Golden Age

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Taylor’s 50th anniversary is a testament to passion, perseverance and innovation — plus the power of a great partnership.

Taylor Guitars co-founders Bob Taylor and Kurt Listug have come a long way since they embarked on their guitar-making journey together back in October of 1974. At the time, Bob was 19, Kurt was 21, and after teaming up with a third partner, Kurt’s childhood friend Steve Schemmer, to buy the American Dream guitar-making shop where the three had been working, they were excited to forge their own path in the guitar world. They had big dreams. They also had a lot to learn.

“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.”

But as Bob remembers, he and Kurt were fully committed to finding success.

“Kurt and I had this idea that if we were diligent in our work, tried to make good decisions, and each got better at what we could offer, maybe in ten years we’d have a viable company,” Bob recalls.

Bob had already established himself as a skilled, driven guitar builder while at the American Dream, so he became the lead designer and builder in their new venture, though initially, the building process was a collective effort.

“Steve did the finish work,” Kurt says. “I built the guitar bodies and sold the guitars. Bob made the necks and strung up the guitars after being finished.”

“We grew very comfortable with the idea of going outside our comfort zone.”

A Fresh Chapter

After nine years of scraping by and learning from their mistakes, Bob and Kurt bought out Schemmer in 1983 and carried on as a two-man partnership, more determined than ever to turn the corner and be able to pay themselves on a regular basis.

From the beginning, Kurt had a natural aptitude for the business side of things and a drive to learn how to sell — something Bob wasn’t particularly interested in. He was more focused on developing better ways of making guitars. That delineation became an important dynamic of their relationship and set the foundation for the company’s future success: Bob would focus on making guitars and the tooling for them; Kurt would focus on selling them, building the business, and establishing the brand. The arrangement played perfectly to each of their strengths and passions, and they held each other accountable.

Bob Taylor

Kurt Listug

They shared other attributes that served them well: gritty resilience in the face of adversity; a belief in innovative, problem-solving thinking on both sides of the company’s operation; and the ability to take the long view in their decision-making, as Kurt explains.

“Even if a long-term decision required us to go outside of our comfort zone,” he says, “if it was for the sustained success of the business, we’d do it. We grew very comfortable with the idea of going outside our comfort zone.”

Forward Momentum

Over time, Bob and Kurt transformed their small guitar shop into a world-class manufacturer without ever having to relinquish ownership control. Bob figured out how to make acoustic guitars easier to play with slimmer necks and a more comfortable setup. He also embraced modern tools and technology — often fabricating tools of his own to produce guitars more precisely, consistently and efficiently, with a feel and sound that appealed to players.

Kurt took countless road trips with a car full of guitars, logging thousands of miles, meeting with prospective dealers and slowly building a network of retailers who liked the playability of Bob’s wares. He also built a uniquely appealing brand identity for Taylor that tapped into the aspirational spirit of owning a high-quality guitar — an approach that was different from what other guitar companies were doing — that was inspired by what Harley Davidson had done for their motorcycles in their ad campaigns.

The rest is history. In the decades since, under Bob and Kurt’s stewardship, Taylor has continued to grow and evolve as a company and a creative culture. They’ve stayed true to their vision of inspiring people to play guitar by relentlessly innovating to enhance the playing experience. And they’ve continued to make decisions with the well-being of their employees, partners and the environment in mind.

In 2011, Bob hired Andy Powers to be Taylor’s next-generation guitar design architect, ensuring that guitar-making innovation continues to be a central focus in the decades ahead. The company has launched several pioneering forestry initiatives, including a scalable ebony planting program in Cameroon and the restoration of native forests in Hawaii, which includes planting koa trees for future guitars. And to preserve the company’s creative culture, Bob and Kurt put a succession plan in place by making Andy a partner in 2020, and in 2021, transitioning the company to 100-percent employee-owned. Andy is now President and CEO (in addition to his role as Chief Guitar Designer), while Bob and Kurt remain closely involved as senior advisors.

For his part, Bob, even while reflective, continues to look ahead.

“Here we are at 50 years, and not only am I delighted with our progress but humbled by the success of Taylor Guitars,” he says. “Fifty years is young for a guitar company, and there’s so much more to do. I’d like to say a sincere thank-you to our dealers and the players who’ve trusted us enough to buy our guitars over the years. It’s been a wonderful 50 years, and I’m not bored yet, nor too tired to keep going.”

Kurt is similarly grateful for the many people who have supported Taylor’s success over the years.

“We’ve had so many rewarding experiences and made lifelong friends over the past 50 years,” he says. “And like a lot of people our age, we have a lot of good stories to share. Many thanks to my lifelong partner and collaborator, Bob, my family and wife Jenny for their support, all our past and present employees, the many music shops that sell our guitars, and of course all the guitar players around the world who have enabled us to pursue our dream.”

From his perspective, Andy has enormous respect for what Bob and Kurt have accomplished and feels grateful for the opportunity to build on the company’s legacy through the role that has been entrusted to him.

“Fifty years ago, a couple of kids barely out of their teenage years decided to build some guitars, hoping they could someday do that as a living,” he says. “When they hammered their nail into the tree of music history, the music grew around this new addition and was forever changed for the better. Years later, and years ago, they asked another kid if I’d join in their journey. I feel fortunate to stand alongside Bob, Kurt and all the rest of us here at Taylor Guitars and say thank you to all of the players and enthusiastic dealers who have enjoyed the guitars we’ve made. We’re excited to start into the next 50 years and see what grows.”

As we like to say around the Taylor factory, the best guitar we make is the next one.

In Their Own Words: An Oral History Podcast with Bob and Kurt

Taylor’s milestone 50th anniversary year presented a golden opportunity to glean some of the company’s colorful history straight from the founders themselves. So, starting in 2023, we began recording a series of conversations with Bob Taylor and Kurt Listug about their partnership and approach to growing Taylor Guitars from a tiny guitar shop into a renowned guitar manufacturer.

Taylor’s Director of Sales, Dave Pelletier, interviewed the two, starting with their respective upbringings and early interest in music and guitars and progressing through some of the key moments of their careers, from meeting at the American Dream to setting out on their own to establish and grow Taylor Guitars into the company it is today. If you’re a Taylor fan, you’ll enjoy hearing Bob and Kurt’s personal stories, their philosophies of craftsmanship and business, and their insights about what it took to overcome the obstacles they faced to become an industry leader.

The series will be released episodically over the course of the year, and you can enjoy the conversations either as an audio podcast or via video. You can listen to the first episode below and check out our future episodes here.


A Timeline of Taylor Milestones

We’re also celebrating Taylor’s 50th anniversary with an historical timeline that highlights some of the notable moments and developments at Taylor over the past five decades. From game-changing guitar innovations that set Taylor apart to some of the artists who’ve played our guitars over the years, the timeline presents an informative chronology of Taylor’s evolution through the years. You’ll find an excerpt of the timeline on the pages that follow, with an interactive version at taylorguitars.com.

The 50th Anniversary Taylor Limited Edition Guitar Collection

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Holiday Buying Guide - Part 3

Players’ Choice

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We asked some guitar lovers here at the Taylor factory which models they’d recommend. Here’s what they said.

Elsewhere on our website, you’ll find our annual Holiday Buying Guide, which spotlights some of our top-selling guitars across several price categories. For Wood&Steel readers, we wanted to offer another perspective, so we surveyed a group of discerning Taylor staffers here at our factory headquarters to find out which models they’ve taken a shine to lately.

We don’t take for granted that many of us on the sales, marketing and customer service teams are in the enviable position of getting to preview and compare soon-to-be-released models as they progress through product development into production. And since we all share a floor on the Taylor campus in El Cajon, suffice it to say there’s often a fun assortment of guitars floating around for frequent sampling, shootouts and jam sessions — especially with the array of new models we’ve introduced recently.

We asked some folks to pick one or two models that have especially captivated them lately and briefly explain why. It turns out the responses stretched across the Taylor line, from our Builder’s Edition collection to a few guitars from our Tecate factory. While many of these are newer releases, you’ll also see some other established models that still resonate (both literally and figuratively) with our crew.

Since a couple of models were cited by more than one person, we’ll group those employee comments together where appropriate.

