In late 2011, Taylor Guitars and Madinter Trade, S.L, an international distributor of guitars and tonewoods used to make musical instruments, partnered to purchase Crelicam, an ebony mill located outside of Yaoundé, Cameroon. The new ownership shares a forward-thinking vision for the procurement and milling of ebony, one that offers both investment and enrichment to the local community and ensures that ebony is legally, sustainably and ethically harvested.
Ebony has long been used by our industry for instrument components such as fingerboards. Over the years, a combination of market demands, poor economic conditions in supplying countries like Cameroon, and lack of sufficient forest management has caused ebony to be sold at a devalued rate. Such factors have led to depressed economic conditions for suppliers, low worker wages, and an environment of irresponsible procurement.
Taylor-Madinter is actively committed to changing this. The company began by closely examining the realities of ebony sourcing in the forests of Cameroon, which is considered the last frontier for ebony. Much like other tonewoods, ebony grows with varying degrees of color variegation. In fact, only about one out of every 10 ebony trees features the uniformly black color that has long been the standard within our industry. This historic preference for black ebony, along with primitive logging methods and the lack of proper forest management, has led to considerable waste. Because the variegated heartwood has had little value to the industry, local loggers would typically cut down ebony trees until they found one with the desirable black heartwood and leave the other felled trees behind. No more. With this knowledge, says Taylor Guitars co-founder Bob Taylor, our industry no longer has the luxury of expecting exclusively black ebony.
“We need to use the ebony that the forest gives us,” emphasizes Bob, who has personally met with a number of other prominent guitar manufacturers since the Crelicam purchase to spread awareness of the new realities regarding ebony sourcing. While the current conditions don’t mean that the days of all-black ebony are entirely gone, they do mean that if we want to ensure a sustainable ebony supply for future generations of instruments and players, we must embrace greater cosmetic diversity.
For Crelicam employees in Cameroon, many of whom support extended families, Taylor-Madinter has made significant improvements in both their working conditions and pay. The company now operates in alignment with U.S. Labor laws, and the workers’ wages have been doubled. Taylor-Madinter’s long-term goal is to train the employees to process the ebony into a better semi-finished product at the mill. This will add more value to the ebony, create more jobs, and enable the Cameroonian people to reap a greater economic benefit from their native resource.
Through its ownership of Crelicam, Taylor-Madinter has a direct presence in Cameroon and owns the necessary permits to legally acquire ebony. For instrument-making clients who rely on the wood, and for the owners of Taylor and other guitars, the company provides the assurance that the fretboards, bridges and other ebony parts used on a guitar have been acquired legally and ethically, with a commitment to long-term sustainability.