Ever since its arrival midway through 2020, our American Dream Series has channeled the thoughtfully streamlined design philosophy that brought it to life: distill a professional-level acoustic guitar into its essential components to make the instruments as accessible as possible.
While the series was conceived and launched in the throes of a pandemic, that commitment to serving the fundamental needs of players transcends its origin story and gives these guitars evergreen appeal by putting a premium-grade Taylor guitar — all-solid-wood construction, U.S.-made, with tone-enhancing bracing, signature playability and comfort-boosting chamfered body edges — within reach of more customers. As a result, the series earned itself a permanent place in the Taylor guitar line as our best-priced all-solid-wood guitar collection.
And like most series in our line, the American Dream family has continued to evolve. Following its debut as a trio of musically versatile Grand Pacific models — the ovangkol/spruce AD17/AD17e, a blacktop edition, and the sapele/mahogany AD27/AD27e — in 2022, we introduced the uniquely voiced all-maple AD27e Flametop and the first small-body model within the series, the sapele/mahogany Grand Concert AD22e. On our blacktop models, we also transitioned from ovangkol back and sides to walnut.
This year, we’re excited to expand the series with a trio of new walnut/spruce models, each featuring a different body style. The common denominator is the aesthetic treatment: a tobacco sunburst top plus a firestripe pickguard that made its debut on the Flametop model. For the first time, the series will feature our Grand Theater (GT) body style with the AD11e-SB (the SB references the sunburst), along with the Grand Concert AD12e-SB and the Grand Pacific AD17e-SB. Between the different body shapes and fresh aesthetic treatment, it gives the series appealing diversity.
Classic Stage Presence
In keeping with the spirit of the American Dream design aesthetic, the appointment package with these models remains streamlined in terms of ornamentation. But the series was also designed with performing musicians in mind, and like the blacktop models, a sunburst adds instant stage (or video) appeal.
With these models, the combination of the tobacco sunburst, “firestripe” faux tortoiseshell pickguard, matte finish and other subtle touches beautifully complement each other. The lighter striping of the pickguard has a translucent quality that allows the burst to show through — giving the pickguard a rich golden glow toward the center of the guitar and a darker tobacco hue closer to the outer edge.
Another understated detail is the way the burst stops short of the edge of the spruce top to create the appearance of cream or maple binding, with a barely noticeable black purfling line creating a border. The rosette design ties in nicely, with alternating maple and black rings.
Like other American Dream models, the ultra-thin, open-pore matte finish on the body elevates the look, feel and sound. The muted sheen adds to the rootsy throwback vibe, especially on the top. On the back and sides, it allows the rich grain texture and other natural visual character of the walnut to come through in a way that players can feel. And sonically, it minimizes damping, giving the guitar a fast response that allows walnut’s natural tonal properties, especially its warm midrange, to resonate fully.
Other notable details include satin black tuners, a mahogany neck with a walnut stain whose color tones blend seamlessly with the walnut back and sides, a eucalyptus fretboard, bridge and peghead overlay, and D’Addario XS coated phosphor bronze strings. All three models come equipped with onboard ES2 electronics and a brown AeroCase.
Meet the Models
Grand Theater (GT) AD11e-SB
The AD11e-SB introduces our GT body style to the American Dream family, and with it a new feel and sonic flavor. Fans of small-body guitars will embrace the compact proportions, including a 24-1/8-inch scale length for a pleasantly slinky handfeel and easier reach along the fretboard. And with our C-Class bracing architecture under the hood, the GT combines a fast, vibrant attack with impressive low-end depth, making it one of the fullest-voiced small-body guitars you’ll play.
Grand Concert (GC) AD12e-SB
This small-body model features slightly larger proportions than the GT, but it retains an intimate feel that will appeal to players with a smaller frame or hands, or who want a focused voice for fingerstyle playing, recording or ensemble playing. Here, V-Class bracing is the voicing engine, which gives you ample dynamic punch if you’re a strummer with a lively attack.
Grand Pacific (GP) AD17e-SB
Our Grand Pacific body style is no stranger to the American Dream Series, and for players who lean toward dreadnought body styles, this versatile round-shoulder dread delivers. As with other Grand Pacific models, the GP is voiced with V-Class bracing to serve up clear low-end power that blends smoothly with a woody midrange and clear, assertive treble notes. It all adds up to a dynamic, full-range voice that serves a wide range of playing applications.
Over nearly five decades of Taylor history, being unencumbered by tradition has repeatedly proved to be one of our greatest strengths. It’s given us the creative freedom to continually explore new ideas and push the parameters of guitar-making in exciting new directions.
One ongoing area of exploration has been our use of tonewoods. Some of this has been fueled by our desire to discover new sonic flavors. And some of it has been guided by the modern-day realities of sourcing wood and the need to respect what the world’s forests can provide.
Over the last decade in particular, the environmental stewardship projects we’ve launched have strongly guided the wood sourcing choices we’ve made. You probably know of our work with ebony in Cameroon starting in 2011, including our adoption of long-overlooked variegated ebony for our fingerboards. In 2020, we introduced our first models featuring Shamel ash from end-of-life trees in need of removal from communities in California. And a few months ago, we debuted our koa 700 Series, featuring a new grade of Hawaiian koa that we discovered in the course of our forest restoration efforts in Hawaii.
Our guitar line is a carefully curated and always evolving musical ecosystem.
The truth is that our guitar line is a carefully curated and always evolving musical ecosystem. Despite our growth into a larger guitar company, we’ve managed to balance the need to create a stable, ethical supply chain with the ability to be nimble in response to the ever-changing world around us.
What Makes Good Guitar Wood?
There are many considerations that go into deciding which woods we choose to showcase within our guitar line, especially when we consider a new species that isn’t already associated with musical instruments. First and foremost, does it have physical characteristics that translate well into musical sounds? Equally important, is the wood workable — in other words, can it be cut, dried, sanded, bent, glued and transformed into a guitar without warping, cracking or causing other problems during production or after completion? Can it be ethically and economically sourced? Can we find a consistent level of quality? Is there a sufficient quantity to meet our supply needs for a foreseeable period of time? How long will it take to get it from a supplier? Does it bring something unique to our guitar menu? And if it’s a wood that’s essentially a newcomer to the acoustic guitar world, what will it take to captivate players? You get the picture.
Fortunately, as an established company with a strong guitar-making reputation, exacting production standards, a good track record of ethical business, and an enthusiastic customer base (thank you!), we carry a high level of credibility when we champion a new wood.
Also, we have a guitar designer named Andy Powers, who knows how to harness a tonewood’s musical virtues to the fullest.
Diversifying the Line
In this year’s first edition of Wood&Steel (Vol. 102), we talked with Andy about the ongoing evolution of guitar design at Taylor, and about his desire to bring greater musical diversity to our line. One way in which he’s moved the needle is in the nuanced voicing recipes he’s developed to differentiate models, especially after creating our patented V-Class and C-Class bracing platforms, which can be adapted in subtle ways based on the body shape, tonewood pairing and the tone profile he’s trying to elicit from the guitar. Those efforts, together with Andy’s body-style innovations over the last decade — introducing the Grand Orchestra, the Grand Pacific and Grand Theater; reinventing the Grand Symphony; and bringing 12-fret and 12-string configurations to the Grand Concert — have enormously expanded the palette of unique musical personalities in our line.
Part of the process of refining our guitar offerings is to look at our guitar line holistically and evaluate the relationship of one guitar series to the next. For example, with the recent reboot of our 700 Series, we were fortunate to gain access to a healthy supply of beautifully colored and striped Hawaiian koa that Andy felt deserved its own unique voicing and aesthetic treatment in the line, separate from our existing Koa Series. So where would be the right place for it to live? Somewhere, he thought, that would make an all-solid koa guitar a bit more accessible to customers.
In the end, the 700 Series felt like the best position. That would still give us three different aesthetic presentations of our rosewood guitars — the 400, 800 and 900 Series.
Builder’s Edition K24ce (L) and 724ce (R)
Another traditional tonewood, mahogany, has similarly spread to different parts of our line. Within our 300 Series, we added to the sapele and spruce combination we’ve featured for years with mahogany-top models. For a time, we paired Tasmanian blackwood back and sides with mahogany tops. More recently, we decided to replace blackwood with mahogany and give players several all-mahogany model options within the series. That made Andy think more about our use of mahogany and the evolution of our 500 Series, which has featured mahogany for decades. With all-mahogany guitars available in the 300 Series, what might the 500 Series become?
Meanwhile, there was another urban wood — red ironbark — that Andy had been working with for several years and planning to introduce within the line when the time was right. This seemed like a golden opportunity.
Urban Wood Revisited
Before we get into red ironbark, we should recap our urban wood initiative. In early 2020, we released four new models under the banner of our Builder’s Edition collection. One of them, the Builder’s Edition 324ce, featured back and sides of Shamel, or evergreen, ash, which we chose to call Urban Ash to draw attention to the unique origin story of the wood.
This California-grown ash was exciting to Andy not only for its intrinsic characteristics, but because it marked the beginning of a promising new urban sourcing initiative in collaboration with West Coast Arborists, Inc. (WCA), a sophisticated tree management operation.
Builder’s Edition 324ce featuring Urban Ash
As we detailed in that issue of Wood&Steel, WCA provides an array of tree services to hundreds of municipalities and public agencies across California and parts of Arizona. These planned and managed tree programs create the important green canopies for cities and suburbs, including landscaping in parks and other public spaces, and along neighborhood streets and highways. As part of a contract agreement with individual municipalities, WCA plants, cares for and eventually removes these trees, and more than 10 million tree sites are inventoried in WCA’s proprietary database.
Our interest in exploring the viability of urban wood was first spurred by Bob Taylor’s practical curiosity about what happens to the wood from these end-of-life trees, and whether these trees could be utilized to create additional value for communities. As we’ve shared in other stories, we reached out to our local arborist, who happened to be WCA.
Our Director of Natural Resource Sustainability, Scott Paul, led the charge, coordinating a field trip with a Taylor group including Bob and Andy to WCA’s headquarters in Anaheim to meet with their team. It turned out that WCA also had been looking for ways to create greater value from these the end-of-life trees they had removed — especially in the wake of rising disposal costs — and had launched an urban wood recycling program turned supply business called Street Tree Revival, which cuts lumber and produces live-edge slab tables and other wood products. They also had set up a sort yard in nearby Ontario with logs arranged and color-coded by species.
Because many of these species either weren’t commercially used or weren’t established music instrument woods, Andy went “taste testing with a chain saw,” cutting samples from certain species that seemed worthy of investigating further.
“It was like being a chef walking down the aisle of a farmer’s market and seeing vegetables or fruits they haven’t encountered before,” Andy says. “You start thinking, how can I work with this to bring out its best flavors?”
Andy brought a healthy variety of wood samples back to the factory for some testing. He also narrowed the list of species based on practical considerations, focusing on what he considered the top 10 contenders.
“Many tree species simply don’t have the practical characteristics that allow them to be used for woodworking.”
“From a supply standpoint, we wanted to know which trees were most abundant,” he says. “Then I looked for ones with the right kind of structure, height, diameter to supply boards, and working characteristics. A few of these species checked those boxes, Shamel ash being one of them. You could dry it, saw it, glue it, sand it, finish it. It might sound odd to say, but many tree species simply don’t have those practical characteristics that allow them to be used for woodworking. And then beyond those simplistic criteria, the wood has to yield a great sound. It’s a tough test for a tree to pass.”
Being able to properly dry wood, Andy says, is a critical consideration.
“The reason we spend so much attention on whether we can dry the wood is that this directly translates into whether that guitar will be stable over its lifetime,” he explains. “Essentially, if you can’t dry a piece of wood without it cracking, warping, breaking or distorting itself, you’ll have a difficult time making something consistent and reliable from it. Somewhere down the road, poorly behaved wood will cause problems.”
With Shamel ash, Andy had a strong feeling it would make a good tonewood due to familiarity with other ash species for guitars.
“I’ve worked with a lot of ashes — from northern hard ash to lightweight swamp ash,” he says. “In this case, looking at the type of grain structure of this ash, I had a reasonable expectation that it was going to work well, and it ended up working even better than we expected. That wood had such great characteristics and was so similar to woods we knew well, we felt it made sense to launch our first urban wood guitar with that.”
[Ed. note: Elsewhere in this issue, we unveil two all-Urban Ash limited-edition models, the 424ce LTD and 224ce-UA DLX LTD.]
A New Tonewood Star Is Born
A surprising discovery, which would prove to be a serendipitous find, was a wood known as red ironbark (Eucalyptus sideroxylon).
“Red ironbark was an unusual one,” Andy says. “Technically it’s from the eucalyptus family, but it doesn’t behave like most eucalyptus, many of which tend to twist and move in unpredictable ways. Even more surprising, this red ironbark is ultra-hard and dense, as if it were some type of tropical rosewood-family wood. In fact, it’s one of the few woods that will actually sink in water. It’s like ebony.”
As Andy explored its mechanical characteristics in more detail, he was pleasantly surprised by its workability — it could be dried consistently without complications.
“Usually, denser woods are hard to dry and prone to distortion, which needs to be carefully controlled to yield a stable guitar part — like ebony,” he explains. “With red ironbark, we were surprised to find we could dry it consistently well the way we might dry East Indian rosewood. This ironbark has similar characteristics in that regard. It’s very stable.
Another stereotype of woods this hard — and there are only a few such woods, Andy notes — is they have oily content that makes gluing difficult. Once again, the red ironbark proved to be an exception.
“On top of all of this, it has one of the smoothest and most uniform textures of any dense wood I’ve ever seen,” he says.
With its hardness, density and smoothness, Andy initially considered it for fretboards and bridges, but with its rosy and golden-brown hues, he opted against it for the time being. But he suspected it would work really well as a back and side wood. It turned out he was right.
Getting to Know Red Ironbark
Red ironbark, or its more complete name, red ironbark eucalyptus (Eucalyptus sideroxylon), is one of more than 700 eucalyptus species found around the world. The history of eucalyptus species in California traces back to the 1850s, when several species (including red ironbark) were imported from Australia and planted as a potential source of timber and fiber.
The most prolific species in California (and in the world) is the fast-growing blue gum eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus), recognizable by its peeling bark layers and fragrant, oily blue-green leaves. Ironically, its wood turned out not to be an ideal timber for construction.
Red ironbark, by contrast, exhibits different properties. Its bark is thick, tough and highly furrowed, while beneath it, the red wood is strong, hard and dense. As timber, the durable wood has been used for beams, railroad ties and other construction projects. The tree is also drought- and frost-tolerant, which has allowed it to survive in non-native habitats.
Shaping the Sound
Now familiar with ironbark’s structural properties, Andy developed a voicing recipe for a Grand Auditorium guitar and built some prototype models. As the top wood, he opted for torrefied (roasted) Sitka spruce. The two woods together, and voiced with a version of his V-Class bracing, amount to what he describes as a fresh variation on the classic spruce/rosewood sound — a cross between rosewood and ebony, he says — with the help of some modern acoustic engineering under the hood.
“The voice is bold, rich and sweet…it has a very piano-like character.”
“The red ironbark has a tone-shaping quality where it produces the deep, clear sound of rosewood but with just enough of the damping effect of ebony or mahogany that helps smooth out the sharp edges of the sound,” he says. “The voice is bold, rich and sweet. It has that bell-like amplifying response of a dense wood — it’s vibrant and dynamic. Imagine if you could take the traditional sound of a rosewood guitar, while filling and warming the midrange. It has a very piano-like character.”
In a demo session on the Taylor campus in June, Andy played the final version of his Grand Auditorium, and the first impression for those of us in the room is how much volume and projection the guitar produces, even with a lighter playing touch.
“It’s a high-fidelity sound that’s balanced by this sonic sweetness that makes a really appealing sound,” he elaborates. “When I strike that low note, it’s clear as a bell, and there’s nothing harsh about it. It’s not muddy; it’s not a spongy- or squishy-sounding wood at all. With the ironbark’s density, the guitar sound is what I would describe as muscular and strong. The sensation I get when I play it is like the guitar is amplifying everything I do. It’s giving me back more than I put into it — like the notes want to jump out of the guitar. These are guitars I’m really excited to get into people’s hands.”
Designing the New 500 Series
Having had ironbark prototype guitars around his studio for several years now, Andy has had a lot of time to think about how it might fit into our guitar lineup. And with more mahogany models being offered in the 300 Series, the 500 Series felt like an appropriate position to introduce these guitars. As the second urban wood featured in our line, it also marks another phase of our commitment to urban wood by showcasing it in a Taylor legacy series — one that has been around nearly as long as our iconic 800 Series.
To honor the classic heritage of the 500 Series, Andy embraced a traditional aesthetic but with distinctive decorative touches to complement the new wood pairing. The ironbark back and sides feature a subtle edge stain that deepens the wood’s natural reddish and golden-brown hues, resembling the colors of the mahogany it replaces. The body and neck also feature a lightly shaded edgeburst — the top’s subtle dusting of color adds an understated vintage look over the lightly darkened roasted spruce top. The body features gloss finish and satin finish for the neck. Other appointment details include an elegant new “Aerial” inlay scheme in Italian acrylic, with a faux tortoise shell pickguard and binding, a single-ring abalone rosette with maple and black purfling, and Taylor nickel tuners.
