The genie? Kevin Blackman, with two guitar tops. One (on left) spent years in a stream
  • The genie? Kevin Blackman, with two guitar tops. One (on left) spent years in a stream
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“San Diegans could be growing their guitars in their front yard,” says Scott Paul.

Say what?

Ebony doesn’t have to be black. Taylor helped gain acceptance for varied colorings

“Yes! Thousands of trees reach the end of their life cycle, and what happens? Too often, cities will mulch them. But instead of destroying these trees, the private sector could be turning them into guitars, furniture, flooring. We need to reforest and recycle San Diego.”

Taylor Guitars

1980 Gillespie Way, El Cajon

He’s serious about the guitar part. Paul is a veteran from Greenpeace who’s now Taylor Guitars’ sustainability guy.

And co-founder Bob Taylor is serious about sustainable guitars. Apart from ideas such as reforesting urban San Diego, he and Scott Paul want to save the ebony forests of Cameroon in West Africa, and rescue the endangered koa trees of Hawaii. Why? Because they use West African ebony for their fingerboards and bridges, and they use Hawaiian Acacia koa for guitar backs, sides, and tops.

Revolutionary “V” bracing beneath top board. Taylor has the patent for 10 years

Except that’s not the whole story. “Yes we need woods, sometimes exotic woods, to make our guitars,” says Paul. “But Bob really cares about the natural world that his livelihood depends on, and he just made a decision to become part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

So when Taylor started hearing that stocks of ebony trees in the forests of Cameroon, were likely to last another 30 years, he started worrying about what happens 40 years from now, or 50. So he decided to start replanting koa in Hawaii and ebony in Cameroon.

Paul’s taking me on a tour of their huge, modern, and oh-so-clean factory near Gillespie Field. We’re in a workspace where two guys, Michael Van Buren and Kevin Blackman, are adding bracing to the backs of guitars in what they say is a revolutionary “V” shape, rather than the “X” struts guitar-makers have used for the past 200 years. “You get an increase in power and sustain,” says Michael.

Scott Paul shows Fijian mahogany for guitar necks

It turns out the back he’s working on is from a log that has lain in an African stream for decades. The result is a water-stained striped wood far more interesting than wood from live trees. “Again, Bob hates waste, and started using all those logs that had been just dumped,” says Paul. He and Taylor are often over in Cameroon, supervising a timber mill Taylor bought, and also the replanting campaign they’ve initiated. They’re planning on planting 15,000 ebony seedlings in the first phase.

But you have to wonder: why? Ebony trees take 100 years to mature. Who’s going to be around to turn them into guitars?

“Well, one day I teased Bob on this exact point,” Paul says. “I said ‘We’ll both be long dead.’ He said, ‘Today, Taylor Guitars buys mahogany from Fiji that some long-dead British guy planted 80 years ago. Someday I want to be a long-dead American guy who planted trees that someone will make guitars from in the future.’”

And San Diego guitars from San Diego yard trees? “We’ve got a ways to go on that one. But it’s realistic. Reforesting San Diego will give us more oxygen, more shade, more happiness, and more guitars.”

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