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“Dear Sir,
A few months ago I placed my first order with you and built my very first guitar. Ovangkol back and sides with Sitka top.
I have been a craftsman for a number of years, rebuilding antique pianos, including making new soundboards and bridges, and decided to try my hand at guitars after buying a Taylor 814ce.
The results of my first attempt were surprising, to me and to others. Since I'm a bit "old-school" I built it entirely by hand, no table saw, router, joiner etc. (I did use a drill press!). I have already received requests for custom made guitars, and from a store interested in selling them.
It really helped to find quality supplies, all in one place, so I could start this experiment - which may just turn out to be my next and final career.
Many Thanks.
ps. I have just placed a second order so I can start making a few more......”

- Jon Ballard

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HARVESTING AFRICAN BLACKWOOD IN MOZAMBIQUE

The situation on the ground prepared during a visit by Adriana Dinu, Fauna and Flora International (2002)


African Blackwood
is harvested in the northern provinces of Mozambique. The high quality of the wood in this region is suitable for musical instrument manufacture. Best timber is used to make clarinets, oboes and bagpipes for musicians around the world. The quantity of supply is controlled through government regulations.

African Blackwood is a slow growing tree that regenerates from root suckers and stumps. Mature trees grow as simple individuals within the savannah.

At the beginning of the year, the forestry authorities of the provinces where Blackwood occurs receive instructions from Central Government about the quantity of Blackwood that can be cut in that year. Then individuals or groups from the villages located in the growing area apply for cutting licenses within this quota. The forestry authority allocates the quota deciding how much can be cut by the different groups and individuals. This procedure guarantees that income generated by harvesting remains in the local area. After that, the village groups and enterprises discuss with the local company the required quantities and qualities.

For many years, the harvesting of Blackwood has mainly been undertaken by the same groups and individuals. The foreman from the company goes with the local crew to the area of harvesting to select the trees for harvesting. He makes sure that only those trees which are suitable to provide logs of the right size and quality for musical instrument manufacture will be felled. The foreman shares his experience by explaining the factors needed for selecting the trees. In this way trees are not felled wastefully. Most of the African Blackwood trees are not felled, because of the form of growth, diameter and visible defects. Once the tree is cut, the top parts and branches are separated and given to local people for use as fuel wood or for carvings.

The extraction of round logs is an extremely gentle procedure, because of the dry savannah conditions where the trees grow. The trees of all the different timber species, including those of Blackwood, are scattered within their woodland habitat. Due to the dry open savannah conditions, transport vehicles can approach the trees without needing roads and without damaging the forest. Good trees may grow up to one mile apart.

The logs are cut by hand saw. The selectively felled logs are extracted and dispatched to the collection point without huge machinery by tractor. At the collection point the logs are weighed so that payments can be made to the logging crew.

Because local people benefit from the harvesting, the value of looking after the forest is recognized and pressures of fire clearance and other forms of woodland modification are reduced. The human population density is very low and therefore huge regions where African Blackwood grows are nearly untouched. Furthermore, natural vegetative regeneration from root sucker and stumps assures the continuing existence of African Blackwood.

Sustainable natural regeneration was discussed during the Fauna & Flora workshop on African Blackwood held in Maputo in 1995. Information presented at the workshop showed that new growth each year exceeds many times the annual cut. The annual cut in Mozambique in 2002 was about 500 tons. The logging is controlled by the respective local forestry, financial and tax authorities in the provinces and is supervised by the central government. During the transport of the wood from the growing area to the harbour there are several regular road check points. Controls by agricultural and financial authorities are made regarding origin and quantities of the African Blackwood as well as the validity of all necessary licenses.

Nearly the whole quantity of African Blackwood felled in Mozambique is used for the manufacture of musical instruments and for carving by the Makonde people. Small quantities are also used for the manufacture of special turned items.

The whole process of harvesting Blackwood is based on well established tradition and on understanding of the resource for many generations. As long as careful management continues, the supplies of Blackwood should be guaranteed for the future.