In terms of model offerings, we’re launching the revamped series initially with just two body styles — the Grand Auditorium 514ce and Grand Concert 512ce — with other models likely in 2023. (One side note: The existing Builder’s Edition 517 will remain the same, retaining its mahogany/torrefied spruce wood pairing and other appointments.)
If anything, the volume and richness of the sound may be even more impressive coming from the Grand Concert edition, given the smaller body. Andy played it in his demo session, and the tonal output was remarkable.
“It’s clear, clean and pretty, but with surprising volume and that piano-like richness,” he says. “Even though it’s a Grand Concert, I could start strumming chords [he does], and it really delivers. I’m thrilled with how it’s working.”
For more reactions to our new 500 Series guitars, see our roundup of artist feedback.
Our first Grand Auditorium guitar featuring back and sides of Urban Ironbark, the 514ce delivers a sweet, muscular sound that combines rosewood’s high-fidelity voice with mahogany’s warm and punchy midrange and spectrum-wide sonic balance. Paired with a torrefied Sitka spruce top for a played-in, mature sound and V-Class bracing for improved volume and sustain, the 514ce yields power ideal for heavy strummers along with touch sensitivity that gives it a wide dynamic range that’s great for fingerstyle players. With new Aerial inlays in Italian acrylic, a single-ring abalone rosette, a subtle stain that highlights Urban Ironbark’s rich red hues, a lightly shaded edgeburst and gloss-finish body, the 514ce blends traditional and contemporary visual styles.
The 512ce is one of our first models to feature back and sides of solid Urban Ironbark, a dense, hard tonewood that yields a rich, sophisticated response with a deep low end and high-fidelity voice reminiscent of Indian rosewood, along with some of mahogany’s midrange punch and focus. The Grand Concert 512ce pairs Urban Ironbark with a torrefied Sitka spruce top, lending a played-in character that makes for a warm, piano-like sound with remarkable balance across the tonal spectrum. With V-Class bracing inside, this compact acoustic-electric serves up room-filling projection and blooming sustain, offering a muscular quality that remains sensitive to a soft touch. Appointments include new Aerial inlays in Italian acrylic, a single-ring abalone rosette trimmed with maple and black purfling, and a tastefully subtle edgeburst.
Over nearly five decades of Taylor history, being unencumbered by tradition has repeatedly proved to be one of our greatest strengths. It’s given us the creative freedom to continually explore new ideas and push the parameters of guitar-making in exciting new directions.
In fact, it was koa’s use as a tonewood for musical instruments that would help introduce it to others beyond the Islands. The alluring, beautifully slurred Hawaiian melodies played on those steel guitars would eventually migrate to the U.S. mainland in the early 20th century as Hawaiian musicians toured the country as cultural ambassadors, sparking an infatuation with Hawaiian music and mingling with other popular American musical genres of the day like ragtime, country and blues in the American South. Koa stringed instruments became popular in the U.S. in the 1920s as guitar companies like Weissenborn and Martin began producing koa instruments during this time. But as the Hawaiian music craze faded in the 1930s, the use of koa for instruments also tapered off as guitar makers returned to traditional woods like rosewood and mahogany.
The mid-1970s saw the beginning of a koa revival in the acoustic guitar world as a new wave of young luthiers began working with it. Bob Taylor built his first koa guitar in 1980 and formally introduced a Koa Series within the Taylor line in 1983. As Taylor grew as a company and Martin reintroduced koa to its tonewood portfolio, koa regained its bona fides within the acoustic guitar market. Now, more than four decades since Bob built his first koa guitar, Taylor is perhaps more closely associated with koa than any other guitar company.
Over the years, our use of koa has ebbed and flowed in response to a variety of factors including availability, cost and our ability to source our preferred grades of wood to maintain a consistent aesthetic standard. The truth is that the breathtaking figuring people love in the koa used for our premium Koa Series is, genetically speaking, a minority, found in only a small percentage of koa trees.
Taylor’s growth into a large manufacturer has presented both challenges and opportunities when it comes to sourcing woods like koa. On one hand, our supply needs are greater than those of boutique-size guitar makers, which at times has made it more difficult for us to procure a consistent supply of premium-grade wood used for Koa Series models. In fact, for stretches in the mid-1990s and again in the early 2000s, we made the decision to pause our production of Koa Series guitars and use the wood more sparingly, and more strategically, depending on what was available. It was a time when Taylor offered more small-batch runs of limited-edition koa models (sometimes highly figured, other times more modest in appearance and offered at a more accessible price point) and, after the introduction of our hollowbody electric/acoustic T5, saved our best sets of koa for T5 Custom tops along with custom guitar orders.
Our Koa Series eventually returned to the Taylor line in 2007, and as the line has continued to grow and evolve, the expanded framework has given us a more diverse guitar ecosystem to work with koa — not only in terms of wood grades but with sizes of the guitar sets that can be cut. Think about the koa GS Mini and Baby Taylor models we currently offer. Those smaller guitars provide the perfect use for cuts of wood that aren’t large enough for other full-size models, allowing us to use more of what a koa tree has to offer.
Additionally, we use koa veneer for some of our layered-wood guitars. So in addition to cutting veneer for those GS Mini and Baby models (paired with solid koa tops), highly figured koa can be sliced into beautiful back and side veneer used for our koa 200 Deluxe Series guitars. Doing so gives guitar enthusiasts (and koa lovers) yet another access point to a beautiful koa guitar within our line.
Getting to Know Red Ironbark
A single koa log can contain a diverse range of wood grades within it. In many respects, cutting open a log is the moment of truth that reveals how the wood will be cut, graded and utilized. Our goal is to be as responsible as possible in our use — to maximize yield from a tree to make guitars, and to minimize waste by using other smaller pieces of wood for other guitar components like binding, purfling, rosette elements and more. We also use koa for some of our guitar wall hangers and TaylorWare pick tin covers, and Bob Taylor recently decided to produce a limited-edition run of koa serving paddles for Stella Falone, the wood kitchenware company he launched in 2018 to create additional value from ebony that can’t be used for musical instruments.
Finding the guitars in the wood: Slabs of koa at Pacific Rim Tonewoods, where the wood is graded
What Makes Good Guitar Wood?
In recent years, Taylor Guitars and our longtime supply partner, Pacific Rim Tonewoods, who cuts our koa for us, have worked closely together to invest in the future of sourcing koa. In 2015, we formed an innovative partnership (originally called Paniolo Tonewoods, recently renamed Siglo Tonewoods) with the goal of restoring native Hawaiian forests and growing koa in Hawaii. (Read our story about that collaboration here.)
As part of the project-based stewardship agreements made with private landowners in Hawaii, Siglo is permitted to cut a select number of designated koa trees, and in exchange, we invest dollar for dollar in a host of forest improvement projects. Through that direct arrangement, we’ve been able to cut into more koa logs ourselves — and in the process, discover far more varieties of koa wood, showcasing a richer palette of colors and visual character than we’d previously encountered in dealing with suppliers. Taylor master builder Andy Powers was especially excited by the new opportunities this presented.
“Seeing all of these beautiful hues felt as exciting as the first time we realized ebony could have variegated color.”
“The scenario reminds me of the way a person who grew up in a jungle can see so many different of shades of green, while a person who grew up in an urban environment sees far fewer,” he says. “In the past, we were familiar with the wood sawyers offered us, but we didn’t get to see all that a Hawaiian forest could provide. We would typically see the extreme end of the koa wood spectrum — the outrageous, highly figured koa that is difficult to work with since that is the timber many sawyers would target for guitars, while most other koa trees were directed toward other uses. Once we began working closer to each log and could see all of these beautiful hues, it felt as exciting as the first time we realized ebony could have variegated color. The reality is that a lot of fantastic-sounding koa wood comes from trees that don’t have deeply figured grain. The fibers in many koa trees grow straighter, similar to the genetic variable that makes some hair curly, some wavy and some straight.”
Shaping the Sound
As we surveyed the beautifully striped variegation in some of the wood that was being cut, Andy was inspired to treat this koa in a different way and design an all-solid-wood koa guitar with a distinctive musical personality than our existing Koa Series.
The figured koa sets we use for our Koa Series inform a more refined, luxurious aesthetic treatment. Visual elements like a shaded edgeburst and gloss-finish body elevate the beauty of the wood, while a maple Spring Vine inlay and maple top and fretboard/peghead purfling add elegant accents. (Builder’s Edition models take things a step further with a beveled armrest and sparkling abalone inlay and top edge trim.)
Sonically, Andy says, the Koa Series is voiced to produce an equivalent sound to match the elevated aesthetic.
“Our Koa Series guitars were voiced to reflect this ultra-refined, polished, smooth aesthetic,” he says. “They’re rich and sweet.”
“When you touch the body, you can feel the actual wood texture, the grain structure, the pores.”
By contrast, for this new striped koa — which we’re classifying as Select grade — Andy wanted to create a more organic aesthetic and coax a more direct, dynamic response from the wood.
“I was thinking about this guitar from the outside in,” he says. “I wanted to start by focusing on a tactile connection to the wood to emphasize the directness of the response — when you touch the body, you can feel the actual wood texture, the grain structure, the pores. There’s less between the player and the wood, to such a degree that the player feels the warmth of the wood surface.”
So rather than a gloss finish, Andy opted for an ultra-thin, open-pore matte finish. Beyond the tactile benefits, the thin finish plays an important role in voicing the guitar. (For more on the impact of finish on a guitar’s sound, see our sidebar.) He coupled this with a slight variation on the back bracing associated with our V-Class architecture. Together, the sound is a little livelier, a little less filtered, than the sound of our Koa Series guitars.
“These guitars retain the unique sweetness we associate with a guitar made from koa — especially that beautiful midrange — but with a more direct, punchy attack and natural response,” Andy says. “The thinness of this finish doesn’t contribute as much damping or compression. You’ll hear more of the tactile elements of your playing — more of your fingertips, a pick touching the strings, the subtle nuance of a guitarist’s natural sound. I think of this as a player-reflective version of a koa guitar — you get more control over what you sound like.”
How Finish Contributes to Sound
At Taylor, we use different types and thicknesses of finish on a guitar body with various models across the line. Visual appearance aside, the thickness (and density) of the finish (together with other factors like bracing and the tonewood species) is an important ingredient in a luthier’s overall voicing recipe for a guitar.
Applying finish to the wood creates a damping effect on the guitar. This is a helpful way to calibrate a guitar’s voice — as long as the thickness sits within a certain range, as Andy explains.
“Whenever you set something in motion, you’ve got a mix of the parts of your sound that you want there — the musical part, the regular vibration pattern — and the noisy parts you don’t want,” he says. “This noise element of vibration is like a mechanical distortion. We hear that sound as noise; it tends to be ultra-high-frequency, weak and irregular vibrations that can make a guitar sound strident or brash, almost metallic in some cases. Putting the right amount of finish on the surface helps mute that noise while allowing the stronger musical vibration aspect to set the structure into motion.”
Apply too much finish, Andy says, and you can lose some of the musicality because of the pleasing harmonic content that gets filtered out. At the other end of the spectrum, a completely raw, unfinished acoustic guitar will not sound good.
“An acoustic guitar in a raw wood state won’t usually have enough damping to block out those harsh-sounding vibrations,” he explains. “It’s an effect that often accompanies artificial or synthetic materials. When a material’s damping factor is outside a musically pleasing range, it’ll sound aggravating and rough because the material won’t favor the musical vibration over the non-musical vibration. It may be moving a lot, but with a mix of good and bad sound, the overall result is less satisfying to hear.”
Sitting in his workshop noodling on one of the new all-koa models he designed, Andy turns to a coffee analogy to describe the different sound compared to our Koa Series.
L-R: Builder’s Edition K24ce, 724ce
“A Koa Series guitar is like the a perfectly prepared cappuccino — so smooth, delicious, beautiful,” he says. “At the same time, it is inherently a mix of all the ingredients. These new koa guitars would be like your pour-over coffee — with amazing beans, well roasted and presented in the most direct way possible, for the purest koa experience. You get all the flavor, with minimal filtering. Together with the tactile sensation that’s so warm and inviting, you end up with an instrument that offers unique musical inspiration.”
Aesthetically, Andy wanted the guitar’s appointments to reflect the guitar’s musical personality.
“I wanted to retain traditional appointments, but with a focus on natural materials, so we selected rosewood binding and real shell for the inlay,” he says. “At the same time, I wanted the inlay to be unobtrusive and not too heavy in its ornamentation.”
The inlay design, christened Fountain, features mother-of-pearl in an elegant yet understated pattern. Other decorative details include Indian rosewood binding (with a bound soundhole), a paua shell rosette accented with rosewood and maple, rosewood and maple top edge trim, a dark-stained maple pickguard, and Taylor polished bronze tuners that visually harmonize with the color tones of the koa body.
The new guitars officially join the Taylor line at our 700 Series level, replacing our rosewood/spruce 700 Series models — with the exception of our Builder’s Edition 717e, which will retain its wood pairing of rosewood and torrefied spruce and other specifications. Initially, the new koa guitars will be offered in two body styles, both all-koa: the Grand Auditorium 724ce and Grand Concert 722ce. Andy felt it was the right positioning for another solid-wood koa collection within the line, and the change still leaves three other dedicated series featuring solid Indian rosewood (400, 800 and 900). Look for the new koa 700s online and in stores now.
Gorgeous figured koa, ultra-premium craftsmanship and a rich assortment of models make this a truly stunning collection. From the compact GT to a fun-to-play 12-fret to a pair of Builder’s Edition beauties, the Koa Series elegantly showcases a diverse array of musical personalities.
Three koa models live within our popular GS Mini family, all sporting solid koa tops and layered koa back and sides. Our Plus models feature a shaded edgeburst body and our durable AeroCase, while the easy-to-play bass looks, feels and sounds amazing.
Over nearly five decades of Taylor history, being unencumbered by tradition has repeatedly proved to be one of our greatest strengths. It’s given us the creative freedom to continually explore new ideas and push the parameters of guitar-making in exciting new directions.
Artists, recording engineers and reviewers agreed, picking up on its fundamental tonal improvements: greater tonal output, sustain and harmonic agreement, or “in-tuneness,” between notes along the entire fretboard. In simpler terms, it made our guitars sound better. To critics and players, including many of you reading this who own V-Class guitars, V-Class was legit.
But the bigger promise of V-Class lay ahead. Master builder Andy Powers saw it as a liberating platform that not only enhanced the musicality of our guitars but would also enable him to voice individual models in ways that gave each a more distinctive musical personality. Ultimately, it would create a much more diverse palette of acoustic sounds for players to explore.
The ensuing four years have paid sweet sonic dividends and brought a steady transformation of the Taylor line. In addition to adapting V-Class to existing Taylor models, Andy used V-Class to voice a new body style, the Grand Pacific, a round-shoulder dreadnought that diverged from the tone profile associated with our flagship Grand Auditorium. Where the GA’s overall sound was more “modern” — clear and vibrant, with well-defined notes — the GP’s sound leaned more toward traditional dreadnought tone — a warm, seasoned voice, with notes that were broader in shape and blended into each other. V-Class also enabled the GP to produce clearer low-end power, cleaning up the muddiness that often plagued classic dreadnoughts in recording studios or live settings.
V-Class also inspired Andy to create our premium Builder’s Edition class of guitars. These instruments matched model-specific V-Class voicing with comfort-forward contouring refinements to enhance the feel and enable players to express themselves more freely. Builder’s Edition has since grown into a robust collection of nine distinctive models.
Then came the Grand Theater, or GT, which not only debuted a new body style but a new category of guitar, featuring a scale length (24-1/8 inches) that was shorter than our Grand Concert (24-7/8 inches). This time, Andy adapted his V-Class ideas for the guitar’s unique proportions and created C-Class™ bracing, an asymmetrical pattern that allows the guitar to produce a stronger low-end response than a guitar of that size should be able to deliver. It spoke to players who wanted a guitar that married the nimble feel of a smaller guitar with a rich, full-voiced sound.
As our two newest body styles, both the Grand Pacific and GT have emerged as strong musical ambassadors within the Taylor line, reaching out to players in ways that other Taylor models haven’t. The Grand Pacific’s versatility matches that of our flagship Grand Auditorium. Meanwhile, the GT, still new-ish and in the process of being discovered, is on a clear upward trajectory as players discover its many virtues — how comfortable it is to play, how well it records, and how musically expressive it makes players feel.
So as we begin a new year, it won’t surprise you learn that the GP and GT factor prominently into our latest releases. Read on for our rundown of new models.
A throwback look and sound channels an earthier Taylor vibe
Sonically speaking, the most intriguing addition to the line is the AD27e Flametop, an all-maple Grand Pacific that bolsters the American Dream Series with a voice that’s unlike anything Taylor has ever offered. In the same way that the Grand Pacific body style marked a notable departure from the modern, high-fidelity sound our guitars have been known for, the Flametop pushes even deeper into that warm and dusky sonic terrain.