One other note: We plan to do this on a recurring basis with others in the Taylor community, including Taylor artists, so stay tuned for more.  

517e

Back/Sides: Urban Ironbark
Top: Torrefied Sitka Spruce

Aaron Dablow, Sales Manager, Americas: “The sound of Urban Ironbark is loud and punchy. Pair that with the Grand Pacific body shape and you have a big sound that fills up a room. Plus, the cool light-amber hue of that subtle shaded edgeburst on the body and neck really invites you to pick it up and make music with it!”

Erik Sakimoto, District Sales Manager: “I like the torrefied top matched with the Urban Ironbark. The Ironbark has surprisingly pleasant fundamental bass notes that are more present than what I would have expected from a Taylor guitar. I know it has to do with the increased stiffness compared to rosewood or mahogany. When I first played the new 500 Series, the Ironbark did not strike me as a replacement for mahogany but as an upgrade to the 500 Series, producing more bass response and volume. The torrefied top gives a heavy strummer a more played-in feel in terms of the response and projection. These are all benefits, in my mind, with the Grand Pacific body. This model and the rosewood/spruce 417e have been great additions to our GP lineup.”


Builder’s Edition 517e WHB

Back/Sides: Tropical Mahogany
Top: Torrefied Sitka Spruce

Dylan Van Vleet, Retail Marketing Manager: “If you want a warmer tone with more bottom end out of your Taylor, this guitar is a perfect choice. A roasted Sitka spruce top is paired with mahogany back and sides, a recipe for warmth if I’ve ever heard one! I especially love strumming on this model. It has a nice, natural compression to it, so harder strums don’t get any nasties, and it sits beautifully in a mix without having to carve out any frequencies both in studio and live applications. Try it, you’ll be amazed.”


Builder’s Edition 814ce

Back/Sides: Indian Rosewood
Top: Adirondack Spruce

Billy Gill, Export Sales Manager: “Beyond the comfort, this guitar has otherworldly volume, sonic girth and an incredible sweetness when you back off. I’ve never played an acoustic guitar that had so much going on. It adapts to anything I play instantly and effortlessly. I’ve loved a lot of guitars in my time, but this one is a cut above them all. I’m extra amazed at the resulting acoustic sound when played with a capo!”

Ryan McMullen, District Sales Manager, Canada/Pacific Northwest: “I love the Builder’s Edition 814ce and feel it might be one of the best guitars we offer. It is supremely easy to play, has a rich bold voice, feels great in your lap, and looks spectacular. I’d recommend this guitar to anyone looking for a well-rounded guitar that is fun to play or perform with.”

Dylan Van Vleet: “The Builder’s Edition version of our flagship model has a design language and craftsmanship that together blend premium functionality with beautiful artistic expression. It’s a true Swiss Army knife, built to handle any and all playing styles. This would be my “desert island” guitar.


AD11e-SB / AD12e-SB

Back/Sides: Walnut
Top: Sitka Spruce

Dave Pelletier, Director of Sales: “The AD12e-SB has so much character! It’s super comfortable… you can pull it in close. The 24-7/8-inch scale plus the Grand Concert shape just do it for me. It has a gorgeous tone; the body and wood set speak beautifully. It’s not too precious; it’s a great couch guitar, but I really want to put a mic in front of it and capture all of its walnut-y, woody goodness. It’s exactly how I’d want a guitar of this size to sound. And the glow of that sunburst just draws me to it!” 

Zach Arntz, National Accounts Manager (Sam Ash/AMS): “The AD12e-SB is a guitar that many folks appreciate and others might not yet know about (the mahogany-top AD22e is cool too). It’s a simple, understated guitar that’s super comfortable with the smaller body, and the 24-7/8-inch scale length makes it a dream to play and adds a touch of warmth. Rootsy sound with minimal overtones. It may not be the first Taylor you think of, but it should be considered as the guitar has a unique voice, nice feel and works great in many situations.”

Ryan Hanser, Digital & Graphics Designer: “I like both the AD11e and AD12e sunburst models. They look great and make nice high-quality, compact travel guitars. The shorter scale length is slinky and feels really nice, especially the Grand Theater. The American Dream Series in general is super comfortable with the rounded body edges. They also aren’t too fancy to travel with. And the guitars come with our AeroCase, which I love for traveling.

Erik Sakimoto: “I love the AD11e-SB — and AD11e Blacktop model that’s also in the American Dream Series. Honestly, I think our GT body style is still a bit unsung within the line, and I hope more players give it a try. The rosewood/spruce GT model, the 811e, is also a great guitar.”


326ce

Back/Sides: Tropical Mahogany
Top: Tropical Mahogany

Mike Tobin, Sales Administration Lead: “I love mahogany guitars for their warm midrange tones. From the player’s position, mahogany guitars really satisfy, as the sound comes out in all directions — front, sides and back. With the 326ce, the soundport adds another dimension to the experience. Overall, the sound is warm, yet it has precision, definition and clarity. The satin black hardware also ties in nicely with the shaded edgeburst, black binding and ebony soundport. I hadn’t experienced this guitar until recently, and I’m blown away.”


Builder’s Edition 816ce

Back/Sides: Indian Rosewood
Top: Lutz Spruce
[Ed. Note: It’s actually impossible for Taylor master designer Andy Powers to pick a favorite model because he appreciates the merits of each and is such a multifaceted player that it comes down to what the particular playing scenario calls for. But we thought his comments about the Grand Symphony’s unique musical personality, with its soundport cutaway, were worth sharing with players — especially since he’s the architect of that innovative design.]

Andy Powers: “To me, the Grand Symphony is possibly the most personally expressive guitar design we make. And maybe the most personally gratifying to play. The sense a musician has as they play it is totally enriching, as the sound is so three-dimensional for the player. Its complexity can make it somewhat more difficult to capture with a pickup on stage, so I might select a different guitar for that usage, although musicians like Andy Hull from Manchester Orchestra have made the Builder’s Edition 816ce part of their music.”  


Builder’s Edition K14ce

Back/Sides: Hawaiian Koa
Top: Torrefied Sitka Spruce

Zach Arntz: “To me, the ultimate Taylor. Yes, the [koa-top] Builder’s Edition K24ce is prettier, but sonically, the roasted spruce top combined with the koa back and sides really appeals to me. Massive sonic range, clear high end, strong mids and rich warmth that comes with koa. From a sound standpoint, in my opinion, you can’t beat the versatility of the roasted spruce top. Then add in all the Builder’s Edition features — beveled armrest, contoured cutaway, chamfered edge body treatment, Gotoh tuners, strap pin moved to the back of the guitar instead of on the heel, silent satin finish — and the guitar is just one of the finest guitars ever. When you’re ready, the Builder’s Edition K14ce could be the destination in your lifelong guitar journey.”


414ce

Back/Sides: Indian Rosewood
Top: Sitka Spruce

Dylan Van Vleet: “If you’re looking for a guitar that shines in any application, check out the 414ce. It features the timeless tonewood pairing of Sitka spruce with rosewood back and sides. I consider this guitar a jack-of-all-trades instrument — great for strumming, fingerstyle, anything you can throw at it!”


612ce 12-Fret

Back/Sides: Figured Big Leaf Maple
Top: Torrefied Sitka Spruce

Mark Vargas, Direct-to-Consumer Sales Manager: “In our Visitor Center, I find myself playing the 612ce 12-Fret more than any other guitar at the moment. While smaller guitars generally sound “smaller” than their larger-bodied siblings, the 612ce 12-Fret minimizes this gap. It sounds fuller and produces more volume than other Grand Concerts to my ears. And the 12-fret neck brings my fretting hand a little closer to my body, giving me more hand strength and dexterity.” 


114ce

Back/Sides: Layered Walnut
Top: Sitka Spruce

Mark Vargas: “I’m always awestruck by how much volume and bass this guitar produces. This is a cannon. If acoustic power is called for, this is a great solution — and at an affordable price.”


914ce

Back/Sides: Indian Rosewood
Top: Sitka Spruce

Dave Pelletier: “I recently spent time with our 914ce and had a chance to truly appreciate the depth of this guitar’s design and our team’s craftsmanship. It’s such a thoughtful, artful blend of wood and shell adornments. It’s stunning. The mitered corners of the body and neck purfling (made of Hawaiian koa) are precise, and the ebony radius armrest is perfectly sculpted into the body. And it has a bound soundhole. Some of the details may be subtle, but when you really look closely, they add up to a work of art that’s a joy to play.”


