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Thread: VIDEO - Royal Blackwood : The most important product in luthiery?

  1. #1
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    Default VIDEO - Royal Blackwood : The most important product in luthiery?



    Ebony forests are in danger, and that Royal Blackwood makes for an excellent ebony substitute, it is probably the most important product for luthiery that I can think of.

    Purple heart tree is twice as big as a Gaboon ebony tree.
    Also, purpleheart is roughly twice as stable (ie it shrinks/expands in all directions half as much) as Gaboon ebony. (see picture a few posts below)

    To give some perspective, most solo Luthiers like me make 10-15 instruments a year. We don't pose an impact on ebony forests. However, Gibson make approx 170,000 a guitars year, Fender 208,000 (in 2007), Taylor 130,000, Martin 107,000 (based on serial numbers 2018-2019) PRS about 15,000 a year. According to The Music Trades website's industry census of the United States guitar market, there are about 2.5 million guitars sold each year in the US.

    It is only when these large factories move towards ebony substitutes will the inevitable loss of ebony forests be diminished.
    Last edited by Beau Hannam Ukuleles; 04-20-2021 at 05:42 AM.

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    Thanks for that video Beau. Very comprehensive.
    Michael Smith
    Goat Rock Ukulele
    www.goatrockukulele.com

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    I am sorry but I cannot disgree with you more strongly Beau. Forest management alongside innovation and re-education is the way forward. 'Black' wood is not the default fingerboard material - Rickenbakker prove that everydaeen gracing luthier supply house shelves over the last 40 years.y! Imitating the 'real thing' will not suppress demand, it will simply drive it into the BR buffaloes dropping ground. Ebony will still be in demand, still be requested and still be used by builders large and small.

    Another thing - torrified wood is untested - and correct me if I am wrong but purpleheart has quite an open pore texture doesn't it, unlike its cousin greenheart which would make an excellent substitute for ebony...

    I applaud your review. I cannot however for the life of me see any benefit in pimping out this imposter in the hope it will save the ebony forests - I think that horse is way out of the barn and on the open range by now. I suspect this has more to do with diluting Taylor's monopoly held on the supply of musical grade ebony into the US than some moral and noble cause to save the industry from bankrupting its wood supply chain. I am not an optimist where this is concerned since it is 4th or 5th in a line of 'substitutes' that has found its way onto luthiers' supply house shelves for the last 40 years to be the next 'ebony replacement'. In the words of Bob Gleeson when he first saw my work all those years ago, "We'll see how long (it) lasts". We will.
    Last edited by Pete Howlett; 04-19-2021 at 04:03 PM.

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    Hey Beau,

    Just wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed learning about the properties of these materials. I love my instruments, but leave the wood shop to others, yet I watched the video with interest. Now I want to see the next chapter: how will the royal blackwood respond under your hands?

    Looking forward to seeing what happens next with royal blackwood in your shop.

    Bluesy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Smith View Post
    Thanks for that video Beau. Very comprehensive.
    My pleasure

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bluesy View Post
    Hey Beau,

    Just wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed learning about the properties of these materials. I love my instruments, but leave the wood shop to others, yet I watched the video with interest. Now I want to see the next chapter: how will the royal blackwood respond under your hands?

    Looking forward to seeing what happens next with royal blackwood in your shop.

    Bluesy.
    Thanks, I forgot to mention in the video that the two pieces I got were also very stiff.
    I also recently heard it cnc's well, akin to being between ebony and rosewood- this isn't important to me (i don't use a cnc, but its very important for factories.

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    Pete,
    Nothing I said contradicts the logic of what you said, so there shouldn't be any disagreement as none exists.

    Firstly, of course forest management is the first line of defense for forests. However as it also the first line of money making. Cleared land then becomes used for crops to feed the world.
    So I have absolutely no faith in any forest management to save any forest.

    2- For thousands of years (think the Egyptian Pharaohs) black ebony has been used for its beauty, rarity, and for stringed instrument makers, hardness for fingerboards. Thes desire for hard and black is the default fingerboard material and won't be diminished over time, if we can take anything from history. Rickenbacker is like any other guitar company who use also use rosewood for fingerboards. However if by some miracle the world defaulted to only ever using rosewood for fingerboards, we are back at the same place- endangered rosewood.
    Therefore a sustainable substitute is needed.

