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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000127.txt from 1994/09

From: Martin Brown <martinb@-----.AU>
Subj: Interesting doco on the Mpingo tree (African Blackwood)
Date: Mon, 19 Sep 1994 10:47:34 -0400

I saw a documentary yesterday on the Mpingo tree which is used for clarinets,
oboes, stringed instrument finger boards and chin brackets and the black piano
keys on some pianos. It is also known as Ebony, African Grenadillo and African
Blackwood. It was an hour long doco narrated by David Attenborough. Here are
some interesting facts:

- The Mpingo is grown mostly in Tanzania.
- Each tree takes about 70 years to mature to harvest grade.
- It is the world's most expensive timber costing about $10,000 per
cubic metre.
- The tree looks really scraggly, has a jet black heart and lightish, yellow
- When cut for instrument manufacture, 90% of the tree is discarded at the
timber yard.
- Some trees are up to 300 years old.
- The current rate of depletion of the tree is 5% per year which means that in
20 years at the current rates of cutting, natural replacement and re-planting,
there is about 20 years supply left before the tree becomes economically

There was an interesting contrast between the way the tree is handled by the
Tanzanians who use the wood for carving. When they cut down a tree they cushion
its fall by piling up small branches under where the tree will fall. Later there
was a shot of collectors for the saw mill dropping the logs off the back of the
truck onto the ground with a large bang! (And Buffet-Crampon wonder why 5% of
their clarinet bells explode on the lathe because of internal hairline cracks!)

The doco pointed out that the current cost of the wood for instruments is about
half what it should be to encourage proper management of the timber to ensure
its supply and economic value to Tanzania. And lets face it, clarinets are very
cheap compared to other instruments. If the wood was more expensive, then
students would delay replacing their plastic clarinets with wooden ones and so
you wouldn't have wooden clarinets being used for situations where a plastic
one would suit just as well. Also, there would be more incentive for research
into alternative materials for clarinets. Also, uses which don't require the
wood for it's unique properties would dwindle - such as for piano keys.

Martin Brown, Telectronics Pacing Systems
Sydney, Australia
Ph: (61 2) 413 6973 Email:

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