AD17e-SB

Back/Sides: Walnut
Top: Sitka Spruce

Rich Casciato, District Sales Manager: “I’ll start by pointing out that one of my personal guitars is an AD17 with ovangkol back and sides and a natural spruce top. I love that guitar; it’s the one I use alongside my custom Grand Auditorium (mahogany/cedar) on my acoustic gigs. Playing the new AD17e-SB has become another favorite. The guitar is simply amazing and has a very distinctive voice with the solid walnut back and sides — it has character and fullness that I wasn’t expecting. I’m growing very fond of the Grand Pacific-size guitar – one that I normally would not have looked at, but the playing comfort and the extremely balanced tone (it sounds studio EQ’d!) make them really great instruments to play and perform with.”


618e

Back/Sides: Figured Big Leaf Maple
Top: Sitka Spruce

Mike Tobin: “It’s big, there’s no getting around that. It’s not always comfortable to play a big guitar like this for very long when you’re sitting down. But this guitar sounds big and full across the frequency spectrum. That deep bass is there, and it’s well defined. It gives you back whatever you put into it, which is surprising for a guitar this big. It’s also one of the coolest-looking guitars in our catalog. I didn’t think I’d latch onto this one, but I keep going back to it.” 


222ce-K DLX

Back/Sides: Layered Hawaiian Koa
Top: Hawaiian Koa

212ce

Back/Sides: Layered Indian Rosewood
Top: Sitka Spruce

Rich Casciato: “I am continually blown away by the quality coming out of our Tecate (Mexico) factory, and the new Grand Concert 222ce-K DLX and 212ce are two recent examples of a great execution and extension of the 200 Series. Both guitars sound and play remarkably well — very inspiring instruments!” 


417e

Back/Sides: Indian Rosewood
Top: Sitka Spruce

Ryan McMullen: “I am a huge fan of the voice, projection and feel of the 417e.  The Grand Pacific body size mixed with the rosewood and spruce tonewood pairing provides a lot of volume and projection. The shape also creates a uniquely vintage voice that blends notes together and is different from your father’s Taylor guitar.”

Lindsay Love-Bivens, Artist & Community Relations Manager: “The Grand Pacific is one of my favorite shapes. The shape brought a new sound to Taylor, and with each new model within that shape, it keeps evolving. This rosewood/spruce edition has an even rounder, deeper sound, and with the burst and gloss finish, it’s just beautiful.”


Builder’s Edition 652ce WHB

Back/Sides: Figured Big Leaf Maple
Top: Torrefied Sitka Spruce

Rich Casciato: “This Builder’s Edition 12-string continues to amaze me with its balanced tone and playability.  I don’t know how it’s possible to get a 12-string to play so easily and sound so great, but bring it on! It’s so comfortable and inspiring. Having the ability to play up and down the neck on a 12-string makes you want to try things you wouldn’t normally want to try on a 12 string — and the outcome is extremely pleasing!”


512ce 12-Fret

Back/Sides: Urban Ironbark
Top: Torrefied Sitka Spruce

Argel Valdez, Content Production Coordinator: “The 512ce 12-fret has really resonated (pun intended) with me since its introduction. I was a big fan of the mahogany 500 Series, and I found that the transition to Ironbark back and sides introduced a bit more clarity and definition without sacrificing the woody midrange. The torrefied top gives you that sought-after played-in tone right out of the box, which, paired with the 12-fret construction, results in a very balanced instrument capable of full, rich lows. It’s a great option for fingerstyle players and strummers alike.”


812ce

Back/Sides: Indian Rosewood
Top: Sitka Spruce

Lindsay Love-Bivens: “The Grand Concert is my favorite shape. I like that it’s a smaller full-size guitar, so it’s incredibly comfortable to play. The classic combo of rosewood and spruce, combined with that body shape, makes a beautiful sound. I love the articulation that comes out of that guitar.”


Continue Your Holiday Buying Guide Journey

Part 1

How to Buy a Guitar: The Holiday Shopping Primer

Part 2

Acoustic Guitar Buying Tips:
A Deeper Dive

2023 Holiday Buying Guide - Part 2

Acoustic Guitar Buying Tips: A Deeper Dive

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How to find a guitar that fits a player’s style and musical needs.

If you’re looking for additional tips for choosing the right guitar, especially if you’re buying for yourself and already have experience as a player (and maybe already own a guitar or two), here are some general recommendations based on different playing styles and musical scenarios like recording, performance applications and more.

What’s Your Playing Style?

When we talk about playing style, we mean how you strike the strings when you play. In other words, are you a chord strummer who uses a pick, and if so, how hard do you strum? A flatpicker with a strong attack? A fingerpicker? (And if so, do you use fingerpicks, your nails — natural or acrylic — the pads of your fingers, or some combination of those?) Thinking about this will help you home in on the type of guitar that’s likely to complement your attack. It will also help you decide whether to consider a versatile guitar to cover a range of playing styles or a guitar that suits a more specialized style, especially if you already have other “role-player” guitars in your musical toolbox. Here are a few related thoughts:

Do you have a light picking/strumming attack, a heavy attack or something in-between?

Generally speaking, the harder you play, and the bigger and deeper the sound you’re looking for, the bigger the guitar you’ll need.

If you have a softer, more delicate attack:

Consider a guitar that will come alive in your hands without requiring too much effort. In general, smaller-bodied guitars like our Grand Concert and Grand Theater tend to be more touch-sensitive, meaning they require less energy to get the top moving and respond to the player. It’s a good option for fingerstyle players. That said, the truth is that since Taylor master builder Andy Powers introduced V-Class bracing (our internal sonic architecture that helps voice our guitars) across our guitar line, even our larger-bodied guitars are surprisingly responsive to a lighter touch.

If you have a heavier picking or strumming attack:

Your playing style might overdrive a small guitar body like our Grand Theater. You’ll likely be better served with a larger-bodied guitar like a Grand Pacific that will respond to the high energy that comes from the stronger pick attack.

If you have a dynamic or hybrid playing style:

You’re looking for versatility, a medium-sized guitar (Grand Auditorium or Grand Pacific) is a great choice, although our smaller Grand Concert also produces impressive dynamic range. You’ll be able to get an immediate response when you play lightly and a more powerful sound when you dig in. If you want an even wider dynamic range (one that offers more tonal output) or more low end, try a bigger body size.

For Strumming: Grand Auditorium or Grand Pacific

Two strong body shape contenders are our Grand Auditorium (our flagship body style) and Grand Pacific. Both reside in the medium-size category among our full-size guitars, which means they’re big enough to produce a pleasing low-end response without being boomy, respond well to a lively strumming attack, and produce a full-spectrum voice.

Both bodies share similar dimensions — they have the same body length, the same width at the upper and lower bouts, and the same body depth. The biggest physical difference is that the Grand Auditorium has a slightly more tapered waist (about an inch narrower), so if you play sitting down, it will tend to feel slightly smaller because it’ll sit a little lower in your lap. One other distinction is that most Grand Auditorium models come with a cutaway (you can also special-order a non-cutaway), whereas most Grand Pacific models, featuring slope-shoulder dreadnought curves, are built as non-cutaway models.

The basic sonic distinctions between the two tend to fall into two camps: a modern sound (Grand Auditorium) vs. a more traditional sound (Grand Pacific). As our best-known shape, the Grand Auditorium in many respects defines Taylor’s signature acoustic sound — clear and vibrant, with well-defined note articulation. For years, it’s been many a recording engineer’s go-to tool for tracking — it speaks clearly and isn’t boomy on the low-end. Sonically, it stays in its lane.

Comparatively speaking, the Grand Pacific tends to sound a bit warmer and more seasoned (like a slightly older guitar), with notes that blend smoothly. But the traditional sound is refined with master builder Andy Powers’ V-Class bracing under the hood. The bass response is robust but clearer, more musical and more usable, rather than muddy or woofy.

The truth is that both body styles deliver impressive versatility, so if you’re looking for an all-purpose guitar, it’s worth exploring and comparing them in different tonewood pairings.

