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Flying Solo: Taylor Guitars' individual quest to save wood.

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If it is a wood that is viable, I have to commit to a certain amount. The worst thing that can happen is that you find a wood, test it out and market it, only to find out that you can''t get it. So we have to test whether they can actually continue cutting it, and whether we can keep getting it. Once we find out that they can cut the wood, we have to make some guitars. We''ll make 100 to 1500 guitars out of it and see how they sell. Promote it, get the model right.

If Tasmanian blackwood actually comes on as a species for us, it will be a seven-year cycle, from the time I start working on it to the time that I am actually making a model out of it and getting wood in.

A Taylor model with walnut back and sides
About ten years ago you guys put out the Cujo model, and that was walnut. That''s not exactly a traditional wood for a guitar.

No, and we''ve made a lot of walnut guitars over the years. We make 70,000 guitars a year, Martin makes 70,000 guitars a year and Gibson makes a third that many. With all of the American guitars made each year, 500 are made with Walnut.

That was a really successful guitar for you guys, right?

Yeah, and we still make walnut guitars. I bought an entire orchard that was being taken out about four years ago. We do well with walnut, but it won''t be rosewood. Getting people to change their minds about what they want is a long process. We actually spend probably three times the price of rosewood on walnut. With the walnut, none of these are forest trees - most of these are backyard trees or orchard trees - so there are a lot of mouths to feed.

You''ve always been at the cutting edge with manufacturing processes - does that lend itself to being green as well?

Well, yeah, because being green on this end is using all the wood. Let''s go back to the guitar necks. The amount of waste that comes from making a neck, in square footages, is probably equal to the neck itself.

We started making necks eight years ago where we actually cut the peghead apart and spliced the peghead together to get the angle and glued the block on, which is a Spanish or classical style of building, but is also a cheap Chinese style of building.

So there are times when I really stick my neck out and do what needs to be done, but there are some critics that think we''ve gone cheap by doing some of these things. They don''t realize that the decision was based on the fact that it is immoral to be throwing away all of these pieces of wood by taking a block of wood and cutting a neck shape out of it and having this ghastly, wasteful piece that left over.

From L to R: Bob Taylor, Fender''s Rob Stangelini, Gibson''s Dave Berryman, Martin''s Nick Colesante, and Greenpeace''s Scott Paul and Larry Edwards in Alaska.
You visited the spruce forests in Alaska with Greenpeace. What did you get out of going to Alaska and seeing the area firsthand?

I''ve been there before because I''ve gone up to log wood. The last time I went was 15 years prior to this trip and I went up there with my spruce provider. I just wanted to spend a whole week seeing how this was done - plus, I like camping.

I spent a lot of time in Alaska doing that, and this time when I went up it was great because I got a different perspective on it. My hosts were environmentalists - Scott Paul and a local Greenpeace employee on the ground who knows the area and has been doing work there for 25 years.

We were on a boat and we were able to go to places you normally can''t go, so we were able to see depleted areas, virgin areas, and second growth areas that have grown back - there are plants there, but it''s really not the forest it once was. I got a real, true picture of how much has been harvested and how much of this temperate rainforest, which is really unique in the world, is changing.

Even 15 years ago when I went up there and we were on sea planes flying low, you''d look and say, "There''s so much wood here, I don''t know how we could cut it all down." Then you round the bend and as far as the eye can see it''s all gone, and it only took them five years to cut it down. When you go up there, there''s a real sense that in less than 50 years, a place like Southeast Alaska could have every tree cut off of it.
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