The guitar’s origin story is a confluence of musical ideas. For starters, Taylor has deepened our connection with artists in Nashville, Los Angeles and other music communities in recent years. Our artist relations team has spent more time talking to players about what they like and don’t like in an acoustic guitar for the types of music they’re making, and we’ve made a point of introducing many to the GP (and, more recently, the GT) as emblematic of Taylor’s more diversified acoustic menu.
Lately, more and more musicians across a range of genres have been drawn to acoustic sounds that aren’t so crystalline, but instead emphasize a warmer, woodier and in some cases grittier character.
Given the Grand Pacific’s nod to a more seasoned dreadnought sound, Andy Powers thought it would be interesting to use that body style to develop a different flavor with some of those slightly more tempered sonic characteristics, particularly in the top-end frequencies. He also thought the guitar would fit nicely into our American Dream Series, which tends to have an earthier, more organic, toned-down aesthetic, with simpler, workmanlike features to appeal to gigging musicians.
With wood selection, Andy was mindful of ongoing supply chain issues (due to the pandemic coupled with an uptick in consumer demand) and again subscribed to the “cooking with what’s in the pantry” approach that informed the development of the American Dream Series. In this case, we had stocks of maple. And in pursuit of the sound he wanted, Andy felt like maple could be used for the top as well as the guitar’s back and sides. Normally we wouldn’t use maple for an acoustic guitar top (it can be a bit squirrely as a soundboard), but with the V-Class architecture, Andy knew he’d be able to control the top movement enough to make it behave well sonically — especially in this case, where he didn’t want as vibrant a response.
Another strategic design decision in pursuit of that sound was the choice of uncoated D’Addario Nickel Bronze strings (.012-.053) for the guitar. The unique alloy combination helps bring a different sonic texture to the guitar.
“D’Addario calls it a nickel bronze because it has the color of a nickel-wound string, but it’s actually something that’s halfway between the two,” Andy explains. “The strings have a unique response when you put them on an acoustic guitar — they’re not dull sounding, but it’s not the same vibrant presence you expect from a brand-new set of bronze strings.”
As Andy details in our conversation with him elsewhere in this issue, the nickel bronze strings tend to filter out some of the high-frequency overtones to mellow out the response. Speaking from his own studio session experience, Andy likes his guitar strings to be a little seasoned before he records.
“I often want the vibrancy of the sound to be tempered a touch, so you’re hearing a little more wood, and a little less of the metal string,” he says.
Collectively, all the individual design decisions Andy made — body style, tonewoods, bracing nuances, string composition — give the AD27e Flametop a uniquely compelling voice within the Taylor line. It’s a drier, chunkier, more broken-in sound, or, as Andy puts it, “More lungs, less vocal cords.”
It’s a tone profile that’s more likely to appeal to players who normally don’t like “the Taylor sound” because they perceive it as too bright.
Andy compares the differences in tone, and the way players will react to the Flametop, to the way different photographic techniques can evoke different responses.
“Imagine a very high-definition photograph,” he says. “For example, I’ve looked at a lot of pictures of waves and surf photography. The colors are tack-sharp, the focus is on point, like you could see each individual water droplet. For years, that style of photography was upheld as the gold standard for an action shot of a surfer on a wave, because it’s technically difficult to achieve.
“Yet at times, I find myself most drawn to a photo where the colors are somewhat muted, or maybe it’s a little backlit and the focus is softer because somehow that conveyed the experience in a more meaningful and relatable way than what technically perfect focus would have,” he says. “It captures a different feeling.”
In the same way, Andy says, the choice of woods, designs, strings and picks are like different light and different focus on a photograph.
“There are times when you want vibrant, clear, high-definition detail, and there are times when a different sound will do a better job evoking the impression or emotion of what was going on,” he says. “It feels somehow more human that way. It’s the same with painting — some of the most evocative paintings suggest the emotion behind the scene more than they capture the realism of what’s there.”
It’s an interesting take, especially considering that the greater pitch accuracy enabled by V-Class bracing is immensely useful for recording applications, especially within the modern context of digital technology, where pitch can be controlled electronically and acoustic guitars can be the weak link in some respects. Yet we all know some of the most iconic, moving music is beautifully imperfect — and all the more human because of it. And guitarists love to discover guitars with unique, perhaps conventionally “flawed” sonic character, because those same attributes inspire them to respond and play in a different way.
“Those ‘flaws’ are relatable because as people, we’re all made up of flaws too,” Andy says. “I think that’s why it feels right. It feels like a kinship we can relate to, and that might be the perfect thing for the song that I want to play.”
Visually, Andy looked to match the AD27e Flametop’s sonic personality with a comparable aesthetic. Having a figured maple soundboard certainly sets the stage. He channeled the weathered character of a worn-in pair of boots or jeans with a new, dusky Woodsmoke finish, along with a shaded edgeburst and satin sheen on the top, back, sides and maple neck. Like other American Dream models, the Flametop features chamfered body edges, 4mm dot inlays in Italian acrylic, and onboard ES2 electronics (also available without electronics). The guitar ships in a Taylor AeroCase™.
A hardwood-top Grand Concert joins the American Dream Series
Andy is a big fan of smaller-bodied guitars with hardwood tops, so he was happy to bring the mahogany-top Grand Concert to our American Dream Series.
“There’s something about the combination of a hardwood top on a relatively compact body,” he says. “They’re fun to play, they’re bluesy sounding, the controlled focus of the body makes it a super guitar to play fingerstyle music or jazz on, and they respond well to strumming chords too. The combination is really well-suited for a lot of different styles of music.”
The sapele/mahogany wood pairing will emphasize the fundamental to yield a dry, focused, woody sound with pleasing midrange punch when you want to dig in, especially with V-Class® bracing under the hood. Comfort-centric features include chamfered body edges and a supple fretting feel thanks to the 24-7/8-inch scale length and D’Addario coated phosphor bronze light-gauge strings.
Other details include black top purfling, 4mm dot fretboard inlays in Italian acrylic, a single-ring rosette in contrasting maple and black, a faux tortoise pickguard, thin matte finish that preserves the natural feel of the wood and optimizes acoustic response, and nickel tuners. The guitar also features onboard ES2 electronics and includes a Taylor AeroCase.
Walnut is a tonewood we’ve used frequently over the years, and as we look to maintain a healthy, balanced portfolio of responsibly sourced species, it’s a wood that looks to find a more prominent place in the Taylor line. With the GTe Blacktop, we’re excited to offer another unique GT voice to the mix, and we simply couldn’t resist giving it our blacktop treatment.
Tonally, Andy finds it helpful to describe this walnut model in relation to its GT Urban Ash counterpart.
“In the context of the GT design, with the Urban Ash as the back and side wood, you’ll hear an almost flamenco guitar-like character,” he says. “It has a fast, vibrant attack. The ash is lightweight like mahogany is, and it can offer a dramatic, quick, wide-awake sound. The walnut is subtly denser, a touch heavier, so it’ll have a little more solid-sounding support in the lower register. The note profile won’t be quite as dramatic when it’s first struck, but it’ll have a little more strength. If the Urban Ash version is more like a flamenco guitar, the walnut version is more like a classical guitar, with broader, more serious weight behind the notes.”
As with our other GT models, the compact proportions and slinky handfeel make this an incredibly inviting guitar to play, and with our C-Class bracing, will fill a room with sound and amplify exceptionally well. Notable details include comfortable chamfered body edges, a contrasting maple/black rosette, 4mm dot fretboard inlays in Italian acrylic, a thin matte-finish body with a black top, and Taylor Mini nickel tuners. The guitar also features onboard ES2 electronics and ships with Taylor’s lightweight yet sturdy AeroCase.
Raw, rootsy character makes this GT feel extra alive in your hands
Our GT family is filling out nicely for 2022, especially with the addition of this all-mahogany edition. Brimming with bluesy mojo, it’s a guitar that’s equally happy being fingerpicked, flatpicked or strummed, with the mahogany top rounding out the initial attack to produce a woody, focused voice that’s evenly balanced across the frequency spectrum. The slinky feel, courtesy of the GT’s 24-1/8-inch scale length, makes chording and string bending blissfully easy on the fingers. It’s also a fun guitar to plug in, as the natural compression from the mahogany top translates into clear, natural amplified sound, courtesy of the onboard ES2 electronics.
The aesthetic is earthy and elemental, with our Urban Sienna stain (originally used on the GT Urban Ash) and a thin matte finish that accentuates the natural wood grain of the mahogany body and neck, which you can practically feel as you play. A eucalyptus fretboard, bridge and peghead overlay add subtle variegation, while chamfered body edges support the stripped-down appearance. Like its Blacktop sibling, the GTe Mahogany also incorporates a maple/black rosette, 4mm dot fretboard inlays in Italian acrylic, and Taylor Mini nickel tuners, and comes with our popular AeroCase.
GT 611e LTD
Inspired by the 618e, this maple GT makes its own bold statement
As a limited-edition release, consider this GT model a bonus guitar to kick off 2022. Essentially, it’s a fun spinoff of our maple/spruce Grand Orchestra 618e, made more accessible via the GT’s compact proportions.
Andy was happy with the unique aesthetic presentation he gave the 618e when he redesigned it in 2020, featuring Antique Blonde color shading and his boldly distinctive Mission inlay design (which we explored in more detail in our cover story on inlay art last issue). Considering that the GT body style is derived from the Grand Orchestra’s curves, Andy couldn’t resist making a maple/spruce GT with the same look. While the sound won’t rival the huge voice of its bigger sibling, C-Class bracing gives this GT impressive sonic power and depth, plus the sporty handling that makes the GT so much fun to play.
“It feels like the bigness of a Grand Orchestra guitar scaled for us mortals,” Andy muses. “Then we can add in the fast handfeel, the slinkiness and everything we love about the GT, together with the visual impact of the 618.”
Like the 618, the Antique Blonde treatment brings subtle beauty to this guitar, from the faint edge shading around the top to the toasted golden undertones on the back and sides that accentuate maple’s beautiful figuring. Other appointment details borrowed from the 618e include maple binding with koa and ivoroid trim, a paua rosette with koa and ivoroid trim, a stained maple pickguard, and a gloss-finish body. The guitar also features Taylor Mini nickel tuners and ships with our AeroCase.
Bob Taylor is sitting in his office, mentally sifting through a half-century of Taylor inlay design history, stretching back to his earliest days as a teenage luthier. At one point the conversation turns to the company’s most recognized inlay of all — the peghead logo that graces every Taylor made. The original version was inspired by the logo for a thermometer that hung in the shop in Lemon Grove, California, where the company started in 1974.
“I cut hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of those inlays with a saw and a file,” he says, walking to a whiteboard on the wall. “I used to draw those, starting here at the bottom left,” and proceeds to draw the entire outline of the logo from memory, even though he hasn’t cut the inlay in decades. “It’s so impressed in my mind, I can start in that corner and go all the way around. I could almost close my eyes.”
Inlay design for guitars is a rich topic of conversation — an art form all its own, literally embedded within the art form of guitar making. Though the aesthetic approach can be beautifully minimalist, letting a guitar’s refined contours and tonewoods speak for themselves, most stories built around an “art of the inlay” theme inherently skew toward images of highly pictorial, narrative or ultra-personalized artwork that showcases singular inlay craftsmanship. If you appreciate that type of artistry, you’re probably familiar with the work of inlay maestros like Grit Laskin, Harvey Leach or Larry Robinson, or maybe the late Larry Sifel or Wendy Larrivée.
A laser cuts inlay components for the maple Spring Vine fretboard inlay featured on Koa Series models
“I remember watching Wendy engrave one of her court jesters from her blocks of pearl many years ago,” Bob says, marveling at her skills. “That kind of work has become something of a lost art.”
In Taylor’s case, trying to highlight 50 years of our inlay design in one article is, of course, a tall order, deserving of a hefty coffee table book. Beyond the sheer volume of inlays Taylor has created over the years, there are multiple storylines worth exploring. There is the evolution of our craftsmanship methods, which have progressed from Bob’s early days of hand-cutting pearl with a jeweler’s saw to the integration of CAD/CAM, CNC and laser technology into our current product development efforts. There are the aesthetic sensibilities that have taken form and been refined here at Taylor, along with styles that have changed with the times or by strategic choice. And there are the people who have brought their unique artistic points of view and skill sets to Taylor’s design team over the years, from Bob in tandem with his longtime creative partner, Larry Breedlove, to talented designer Pete Davies Jr., who created some of Taylor’s most visually striking inlays, to our current guitar architect, Andy Powers, whose thoughtful visual details create a harmonious marriage between a guitar’s musical personality and its aesthetic features.
The Protective Role of Inlays
In addition to the decorative appeal of inlay art, some inlays, such as a rosette, actually play a practical role in helping to protect an acoustic guitar from cracking.
Having the soundhole cut into the top means that there is both exposed end grain (closest to the bridge and neck) and side or edge grain (closest to the sides of the guitar). The end grain surface will lose and gain moisture more rapidly than the edge grain surface. So inlaying a band of material around the hole prevents the different absorption rates from causing the top to crack in that area.
Inlaid purfling around the inside edge of the top of a guitar performs a similar role. It was the original purpose of purfling on violins. By contrast, a violin’s f-holes typically don’t have inlaid purfling because the shape is too complex. Consequently, most old violins display some degree of cracking, usually in the middle notches of the f-holes.
A Rich History of Inlay Art
To put Taylor’s approach to inlay design in perspective, it might help to provide a bit of context about the history of inlay art in the musical instrument world. The heritage of inlay art for steel-string acoustic guitars reflects a fascinating cross-pollination of different musical instrument traditions stretching back half a millennium. Through the centuries, the violin world experienced different ebbs and flows of ornamentation. During the Baroque period, for example, violins often featured extensive decorative details, but over time, that approach was heavily distilled so that inlays were typically not featured on a fingerboard. Instead, luthiers would focus on specific appointments like inlaid purfling.
“Purfling and edge treatment became the place where a maker would show their abilities,” says Taylor master guitar designer Andy Powers. “It became an exercise in how perfectly executed the purfling was, and the artistic flair of how you cut and fit the parts — the size, the proportion, the look of the joints between the pieces.”
With guitars, if you trace their development back to the tradition of lutes or ouds, you’ll see examples of heavily ornamented instruments. But instruments were also made with modest appointments for the folk musicians of each era.
Classical guitar makers took a page from the violin world and left the fingerboard unadorned, similarly focusing their inlay artistry on creating attractive purflings, while also crafting beautifully intricate rosette mosaics to demonstrate their refined skills.
In the U.S., banjo makers, especially those of the American Dixieland jazz era of the 1920s, adopted a more flamboyant approach to ornamentation, often with elaborate inlays, including in the fingerboard. That aesthetic would soon be embraced by steel-string acoustic guitar makers as a way of attracting banjo players. Companies at the forefront of that tradition included Gibson and Epiphone, which were building both banjos and guitars.
“Look at an early Gibson banjo or mandolin that was elaborately inlaid, and it’s easy to see there wasn’t a big step to start putting those inlay treatments on a guitar,” Andy says. “These inlays were done on flattop guitars to a certain degree, but both Gibson and Epiphone were heavily invested in building archtop guitars, which were more widely used by musicians crossing over from the banjo. Often, these guitars carried then-popular Art Deco visual themes, adopting the vibrant, flashy aesthetic of the Jazz Age. This desire for visual prominence was thought to further emphasize the guitar’s growing importance in a band.”
Engraved Victorian inlay featured on limited-edition 400 Series models
Taylor’s Inlay History
Back in Taylor’s earliest days in the mid-’70s, Bob Taylor says, adding inlays to a guitar was rewarding on two levels: It was a way for him to hone his chops as a young woodworking craftsman and to get a little more money for a guitar so the company could pay the rent.
“I could add an ab [abalone-edged] top and some other inlays to fancy up a guitar and turn a $600 guitar into a $900 guitar,” Bob says.
One of Bob’s early artistic influences with inlay design was banjo maker Greg Deering, whom Bob had met at the American Dream guitar shop where he got his start and Deering was working as a repairman. Deering would later work as a repairman in the early days of Taylor Guitars for a short time before founding Deering Banjos.
“I think my lucky strike was that Greg worked in the shop and then had a shop behind me,” Bob says, “because Greg is a fabulous inlay designer.”
Many of Bob’s early inlay ideas were inspired either by visual elements he saw in everyday life — such as a piece of Mexican tile, he says — or other traditional designs that tend to work well with guitars, like leaf, vine or other botanical themes.
“With this leaf sort of an idea, if you engrave it, it can look really good, and if you don’t, you’d work on the cuts,” he says. “In the early days when we would hand-saw, you could make deep cuts into the leaves. But when we first started doing CNC [cutting] work, initially we couldn’t do that anymore because they didn’t really have super good cutters for that sort of thing — they were pretty big in diameter, so you lost a lot of detail. But then cutters started getting better, so you started getting back some of that detail.”
