President of Taylor Guitars, Bob Taylor, used a YouTube video to make a surprising but strong statement about the North American penchant for buying only A Grade lumber: It’s unnecessary and wasteful.
Why does his opinion matter? Well, it might not, except when we’re talking about Ebony. Why? While Taylor Guitars isn’t technically in the lumber importing business, the company has attained a virtual monopoly over the Ebony market and has a pretty good incentive for wanting the Ebony market to remain healthy. While J. Gibson McIlvain does not deal in Ebony, the issues that Taylor Guitars has raised and the assertions they’re making are near and dear to our hearts and relate to many species other than Ebony.
The Extreme Situation for Ebony
In his 13-minute video, Taylor explains that a startling 9 Ebony trees rot on the forest floor for every A grade tree harvested. Those trees left to rot aren’t unusable; their appearance just isn’t exactly what’s considered most desirable. Just like odd-length or otherwise differently sized lumber of various species, it seems that many lumber customers too easily allow trends or norms to influence their purchases. Not only does such a closed-minded approach mean paying more than you need to, but it also negatively impacts the lumber industry and viability of forestry.
North American buyers are the biggest offenders in this regard; Asian and European markets are far more willing to accept B or C grade lumber. (The U.S. lumber market has become somewhat infamous for its unique requirements of all kinds, including length and thickness.)
The Reason Waste Is a Problem
There are two main reasons we need to care about how our lumber is sourced and at what cost: legality and ethical responsibility. As another guitar company, Gibson Guitars, found out the hard way, Lacey Act compliance is a serious matter. But we believe in doing the right thing whether it’s legally required or not. So protecting the ecosystem and the future of forests by refusing to allow unnecessary waste is a big deal to us. At times, we’ve acted on this principle by no longer keeping certain species in stock; we’re that passionate about respecting our natural resources.
The Future of B Grade Lumber
When B grade becomes acceptable, it’s usually because there’s no other option. Taylor Guitars is refusing to allow perfectly good Ebony to rot away, so they’re making guitars with it. This scenario with Ebony is unique in that it’s able to be controlled, but a similar situation can occur with other species.
For instance, Cherry with sapwood was once considered worthless, but today, it’s just about the only option you have if you want Cherry at all. Walnut was once available in wide, long, knot-free boards, but that’s no longer the case. Now character-grade Walnut is celebrated, and so-called imperfections are being showcased in designs. Either by necessity or by choice, once a market is established for B grade lumber, the forest becomes more valuable, and its future more secure.