If you’re looking for a strummer with a big, deep, wall-of-sound voice, you might try our Grand Orchestra body (try a maple/spruce 618e or a rosewood/spruce 818e).

Recording

Honestly, nearly any Taylor makes a good recording tool because of the overall tonal clarity and balance across the frequency spectrum. It might ultimately come down to what fundamental sonic flavor you’re looking to bring to the music you’re making. Here are a few thoughts:

Small-bodied guitars are often well-suited for recording.

For one thing, you’ll either be using microphones or recording direct with a guitar pickup (or both), so pure volume or projection (i.e., a bigger body style) isn’t crucial. Also, smaller-bodied guitars like our Grand Concert tend to produce a more focused, articulate voice, and that smaller, high-definition sonic footprint generally behaves well in a mix with other instruments.

The Grand Auditorium is also a versatile guitar for recording.

In addition to its virtues for strumming that we mentioned earlier, it’s also great for fingerpicking. That Swiss-Army-knife versatility allows it to cover a lot of ground for recording. The voice is clear and full without being bass-dominant. It’s a body style that has been featured on thousands of records across a wide range of musical genres over the years.

A guitar with onboard electronics might serve you well for recording.

More on electronics for performing below, but having a pickup gives you the option of recording direct and eliminating unwanted noise. If it’s hard for you to sit still in front of microphones, recording direct will allow you to capture the sound of your guitar in a consistent way. Some players like to record both ways, giving them two signals to work with, which can provide more options for blending the acoustic sound.

Live Performance

A guitar that’s equipped with an onboard pickup for easy amplification is the most obvious feature to consider for performance applications. If you play in a band, you might want a guitar that cuts through an instrument mix. Maple guitars (such as the 612ce or 614ce) have been popular over the years for their articulation, controlled overtones and somewhat neutral or player-reflective quality. Mahogany is another option for its relatively dry, fundamental-strong flavor. Hardwood-top guitars, made with mahogany or koa tops, for example, tend to amplify well because they smooth the edges off the response, especially for players with a more lively attack, and produce an even response across the frequency spectrum.

Here are three other benefits of having a guitar with a pickup:

1. You have the ability to manipulate your sound.

Our pickups come with an onboard preamp featuring tone controls that allow you to adjust the bass, midrange and treble levels of the guitar in an amplified setting. This EQ control gives you a broader range of acoustic colors to suit different songs or playing scenarios.

2. You can incorporate other effects into your amplified acoustic sound.

The ability to add effects like reverb, delay and other flavors gives you a whole new sonic palette with which to experiment in an amplified (or recording) setting.

3. You can easily balance volume levels if you play with other instruments.

As one gigging Taylor player shared, he regularly performs house concerts accompanied by a mandolin player. In an intimate setting, the natural acoustic volume of the mandolin overpowers that of his acoustic guitar. By plugging in, each can control his output level to create a clear and balanced sound together with the mandolin.

What styles(s) of music do you want to play?

Think of the type of sound you need to express that style or musical genre. For example, an aggressive picker or someone who plans to strum big, open cowboy chords might want a bigger body that’s capable of producing robust bass, volume and projection. Here are some general recommendations relating to a few musical genres.

  • Bluegrass/flatpicking: Grand Pacific (try a 517e) or other medium or large body for maximum volume and projection.
  • Country/Blues fingerpicking: Small to medium body — mahogany is a popular choice for the back and side wood for its warmth and wood midrange. An all-mahogany guitar (also featuring a mahogany top) will tend to have a slightly darker sound. Walnut (American Dream Series) and ironbark (500 Series) are other back and side woods worth exploring.
  • Acoustic rock/country/pop strumming: Try a medium-size body like a Grand Auditorium or Grand Pacific for rich, open chords.
  • Singer-Songwriters: This is entirely up to the person. We encourage people to start by finding a body style that’s most comfortable for them to play, and then sample and compare that body style with different tonewood pairings. You should also sing with the guitar when you audition it — you’re looking for an acoustic guitar voice that complements yours. Trust your feeling and choose the one that inspires you the most.

Aesthetic Details

This is ultimately a matter of personal preference. Visual inspiration is certainly part of a guitar’s appeal — it certainly creates a first impression — from its body contours to the wood grain to its decorative elements, which can range from minimalist to richly ornate.

Generally speaking, the higher you ascend up the Taylor line, the more premium or detailed the appointments and craftsmanship refinements tend to be. In recent years, we’ve introduced a wide range of artful edgeburst or sunburst top options across the entire line. The finish sheen is another consideration — some guitars have a more natural-looking, low-sheen matte-style finish, while others present a more luxurious look with a glossy finish. Here are a few categories:  

More decorative detail: 900, Presentation Series, custom models

More understated, workmanlike: Academy, American Dream, 100 Series

Wood lovers: Koa models across the line, including the GS Mini, 200, 700 and Koa Series, Presentation Series (Honduran rosewood/sinker redwood), 900 Series (rosewood/spruce), 600 Series (figured maple/torrefied spruce)

Expanding Your Musical Arsenal

If you (or someone you’re buying for) are looking to diversify your acoustic guitar lineup or are looking to spark some fresh creative ideas, look for something that offers a different playing experience and musical personality and thus expands your musical palette. Maybe it’s a different body style or tonewood pairing; maybe it’s a different type of guitar: a 12-fret or a 12-string, or perhaps a nylon-string or bass guitar. See more on our specialty models below.

12-Fret

Some Taylor Grand Concert models are offered with a 12-fret design, which references the position where the neck meets the guitar body. (On other Taylor steel-string models, the neck meets the body at the 14th fret.) By design, a 12-fret neck is slightly shorter than our 14-fret neck, with two fewer total frets. The different positioning of the neck relative to the body shifts the bridge location away from the soundhole, closer to the center of the lower bout. This changes the way the soundboard moves, producing extra power, warmth and sustain for a smaller body style.

Our 12-fret models also have a slightly shorter string scale length (24-7/8 inches compared to 25-1/2 on most other full-size models). Together with the repositioning of the bridge to a more flexible spot on the soundboard, the handfeel is slightly softer and slinkier, making it easier to form chords and bend strings, especially with the shorter scale length. (Anyone looking to reduce the stress on their fretting hand should test-drive a 12-fret guitar.) The closer neck/body relationship also brings the player’s fretting hand closer to the body, creating a more intimate playing experience.


Nylon-String

Nylon-string guitars deliver a different feel and sonic flavor compared to steel-string guitars — mellower and yet capable of percussive rhythmic textures. Our nylon-string guitars are easier to play than a traditional classical guitar — they were designed to be inviting and comfortable for steel-string players. The radiused fretboard makes fretting easier, and the slimmer neck profile offers a smooth crossover from a steel-string. If you find it difficult to play a steel-string acoustic, you might try the lighter string tension of a nylon-string guitar. It’s also a creative tool that adds another musical texture to a music track. If you’re looking for a nylon-string guitar on a budget, check out the Academy 12e-N, which features a built-in armrest. It’s a great guitar.


12-String

With their lush, shimmering sound from extra octave strings, 12-string guitars offer another wonderful voice to explore. One of the historical challenges of 12-strings in the guitar industry was that they were often hard to play. With our slimmer necks and easy playability, Taylor 12-string guitars made the experience much more accessible.

More recently, Andy Powers made the playing experience even easier by embracing our smaller Grand Concert body. The result is a 12-string that’s physically more compact and responsive to a lighter touch. A Grand Concert 12-string also mixes well with other instruments on stage or in a recording environment. The internal V-Class bracing featured on our U.S.-made 12-strings also enhances the tuning precision and harmony between notes, giving these 12-strings a beautiful clarity.

For an all-solid-wood 12-string try our new ironbark/spruce 552ce. For a more budget-friendly option, consider our 150e. It features a larger, non-cutaway dreadnought-style body, but the playability is signature Taylor. For years, it’s been one of the top-selling acoustic 12-strings in the industry.