Larry Breedlove Makes His Mark
In 1983, a skilled craftsman and luthier named Larry Breedlove started working at Taylor. His design collaborations with Bob over the next three decades would define the elegant aesthetic that people now intrinsically associate with Taylor guitars — from the supple curves of Taylor’s family of body styles to the shape of our iconic bridge to so many of Taylor’s inlays. Breedlove brought a uniquely organic, architectural and sculptural sensibility to the guitar form. His love of wood and innovative furniture design informed his aesthetic approach to acoustic guitar design.
“Larry was like a modern furniture builder,” Bob says. “He built furniture a little more angular but more in the vein of a Sam Maloof rocking chair,” Bob says. “His stuff was kind of organic like Gaudi, but it didn’t look like a branch. It was more sculpted and refined, somewhere between organic and mechanical. His shapes and ideas for form were really nice. And that aesthetic worked well for the types of inlays that we did. So we kind of modernized some of the old banjo inlays.”
Breedlove also took on a lot of the custom inlay design work that had started with Taylor’s Artist Series in the mid-1980s (including some envelope-pushing color finishes on guitars for the likes of Prince, Kenny Loggins and Jeff Cook from the band Alabama). Along the way, Breedlove started working with alternative inlay materials to expand his color palette.
New Tools, New Inlay Designs
The 1990s would prove to be a transformative decade for Taylor Guitars in many ways. For starters, acoustic guitars experienced a resurgence in popularity after a decade of commercial dormancy, thanks in part to the cable television show MTV Unplugged. After a decade dominated by synthesizers, electronic drums and hair metal, acoustic guitars became cool again, as rock acts stripped some of their hits down to intimate acoustic performances. And many rockers were happy to discover that the slim neck profile and easy playability of a Taylor neck felt similar to electric guitars. Other emerging artists like the Dave Matthews Band also made the acoustic guitar a centerpiece of their music (and it didn’t hurt that Taylor guitars became a mainstay of Matthews’ live shows in the ’90s and onward).
As our guitars were growing in popularity, Taylor was also bringing cutting-edge tools and technologies into the design, product development and manufacturing processes. Computer-controlled mills and laser technology introduced new levels of precision and consistency to guitar production. They also proved to be game-changing tools for inlay creation. Pearl or abalone shell inlays — and the pockets that would house them — could be cut more accurately with a CNC mill.
“With the advent of CNC,” Bob says, “we could design inlays that were a little nicer, a little fancier, for our more expensive guitars. Even if another vendor ended up cutting the inlays for us in some other location, we knew it would fit in the pocket we carved for it on a CNC. It was like ordering a carburetor for your car — you expect it to fit when you open the box and install it. Whereas before that, every inlay was almost like starting over.”
Lasers also opened the door to new inlay materials beyond traditional shell, including different woods and synthetic materials like Formica® ColorCore®. And because of the small diameter of a laser beam (.008 inch) and the accurate registration, lasers could also be used to etch detail into certain inlay materials like wood or acrylic to enhance their look.
In the mid-’90s, with the company hitting its stride, and bolstered by the successful debut of the Grand Auditorium, Taylor decided to put more creative resources into doing custom design and inlay work. By the tail end of the decade, Taylor’s ability to create visually compelling inlays for standard, limited-edition and custom models had grown significantly. And with Taylor actively cultivating relationships with popular artists, the years that followed saw the company embrace these new design tools to create a series of more pictorial-themed inlays for artist signature guitars, along with other visually themed limited-edition models.
One of the most elaborate story-themed inlay designs of that time was for the Cujo guitar (released in 1997), featuring figured walnut back and sides that came from a tree that had been removed from a farm in Northern California. The Cujo tie-in was that the tree appeared in scenes in the film adaptation of the Stephen King novel Cujo (1983), about a St. Bernard bitten by a rabid bat that ends up terrorizing a mother and her son. The inlay portrayed narrative elements of the story, including the dog, the bat, a barn and the walnut tree itself, incorporating a variety of wood, shell and other materials. The consistency of the technology used to create the inlays enabled us to create a run of 250 guitars.
Fretboard inlay for the Cujo Guitar
Another key Taylor inlay artist from that period was a young talent named Pete Davies Jr., who arrived at Taylor fresh out of design school in 1999 and brought an inherent knack for creating art that could be translated into visually compelling pictorial inlays. Longtime Taylor fans will recognize his work. His first inlay design was a koi fish inlay for our limited-edition “Living Jewels” Guitar, the first offering of what would become our Gallery Series. Colorful koi fish “swam” along the fretboard and around the soundhole of the figured maple/Sitka spruce guitar body, which had been stained blue to simulate water. For his inlay materials, Davies used synthetics: ColorCore, faux pearl, and a composite of ground turquoise, coral and stone mixed with resin. The guitar was visually stunning, as were the other Gallery Series models created. The Sea Turtle Guitar featured inlaid sea turtles in the fretboard and another turtle with a jellyfish inlaid into the blonde, figured maple back of the guitar body. A third limited edition from the collection, the Gray Whales Guitar, featured whale inlays and a striking rosette featuring a galleon ship that partly extended into the soundhole.
Koi fish inlays in the fretboard and around the soundhole
Fretboard inlays for the Sea Turtle Guitar
Inlays in the back of the Sea Turtle Guitar from the Gallery Series
Another intricate inlay designed by Davies adorned the Liberty Tree Guitar, crafted with wood from a 400-year-old tulip poplar tree that served as a gathering place for patriots in Annapolis, Maryland, during the American Revolution in 1776. Davies’ inlay scheme commemorates the tree’s historical significance with a depiction of the first post-revolution version of the American flag in the peghead, a scrolled, laser-etched depiction of the Declaration of Independence that extends from the fretboard onto the soundboard, and a rosette featuring 13 stars (representing each of the original colonies) and a Colonial-era banner that starts on the edge of the fretboard and unfurls across a portion of the rosette. Between the historical significance of the wood and the inlay art that honored it, the guitars were truly special.
Inlay and rosette for the Liberty Tree guitar
Running Horses inlay, featuring laser-cut koa and maple
Other custom designs originally created by Davies for limited-edition models include a flame inlay for our limited-edition Hot Rod Guitar (HR-LTD), inspired by old hot-rod cars, featuring inlaid flames (in wood) along the fretboard and around the soundhole; a beautiful inlay of horses in maple and koa for our Running Horses Guitar (RH-LTD); and a pelican inlay crafted from koa, walnut, satin wood and myrtle.
After a five-year run, Davies decided to leave the company to continue his career in 2004. (Sadly, he passed away in 2014 at the age of 37.)
Hand-cut custom inlay by Andy Powers before he joined Taylor
The all-black maple Jumbo Rick Nielsen Signature Model, made for Cheap Trick’s lead guitarist and featuring an exploding checkerboard inlay pattern
Forklift inlay on the Pallet Guitar
The Hot Rod Guitar, designed by Pete Davies Jr.
The Pelican Guitar, featuring pelican inlays designed by Pete Davies Jr., and laser-cut from pieces of koa, satin wood, walnut and myrtle wood
The John Denver Commemorative Model, featuring laser-cut inlay pieces of koa, maple, walnut and yellow heart
A Recommitment to Guitar Design
By the time Pete Davies Jr. left the company, Taylor had gone through a substantial period of growth. The company had also pushed the envelope artistically with a prolific outpouring of custom inlays for artists and a slew of other limited-edition guitar offerings. With Davies gone, Bob Taylor, Larry Breedlove and others on the product development team considered the path ahead and the pros and cons of continuing to invest in this aesthetic approach and operating a robust custom program.
“We had swelled that up, done some business, and it was great for a while, but I started to feel like we were getting stuck in that place,” Bob says. “We tried to make a business of it. There were a couple of people who wanted some really fancy, money-doesn’t-matter guitars. Even with what we charged, we didn’t really end up making money or offering enough value. And the opportunity cost was really high because we’d lose Larry into a custom-design black hole for months at a time.”
“I didn’t want Andy to be known as an inlay king here at Taylor. I wanted him to be known as a person who’s continuing to advance what a guitar can do.”
Meanwhile, Taylor continued to innovate with its guitar designs. In 2005, the company introduced the hollowbody electric/acoustic T5. The Grand Symphony body style, designed by Bob and Larry Breedlove, came a year later, followed by other designs that included an 8-string baritone, and in 2010, the GS Mini, also designed by Bob and Larry.
By that time, Bob had been talking to a talented local guitar maker named Andy Powers about joining the company and the role he would play as Taylor’s next-generation guitar designer. Andy signed on and officially started in January of 2011.
“With Andy’s arrival, we made a conscious decision that we were not going to concentrate on highly inlaid, bespoke guitars, where we try and develop a business of making custom guitars through inlay work,” Bob says. “Andy’s an incredible guitar builder, and I was ready for us to renew our focus on the quality of the guitar as a musical instrument rather than a piece of jewelry. So much energy can go toward maintaining the talent and management required to do inlaid works of art. We were in a time when we felt it was appropriate to make elegant inlays for our guitars and largely stay away from the thematics we’ve done in the past.”
One of the ironies, Bob adds, is that in addition to being a superb luthier, Andy is also a gifted inlay artist capable of highly pictorial themes.
“He’d do amazing inlays like tigers walking across the guitar,” he says. “But I didn’t want Andy to be known as an inlay king here at Taylor. I wanted him to be known as a person who’s making better guitars than we made at Taylor before he came, who is continuing to advance what a guitar can do, how long it can last. We both felt like that’s the best value we can offer our customers.”
Pickguard inlay for the Presentation Series
Andy’s Inlay Epiphany
Andy is proud of the custom inlay work he did on the guitars he built before joining Taylor. And for good reason. Not only is his portfolio visually stunning, the work was entirely hand-drawn and hand-cut.
An elaborate inlay of a tiger and dragon for a custom ukulele Andy Powers made prior to coming to Taylor
“The tradition of hand-cut inlay work was something I admired and enjoyed a great deal,” he says. “I was working with a jeweler’s saw and some tiny files. I may as well have been working in the 1700s.”
Based on the type of inlay work his customers wanted for their guitars, Andy sees parallels with contemporary tattoo artistry.
“Think about the variety of tattoos a person might get,” he says. “You see anything from the names of their children, depictions of their life stories, inspirations, mottos, beliefs. A lot of people approach inlay art in a similar vein — they want this one instrument to tell their story…some experience, some hardship, some success, some failure. I was pretty into that because I enjoy the human-interest aspect of this work.”
He also enjoyed the artistic challenge of finding a way to graphically depict a person’s story, and working within the constraints of the medium and the materials when done by hand. But Andy started to think differently about his approach to inlays after a visit at his shop from none other than the late Bill Collings from Collings Guitars.
“Any inlay design should offer some indication of what the guitar will feel and sound like.”
“He was looking at this guitar I was building for a customer,” Andy recalls. “I’d spent weeks working on this very elaborate inlay work, and I was proud of it. Bill turns to me after staring at this guitar and says, ‘This is exceptionally beautiful work. But if I were you, I would start thinking about who will own this guitar after this first player, because musicians are going to want to play this guitar for much longer than you think.’ We stood there in silence for a few minutes while I thought about it, before I responded. ‘So, in other words, you wouldn’t want to have somebody else’s mom’s name tattooed on your arm?’ And he said, ‘Exactly.’”
In the years that have followed, Andy says, that observation has proven to be true, as he watched guitars he built for clients go to their children.
“In one case, the player who ended up with the guitar told me, ‘I love the guitar, but it’s my dad’s story, not necessarily mine.’ That experience made me more interested in the traditional side of inlaid art and focusing on certain themes that are a little more universally appealing. Of course, the classic subjects — botanical motifs, some shapes that are more impressionistic — usually work.”
It reminds Andy of a trip he took to Cremona, Italy, some years ago, where he had an opportunity to see a beautiful Stradivari violin up close.
“It had some heavily ornamented art, which was unusual,” he recalls. “Parts were hand-painted, elements were carved in and filled with contrasting mastic, so it wasn’t necessarily inlaid pieces but had a similar visual effect. It was a botanical kind of motif, and the lines felt as elegant today as they would have been back in the 1700s when it was done. I thought, now that’s a beautiful approach to ornamentation.”
Inside the Inlay Design Process
Andy powers walks through some of the steps in the process of developing an inlay for production, from pencil sketches to the finished product.
Like a lot of Andy’s other guitar design work, he typically starts sketching his inlay ideas in pencil. (For anyone wondering, he’s a fan of Blackwing pencils.) Here, he walks through some of the steps in the process of developing an inlay for production.
“I’ll start with a few criteria about the guitar itself, so if I know this is a modern guitar, I might know that this inlay needs some points because I don’t want it to look too heavy. So I’ll sketch some different ideas and then start drawing revisions over it using tracing paper or vellum until I arrive at what’s essentially the form — something that has the right genetic DNA for the design. Eventually I’ll do some conversions in the computer. Once I have the proportions, the sizing, the curves, I’ll start working with it in a CAD/CAM format to create some fixed geometry from that sketch.
“Once I have the geometry, I’ll often cut the inlays with machines myself. If I want it to be a shell part, sometimes I’ll work with [Taylor inlay programmer] Dave Jones and we’ll cut real shell. Often times I’ll use lasers because they’re pretty fast and easy. You can do mockups in materials that aren’t shell and aren’t so costly. You might do a mockup with a piece of plastic inlaid into a piece of wood, just to get the right curves and visual look. With machines, we want to see if the geometry runs well, whether the machine faults out, whether there are interruptions in your computer geometry, because creating guide curves for a CNC machine is an art form itself. Most people don’t know what a tool path like that is, but a machine can only create points and some form of geometric shape between them.
“By the time you’ve created a path that a machine can follow, you might have hundreds of individual segments of geometry, all linked together so the machine can make this part. It’s such a challenge, but I love it.”
Once the inlay design is finalized, Dave Jones from our product development team will do some additional work in CAD/CAM to stabilize the design, write any programs needed for the CNC mill or laser, and prepare it for production. Depending on the material and the design, some inlays are cut in-house while others — usually shell — are CNC-cut to precise specification by an outside company, either Precision Pearl or Pearl Works.
Programs also need to be written for a CNC mill to cut the pockets that will hold the inlays.
“We’ll build a separate set of geometry derived from the first set, Andy says. “There are some changes you have to make — it can’t be a perfect friction fit because a piece of wood needs enough clearance to swell or shrink. And remember that you can’t use a rotary tool to cut an inside corner. So if you have any sort of design work that comes to a point, you can’t cut that point. You have to cut outside of it. So you need to build in some separate geometry that gets you clearance there.”
If a new inlay is being introduced to production — especially one that’s more intricate or labor-intensive to install — Andy or Dave Jones will work with our production craftspeople to ensure that it’s a smooth, efficient execution.
“The most important thing with inlay installation work is really just staying present and being aware of what you’re doing at every moment in the process,” Jones says.
One inlay that requires extra care is the paua shell pickguard inlay on our Presentation Series.
“It’s challenging because it’s delicate,” Jones says. “That rosewood veneer for the pickguard is only 18 thousandths of an inch thick. The paua inlays are 20 thousandths — thin enough that they’re also cut on the laser. The pocketing has to be just right. And after inlay, it goes through more careful handling, and then finish and re-registration back at the laser to get a successfully completed product. The way it’s done is a testament to the level of commitment our craftspeople have to quality and to working together.”
Andy’s Approach to Inlay Design at Taylor
Andy echoes the point made by Bob Taylor that his creative focus at Taylor should be on foundational-level improvements to guitars rather than extreme customization. That said, part of that focus has led to an array of thoughtful new inlay designs within the context of Taylor’s standard guitar line.
Since his arrival at Taylor a decade ago and in his role as master guitar designer, Andy has been on a steady path of transforming virtually the entire Taylor guitar lineup, refining the feel, sound and look of most existing models and introducing many new designs as well. Regardless of the type of guitar, the aesthetic approach, he says, is fundamentally the same: It has to be a holistic design process in which the musical personality and the aesthetic treatment share a cohesive identity.
“If you look at any inlay design, it should offer some indication of what the guitar will feel and sound like,” he explains. “Shapes certainly matter. Materials matter. Visual weighting matters, like how bold or how subdued the visual strength of an inlay is.”
“The smaller body tends to give it a more intimate, elegant feel,” he says. “Now imagine it with big, blocky mother-of-pearl inlays at every position. You’d have this massively shiny, reflective fingerboard, and it would be so visually heavy it would look like the guitar might fall right out of a stand. It wouldn’t be in balance with itself visually. But with the Belle Fleur inlay, there’s a balance of strength and delicacy with a little Art Nouveau, a little Art Deco, a little stylized impressionism in there. I see that and think, it looks like the rest of the guitar. It fits. It doesn’t have any one thing that overpowers something else. The types of curves used suggest the curves of the beveled cutaway and the armrest and the overall silhouette of the guitar. All of those elements go together.”
This inlay design philosophy can sometimes present challenges within the framework of the Taylor line. Each series in the line traditionally has shared a suite of appointments (and in most cases, the same back and side wood), yet different body styles within a series can have very different sonic personalities.