    3- Yes torrefied wood is largely untested in luthiery. So we should test it with a vision for the future.

    4- I don't care if the species used is purple heart, greenheart, poplar or pine- the sustainable species matters little to me.
    What matters is a viable substitute.

    5- It matters not if this is the 1st or 5th interpretation (attempt) for a viable ebony substitute. I know of (in order [i think] of invention- Dyed Poplar (etc), Richlite, Rocklite, Royal Blackwood)- each one moves closer to the real thing than the one before it. There will surely be more adaptations of faux ebony and we can and should think they will continue to get better with technology.
    Don't disqualify the attempts at perfection.

    6- I don't see this as a power play against Taylor but more simply as a sign of the times.
    The world is imploding due to population and certain trajectories need correcting, as Thanos pointed out.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pete Howlett View Post
    I am sorry but I cannot disgree with you more strongly Beau. Forest management alongside innovation and re-education is the way forward. 'Black' wood is not the default fingerboard material - Rickenbakker prove that everydaeen gracing luthier supply house shelves over the last 40 years.y! Imitating the 'real thing' will not suppress demand, it will simply drive it into the BR buffaloes dropping ground. Ebony will still be in demand, still be requested and still be used by builders large and small.

    Another thing - torrified wood is untested - and correct me if I am wrong but purpleheart has quite an open pore texture doesn't it, unlike its cousin greenheart which would make an excellent substitute for ebony...

    I applaud your review. I cannot however for the life of me see any benefit in pimping out this imposter in the hope it will save the ebony forests - I think that horse is way out of the barn and on the open range by now. I suspect this has more to do with diluting Taylor's monopoly held on the supply of musical grade ebony into the US than some moral and noble cause to save the industry from bankrupting its wood supply chain. I am not an optimist where this is concerned since it is 4th or 5th in a line of 'substitutes' that has found its way onto luthiers' supply house shelves for the last 40 years to be the next 'ebony replacement'. In the words of Bob Gleeson when he first saw my work all those years ago, "We'll see how long (it) lasts". We will.
    Last edited by Beau Hannam Ukuleles; 04-21-2021 at 04:39 AM.

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    Purple heart tree is twice as big as a Gaboon ebony tree.
    Also, purpleheart is roughly twice as stable (ie it shrinks/expands in all directions half as much) as Gaboon ebony

    Screen Shot 2021-04-20 at 9.16.34 AM by Beau Hannam, on Flickr
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by Beau Hannam Ukuleles; 04-20-2021 at 05:43 AM.

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    Out of the 6 commission inquiries I've had this year to date, five of the customers specifically asked for "sustainable" or "alternative" wood choices, including ebony fretboard alternatives. Yes, this is a tiny sample size, but I don't think this is so much a matter of suppliers or builders trying to force a concept on customers as much as it is suppliers trying to catch up to what people are already asking for. Heck, many mainstream brands are already offering man made ebony alternatives (i.e. Gibson using Richlite). Big manufacturers have pivoted away from traditional tonewoods plenty of times in the past, there's a good track record of that happening.

    Pete, what sort of testing would you want to happen with torrified wood before it was acceptable? Fender, Warmoth, Jackson, Charvel and others have been making necks and fretboards from torrified wood for years. It doesn't seem to have penetated the ukulele market yet but it's acceptable and even desirable from a marketing perspective among guitar builders.

    I haven't tried this new material yet, but I do like purpleheart for fretboards and have used it many times. I'm looking forward to trying this some time soon.

    As a child, I grew up playing a piano that had been handed down through 4 generations of my family before me. It has real ivory keys on it. I'm sure there was a point in time when some people felt that real ivory keys would always be in demand on pianos and synthetic substitutes (like the acrylic that's on pretty much every piano in the local music shop) would never catch on.

  10. #10
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    I never use endangered woods as a matter of principle, and personally prefer more colourful woods for fingerboards, especially Pear, Apple, London Plane, Olive, etc., however for those who do like darker woods for fingerboards, I'd recommend Ovangkol, Bog Oak, Laburnum, etc..
    I am a luthier specialising in historical and world stringed instruments. You can see more info at my website.

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