Baritone

While it probably won’t be a player’s primary guitar, a baritone acoustic makes a flavorful addition to one’s acoustic palette. Our baritone models are tuned from B to B and have a 27-inch scale length, yielding a deep, resonant voice, yet with normal string tension for a familiar playing experience. And you can simply add a capo to the fifth fret and you’re in standard concert pitch. Players who sing in a lower vocal range might enjoy exploring the baritone sound, and it’s a great option for weaving walking basslines into your playing. Typically offered in special-edition runs, we make our baritone as both a 6-string (see our AD26e Baritone-6 Special Edition in this issue) and an 8-string, the latter featuring two upper octave strings, to produce a splash of 12-string shimmer without being as jangly as a full 12-string.


Acoustic Bass

We’re here to tell you that our GS Mini acoustic bass is a fantastic musical tool for music makers. Many folks can already appreciate the approachability and sound of our 6-string GS Mini guitars. To be able to have a great-sounding bass guitar in this compact form is truly remarkable (an acoustic bass normally requires a much longer scale length), and it’s only possible because of Andy’s design collaboration with our friends at D’Addario to formulate a custom string set with nylon-core strings that give it a slinky feel

“If bass isn’t your primary instrument but you want an acoustic bass on hand for writing, for recording some demos, to have when your friends come over to jam, this is the bass you want,” Andy Powers said when we first released the bass in 2017. “Anybody can play it. You don’t need calluses on your fingers. It’s physically easier than a guitar. The short string length and the nylon core strings make it so comfortable to play that even a kid or a beginner could walk up to it and not be intimidated.”


Other Guitar-Buying Categories

For the lover of high-end craftsmanship:

Consider the upper portion of our guitar line or our Builder’s Edition collection, which showcases our most advanced craftsmanship, special ergonomic features such as an armrest, tone-enhancing nuances, and in many cases, detail-rich appointments.

For the couch strummer:

You obviously want something with a smaller body that’s easy to cradle. Consider a GS Mini or one of our compact Grand Theater models, like the AD11e-SB. Or perhaps a 12-fret Grand Concert.

For the traveler:

When it comes to ultra-portability, size matters. In our sub-compact category, our smallest guitar is the ¾-size Baby Taylor. There’s also the larger Big Baby, but it’s shallower body depth compared to a standard guitar gives it a more accessible feel against your body. The GS Mini is an immensely popular choice because it packs a lot of tone into a compact form and because it’s not too precious to take out into the world and have fun. The Grand Theater is slightly larger but smaller than full-size, and it’s built with all-solid-wood construction, giving it a more refined sound.

For someone who wants a standard model — but with a twist:

We offer a menu of standard model options, so if you really like a particular model but would like it with a modified feature that better suits your musical preferences — maybe without a cutaway or with a different nut width or tuning machines, or maybe a sunburst top — you can always special-order that from a dealer.


Continue Your Holiday Buying Guide Journey

Part 1

How to Buy a Guitar: The Holiday Shopping Primer

Part 3

Players’ Choice: Gift Picks
from the Taylor Team

  • 2023 Issue 3 /
  • How to Buy a Guitar: The Holiday Shopping Primer

The 2023 Holiday Buying Guide - Part 1

How to Buy a Guitar: The Holiday Shopping Primer

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Taylor guitars make unforgettable gifts that will last a lifetime. Here’s what you need to know before you shop.

If you were to ask a group of guitar players how they got their first good guitar, chances are at least a few would tell you it was a gift from a parent, partner or other loved one. Many of us were lucky to have people in our lives who wanted to support our musical dreams, and guitar players will be the first to tell you how life-changing a quality musical instrument can be.

With the holidays around the corner, folks are hitting music shops and browsing online catalogs hoping to find the perfect bit of inspiration for a lucky person in their lives — or, in many cases, themselves. But buying a guitar can be a challenge, especially for shoppers who have never played or who don’t know much about the instrument. For starters, there are lots of brands and price points out there. Also, guitars come in different shapes, styles and musical flavors. There’s a whole host of factors that can affect how a guitar “fits” or appeals to an individual, from the player’s physical size to their age, aesthetic and musical tastes, learning goals, and more. We get it. And we’re here to help.

A Good Guitar Matters

At Taylor, our design philosophy is guided by a couple of key ideas. First, a quality guitar — one that’s easy to play, stays in tune and makes pleasing musical sounds — really makes a difference. That’s why every model we make delivers those fundamental qualities that invite and support an enjoyable playing experience. Second, we’ve diversified our guitar line to serve virtually every type of player. So, this holiday season, we hope to make it easier to pick a guitar that matches its musical partner — whether that’s you or someone else.

We’ve got a little something for almost everyone here, from the first-time player to the parent buying for a young learner to the intermediate player looking to upgrade to a higher-quality guitar. Or maybe you bought an entry-level guitar during the pandemic and you’re ready to level up your gear.

We’ll also provide some guidance for common playing applications like recording and live performance, as well as recommendations based on your playing style. We’ve even included some staff picks. You can use the links below to navigate to the section that fits you best.

Looking for easy gift recommendations by budget? Use the Taylor Guitars Holiday Shopping Guide

First Thing’s First: Why Taylor?

You might already know that Taylor is a reputable guitar company but find yourself wondering what sets our guitars apart from others on the market. Here are a few good reasons to consider a Taylor.

Playing Comfort

Playing comfort is essential, and for good reason: If a guitar isn’t comfortable and accommodating to play, you’re not going to play it. A hard-to-play guitar is the number-one hurdle new players face — there’s nothing worse than having to fight your instrument while you’re also trying to learn notes, chords and techniques. 

The playability of a Taylor has been the gold standard of the acoustic guitar industry for half a century, and an essential guiding principle behind how we design and build our guitars. We believe the guitar that sounds best starts with one that feels the best. That comes from a range of factors, such as the shape of the neck, the contours of the body and the height of the strings over the fretboard (which we call “action”). Our guitars are designed first and foremost to be comfortable and easy to play.

Here’s how we do it.

Our necks are slender, responsive and accommodating for hands of all sizes.

Thanks in part to our patented neck joint design, every Taylor guitar is precisely factory-set with low action, meaning it’s easy to press the strings to the fretboard all the way up the neck.

Our lower-priced guitars (Baby Series, the GS Mini, the Academy, 100 and 200 Series) feature a slightly narrower neck width that’s especially useful for beginners.

We offer a variety of guitar sizes and shapes, from the kid-friendly Baby Taylor to the compact GS Mini; from the all-purpose Grand Auditorium to the jumbo-style Grand Orchestra. (You can learn more about body shapes ahead).

Build Quality and Craftsmanship

Every Taylor guitar, from the Baby Series through our ultra-premium Presentation Series, is built with an unparalleled degree of precision, attention to detail and consistency. For the player, that means your guitar is going to sound fantastic right out of the box — and decades down the road.

Player-Focused Innovation

We’re also proud of our history of player-centric innovation — of constantly striving to make acoustic guitars better in feel and sound. This has led to some of our most influential developments, including our neck design along with tone-enhancing voicing features like our award-winning V-Class internal bracing.

Customer Service & Support

We stand behind our guitars, and our support team sets a high bar for friendly expertise and quality of service. When you buy a Taylor, there’s a team here to help you at every step, from picking the right guitar to maintaining it throughout its lifetime if you need adjustments or repairs. Our factory-certified experts will always be around to make sure our guitars deliver years of creative inspiration and musical fulfillment.

Buying a Guitar: 5 Things to Consider

Let’s get into the process of buying a guitar and what you need to consider when you shop. If you’re already knowledgeable about guitars and you’re just looking for recommendations by budget, head over to our holiday shopping guide.

1 – Body Shapes

We offer a range of body shapes, each with their own feel and musical characteristics. Here’s how they stack up, from smallest to largest.

  • Baby: A three-quarter-size guitar ideal for travel or young learners.
  • GS Mini: A scaled-down body that blends travel-friendly portability and comfort with pro-quality sound.
  • Grand Theater (GT): Slightly larger than the GS Mini, the GT approaches a full-size feel while remaining comfortably compact, accommodating and couch-friendly.
  • Grand Concert: Our smallest full-size guitar features a compact frame that sits easily in your lap. It’s offered both in 14-fret and slightly shorter 12-fret versions — the 12-fret has a more compact neck-to-body relationship, which makes it feel more intimate and responsive.
  • Grand Auditorium: Our most popular shape, beloved for its appealing medium-size contours and broad musical versatility.
  • Grand Pacific: A round-shoulder dreadnought shape, similar to the Grand Auditorium but with a slightly wider waist. Also a very versatile body style.
  • Grand Symphony: This shape has a larger overall footprint than the Grand Auditorium and may feel a bit big for kids or players of shorter stature. It also has a partial cutaway (closed in the back) with a soundport built into the front of the upper bout.
  • Grand Orchestra: Our largest (and deepest) body shape, with a bold, commanding sound to match its size. It’s likely to be a bit uncomfortable for new players who play sitting down because of its big dimensions.