So, at times, Andy has exercised his creative license to design outside those constraints. His Builder’s Edition framework gave him one particular avenue to deviate from a series to create another class of “director’s cut” models. With the debut of the Grand Pacific, for example, Andy chose to craft the Builder’s Edition 517 and 717 with an appointment scheme that reflected the traditional heritage of dreadnought-style guitars and a different musical voicing for Taylor, so the two models shared an aesthetic sensibility and an inlay design with each other rather than with the 500 Series or 700 Series.
Anatomy of the Mission Inlay
At a glance, the Mission fretboard inlay suite featured in the Grand Orchestra 618e and 818e looks like a relatively straightforward design, but a closer inspection reveals nuanced details.
For starters, the inlay incorporates two different materials: the interior portion is mother-of-pearl, which has a natural sheen, while the outer border is ivoroid.
“The ivoroid doesn’t have a reflective sheen,” Andy says. “It’s not the same silver-white color as the pearl, and it’s got a grain to it. The color differences are subtle, so you don’t see much distinction from afar, but the gradation of creamy off-white against an ebony fingerboard allows your eye to look deeper into the design and eases the contrast between the cool shine of that pearl and the warmth of an ebony background. It adds a level of visual complexity that you don’t even notice at first.”
Another noteworthy aspect of the design is the way Andy was able to overcome a limitation of CNC router bits using lasers.
“Using any sort of computer-guided cutting tool, you have to understand that there is no way to cut a sharp inside corner using a round cutter,” he explains. “If you’re cutting parts by hand in a traditional way, you can make a sharp inside corner because a saw blade that’s making a cut can leave a straight edge kerf. But with CNC, the closest you can get is a small radius in that corner that corresponds to a cutter.”
But a laser, he explains, can cut a sharp inside corner, as long as it can cut the through the material. (Lasers tend to have a harder time cutting through shell at certain thicknesses but can easily cut through materials like wood, acrylic or, in this case, ivoroid.)
“With the Mission inlay, if you look closely, you’ll see that the ivoroid, which has been laser-cut, has sharp corners,” Andy says. “The mother-of-pearl centerpiece has sharp outside corners that match, and have one small-radius inside corner. In this case, the inside radius benefits the design. We’re leveraging the unique ability of tools and the materials to do something that would be almost impossible to do by hand with any level of consistency. The width of the ivoroid band is ultra-consistent, within tenths of thousandths of an inch. These inside corners are always exactly where you intended them to be, and the radius is always exactly the right size. You couldn’t achieve that level of consistency by hand. I think this is my favorite block inlay design so far. It has so much visual boldness without feeling primitive.”
Another example (though not a Builder’s Edition design) was the redesign of the Grand Orchestra in 2020 to feature V-Class bracing and a new appointment scheme. The two retooled models, the 618e and 818e, feature a shared inlay, the Mission, which is different from the other inlays used with the 600 and 800 Series. Andy chose to design a block-style inlay as a visual reference for the guitar’s big, bold and powerful voice, but upon closer inspection, there is an additional level of subtle detailing in the inlay — the mother-of-pearl block in the center is actually surrounded by an outer ring of laser-cut ivoroid that offers a subtle element of gradation. (For more on the technical execution of that inlay design, see our sidebar.)
“It feels appropriate for a Grand Orchestra guitar,” Andy says. “It embodies how I’d describe the sound of a Grand Orchestra. It’s powerful, bold, domineering, but also with this level of complexity and refinement that belies its sheer size. You can use a piece of inlay — a position marker, a mere decoration — as a design opportunity for the guitar to affirm itself because all the elements tell a similar story. When you look at the completed instrument as a player, you intuitively understand that the parts blend harmoniously. To me, that’s a successful inlay. I’d like to think that a hundred years from now, a player could look at that guitar and somehow intuitively know it all works.”
It probably would sound pretty amazing, too.
In a future edition of Wood&Steel, Taylor’s Director of Natural Resource Sustainability, Scott Paul, will offer a closer look at our sourcing efforts relating to natural materials like mother-of-pearl and abalone.
After devoting decades to building a successful company and a creative culture, Taylor co-founders Bob Taylor and Kurt Listug are thrilled to pass the torch to employees. Here’s why the future has never looked brighter for Taylor — and for guitar players.
It’s a Monday morning in January, yet the usual hive-like bustle of guitars being brought to life is oddly absent from the production floor of Taylor’s El Cajon, California campus. That’s because across the street, our craftspeople have gathered with fellow employees in the parking lot outside our shipping warehouse for a mandatory all-company virtual announcement.
A 30-foot LED video wall has been set up, and a digital timer on the screen is counting down. Employees are masked and safely distanced from each other under an azure SoCal sky. Elsewhere, Taylor employees working remotely, including those on our European team, have been instructed to watch the video feed via a link that was provided.
The announcement was framed positively, if vaguely, as an important employee celebration, so a mood of curious anticipation hangs in the air as co-workers on-site chat or scroll on their phones as they wait.
At the appointed time, a video begins to play, and the image of a proud 17-year-old Bob Taylor holding the first guitar he ever built, a 12-string dreadnought, fills the screen. The video proceeds to highlight the company’s history, as the familiar voices of Bob and co-founder Kurt Listug trade memories over archival photos of their younger selves and the company’s gritty early days.
A group of employees watch a video chronicling Taylor’s history prior to the employee ownership announcement. On the big screen: a young Bob Taylor (circa 1975)
The two recall the shared passion for making guitars that brought them together at the American Dream shop and spurred them to partner up to buy the business for $3,700 and set out on their own at ages 19 and 21, respectively. They recount the hardships they faced and the steely resolve that kept them paddling against the current for 10 years before they finally turned the corner and could actually start to pay themselves on a regular basis.
“Things were hard for a really long time,” Kurt says. “We had to learn everything. How to build guitars. How to sell guitars. How to build a business.”
The video follows Taylor’s evolution to its present-day operation. Bob and Kurt thank employees for the hard work and collaborative spirit that have fueled the company’s growth and success and come to define its unique culture. They also acknowledge the turbulence of 2020.
“One test of a company’s culture is how well it responds to adversity,” Kurt reflects, relating the problem-solving perseverance of his and Bob’s early efforts to the way the company responded to the unprecedented challenges of 2020. “We want you all to know how proud we are of how our entire organization rose to the occasion.”
Bob echoes the sentiment, recapping the successes of 2020, like the nimble creation and launch of the American Dream Series, the release of our new GT guitar, and the way that production employees adapted to the many new protocols of working safely in the COVID era.
“Despite all the challenges we faced, Kurt and I knew we could get through it as a company and become stronger in the process because we’ve done it before,” he says. “And this time we have some of the most talented and dedicated people working together.”
Then the video transitions into a new segment. This time Bob and Kurt are on camera together talking directly to employees.
“It’s a huge day in the history of Taylor Guitars,” Bob says. “It’s a day that Kurt and I have been planning for a really long time.”
Kurt Listug working on a guitar body in the Taylor shop circa 1975
They acknowledge a question they get asked more and more these days, especially now that the two are in their mid-60s: “What will happen to Taylor Guitars when the two of you aren’t around?”
“As much as Kurt and I have no plans to retire anytime soon,” Bob says, “it is an important question, and today you’ll get the answer.”
“Every successful company faces the challenge of looking beyond its founders,” Kurt says. “Who will own the company? Who will be the best people to guide it forward into the future? Who will keep it true to our values and maintain the culture we love? While Bob and I still have many years left to dedicate to the company, we wanted to make sure we put the company in the best position for future success, to give it the best chance to be around for the next 100 or 200 years.”
“For us, the ‘good old days’ are now and tomorrow.”
Kurt explains the standard options available to businesses planning an ownership transition and why none felt viable for Bob and him or master guitar designer Andy Powers, who became a third ownership partner in 2019. They could keep it in the family (Kurt doesn’t have kids and Bob’s daughters were never interested in the business); sell the company to another musical instrument manufacturer (they’ve had offers but felt no other company would truly understand or safeguard Taylor’s culture); sell to a private equity firm (which might compromise the company’s financial health or core mission); or go public (Taylor is too small a company for that).
“None of these would preserve the company’s values or keep the focus on designing and making the best possible musical instruments, which is the secret of our success,” Kurt says. “And we would lose control of the decision-making and goal-setting for the company.”
There was really only one option that made sense, Bob tells employees.
“In fact, as Kurt and I sit here today, we are no longer the owners of Taylor Guitars,” he says. “Because on December 31, while you were ramping up your holiday celebrations, Kurt and Andy and I were signing the documents to officially transition the ownership of Taylor Guitars to you, our beloved employees. You heard that right — Taylor Guitars is now 100-percent owned by the employees. Congratulations!”
Terry Myers, one of Taylor’s longest-tenured employees (32 years), was in the parking lot for the announcement.
“I was blown away,” he says. “Honestly, when I first heard about an important company-wide announcement, my first thought was that the company had been sold, and I wondered who the new owner was. There seemed to be a positive vibe around the announcement, which struck me as a little strange. We all know a company being sold is often not a good thing for most employees. Then, when I heard that we were the new owners, I thought, wow — there’s the twist I didn’t see coming! It was a pretty special moment.”
Al Moreno, a staff videographer who was on hand to document the event, also processed what had just transpired on a personal level.
“I felt like a musician who had just joined an incredible supergroup,” he says. “I was so proud to be part of this work community.”
Transitioning to an ESOP
The mechanism Taylor used to transition to employee ownership is an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). Established under U.S. federal law, it functions as a type of retirement plan that gives a company’s qualified employees an ownership stake through individual accounts. An ESOP trust holds shares of company stock on behalf of employees. Those shares are then divided and allocated to individual retirement accounts over time. (Employees don’t actually buy the shares.) The value of each retirement account is a reflection of the company’s performance, so the more the company grows and succeeds over time, the more employees benefit financially. Each year, the company makes a contribution to employees’ accounts. When an employee leaves the company or retires, the ESOP will cash them out based on the value of the company and the shares in their account.
Bob and Kurt reflect on their ownership transition, their hopes for Taylor’s future, and what they’re proudest of.
“More and more people in the workforce these days are simply left out of the ability to get ahead and build any wealth.”
“With employee ownership, we can provide for our people in an even more substantive and meaningful way,” Kurt says. “It gives everyone a direct financial stake in the success of the company, which will keep the focus on making the best possible musical instruments for generations to come.”
The Importance of Planning Ahead
An ESOP is something that Kurt, Bob and Taylor Chief Financial Officer Barbara Wight began to research years ago. In fact, the company has been actively planning this transition for about seven years. Planning for the future, Bob recalls, was a fundamental principle that he and Kurt learned to value early in their partnership.
“Kurt and I were in our 20s, trying to form our company into the entity that would be best for us,” he says. “We were talking to an attorney, and at one point he said, ‘When you sell your company…,’ and I said, ‘What do you mean? I have no intention of selling this company.’ And he said, ‘Bob, you’re going to sell the company — either by accident when you die or sometime before that when you have control.’ That hit me like a ton of bricks that planning ahead was going to be key for us.”
Barbara Wight, who was hired as Taylor’s CFO in July of 2009, had learned the hard way why creating an ownership succession plan is important for a company.
“I had the very challenging experience of helping a significant company, a global leader in its field, transition when the founder unexpectedly died and did not have a succession plan in place,” she says. “And there are two pieces: the management of the company itself and the entity of the company, which is an organism. And if you don’t have a succession plan for the life of that organism after you are no longer part of it, it’s going to be very challenging for that organism to live.”
“Zildjian was founded in the 1600s, Martin in 1833, so it’s not uncommon for companies in the music industry to last.”
When Barbara interviewed for her position at Taylor, it was an important discussion point with Bob and Kurt.
“I never wanted to go through that again,” she says. “I wanted to make sure Bob and Kurt understood that they [should be] thinking the same way, and of course they already were because they think long-term. So, we’ve been talking about it since I started here.”
Andy Powers Makes a Career Commitment
When it comes to planning for the future, one of the most definitive examples of Taylor’s continuing commitment to guitar design was Bob’s hiring of Andy Powers, who arrived almost exactly 10 years before the ownership transition occurred. Anyone who’s followed Taylor’s prolific outpouring of guitar innovations over the past decade understands the huge impact Andy has had as our next-generation design architect. It’s no secret that Andy was hired to be Bob Taylor’s guitar design successor. What some might not know is that Bob explicitly wanted someone who was relatively young and could make a career-long commitment at Taylor. In fact, when Bob wrote out a “wish list” of qualifications he wanted his successor to have, one was that it be someone who was under age 30, yet had 20 years of guitar-making experience, a seemingly impossible ask. Astonishingly, Andy checked that box. (He built his first guitar when he was 9.)
Andy reaffirmed his commitment to Taylor’s new employee-owners after Bob and Kurt announced the ownership transition.
“My commitment is to spend my working lifetime here doing this amazing guitar thing that we love so much,” he said. “Bob has always said he and Kurt spent a lot of time building a foundation that’s solid and a roof that doesn’t leak, and we get to spend this next generation building the interior.”
Bob considers hiring and working with Andy one of his proudest accomplishments and an example of the company’s forward-thinking philosophy.
“Andy is a better guitar maker than me — and I believe one of the best in the world — which is fantastic because it means we can see the future getting better rather than just trying to recreate the past,” he says. “For us, the ‘good old days’ are now and tomorrow.”
The Importance of Employees and Culture
As a company, Taylor very well could have established itself as a respected player in the high-end acoustic guitar market and remained boutique-size. But Bob and Kurt always had loftier ambitions.
“I remember back when we first bought the American Dream,” Kurt recalls. “We said, ‘Someday we’ll be as big as Martin.’ “It was kind of funny for a couple of kids to say, but we shared that goal.”
Over time, as they began to bring more people into the fold, Bob and Kurt also came to understand that in order for the company to continue to grow and remain true to its values, they needed to build a strong culture with people who shared their vision and drive.
“Even more than we love making guitars, Kurt and Andy and I love making jobs and careers for people.”
“You can’t just be about the business,” Kurt says. “It is a business, but we wanted to attract people who were passionate about their work like Bob and I were. We wanted to create a work environment with an emphasis on problem-solving innovation, collaboration and respect. Where people feel empowered to apply their unique talents and have pride of ownership in their work.”
Bob still vividly remembers an epiphany he had as a young builder who aspired to do more than just master his own craft, but to make it an appealing vocation for others.
“When I think back on those early days of struggling, of loving what I did but being poor, I tossed another goal on myself: to make what I did an occupation that others could be proud to do,” he says. “Where you could stand in front of any of your friends who has a career and say, ‘I have a career too: it’s guitar making.’”
Decades later, despite the individual accolades he has earned as a pioneer of modern guitar design and manufacturing, Bob takes special pride in the company Taylor has become, now with more than 1,200 employees.
“Even more than we love making guitars, Kurt and Andy and I love making jobs and careers for people,” he says.
Taylor employee-owners share what resonates with them about the company culture.
Playing the Long Game
While Kurt understands why employee ownership was the best path forward from a business perspective, he is also deeply passionate about providing a means for Taylor’s new employee-owners to create a better financial future for themselves and their families, especially in a time of growing wealth inequality around the world.
“More and more people in the workforce these days are simply left out of the ability to get ahead and build any wealth,” he says. “Most people won’t be able to create any kind of financial abundance in their life unless they keep their expenses very low and have their income high enough in relation so they can save some money. They won’t have the ability to control capital or be paid in capital. This ownership arrangement is an opportunity for employees to be able to build capital as the business grows. They’ll build wealth in their retirement plan that they would never be able to build otherwise.”
Including All Employees
One mandate from Bob, Kurt and Andy as they explored the transition to employee ownership was to find an appropriate framework for all Taylor employees to be able to participate, including those in Mexico, South America, the UK and the EU. After all, our European headquarters in Amsterdam, which provides an operational hub for us to handle our own distribution and sales and include a fully equipped service and repair center, has been vital to our international growth over the past decade.
Similarly, our second factory complex in Tecate, Baja California, Mexico (about an hour away from our U.S. headquarters in El Cajon), where we make the Baby Taylor, GS Mini, Academy Series, 100 and 200 Series, and guitar cases and gig bags, has also played a huge role in our growth.
A seamstress making a Taylor gig bag in our Tecate factory
“One of our greatest successes has been the growth of our operation in Tecate,” Bob and Kurt said in a message to Taylor employees in Mexico after the ESOP announcement. “We believe it is one of the best guitar factories in the entire world, and you all should be proud of the work you’ve done to make Taylor an industry-leading company and our guitars so popular around the globe.”
Because ESOP regulations were established under U.S. federal law, finding the right mechanism to include employees in multiple countries added considerable complexities to the process, as the laws in other countries are different. CFO Barbara Wight led the charge, working with outside advisors who specialize in helping companies navigate ownership transition through ESOPs. That’s one reason why the planning process took several years.
“We had to take into account every single stakeholder, and until we knew that everyone was properly recognized and honored in the transaction, the structure wouldn’t have been correct,” Barbara says. “That included Bob, Kurt and Andy, and our employees all around the world. It also had to be good for our vendors, our customers, the local community, the business community, and the lenders who are helping us buy the company.”
