign director at Greenpeace USA. He was in Cameroon for the April ebony tree planting. He started working for Taylor in 2017, a few months after Taylor Guitars partnered with the Congo Basin Institute, also in Yaoundé, to better understand the basic ecology of West African ebony.
The institute’s founding co-director Thomas Smith is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UCLA. Smith has worked in Cameroon with the institute for more than 30 years and is also the founding director of the Center for Tropical Research, Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA.
With Smith and the Congo Basin Institute, Taylor Guitars launched a community-based livelihood program focused on restoration of the ebony tree species, working separately but in a partnership with the ebony mill. Paul said that in addition to ebony trees, the program also includes the planting of a number of locally used fruit trees such as avocado, African cherry, wild mango and papaya, as well as medicinal trees.
The hope is to have 20,000 trees in all planted by 2020, Paul said. As the project works to add trees to the area, it is at the same time providing jobs to more than 100 rural residents, promoting science and ecological research.
Paul said he estimates that Taylor has poured close to $1 million of his own money into funding the program, which relies on small farmers to tend the seedlings until they can grow on their own.
Paul said the program “wouldn’t be happening except for one local San Diegan,” he added, referring to Taylor, the Jamul resident whose guitar empire started at a little music store in Lemon Grove back in 1974.
“For almost 44 years, I’ve invested my life into building one of the world’s best guitar companies, and now together with our Crelicam partner Madinter, we face the challenge of creating a better future for ebony,” Taylor said. “To say this is one the greatest challenges of my life would be an understatement. But it’s also one of the most rewarding.”