If you don’t know what your gift recipient is looking for musically, start by thinking about body shape. Common sense applies here: Smaller guitars usually feel more comfortable to smaller individuals.

Want to learn more about our body styles? Check out this guide to Taylor body shapes.

2 – Sound

Tone is one of the most subjective parts of the guitar-buying process — everyone’s ear is a bit different, and every player has a unique experience of a guitar’s sound. This can make it difficult to use tonal nuances as criteria for buying a guitar for someone else, or for yourself if you’re not an experienced player. But know this: Taylor has a well-established reputation — backed up by pro musicians and recording engineers — for making guitars that produce clear, nicely balanced, stage- and studio-worthy sound. So, you can rest assured that whatever you choose, sonically, the guitar will deliver.

Solid Wood vs. Layered Wood

All Taylor guitars feature a solid-wood top. U.S.-made guitars (American Dream Series and up) also feature solid-wood back and sides, while our Mexico-made guitars (crafted in our state-of-the-art factory in nearby Tecate, Mexico) are constructed with layered-wood back and sides. But what does “solid” mean, and how does it differ from its alternative, “layered?”

“Solid” means that the wood component consists of a single piece through its thickness. Our models made with layered wood (back and sides) incorporate a composite of three layers of wood — a thicker core panel with a layer of wood veneer on either side for stability and appearance. This construction approach allows us to use some beautiful wood veneers that greatly enhance the aesthetic appeal of these guitars.

The important thing to know is this: Solid woods typically yield a slightly more complex or sophisticated sound. Layered-wood guitars can be made more cost-effectively, which is why you’ll find them in our lower-priced guitars.

As we’ve stated, one major advantage of buying a Taylor guitar is that you’re guaranteed a solid-wood top. The top is the part of the guitar with the greatest influence over its sound, and a solid top ensures clear projection and balanced tone. Within the Taylor line, all-solid-wood construction and layered/solid-wood-construction is delineated as follows:

Solid wood back, sides and top:

› American Dream Series and above

Layered wood back and sides, solid top:

› Baby Series
› GS Mini Series
› Academy Series
› 100 Series
› 200 Series

Tonewood Pairings

Want to learn more about the different tonewoods offered in the Taylor line? Check out our guide to tonewoods.

3 – Price

A guitar is an investment in both money and time. And quality guitars rightfully cost more because they’re easier to play, sound better and perform consistently well over time. We understand that everyone has a budget they’ll want to stick to this holiday season. That said, our guitar line covers a wide pricing spectrum, and our entry-level instruments are a fantastic investment because they’re built to last. Before you make your decision, think about what comes with the money you’re spending. Here’s what comes with various price tiers in the Taylor guitar lineup.

All Taylor guitars every price:

› A solid-wood top that produces rich, clear tone
› A comfortable, easy-playing neck
› A gig bag or case
› Fast, reliable customer service
› Warranty coverage with registration

Under $799

› A solid-wood top that produces rich, clear tone
› A comfortable, easy-playing neck
› A gig bag or case
› Fast, reliable customer service
› Warranty coverage with registration

$800 – $1,999

› Upgraded aesthetic appointments
› American Dream and 300 Series Guitars: All-solid-wood construction for the richest, most sophisticated sound
› Some models include an AeroCase or deluxe hardshell case

$2,000 and above

› All-solid-wood construction
› Tone-enhancing interior bracing
› Artful visual details such as fretboard inlays and glossy finishes
› Some models feature comfort-enhancing designs such as the armrest and beveled cutaway
› Most models include a deluxe hardshell case

4 – Guitar Cases

When you buy a guitar, you definitely want some kind of guitar case — there’s too much risk of damage from physical impacts, temperature and humidity without one. Keep in mind that not all guitar companies include a gig bag or case with their guitars. However, every Taylor guitar comes either with a protective soft bag (which includes backpack straps) or a hardshell case (which we produce in-house). It’s included in the price you see on the tag or website. Cases can be pricey, so getting a guitar that includes one eliminates an extra expense.

Also, from a practical standpoint, consider that many players start out by taking lessons, and a case makes it easier to transport the guitar between home and wherever you take lessons. The same applies if the player plans to travel with their guitar, maybe to take it to school, a friend’s house, on a trip or to a gig.

5 – Accessories

If you’re buying for a first-time player — yourself or someone else — there are a few more things you’ll want to pick up in order to complete the perfect gift. Consider adding these items with your new guitar.

Picks

A set of medium-thickness picks is usually a good place to start. Or, pick up a variety pack and try out several styles to help find a pick that works for you. (Different pick materials and thicknesses will impact the tonal response.) 


Extra Strings

Even pro players break strings, and there’s nothing worse than finding yourself unable to play because you don’t have any extras on hand. We string most Taylor steel-string guitars with D’Addario XS Coated Phosphor Bronze strings, in either a light or medium gauge (check the guitar’s specifications for gauges used on individual models). 


Tuner

A handy clip-on tuner like Taylor’s new Beacon will ensure your guitar is always in tune and sounding great.


Humidification

Acoustic guitars are responsive to climate factors, especially humidity. A simple case humidification system will help keep your guitar at the right relative humidity to avoid issues like warping, cracking and fret buzz. Alternatively, ask your salesperson about TaylorSense, our smart guitar sensor unit that sends real-time climate information to your iOS or Android phone


Guitar Strap

If you’re buying for a new player, chances are they’ll mostly be playing while seated. However, it’s always nice to have a good strap on hand. Taylor offers a range of guitar straps in different materials and styles, and you’ll find them in our online store as well as at many music shops.


Guitar cleaner/polish/cloth

Regular guitar care will keep a guitar looking great. We offers a variety of cleaning and polishing products for routine maintenance.

Happy Shopping

This guide should be enough to get you started on buying the right guitar this holiday season. If you want specific Taylor guitar recommendations sorted by price, head to our Holiday Shopping Guide.


Continue Your Holiday Buying Guide Journey

Part 2

Acoustic Guitar Buying Tips:
A Deeper Dive

Part 3

Players’ Choice: Gift Picks
from the Taylor Team

Image of Taylor Builder's Edition 814ce acoustic-electric guitar on its side facing forward in a living room background

New Edition

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Our iconic 814ce gets a Builder’s Edition upgrade — and showcases why woodworking craftsmanship is more important than ever.

Our award-winning Grand Auditorium 814ce has been a player favorite for decades, so the launch of an ultra-premium Builder’s Edition version of the model is sure to pique the interest of Taylor enthusiasts.

After all, we’re talking about taking the flagship guitar in the Taylor line — a versatile, modern-day rosewood/spruce workhorse, a perennial industry best-seller in its price category (MI Salestrak), a reliable performance tool for the likes of Lindsey Buckingham, Hall and Oates and Johnny Rzeznik, a studio staple for recording engineers far and wide — and elevating the feel, sound and aesthetic appeal even more.

This Builder’s Edition release marks the tenth unique model to join our elite guitar family, which has grown into a remarkably diverse collection of advanced-performance instruments in the five years since the debut of the Builder’s Edition design concept.

Depending on your perspective as a Taylor fan, you might find yourself wondering either: Why mess with a classic? Or: What took us so long?

“I’ve actually played with the idea for quite a while,” shares Taylor master designer and Builder’s Edition architect Andy Powers. “One reason we haven’t until now is that I still really like the redesign we did in 2014 — the inlay pattern, the purfling, the way the guitar looks and feels. And we’ve made other updates to the 800 Series in the years since then.”

In fact, that evolution of the 800s over the last decade is worth revisiting, starting with the guitar that Andy inherited from Bob Taylor. With his original rosewood and spruce Grand Auditorium, Bob had introduced a more versatile alternative to a traditional rosewood dreadnought. The refined body geometry of the Grand Auditorium combined sonic horsepower with balance, clarity and responsiveness, giving the 814ce greater musical range — capable of handling fingerstyle, strumming and flatpicking — and bringing more functional utility for recording and live performance. For fans of rosewood guitars, it brought more fidelity and expressiveness to a player’s toolkit.