In the years leading up to the transition, the target date had always been December 31, 2020. But no one had planned for a pandemic.
“When the pandemic hit and our factories had to be closed, we actually shelved the plan,” Barbara says. “We had to go into survival mode and make sure we took care of everybody. And as the year went on and we began to see that the world was turning to music, that gave us the inspiration to make it happen. So, literally, it was September of last year when we said, ‘Let’s do it.’ And we [compressed] a one-year project into September through December 31 because we thought, what if we could start 2021 for all of our employees and our dealers and our customers on an incredibly positive note?”
Employees at Taylor’s production facility in Tecate, Baja California, Mexico, will participate in Taylor’s U.S.-based ESOP plan. This arrangement is the first of its kind within the ESOP world, effectively creating a new paradigm that other companies might choose to follow.
“An ESOP is a thrilling option for us because it means our primary focus of building great instruments for musicians can continue into the future.”
Employees in the UK and EU will be participants in a similar plan (a Global Employee Stock Ownership Plan, or GESOP) available under EU regulations.
Nate Shivers, Taylor’s Director of Sales for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, who lives and works in Amsterdam, points out that ESOP-type programs are not common in Europe.
“The fact that Taylor went out of its way to apply the same basic principles to our European employees was a huge surprise to them,” he says. “It really made a statement about how committed Taylor is to our team over here.”
It also provided a sense of relief, Nate says, as some employees had been wondering what the future of Taylor might look like without Bob and Kurt in their ownership roles.
“The thought that we could wake up one day being owned by a competitor or bank was certainly a possibility,” he says. “The route Bob, Kurt and Andy chose was really impactful to this group.”
Another Side of Sustainability
We’ve shared many stories in recent years about Taylor’s ongoing efforts to become more sustainable. In most cases, our initiatives have focused on responsible stewardship of the natural resources we rely on, investing in the future through projects such as planting ebony or koa trees, upcycling and replanting trees in urban settings, and other practices that reduce waste. The way Bob, Kurt and Andy see it, that same thinking is being applied to investing in our people and company culture through employee ownership. And the two ideas dovetail nicely. Bob often uses the example of mahogany trees that were planted by British missionaries in Fiji a century ago, which have yielded wood Taylor has used to make guitars.
“How cool to think that in a hundred years, Taylor craftspeople could be making guitars with ebony, koa and other wood species that we’re planting now,” Bob says.
And as Barbara Wight points out, because making music is such an essential, enduring form of human expression, companies that make musical instruments can last for many generations.
“Zildjian was founded in the 1600s, Martin in 1833, so it’s not uncommon for companies in the music industry to last,” she says. “Those particular companies have done it by being passed down through family members. In our case, we will last for generations because of our employees. That’s such an amazing thing.”
Taylor CFO Barbara Wight shares her thoughts on why employee ownership is such a meaningful transition for employees and for Taylor’s continued growth.
Why Employee Ownership is Good for Musicians
If you’re already a fan of our guitars and our company values — or even just guitars in general — it’s easy to feel good about Taylor’s plan for the future. But it’s also good news for current and future customers.
Taylor Director of Sales Dave Pelletier has worked in the music industry for decades, both on the retail and manufacturing sides, and he understands the win-win nature of Taylor’s employee ownership as it relates to customers.
“You can tell a lot about a company by the way it treats both its employees and its customers,” he says. “Employee ownership is the ultimate expression of a company ‘putting its money where its mouth is.’ This resonates with our customers, too, and draws them to our brand. We’re already seeing it. It also gives them assurance about the continuity of our culture and how we’ll continue to do business well into the future. This translates to an assurance of the quality their hard-earned money will buy. And at a personal level, as individuals here at Taylor, we’re thinking more broadly about what we do, asking, ‘Will this action benefit everyone — and ultimately our customers?’”
Taylor’s Dave Pelletier and Steve Theriault explain how employee ownership will benefit Taylor customers, dealers and supply chain partners.
How Employee Ownership Creates Happy Customers
The data for companies with an ESOP structure point toward a great track record of productivity, business success and both employee and customer satisfaction. According to the National Center for Employee Ownership (NCEO), a nonprofit research organization, companies with ESOPs and other broad-based employee ownership plans account for well over half of FortuneMagazine’s annual “100 Best Companies to Work for in America” list.
Alex Moss, founder and president of Praxis Consulting Group and a past member of the Board of Directors of NCEO, was a key member of Taylor’s ESOP advisory team. We asked him to share his perspective regarding Taylor’s ownership transition, especially as it relates to customers.
As someone who has helped a lot of companies transition to employee ownership, what stands out to you about Taylor’s efforts?
What really stands out to me is the consistency around the company’s values, from the desire to all the little decisions in setting up the ESOP and shared ownership in a way that echoes Bob and Kurt’s original vision. It positions the company to continue to — I’m borrowing their words — “bring the joy of music” to the communities they serve. Transferring ownership to an ESOP is a big deal on its own; it’s a complex and challenging process. Watching how they have done this in a way that constantly reinforces Taylor’s vision is what has been particularly impressive.
Why is employee ownership good for a company’s customers?
Customers mainly care about getting their own needs met. They also have their own commitments to the communities they serve — or in the case of artists, making the music they love to share. Employee ownership at Taylor is great for customers on all of these levels. The Taylor employees who have always designed and built amazing guitars are now even more deeply rooted to the company and rewarded for providing incredible instruments and service. It’s a direct reinforcement of what the customer wants, and a new and powerful reason for Taylor employee-owners to deliver. At the same time, customers also see that Taylor is doubling down on taking care of its people, and many customers simply admire companies that do these kinds of things. It aligns with the way they want to do business. They are proud to have business partners like Taylor. We can get distracted by the mechanics of stock ownership when what this is really about is doing an even better job of building human connections.
Is there a correlation between employee fulfillment and customer satisfaction?
Employee ownership fits best in a company where how the employees do their work so directly affects the quality of the final product. What Taylor employees do every day isn’t easy, or everyone would do it. So anything Taylor does to help employee-owners see and feel connected to their work will directly help them deliver quality and value, and will help keep customers delighted. Of course, the ESOP doesn’t create that; Bob and Kurt, and now Andy and everyone who has joined them in building the company deserve the credit for that. Employee ownership protects it, shines a light on it, reinforces it, and it gives us all a way to see how everyone’s success is directly connected. It’s pretty simple: When employee-owners feel good about their work, they do better work, and that translates into better results for customers.
Preserving Our Passion for Guitar Design
From his perspective as Taylor’s chief guitar designer, Andy Powers takes great satisfaction in knowing that employee ownership will keep the organization aligned in its shared purpose of serving players for decades to come. As someone who has immersed himself in the history of musical instrument design and studied the evolution of other companies that have spanned generations and experienced changes in ownership, Andy recognizes the unique opportunity and values Taylor has to offer musicians moving forward.
“When a company changes hands after its founder is gone, there’s a risk of the primary purpose shifting from its original focus of offering something great to its customers to simply chasing a profit, often to repay its debts,” he says. “Its customers can go from being viewed as the people the company serves to being the people it takes from. When this happens, the shift in outlook erodes the philosophy the company was based on in the first place.”
“An ESOP is the most thrilling option for us because it means our primary focus of building great instruments for musicians can continue into the future,” he adds. “Taylor can remain committed to serving players, while providing for employees, suppliers and forest resources. One group isn’t excluded for the benefit of another. I see it as the best option for a guitar company to continue with the intention of building great instruments.”
Andy Powers explains how employee ownership will help preserve Taylor’s culture of creativity.
The reaction from Taylor vendors, dealers and other key partners has been universally positive. It was important for our leadership team to assure everyone that none of our operations, senior management and product mix would change as a result of this ownership transition, and that Bob and Kurt would be continuing with their stewardship. Not only was it a message of seamless continuity, it demystified any speculation about Taylor’s future, which provided a sense of reassurance to many.
It also provides an example of how other companies with a creative culture might set themselves up for sustained success after an ownership change.
“You guys are a shining light on how to do things the right way in our industry,” said Meng Ru Kuok, co-founder and CEO of BandLab Technologies and the CEO of Swee Lee Music, our channel partner in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, in a congratulatory note to Kurt Listug. “We’re so proud to be your partners, and I can only hope that years down the road I’d be able to do the same for my team.”
For those of us at Taylor who get to usher inventive new guitar designs into the world, one of the joys of our work is responding to the needs of players — delivering inspiring musical tools that haven’t been available before. Usually it’s a guitar with some new combination of refined features that make it easier to play, or a fresh tonal palette to explore. Often, it’s both.
Such was the case in October, when we unveiled our sporty Grand Theater — better known as the GT. As we detailed in our cover story last issue, master builder Andy Powers had observed a groundswell of interest among players for the compact proportions and nimble feel of smaller guitars, yet players didn’t want to skimp on sound. They wanted a stage- and studio-worthy instrument capable of producing rich, full-bodied tone.
Andy had actually been kicking around design ideas on and off for a few years before Taylor committed to developing what became the GT last winter. From the beginning, he knew that one of the foundational design choices for this guitar, one that would help define both the feel and sound, would be the scale length of the strings (measured from the nut to the saddle). He set his sights on something shorter than the string length range of most modern acoustic guitars (“Most live in the world of somewhere around 25 inches,” he notes), but longer than the typical string length of what would be considered a travel guitar — up to about 23-1/2 inches (the scale length of our GS Mini). To most people, that in-between zone might seem negligible, but for Andy, it was prime real estate to create a new category of guitar with an inviting new feel and sound. In the end, Andy arrived at a scale length of 24-1/8 inches — the equivalent of capo-ing a guitar with a 25-1/2-inch scale length at the first fret.
For the body proportions, he envisioned something larger than our popular GS Mini but slightly smaller than our Grand Concert. He borrowed the shapely curves of our biggest body style, the Grand Orchestra, but scaled them down and made the body shallower.
C-Class bracing is a different mechanism to exaggerate the low-end response out of a relatively small guitar while still delivering the enhancements of the V-Class design.”
The other critical ingredient was the internal bracing architecture. The challenge was to coax a full voice from the body’s compact proportions. One of the benefits of Andy’s innovative V-Class architecture, introduced in 2018, is its ability to improve the tonal output and produce a uniform response across the frequency spectrum. But due to the GT’s smaller proportions, he needed to resort to a bit of “acoustic alchemy,” as he puts it, in order to enhance the low-end frequencies. That led to an asymmetrical variant of his V-Class design, dubbed C-Class™ bracing in honor of its cantilevered structural element.
“It’s a different mechanism to exaggerate the low-end response out of a relatively small guitar,” Andy says, “while still delivering the enhancements of the V-Class design, like improved volume and intonation.”
When integrated together, the unique design specifications of the GT place it in a category all its own, offering a uniquely appealing blend of playing comfort and sound. The scale length, in tandem with light-gauge (.012-.053) strings, yields a light, slinky tension profile. (It’s the same tension as a guitar with a scale length of 25-1/2 inches tuned down a half step.) The shorter scale length also means slightly condensed fret spacing, making more complicated chords easier to play.
“It’s one of the easiest playing guitars I’ve ever had my hands on,” wrote Guitar Player magazine gear guru Art Thompson in his review of the GTe Urban Ash for the publication’s December edition, on his way to giving the guitar an Editors’ Pick Award. “It’s as light as a feather, yet so dynamic and expressive.”
Among the other nuanced touches that contribute to the GT’s hand-friendly feel are a nut width of 1-23/32 inches, which splits the difference between the 1-3/4-inch and 1-11/16-inch nut widths used on other Taylor 6-strings, plus a new neck carve profile that caters to the GT’s unique scale length.
“This profile has elements of our classic Taylor neck shape and offers a subtle nod to the compound-carve design we developed for the Grand Pacific,” Andy says. “Proportionally, it has a touch more depth and fullness in the player’s hand than you might assume for such a nimble guitar, but the subtle profile transition as you move from the nut to the heel has an appealing, balanced feel that makes playing seem effortless.”
We get a steady stream of inquiries from folks — from beginners to mature players eager to reduce the stress on their hands and prolong the lifespan of a favorite hobby — looking for model recommendations that offer the easiest playability. Given its many hand-friendly features, the GT is, without question, a great option to explore.
The Birth of Serious Fun
When we launched the GT in October — our fastest-selling US model launch ever — one message we sent with our “serious fun” tag line was the fusion of easy handling and high performance we feel the GT embodies. Historically speaking, our GS Mini became arguably the most successful guitar we’ve ever offered in part because we were able to blend couch-friendly size with a surprisingly robust voice. Yet we knew there was room — and a desire among players — for another level of musical sophistication from a compact guitar.
Our debut model, the GT Urban Ash, features solid Urban Ash back and sides with a solid spruce top, and comes with optional ES2 electronics. The choice of this species of ash (also known as Shamel or evergreen ash) was two-fold: We loved its mahogany-like tonal characteristics, and we saw this guitar as another exciting demonstration of our commitment to our urban wood initiative — using responsibly sourced wood from end-of-life trees slated for removal from municipal areas.
We also wanted to make our first GT model broadly accessible to players, so we gave it modest appointments and introduced it in the same price range as our American Dream Series guitars, making it among the most affordable U.S.-made, all-solid-wood guitars in the Taylor line.
So far, the guitar has been warmly embraced by reviewers and the artists who’ve had a chance to get their hands on it.
Artist Spotlight: FINNEAS
Read our Q&A with award-winning songwriter and producer FINNEAS, among the first to play the new GT K21e.
As part of his “First Look” video series, Premier Guitar gear editor John Bohlinger shared his initial impressions of the GT and liked its “bluesy mojo.” He also picked up on the “serious fun” duality of the guitar.
“It seems like the kind of thing you could go disappear in the woods with for a few days and then go play a concert in an arena the next day,” he said after a test drive.
For more early reactions to the GT Urban Ash guitar, see the “Review Riffs” section at the end of this story.
New GT Models
From its earliest stage of development, the GT offered great potential as another versatile framework for Andy to present other appealing tonewood voicings (and aesthetic treatments) within the Taylor line. In fact, we’ve officially adopted it as a member of our family of body shapes, assigning the numeral 1 to designate it within our model naming scheme when adding it to an existing Taylor series.
To kick off 2021, we’re excited to expand the GT footprint with two new models: the rosewood/spruce GT 811e, which brings another rich voice to our 800 Series, and the all-koa GT K21e, which adds an enticing new musical personality to our Koa Series.
Watch guitar guru and music director Nicholas Veinoglou show off the tone and style of our two latest GT guitars.
Meet the GT 811e…
Andy was eager to craft a GT guitar with the classic rosewood and Sitka spruce wood pairing.
He compares working with the woods in this context to the way different chefs or regions use staple ingredients in a fresh way to place their own culinary imprint on a familiar dish.
“With the GT 811, you’ll hear that familiar spruce and rosewood flattop guitar sound, but as a result of the GT’s fresh form and structure, the listening and playing experiences deliver a distinctly new dimension,” Andy says. “This iteration retains the slinky, ultra-easy handling and string feel, svelte body contours, and surprisingly broad GT voice we love, but it’s been shaped into a denser, harmonically saturated sound. The top responds quickly to even the most delicate articulation, and it’s buoyed by the deep and supportive sound rosewood is known for.”
Aesthetically, the guitar shares many standard 800 Series appointments, including maple binding with rosewood top trim, an abalone rosette, our Element inlay scheme in mother-of-pearl, a rosewood pickguard, and a gloss-finish body. Distinctions include C-Class bracing, an armrest-free body (due to the GT’s comfortably small form), and Taylor Mini tuners in smoked nickel (the Minis are more appropriate for the guitar’s smaller proportions, and their lighter weight keeps the guitar physically balanced). The GT 811e also features onboard ES2 electronics and comes with our attractive AeroCase, which players love for its blend of lightweight yet super-sturdy attributes.
…And the GT K21e
The all-koa edition of the GT introduces a unique harmony of aesthetic beauty, playing comfort, and sonic expression.
“Tonally, this guitar is the perfect demonstration of the midrange balance and sweetness koa is known for,” Andy says. “It has a vibrantly focused sound, with a smoothly rounded attack. The balanced response is broadly useful for a player who will use it as a rhythm instrument, a fingerstyle guitar, or for an electric guitar-oriented playing style.”
The models boast solid, figured koa top, back and sides, with a shaded edgeburst around the body and neck. Additional Koa Series appointments include maple binding and top purfling, an elegant maple Spring Vine inlay scheme, a 4.5-mil gloss-finish body, and Gotoh Mini 510 tuners in antique gold. It comes equipped with our ES2 pickup and includes Taylor’s AeroCase.
One interesting tonal distinction between the new GT models and the original GT Urban Ash, beyond the different sonic flavors of the woods themselves, is the effect of the different finish treatments, as Andy explains.
“The GT Urban Ash guitars wear an ultra-thin, water-based matte finish, which has a super-low damping factor, allowing a direct and organic overtone profile from these woods,” he says. “Both the 800 Series and Koa Series GT guitars are completed with our more traditional gloss Taylor finish, which subtly filters the characteristics of each piece of wood, refining the response.”
Whichever GT model you find yourself gravitating toward, one thing is for certain: a great playing experience runs in the family.
For more details on all Taylor GT models, including complete specifications, photos, video demos and more, visit taylorguitars.com and our digital edition of this issue. For model availability, contact your preferred Taylor dealer.
Here are some highlights from recent reviews of the GTe Urban Ash.
“…the relaxed playability encourages those of us who aren’t acoustic virtuosi to be a little more ambitious. The wound G, for example, is considerably easier to bend than it is on an acoustic with a more conventional scale length, so you can approach solos much as you might on an electric guitar strung with a plain G.”
“Single notes in higher registers hang in the air for longer than expected, harmonic content is plentiful, and even when using deep open tunings, the intonation is superb….”
“The more time you spend with it, the more its charms reveal themselves, and for singer-songwriters, the GT’s compact dimensions and intimate feel mean it’s as ideally suited to the living room as it is to the stage or studio.”
“Strum a chord and listen to that clear-as-a-bell tone. You won’t find the boom of a dreadnought, but this Taylor does produce a surprisingly nuanced tone to a portable instrument. The treble end is also sweet — not the thin, wimpy tone of some acoustics, but delivering genuine sonic meat….”
“Think of it as the pro’s small acoustic…The GTe is ready for live gigs just as much as songwriting on-the-go…. This Taylor is not another parlor guitar — the GTe Urban Ash is really its own class of small-body acoustic.”
“The GT is very responsive to the player’s touch, easily steering through softer and louder passages while maintaining consistently sweet and focused tone.”
“[It] has a big presence that belies its small size…. It’s a natural for trips, but it’s just as worthy as a studio and/or performance instrument thanks to its rich tone and full-bodied soundstage.”
“Lead runs and fingerstyle lines are in the GT’s favor; however, it is no slouch when asked to produce a driving flat-picked rhythm…. the GT gives off a full-bodied fundamental voice with a lively midrange as well. A very light touch provides a louder than expected response.”
“In some ways, the GT’s shorter scale and tighter string spacing offer a new light on the landscape of the fingerboard. I had lots of fun trying out different chords otherwise uncomfortable to reach on a standard scale guitar!”
It’s a question Taylor’s Customer Service team routinely hears. But Customer Service Manager Glen Wolff says people don’t always know what to ask for, so they lean on the closest reference point, like a parlor guitar, or occasionally, a solid-wood GS Mini.
“It’s not that customers necessarily want a traditional parlor-style guitar,” Wolff says. “People love the comfort of a compact guitar, but they don’t want to compromise on sound. And they assume a smaller-body guitar like a parlor or a solid-wood GS Mini will deliver the best of both worlds.”
But here’s the rub: An all-solid GS Mini doesn’t deliver a dramatic improvement in sound. Trust us — Taylor master builder Andy Powers made a few as an experiment. He knew it wouldn’t, but he tried pulling out all the stops, using protein glue and other envelope-pushing materials and techniques to max out the tonal response. But in the end, it didn’t move the needle in a way that justified producing it.
“The dimensions of the Mini inherently have constraints on what you can coax from the design,” Andy says. “It’s a great guitar for its size, but you can’t make it sound significantly bigger until you make the strings longer.”
It’s the same truth that Bob Taylor discovered years ago when looking to turbocharge the Baby Taylor, our original travel-size guitar, to infuse it with a bigger, fuller voice.
“Usually we find that within the confines of an existing design, no matter how much we hotrod that, it doesn’t change it very much,” Bob said in a Wood&Steel story back in 2010 — a story detailing how Bob’s initial redesign efforts with the Baby led to the birth of the GS Mini. Bob eventually realized he would need a longer fret scale and a bigger body, and the rest is history. The GS Mini has gone on to become one of the most popular guitars Taylor has ever made.
But Bob also understands the Mini’s sonic limitations based on its size.
“If I were to describe the Mini’s tone, I would say it’s fun, it’s legit,” Bob says. “But if you play a GS Mini for a long time and then you pick up an Academy 10, which is a bigger guitar, you’re like, ‘Oh, wow.’”
Travel-Size vs. Full-Size
If you think about the classification of steel-string acoustic guitars by overall size, they are generally separated into two basic categories: full-size and travel-size, the latter obviously named for their extra portability. One of the delineating factors is the string length, a.k.a. scale length or fret scale — basically the measure of the string length from the nut to the saddle, which represents the maximum vibrating length of the unfretted open string.
In general, travel guitars have a shorter scale length that ranges up to about 23-1/2 inches, which happens to be the scale length of the GS Mini. Full-size or full-scale guitars usually have a scale length between 24-3/4 and 25-1/2 inches. Taylor’s standard full-scale guitars come in two scale lengths: 24-7/8 inches for our Grand Concert models and the redesigned Grand Symphony, and 25-1/2 inches for our other models, which sits at the longer end of the typical scale length range.
If you’ve paid attention to the guitar designs Andy has introduced since his arrival at Taylor nearly a decade ago, you might have noticed that one area he has explored with successful results has been our hand-friendly 12-fret Grand Concert models. (Our Grand Concert has been our smallest “full-size” body style.) Updated for the modern era, their combination of a small body with shorter 12-fret neck and 24-7/8-inch scale length adds up to a guitar that’s easy to hold in your lap, with a lower string tension and a fret span that’s slightly reduced, making fretting easier.
Since their release, our 12-fret guitars have become an increasingly popular option among players, especially those looking to reduce the stress on their fretting hand. But those guitars also pump out a lively tonal response, especially in the midrange frequencies, thanks in part to the location of the bridge closer to the center of the lower bout.
Andy has also leveraged the strengths of our 12-fret/Grand Concert design platform to introduce more player-friendly 12-string models, like the 562ce, 362ce and recent Builder’s Edition 652ce, which took our already established reputation for making the easiest-playing 12-strings in the industry to another standard of comfort and musical utility.
All along the way, Andy has also been thinking about that middle zone between travel-size and full-size, and the possibilities of a guitar with proportions that sit somewhere between the size and scale of the GS Mini and the Grand Concert.
“I looked at the unexplored areas between conventional travel and long scale lengths, and it seemed obvious that something was missing there,” he says. “It felt like a whole other size category was hidden from existence. I wanted to make something that was big enough to sound good, yet small enough to take comfort and playability to a fun new level,” he says.
A New Mid-Length Scale
Like a guitar’s body proportions, its scale length is a foundational choice for a guitar maker.
“Of the baseline decisions made when a guitar maker sets out to create an instrument, among the very first choices is determining how long the strings should be,” Andy says. “That parameter will direct nearly everything the maker does next.”
As he began to work out the dimensional framework for this new guitar, Andy arrived at what he calls a mid-length fret scale of 24-1/8 inches, which is the same string length as playing with a capo on the first fret of a guitar with a 25-1/2-inch scale length. “Some players, myself included on occasion, will drop-tune a guitar E-flat through E-flat,” he says. “Some musicians prefer it because they can sing in that key more easily, but many simply like the lighter tension — when you slack the strings off a half step, they’re slinkier, as if you stepped down a string gauge. While the looser string feel is very appealing, I don’t always want to play E-flat through E-flat; I like playing at concert pitch, especially when playing with other musicians. To prove out this scale length, I took a more typical 25-1/2” scale length, drop-tuned it, and put a capo at the first fret.”
Guitarist and music director Nicholas Veinoglou provides a demo of the GT’s bold, shimmering acoustic tone.
Shaping a New Body Style
With the guitar’s scale length defined, Andy set out to design a new body style with a set of proportions between the GS Mini and Grand Concert. He envisioned a non-cutaway shape and borrowed the curves of Taylor’s large Grand Orchestra body, scaling them down appropriately. While the width of the lower bout (15”) is the same as the Grand Concert, the body length (18-1/2”) is an inch shorter, and the body depth (3-3/4” measured at the soundhole) is shallower than the GC (4-3/8”).
The body was named the Grand Theater to align with the “Grand” naming convention shared by our other standard body styles. But around the Taylor campus, calling it the GT seemed to suit the fun, inviting, youthful musical personality associated with the guitar.
New C-Class™ Bracing
To voice the GT, Andy leveraged the same foundational concepts that informed his innovative V-Class bracing architecture, namely the interplay of stiffness parallel to the strings to produce long-sustaining notes, and flexibility to produce pleasing volume. But with the slightly smaller body size, he wanted to manipulate the frequency response more, so he took a different approach, designing an asymmetrical bracing pattern.
“V-Class is intended to be very linear in how it responds over the whole register,” he explains. “Every note you play has a remarkably uniform characteristic. Working with this perfectly proportioned smaller body and string length, however, I wanted a more asymmetrical sonic response. With the asymmetrical architecture, I can exaggerate the guitar’s lower frequency response. It’s typically a challenge to make a small body respond well on the low end of the frequency spectrum — it doesn’t have as large a surface area to flex and move the air required. Using this altered bracing pattern, the response belies the overall smaller size, seriously upping the fun factor.”
Because the architecture employs a cantilevered design concept to voice the guitar, we named it C-Class bracing.
Debuting with Urban Ash
Both Andy and Bob Taylor saw the launch of this new guitar as another great opportunity to affirm our long-term commitment to using Urban Ash, a tonewood we introduced earlier this year on our Builder’s Edition 324ce and on our new Grand Symphony 326ce, which also debuts in this issue. Responsibly sourced from Shamel ash trees scheduled for removal from municipal areas in Southern California, this ash’s tonal properties rival those of high-quality Honduran mahogany — dry, woody and clear, with pleasing midrange warmth.
It’s a wood Bob Taylor has fondly taken to calling the golden retriever of tonewoods.
“This ash just wants to please you,” he says. “It dries easily, cuts easily, bends easily, sands easily, machines easily, and performs really well musically,” he says. “Everything about it is perfect.”
The solid ash back and sides are paired with a solid spruce top. Like our new American Dream guitars, the fretboard, peghead overlay and bridge feature durable and attractive smoked eucalyptus. Astute observers will notice that the size of the bridge has been scaled down to be appropriate for the GT body.
We’re launching the new guitar model as the GT Urban Ash, with the option of our onboard ES2 electronics. Also like its American Dream model counterparts, the GT will make its debut at the most accessible price point among our US-made guitars — in the range of our 200 Deluxe Series guitars, which make the GT and American Dream our best-priced all-solid wood, US-made guitars.
Appointments for the GT Urban Ash include Italian acrylic Pinnacle fretboard inlays, a three-ring koa rosette, black top purfling, Urban Sienna stain on the ash back and sides, a super-thin 2-mil matte finish, Taylor nickel mini tuners, and our lightweight but super-durable AeroCase™.
Andy and our product development group see great potential for the GT, with the possibility of releasing models in other series across the Taylor line in the near future.
The Feel: “Just Right”
As a guitar that was essentially engineered from the ground up — featuring a new scale length, body shape, neck dimensions and bracing — the magic of the GT is the integration of those elements into a unique harmony of feel and sound. From its design beginnings, Andy’s pursuit of another category of guitar that lived in the sweet spot between a travel- and full-scale instrument gave it a certain “just-right” identity around the Taylor campus. In fact, its official code name among the product development group was “Project Goldilocks.”
Strung with light-gauge strings (.012-.053), the GT has the same string tension as if you tuned a guitar with a 25-1/2” scale length down a half step (E-flat to E-flat). The reduced tension feels like the guitar is strung with a set of 11s (Custom Light, .011-.052), making every note feel slinkier, yet you still get the power and punch out of a larger string.
The reduced fret spacing of the shorter scale length also makes some of those more complicated chords easier to play.
“When you try to finger a complex chord that spans several frets, you can actually do it on this guitar, where many guitars would make it a struggle,” Andy says. “Even for somebody with a long finger reach, this fret spacing is comfortable, just like playing higher on the fingerboard. It’s physically easy to press the strings down with the lower string tension, and the closer fret spacing offers better dexterity.”
Another unique neck specification compared to other Taylor models is a nut width of 1-23/32 inches — wider than 1-11/16 and narrower than 1-3/4, providing comfortable string spacing. That, together with the compact neck-to-body relationship, naturally brings your hands a little closer together, which makes forming barre chords less stressful on the wrist of your fretting hand.
The GT Car – Guitar Connection
The parallels between the musical attributes of the Taylor GT and the identity of the GT as a category of sports car in the automotive world weren’t lost on Andy. In the auto industry, the GT designation — short for “grand tourer” (originally gran turismo in Italian) — blended the high-speed performance and nimble handling of a sports car with luxury features that made it comfortable and fun to drive for long periods of time.
“This guitar has similar properties,” Andy says. “It delivers a mix of super-nimble handling and a high-performance response, and it’s been refined to the degree that it becomes super fun for everyone to play.” The guitar’s comfortably compact proportions and low string tension, he adds, make the GT the easiest-playing solid-wood guitar in the Taylor line — enabling longer playing sessions without hand fatigue.
As much as Andy enjoys nerding out about the design elements that imbue the GT with its unique musical identity (and appreciates that many Taylor enthusiasts also love getting the inside scoop on the design nuances), he’d much rather hand the guitar to someone and simply encourage them to play it. Like the GS Mini, the GT’s comfortable feel gives it an inviting accessibility, while the sounds it makes will give any working musician a tool that inspires them in a new way.
“A player doesn’t necessarily need to know how or why this guitar works to enjoy it any more than they need to know all the technical mechanics of a car in order to enjoy driving it someplace,” Andy says. “The important thing is to simply pick up the guitar and play it.”
The rich musical response of the GT Urban Ash ranges from pristine highs and throaty lows, as showcased here by Nicholas Veinoglou.
Jay Parkin from the Taylor marketing team, who manages our content creation and also co-hosts our From the Factory podcast and our weekly streaming video show Taylor Primetime on Taylor’s YouTube channel, has been working with our Director of Artist Relations, Tim Godwin, to get the GT into the hands of artists over the last several months. Across the board, players love the overall feel, the responsiveness, and the tonal output.
“This guitar is so great because I absolutely love the sound of a huge acoustic, but I’m a tiny person,” said Los Angeles singer-songwriter Sara Niemietz. “This fits perfectly, it plays fast, and it sounds real.”
Thunderstorm Artis, KT Tunstall, Chris Conley and other Taylor artists share their thoughts on the Taylor GT.
Lead vocalist/guitarist Chris Conley from the rock band Saves the Day texted Jay: “Why is this thing so perfect? I can’t stop playing it. Like, I can’t.”
Keith Goodwin from the band Good Old War texted this: “OH MY FREAKING GOODNESS. I’ve never played a guitar like this in my life.”
Los Angeles-based guitarist Nicholas Veinoglou, who works as a musical director, songwriter and educator, and tours both nationally and internationally with Jordan Fisher and Atlantic Records recording artist Bazzi, swooned over the guitar after having a chance to play it.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever had a guitar feel so at home in my hands right out of the box,” he said. “This reminds me of why I started to play guitar.”
Jay formed his own impression after having a chance to record the guitar a few times for some video content.
“This is the perfect guitar for recording,” he says. “It sounds so unbelievably big, yet focused at the same time.”
Audio engineer and cinematographer Gabriel O’Brien, who penned the piece on recording an acoustic guitar in this issue, has been playing and recording with it.
“It plays so easily,” he says. “It delivers all the things people wish for in a premium GS Mini — lighter strings, wider nut, solid wood, slightly longer scale — but that’s what makes the GT very much its own thing. I’ve been mixing it for other videos and it records really well. I’ve been keeping it by my mixing desk and taking guitar breaks regularly with it. In fact, I love the tone so much I decided to re-record my guitar parts on another project with it.”
Look for the new Taylor GT Urban Ash at authorized Taylor dealers starting in October. You can also learn more about the development of the GT in our From the Factory video podcast.
Taylor's culture of innovation is built on a foundation of passion, problem-solving, and plucky resolve. During tough times, we know how to respond—it means looking out for others as much as ourselves.
It’s a question Taylor’s Customer Service team routinely hears. But Customer Service Manager Glen Wolff says people don’t always know what to ask for, so they lean on the closest reference point, like a parlor guitar, or occasionally, a solid-wood GS Mini.
“It’s not that customers necessarily want a traditional parlor-style guitar,” Wolff says. “People love the comfort of a compact guitar, but they don’t want to compromise on sound. And they assume a smaller-body guitar like a parlor or a solid-wood GS Mini will deliver the best of both worlds.”
But here’s the rub: An all-solid GS Mini doesn’t deliver a dramatic improvement in sound. Trust us — Taylor master builder Andy Powers made a few as an experiment. He knew it wouldn’t, but he tried pulling out all the stops, using protein glue and other envelope-pushing materials and techniques to max out the tonal response. But in the end, it didn’t move the needle in a way that justified producing it.
After nearly half a century, the takeaways, Kurt and Bob have learned, are that neither the good times nor the bad times last forever, and that the right mix of passion and gritty determination will propel you through the roughest stretches. “When we were a small company and broke, we worked hard and never quit no matter how hopeless it seemed,” he says. “We just put our heads down and kept working, brainstorming, trying. We didn’t have a foundation to build upon. We had to invent everything and look for bright ideas to respond to the marketplace. And we had some real emergencies along the way, where we had one shot to get it right or fail and not survive. That ability to respond to adversity has gotten baked into our DNA as a company.”