For his part, Andy’s aforementioned 2014 redesign was noteworthy because it propelled him along an innovative design path toward his eventual V-Class bracing and Builder’s Edition concepts.

Rewind to early 2013. Andy was two years into his gig at Taylor and had just reimagined Taylor’s Jumbo body style as the Grand Orchestra. He’d also been exploring an array of design refinements he wanted to deploy across the Taylor line to help musically diversify our guitar ecosystem.

In Andy’s conversations with Bob Taylor, it became clear that Taylor’s approaching 40th anniversary in 2014 offered an opportunity to introduce something special — something that pushed the envelope in a big way.

And thanks to Bob, Taylor already had an established a track record of using milestone anniversaries not to celebrate the company’s past, but to illuminate its path forward, often with a special guitar offering that introduced a bold innovation. (Both our iconic Grand Auditorium body shape and our revolutionary Taylor neck design made their respective debuts with Taylor anniversary models.)

With Andy’s emergence as Taylor’s next-generation luthier, it made sense to design a next-generation guitar to commemorate the 40th anniversary, and our venerable rosewood/spruce 800 Series seemed the perfect place to celebrate the passing of the torch — with Bob entrusting the series to Andy to demonstrate where Taylor’s guitar-making was headed.

The result was a rebooted 800 Series that delivered the most comprehensive and nuanced suite of refinements Taylor had ever brought to a series. In his pursuit of better sound, enhanced playability and heightened aesthetic appeal, Andy tinkered with virtually every material component of the guitars.

With his overhaul, Andy introduced a slew of tone-enhancing refinements that also gave each body shape a more distinctive tonal personality. He developed new, Advanced Performance bracing (this was pre-V-Class) and customized the pattern for each body style to accentuate its particular musical strengths. He optimized each body style’s wood thicknesses to suit its musical function. He used protein glues and worked with our product development team to formulate an ultra-thin gloss finish application to reduce damping and heighten the tonal response. He shifted to a custom-formulated string-gauge set. Even the amplified sound was improved — the series marked the debut of our patented ES2 electronics, developed by Taylor guitar designer and pickup developer David Hosler.

The aesthetic refresh of the 800 Series also leveled up the decorative details while still honoring its classic heritage. Maple binding, rosewood edge trim and a rosewood pickguard brought an elegant design harmony to the guitars. Another breakthrough aesthetic detail was the introduction of “smoky” ebony fretboards as a standard specification — a bold statement that we would use formerly undervalued variegated ebony and showcase it on a prominent series to demonstrate our commitment to environmental responsibility.

Then Came The 800 Deluxe Series

After applying some similar refinements to other series within the Taylor line, in 2017, Andy returned to the 800s and added an upgraded spinoff, the 800 Deluxe Series. These guitars marked the introduction of our radius armrest, featuring rounded contouring for enhanced playing comfort. Other upgrades included Adirondack spruce bracing and Gotoh tuners.

Andy has talked about coming out of the redesign of the 800 Series and wondering what more could be done after pulling out all the stops and pushing the guitar’s material components to their performance-enhancing limits. The last frontier seemed to be a more radical change to the internal voicing architecture. This, of course, led him to pivot from traditional X-bracing patterns and develop a different voicing framework, his patented V-Class bracing. In 2018, Andy introduced it on select models, and by mid-year, the 814ce was sporting it.

The voicing improvements of V-Class had the effect of equalizing some of the previous sonic advantages of the 800 Deluxe models, so in 2020 we decided to phase out the 800 Deluxe Series and adopt the radius armrest as a standard feature on most 800 Series models.

Reimagining the 814ce for Builder’s Edition

The last new Builder’s Edition models were introduced in early 2020, so the time felt right to bring a new iteration of the 814ce to life. Because Andy was already happy with the existing identity of the standard 814ce, he decided to stay fairly close to many of the core aesthetic details as he designed the Builder’s Edition version.

“I thought, let’s push the design we love toward the even more complex woodworking we’re doing with some of the other Builder’s Edition guitars,” he says.

Comfort-enhancing design features include chamfered body edges, a beveled mahogany armrest (an upgrade from the radius armrest on the standard 814ce) and a beautiful beveled cutaway. The cutaway is actually a remarkably complex display of woodworking craftsmanship because, for starters, the cutaway is already the most challenging portion of the guitar to work with, given its tight, hairpin-turn shape.

Being able to produce the beveled cutaway demanded some of the most complicated tooling work that Taylor’s product development team has undertaken.

Crafting the beveled cutaway actually requires two additional contouring processes. The cutaway itself is reshaped in a way that eliminates the corner of the body between the end of the cutaway and the neck heel. This requires a compound curve that flows more cleanly into the heel, improving the feel of the player’s fretting hand in that area.

The other element is a separate finger bevel sculpted into the guitar top. (Think of it as the equivalent of an armrest for the player’s pinky finger when playing around the uppermost frets.) Andy talked about the benefits of this in 2018 when the beveled cutaway was introduced as a feature of the Builder’s Edition K14ce, the first model from that collection.

“For most of our playing, our opposable thumb is either on the back side of the neck or wrapped around it to help our fingers press strings to the frets — until we play high notes and our hand runs into the guitar body,” he explained. “Then we have to move our thumb off the neck and reach up and around the body. Without our thumb on the neck, we use our whole arm to help our fingers press the strings down, which limits our dexterity.”  

The pairing of the finger bevel with the contoured cutaway, he says, means a player no longer has to labor to manage that transition — they can get all the way to the end of the fretboard and keep their thumb on the neck.

Between the cutaway and the armrest, the entire guitar body is more comfortable to hold and play, and both a player’s picking and fretting hands will be more relaxed.

Because the cutaway design involves multiple curving compound surfaces that all have to line up perfectly, Andy says, being able to produce it demanded some of the most complicated tooling work that Taylor’s product development team has undertaken.

“When my woodworker friends saw it, they said, “Wow, there is some woodworking sorcery in there to make it happen,’” he says.

To visually highlight the beautifully sculpted body contouring of the guitar, Andy chose to incorporate a gloss finish on the body — making it the first Builder’s Edition model to feature gloss.

“While I love the feel and response of our silent satin finish, it was a treat to use a polished gloss finish to reveal the contours of the body, especially over the gleaming deep colors of rosewood,” he explains. “It’s a challenge to execute with all the sculpture going on in that cutaway, but I’m thrilled with the result.”

“These guitars have a characteristically bold, vibrant sound, further emphasized by the Adirondack spruce top.”

Andy Powers

A Four-Piece Adirondack Spruce Top

Another key refinement is the choice of an Adirondack spruce top, which is notable on several levels. First, Adirondack’s superior stiffness (especially in tandem with our V-Class bracing) helps produce enhanced sonic characteristics that include an expansive dynamic range, with lots of detail and rich overtones across the tonal spectrum. (As a side note, Adirondack spruce was the premier top wood for American steel-string acoustic guitars prior to World War II, before overconsumption by other industries led the guitar industry to shift to Sitka spruce from the Pacific Northwest.)

Additionally, in keeping with the guitar’s theme of advanced craftsmanship, the top features carefully matched four-piece construction that requires skilled woodworking joinery. The four-piece design, rather than the traditional set of two bookmatched pieces, reflects the smaller-diameter nature of Adirondack spruce available today.

From a design perspective, Andy considered this guitar model a modern-day proof of concept for four-piece tops, which have been made at various points in guitar-making history by guitar makers during the 20th century. We’ve also been making four-piece koa tops on certain Taylor models for years.

In this case, the idea was to use the Builder’s Edition platform to demonstrate the importance of skilled craftsmanship heading into the future, as fewer old-growth/large-diameter Sitka spruce trees will be commercially available, meaning that guitar makers will increasingly need to adapt and refine their methods accordingly, just as they always have.

“We understand that the future of the wood coming from world’s forests is always evolving,” Andy says. “We anticipate that a great soundboard will require more careful woodworking joinery to utilize smaller sizes of the high-grade timber preferred for an heirloom instrument, much like piano makers have done for generations.”