The nature of their journey has given Bob and Kurt a profound respect for the working musicians of the world, who travel a parallel path that also demands adaptability and hard-shelled resilience in pursuit of their passion in order to survive. That same sense of kinship also extends to fellow instrument makers and proprietors of independent music shops, and really anyone who has pursued their dream with tenacity. Though Taylor is a larger company now, with a deeper pool of talent and resources at its disposal, master guitar designer Andy Powers, now also an ownership partner, says one of the strengths of Taylor’s culture is that we can still think like a small shop.
“One of the reasons I love working with Bob and Kurt is the way they have maintained that scrappy, fearless mentality of an upstart,” he says. “They’ve built a heritage of working hard through the good days, the mundane days, and the hard ones.” Of course, the juggernaut of the COVID-19 pandemic, with its sweeping global disruption, has introduced a whole different scale of hardship and complexity to navigate. And yet Bob, Kurt, and Andy, together with other Taylor leaders, have again turned to the Taylor playbook in times of adversity: batten down the hatches, get creative, and design solutions that serve the needs of our partners in the music community.
Masks are part of the new normal at the Taylor factory.
Responding to a New Reality
As a company with global reach, Taylor paid close attention to daily developments abroad as the COVID-19 crisis spread from China to Europe and then to the U.S. earlier this year, creating a rolling wave of business closures and social lockdowns. Taylor’s foremost concern was protecting the health and well-being of employees and their families in the U.S., Mexico, Europe and Cameroon. At the same time, we knew the livelihoods of our dealers and suppliers, along with working musicians, were also at risk. In early March, we began to implement additional health and safety procedures internally, and soon afterward, we suspended factory tours and closed our El Cajon, California campus to the public. On March 19, California governor Gavin Newsom issued a statewide shelter-in-place order, and guitar production in El Cajon was suspended. The Baja California region of Mexico, where our Tecate manufacturing facility is located, was several weeks behind our timeline here in Southern California. On Friday, April 10, the decision was made to suspend all operations there.
Fortunately, Taylor’s executive and management teams had been proactively meeting to plan for a shutdown scenario and the coordination efforts needed to reopen, from helping El Cajon employees participate in the state of California’s Work Sharing Program (which provides companies with a flexible alternative to layoffs) to developing new on-site safety protocols in preparation for the eventual return to guitar production. Taylor also opened a dialogue with officials from the City of El Cajon and San Diego County, ensuring that they were aware of and in support of the steps being planned. As a result, we were able to work smoothly toward a phased approach of reopening critical operations on-site. Meanwhile, we shifted the non-production operations we could to a work-from-home setup, leveraging teleconferencing platforms to meet and collaborate. And we got back to work.
Staying Connected with Customers
Though we had stopped accepting guitars for repair, members of our Customer Service team continued to respond to customers remotely in North America and Europe and were able to adapt smoothly. Given the remote setup, Customer Service Manager Glen Wolff decided the department would work better by primarily using email and chat. “We’d already been doing a lot of communication over email and limited chat, so that was an easy transition when working from home,” Wolff says.
“A time like this gives music and musicians a greater sense of purpose.”
Tim Godwin, Director of Artist Relations
“Not taking calls allowed us the time to make the live web chat option available most of the day, and customers use it a lot. We also took advantage of people’s flexibility while working from home, and most days we have expanded chat coverage from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s been working quite well. We don’t feel like we’re falling short of meeting customer expectations.”
We knew our retail partners, especially independent music stores, would be vulnerable to the uncertainties ahead. Time was of the essence, so in mid-March, we pivoted quickly to create and deploy a promotion faster than we ever had before. The promotion, called Taylor Days, was unlike anything we had ever done something designed to offer great value to customers and help dealers do business at a time when many were on the verge of temporarily closing their physical stores. “It went from just a concept to being available to dealers within days,” says Taylor VP of Sales Monte Montefusco. “It was a real reflection of our culture, our desire to help our dealers, and our ability to come together as a team.”
The promotion ran from late March through the end of May and was widely embraced by dealers and customers. It was offered in North America (US and Canada) and adapted for other markets around the world, including Europe, Mexico, Peru, Costa Rica, Chile, South Korea and Australia. “Inventive retailers pivoted and found new ways to serve their music communities,” Monte says. “Social media became the new ‘open for business’ sign on the front door. The promotion was a great way for dealers to reach out and inspire players to hone their craft while staying at home.”
Independent stores, such as longtime Taylor dealer Tobias Music, located in the Chicago suburb of Downers Grove, were grateful to have a compelling offer to pass along to customers during a challenging time for everyone. “It’s been huge for us,” said Paul Tobias in late April. “At this point, our shop has been ‘closed’ for five weeks, and our governor just announced that the Stay at Home Order will be extended. In general, business is down, but with the Taylor promo happening online, we’re still above water after five weeks of downtime. During these difficult times, Taylor has thrown us a lifeline.”
Other stores adapted however they could, with some offering curbside pickup for online orders. Traditional brick-and-mortar retailers have responded to the new reality in ways that might offer a glimpse into the future of in-store music retail. With social spacing considerations in mind, Lidgett Music in Council Bluffs, Iowa, has leaned into individual in-store appointments. Musicians have enjoyed the ability to test-drive guitars without distractions from other players and music store background noise.
Our Tooling team fabricated Plexiglas shielding for workstations where needed.
Working with our Wood Suppliers
The disruptive nature of the pandemic also presented challenges for Taylor to manage with our wood suppliers. For one thing, we work with suppliers that range from very small to very large, and each situation can call for a unique solution. The smaller suppliers are often more vulnerable, explains our Director of Wood Operations and Sourcing, Charlie Redden. “Many of our wood suppliers have only two or three customers who buy from them once per year,” he says. “When a small village in Central America relies on one or two customers — and we rely on them — the partnership needs close attention during a time like this.”
Another challenge came from the way the pandemic threw our supply chain rhythm out of sync because it brought an abrupt halt to our manufacturing operation, yet in many cases our wood purchasing commitments are locked in for a year or longer. And often the livelihoods of those suppliers are at stake. “We’re finding creative ways to buy just enough wood to keep our critical suppliers in business while maintaining a healthy inventory level of wood for Taylor,” Redden says. “And if we can also help our suppliers by connecting them with other market opportunities like the furniture, hobby wood or construction industries to offset the fact that we’re not buying as much wood during this time, we’re happy to do that.”
Helping Artists Adapt
The massive disruption to the music industry has forced artists to get creative in new ways. Some working guitarists have leaned into giving online lessons, while other artists have turned to social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Twitch to post or livestream their performances. Those who’ve built a faithful fanbase have found small ways to leverage social media to monetize their virtual performances, in some cases via paid livestream concerts and in other cases with a virtual tip jar. We’ve lent our support to Taylor artists however we can, mainly by using our social media platforms to promote their livestreams and other performances to Taylor fans. We’ve been putting together a weekly calendar of all the planned livestreams from the Taylor artist family on our Live From Home Digest, located in the blog section of our website. You can check back each week for new artist streams from across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and beyond.
Taylor Director of Artist Relations Tim Godwin says that despite the serious financial challenges so many artists currently face, some have found a silver lining and discovered other benefits during these surreal times. “Some have used the time to woodshed and hone their chops, or focus on writing new material, or explore new ways to share music with listeners from home,” Godwin says. “Others, myself included, have been remotely collaborating more frequently with musician friends. The reality is that many players, for better or worse, are more available at the moment, so in some cases they’re able to finally dig into creative projects they’ve been putting off for a long time. And they’re finding the experience really rewarding.” Other established artists have been serving up virtual performances from home in support of charities. For music fans spending more time at home themselves, the performances offer a refreshingly intimate and down-to-earth connection to their favorite artists. Godwin says that more than ever, this shared experience has underscored the sense of community in the music world, both among people in the industry and between artists and audiences.
“I’ve been seeing more acts of empathy and kindness between people,” he says. “At a time like this, it gives music, and musicians, a greater sense of purpose. It’s still entertainment, but it’s more than that. It’s a way of engaging people and helping them feel connected even when they’re physically apart. “Even in my role with Taylor, I’ve found that people are more available to talk right now,” Godwin adds. “Whether it’s an artist or someone else who works in the industry, we have more time to discuss partnering on interesting projects and planning ahead.”
Bob and Andy Get to Work
Although Taylor’s guitar production was put on temporary hiatus, behind the scenes, a lot was going on. Bob Taylor and Andy Powers have responded to the challenge of the moment by working together with renewed vigor on several projects, their design instincts heightened and synchronized as they creatively fed off each other. “Andy and I both thrive on creative thinking,” Bob says. “We’re both builders and problem solvers. When we feel like our backs are against the wall, we love to innovate our way out of problems, and because there’s more at stake, we work faster.”
For his part, Andy always has an array of guitar designs simmering on the back burner, waiting for the right time to be brought to life. The current reality, coupled with the uncertainty ahead, he says, has provided the stimulus to push several projects forward. “We’re working on these projects for the benefit of everyone — our employees, our dealers and suppliers, and of course, players,” he says. “We’re taking everything into account and using all of our resources to calibrate everything we make for this time we’re living in.” While we’re not at liberty to reveal our coming designs just yet, Andy says they’ll be imbued with a renewed sense of purpose. In the product development meetings held via teleconference in April, both Andy and Bob were more energized than ever as they discussed the next wave of products we plan to introduce. “While some might say that we just make guitars, I believe we do something far more than that,” Andy says. “We can help create a bright spot of hope, of relief, and a way to share our experiences in the form of another song.”
Employees must have their temperature taken as a precaution before they can enter the factory each day.
The band Barenaked Ladies perform with guest vocalist Michael Bublé during a broadcast to raise funds for Food Bank Canada during the pandemic.
Masks fabricated in our factory in Tecate.
New Safety Protocols
During Taylor’s factory shutdown, our executive and management teams oversaw the comprehensive overhaul of our on-site safety protocols in both El Cajon and Tecate, following the official guidelines of state and local health officials. This included implementing strict social distancing within the factories, increasing cleaning regimens, and mandating the use of personal protective equipment for anyone on campus. Non-contact infrared forehead thermometers also will be used to take employees’ temperatures before they enter the building for work.
Other modifications include safe spacing between workstations, including and Plexiglas shielding (fabricated in-house) where appropriate, along with safe spacing arrangements in the kitchens and break areas. At our Tecate factory, we leveraged our sewing capabilities there — we make many of our own gig bags — to begin producing face covers. “We’re using them onsite in both our Tecate and El Cajon locations,” says Taylor’s VP of Manufacturing, Chris Wellons. “We’ve also donated several thousand face covers.” We were authorized to reestablish some factory operations on a limited basis in May with a small group of craftspeople (all participating voluntarily), with a return to full-time factory operations starting May 18.
One of the important goals of adapting our work environment to the new realities is preserving the company culture, says VP of Product Development Ed Granero, a member of Taylor’s executive team along with Wellons. “We’ve fostered a collaborative, hard-working, ‘open-door’ culture here,” Granero says. “Our strength is in working as a team. As we move into this next iteration of our work life, we will find new ways to work as a team and still accomplish our goals. As our production folks return to work, our safety measures are an important step toward building trust as we all begin working together again.”
Granero notes that while guitars might not be considered “essential,” the people at Taylor absolutely are. “The people here are as hard-working, as innovative, and as dedicated as anyone else you will find anywhere,” he says. Both Granero and Wellons also wanted to acknowledge all those at Taylor who helped keep our “pilot light lit” at the factory during the production hiatus. Wellons was effusive in his praise for the way people from multiple departments, from Human Resources to Facilities, came together to implement the new protocols. “I just want to extend a huge thank-you to all of our employees involved in the planning, coordination, and, most of all, execution of these plans on-site,” he shared in a note to the company. “We deeply appreciate the courage and dedication everyone has shown during what has been an unprecedented and unsettling time.”
Taylor staffers practice safe social distancing while on a work break.
“Music isn’t a nice thing to have, it’s a necessity.”
The Path Ahead
As this new normal begins to take shape, Kurt draws from his and Bob’s past experiences as he looks ahead. “We’re figuring out how to navigate these latest choppy waters,” he says. “We’ve got incredible leadership and creativity here, and we’ve got amazing employees. I have complete confidence that we’ll come through this as an even stronger company. “One of the many things I love about our company culture is the way we all support each other as we work together toward a common goal, especially in difficult times,” he says. “Some of my proudest moments here have been the ways we all have pitched in to respond to adversity as a group. While these current circumstances might seem unique, the same holds true. Bob and Andy shared with our employees that there’s no group of people they’d rather face this latest challenge alongside. I would echo that sentiment and expand it to include the broader music community of retailers and suppliers we’re privileged to be a part of.”
Q&A with Taylor Co-founder and CEO Kurt Listug
Q: You and Bob both forged the identity of Taylor Guitars in the face of daily adversity. You had your backs against the wall many times, especially in the company’s early days. How did those experiences prepare you and Bob — and now Andy Powers and other leaders within the company — to respond in situations like these?
A: They’ve given us a lot of confidence that we can get through anything. Even when we can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. We’ve proven to ourselves that we’re resourceful. Even though it’s stressful, we know we’ll make a lot of gains and breakthroughs we otherwise wouldn’t have made, or we would have made much more slowly.
Q: What are you learning from this particular experience as a leader? How do you think Taylor Guitars will emerge from this crisis stronger as an organization?
A: I’ve been thrilled to see people step up throughout the company to do everything they can to keep the company moving forward. People are 100 percent engaged and committed to success. I think the organization is gelling more tightly. Our teamwork is the best it’s ever been, and we’re laying the groundwork for some of our most rewarding and successful years directly ahead.
Q: Despite the shock to the system the current scenario has created, it’s been fascinating to see how adaptive people have been. Whether it’s artists embracing new ways to engage people through social media platforms or retailers getting creative with the ways they conduct business, new ideas are born and some take root. What’s your take on what you’ve been seeing and experiencing? And what does it say about the power of music during a time like this?
A: You can’t sit back. There’s no guarantee of survival. It’s an incredibly disruptive situation we’ve been dealt, and we all must do everything within our power to right the ship and make it through to better days ahead. It’s been rewarding and reaffirming to witness newly the power and importance of music. Music isn’t a nice thing to have, it’s a necessity.
Q: From your perspective, as a company that has always placed a premium on the relationships developed with our employees, customers, retailers, vendors and other partners, why is supporting them especially important at a time like this?
A: The company does best, and we all do best, when we make decisions that benefit the broadest number and disadvantage the fewest. That speaks to our values of caring for others and weighing our actions so they have the broadest positive impact. That’s always important, but in difficult times especially, you want to make sure you’re pulling others up with you as much as you can.
Q: It’s been cool to see Bob and Andy working more closely together lately to find ways to design and build their way out of the current situation, and reacting to the new realities that consumers and retailers will face. Despite the hurdles to be overcome, both seem creatively energized. Do you similarly find yourself creatively stimulated as you think about Taylor’s strategies moving forward?
A: Absolutely. This situation really has compressed time, in that we’re fighting to make the most progress we can against an unknown duration of this disruptive event, and the unknown of how the world will change. Really digging in and leapfrogging the normal pace of operations is super invigorating.
Cover story: New American Dream models. Plus: The 2023 Product Guide | Inside Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe | Stevie Salas & the Native American musicians who shaped rock ‘n’ roll | GS Mini Rosewood & Caramel Burst | CAGED playing techniques.
Cover story: The new Urban Ironbark 500 Series. Plus: Urban Ash LTDs | How cities manage their tree populations | Walnut-top Academy Series | R&B upstroke technique | Guitar care tools & tips | Andy Powers named President & CEO.
Cover story: New for ’22: the AD27e Flametop, two new GT models and the Grand Concert AD22e. Plus: the 2022 Taylor Guitar Guide, Andy Powers talks about the evolution of Taylor tone, and more R&B guitar lessons.
On the Cover: Discover the art of Taylor's inlay designs. Plus: the growing popularity of small-body guitars, what artists learned during the pandemic, R&B guitar lessons and updates from our environmental initiatives.
Cover story: Taylor’s transition to employee ownership. Plus: Artists adapt during COVID | How African Americans shaped American music genres | Open minor tunings | the 200 Plus Series | Exotic-top T5z models
Taylor expands the GT Series with two new models, and the American Dream Series becomes a permanent addition. Plus: Talking pandemic creativity with FINNEAS and the inaugural digital edition of the Taylor Guitar Guide.
Taylor’s culture of innovation is built on a foundation of passion, problem-solving, and plucky resolve. During tough times, we know how to respond — it means looking out for others as much as ourselves.
Cover story: V-Class 12-string Grand Concerts. Plus: More V-Class Grand Concert models | Builder’s Edition K24ce | The Wood&Steel Interview with Mimi Fox | How guitar picks impact tone | How song ideas become recordings | Grand Pacific reviews