When executed well, he adds, the artful craftsmanship yields a high-quality soundboard that can deliver structural and sonic advantages and display a symmetrical grain structure.

For more on cutting spruce for tops and the reasons behind a four-piece top, see our companion story, in which we take you to our spruce supplier, Pacific Rim Tonewoods, for a closer look at what goes into creating soundboards for acoustic guitars.

Other Unique Design Details

Other body construction nuances for the Builder’s Edition 814ce include a subtly different body geometry compared to the standard 814ce due in part to the beveled armrest and cutaway. The tapering of the body is also very slightly modified, which changes the relationship between the back plane and top plane.

“The body is also a touch slimmer near the neck compared to a standard Grand Auditorium body style,” Andy says. The back braces (part of a V-Class recipe) are also subtly altered to fit the design.

The guitar’s sonic attributes are also influenced by the Adirondack top and the gloss finish, which slightly changes the damping characteristic of the top.

“These guitars have a characteristically bold, vibrant sound, further emphasized by the Adirondack spruce top,” Andy says. “Together, the V-Class architecture coupled with the gorgeously ergonomic contouring of this Grand Auditorium body now rendered in spruce and rosewood make for a rewarding take on a modern acoustic guitar.”

In terms of hardware and aesthetic details, the guitar incorporates Gotoh 510 tuners in antique gold (featuring a precise 21:1 tuning ratio) and the sculpted Curve Wing bridge used exclusively on Builder’s Edition models. Aside from the gloss finish, Andy made minor modifications to enhance the elegant visual appeal of the added body contours. The body’s chamfered edges are accented with a refined top purfling scheme that combines black and maple with rosewood edge trim. The Indian rosewood back and sides sport a Kona edgeburst with contrasting maple purfling. Other appointments include maple purfling lines along the fretboard and peghead, mother-of-pearl Element inlays, and a green abalone rosette with rosewood, maple and black trim.

Early Reactions

Among the first wave of musical adopters was Grammy-nominated songwriter, recording engineer and producer Will Yip, whose standard-issue 814ce has long been his go-to acoustic for tracking on rock records.

“Ninety-five percent of the acoustics on my records are 814s,” he says. “I always say this: ‘This [guitar] sounds expensive.’”

With Yip’s intimate working knowledge of the guitar’s sonic characteristics for recording, he made a discerning candidate to explore the Builder’s Edition version in a studio environment.

“How do you make a great guitar greater?” he wondered after having some time to record the guitar. “I get more presence, more bottom end, more of that low-mid stuff, but I’m not getting any harsh frequencies. Everything just sounds pure and musical to my ears — even more than the other 814.”

We also sent the Builder’s Edition model to Los Angeles-session guitarist extraordinaire Tim Pierce, who’s also a prolific guitar instructor and YouTuber. Pierce owns a 612e 12-Fret but wanted a cutaway acoustic guitar, and our own Tim Godwin from Artist Relations thought Pierce might enjoy this model.

“I am overwhelmed by the guitar you sent,” he texted Godwin after some time with it. “It is an incredible, beautiful guitar. The first impression sounds just right and plays like a dream. I know it sounds like a lot of hype, but it’s not!”

Media Coverage

Over at Guitar World, Tech Editor Paul Riario presented a video review in which he lavished praise on the guitar.

“It’s a premium acoustic that will last a lifetime as a workhorse instrument and as an absolute heirloom masterpiece that does it all and so much more,” he says. “With expansively rich and immersive acoustic tones and player-centric enhancements, I find the Builder’s Edition 814ce to be an exceptional and expressive instrument that will appeal to any player.”

And at the most recent NAMM Show this past April, the guitar was honored with Music Inc. magazine’s Editor’s Choice Award.

Be sure to check out the new Builder’s Edition 814ce at a Taylor dealer near you.

Dreaming in Color

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A tobacco sunburst and firestripe pickguard add an artful vintage look to a trio of new walnut/spruce American Dream models.

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.

You’ll find these and other American Dream models at authorized Taylor dealers now.

500 series group

Urban Renewal

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We’re thrilled to unveil another inspiring urban tonewood, red ironbark, as the rich new voice of our retooled 500 Series.

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.

Mahogany Migration

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.

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.”

Andy Powers


“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.”

Andy Powers


“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.

Meet the New 500 Series

514ce

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.


512ce

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.

  • 2022 Issue 2 /
  • Koa’s Many Colors: Meet the All-New Koa 700 Series
taylor-koa-700-series

Koa’s Many Colors: Meet the All-New Koa 700 Series

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A gorgeous grade of Hawaiian koa, ultra-thin matte finish and a vibrant voicing reveal an enticing new look, feel and sound

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.

Joseph Kekuku. Credit: Redpath Chautauqua Collection, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa

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 original Grand Concert, built for Chris Proctor in 1983, featured koa back and sides.

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.

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.

“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.

Meet the New 500 Series

Builder’s Edition K24ce
Koa Series

Builder’s Edition K14ce, Builder’s Edition K24ce, K24ce, K26ce, K22ce, K22ce 12-Fret, GT K21e

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.


224ce-K DLX
200 DLX Series

214ce-K DLX, 224ce-K DLX

Choose between a spruce top and a koa top on these Deluxe models, which feature beautiful layered koa back and sides, a gloss-finish body and a hardshell case.


214ce-K SB
200 Series

214ce-K, 214ce-K SB

Layered koa back and sides are paired with a spruce top featuring either a finish or a gorgeous shaded edgeburst around the entire body.


GS Mini-e Koa Plus
GS Mini

GS Mini-e Koa, GS Mini-e Koa Plus, GS Mini-e Koa Bass

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.


Baby Series

BTe-Koa

Super-portable and fun to play, our most compact koa guitar promises to make a visual statement wherever you go.

New for ’22

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A smokin’ flametop Grand Pacific leads the parade of new Taylor models, plus the GT family grows

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.

AD27e Flametop

A throwback look and sound channels an earthier Taylor vibe

Back and Sides: Solid Big Leaf Maple

Top: Solid Big Leaf Maple

Neck: Hard Rock Maple

Fretboard: Eucalyptus

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.

AD22e

A hardwood-top Grand Concert joins the American Dream Series

Back and Sides: Solid Sapele

Top: Solid Mahogany

Neck: Neo-tropical Mahogany

Fretboard: Eucalyptus

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.

GTe Blacktop

Walnut brings extra sonic girth to the GT voice

Back and Sides: Solid American Walnut

Top: Solid Spruce

Neck: Neo-tropical Mahogany

Fretboard: Eucalyptus

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.

GTe Mahogany

Raw, rootsy character makes this GT feel extra alive in your hands

Back and Sides: Solid Neo-Tropical Mahogany

Top: Solid Neo-Tropical Mahogany

Neck: Neo-Tropical Mahogany

Fretboard: Eucalyptus

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

Back and Sides: Solid Figured Big Leaf Maple

Top: Solid Sitka Spruce

Neck: Hard Rock Maple

Fretboard: Smoky Crelicam Ebony

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.

Look for all these guitars at a dealer near you.

In the Pocket

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Taylor’s adventures in inlay design reveal a colorful history, a commitment to craftsmanship, and an affinity for aesthetic balance.

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.

“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.

Read More

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.)

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.”

Bob Taylor

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.”

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.

“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.”

Andy Powers

“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.

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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.”

He uses the Grand Concert Builder’s Edition 912ce as an example.

“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.

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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.

Keeping Good Company

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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.

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.”

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.”  

Bob Taylor

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.”

Kurt Listug

“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.” 

Barbara Wight

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.”

Bob Taylor

“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.

“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.”

Andy Powers

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 Fortune Magazine’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.”

two Taylor GT acoustic guitars - one natural finish and one sunburst finish

Family Affair

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After unveiling our sleek, fun-to-play GT guitar last October, we’re thrilled to branch out with premium rosewood and koa models.

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.

Review Riffs 

Here are some highlights from recent reviews of the GTe Urban Ash.

Guitar.com

“…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.”

Chris Vinnicombe

Vintage Guitar

“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.”

Pete Prown

Guitar Player

“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.”

Art Thompson

American Songwriter

“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!”

Christian Seaman