Keepers of the Trees

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Ever wonder how a city’s tree population is managed? We talked to West Coast Arborists to find out.

A few of us from Taylor are camped out in the office of Mike Palat from West Coast Arborists, who’s giving us a virtual tour of the proprietary information technology platform WCA uses to operate its business. All eyes are on a wall-mounted video monitor as Mike navigates WCA’s ArborAccess tree management software system, a robust database that integrates the detailed tree inventories and work histories they’ve compiled for the cities they work with — to the tune of nearly 400 municipalities across California and parts of Arizona. The system is used to document the life progressions of more than 6 million trees — with GPS mapping integration that tracks the location and work of their arborist technicians in real time.

Palat, a VP at WCA with 20 years of service there, is a board-certified master arborist with utility and municipal specialties, and he oversees WCA’s operations in the Southern California, southwest region, including San Diego County. He’s a walking Wikipedia of tree knowledge, and he’s happy to educate us non-arborists on some of the many considerations that go into urban forest planning and management.

The conversation ranges from the basics of what a municipal tree maintenance contractor does for cities to why WCA’s expertise has been so crucial to the collaborative urban wood initiative Taylor and WCA are forging together.

Our group includes Scott Paul, our in-house Sustainability expert, who knows Palat well and talks with him frequently. (Palat is Scott’s primary contact at WCA, and both sit on the Board of Directors for Tree San Diego, a non-profit committed to enhancing the quality of San Diego’s urban forest.) Throughout the demo, Scott peppers Palat with questions to help guide the conversation.

How Cities Manage Their Tree Populations

West Coast Arborists — By the Numbers

+1100 employees
+12 locations in CA and AZ
+ 675K trees trimmed annually
+ 46K trees removed annually
+ 18.5K trees planted annually
+ 300K trees inventoried annually

Palat starts by explaining how cities create and maintain their urban tree inventories. Within a city, he says, various agencies or departments may manage different classifications of trees that make up their public tree population. For example, in San Diego, the city’s Street Division oversees the maintenance of street trees. The Park & Recreation Department oversees trees in public parks. Trees near utilities (power lines) might be overseen by San Diego Gas & Electric. Together, all these trees comprise the urban canopy of city and suburban areas — trees that, for many of us, are hiding in plain sight, blending into the landscape alongside streets and buildings, but that actually are purposefully planted, documented and maintained.

“A lot of city asset management programs manage potholes, street lights, irrigation valve boxes — and also, trees,” Palat says. “Our software is very much their dedicated outlet for trees, and it’s specifically for cities. Cities have GIS — Geographic Information Systems — departments. For cities under contract with WCA, it doesn’t cost them any money to have their tree inventory housed in this program, and it’s dedicated toward the management of their tree population.”

A city that contracts with WCA might receive a range of management and maintenance services depending on their own departmental resources.

“Part of what we do is go out and collect the tree inventory for a city,” Palat says. “The cities  own that data, and they can house it in a variety of ways. Our software, ArborAccess, is a web-based program that comes with a mobile app, so in essence what we do charge for is the data collection — sending out an arborist to go collect this information — but we don’t charge when it comes to the permissions of this program when an agency is under contract with WCA.”

If a city has a maintenance contract with WCA, ArborAccess enables all the work history to be documented. As he talks, Palat pulls up a map of San Diego with GPS integration showing all the WCA crews that are currently working.

“You can see all the dots,” he says. “Those are GPS on the crew, these are all GPS vehicles, real time, where they’re working, where they’re parked, what time they got there, how their speed is — all that stuff is part of the program.”

Whether a city or WCA handles the documentation of the city’s tree inventory, a pre-qualified list is created and housed in the database, including maintenance recommendations on every single tree.

“Subsequent to that, if our crews are out performing tree-trimming work, if they see something, they update the data to inform cities that these trees have changed,” Palat says. “Trees are biological, so they’re always changing. So, that is one means of communicating the potentially risky trees to a city.”

While WCA is responsible for documenting the condition of trees and providing that information to the city, it’s ultimately up to the city to issue the service instructions. And when it comes to removing trees due to age, decay, safety risk, etc., that’s entirely the city’s decision. Scott underscores this point to make it clear that WCA — or Taylor — isn’t out scouting for trees to cut down.

“No, not at all,” Palat says. “We’ll give them recommendations based on our observations, but it’s ultimately their decision as to what trees come down.”

The conversation turns to the two urban wood species Taylor is currently sourcing from WCA — Shamel ash and now red ironbark — so Palat does an inventory search of both tree species in Taylor’s home-base city of El Cajon (a client of WCA’s) to demonstrate the usefulness of their system.

“There are 54 Shamel ash in the city of El Cajon, and if I want know where they are, I’ll map them, and here you go. I can turn on aerial imagery, and as you can see, when I click on a tree, it tells you what it is, gives you the details, the last time it was trimmed… you can see information about it — routine prune recommendation, no maintenance issues, and there is an overhead utility, so we can note that, which is not a good thing for a Shamel ash to be under.”

Right Tree, Right Place

This last point speaks to what has become a mantra for arborists everywhere: “right tree, right place.” In other words, from a planning and planting perspective, it’s important to plant species of trees with properties that are compatible with their specific location, and that serve their intended purpose, whether providing shade, sound breaks, wind breaks or other benefits, without being prone to causing problems. As in too being close to a sidewalk or street, where the root systems of certain species are likely to rip up the pavement or sewer lines. Or eventually growing to a size that will interfere with power lines. It often amounts to a geometry exercise, projecting what the tree may look like at maturity and how it ultimately will fill in the space where it will be planted.

“Wrong” trees planted in the wrong space eventually “become candidates for removal,” Palat says. “In fact, San Diego Gas & Electric has a whole program trying to rid these problematic trees, what they call cycle busters. They’re spending a lot of money doing vegetation clearance away from power lines, and a lot of times they’ll hit up agencies and basically say, we’ll give you free trees if you let us remove these.”

As cities look to plant more trees to bolster their urban canopies, they also have vacant locations mapped and designated as suitable planting sites. Palat zooms out on the map, showing an array of gray dots that depict those sites.

“If we’re doing vacant site analysis, part of that might be to measure a parkway width,” he says. “If there are overhead utility lines, all that plays into that decision-making too.”

The average life span of an urban tree is eight years.


Depending on the location, one of the challenges of cultivating a tree, Palat says, is determining who will water it. “Right now [in Southern California], that is the biggest struggle,” he adds. “Even if cities are willing to give trees away, nobody’s taking them. There’s contract watering, but that costs money. Or you might get a renter who says, I’ll take it on, but then they move and the new person doesn’t care. That’s a big reason why the average life span of an urban tree is eight years.”

There is also a large misconception about the cost of watering a tree, Palat says.

“Some people believe it costs thousands of dollars per year to establish a young tree,” he elaborates. “The reality is that it costs about 10 dollars per year to establish it. The gallons of water needed can be used in a strategic manner to maximize what is needed for establishment.”

It costs about ten dollars per year to establish a young tree.


A lot of a city’s tree planting decisions obviously need to consider long-term impact of the environments in which they live and grow. One increasingly vital forecasting consideration is how the effects of climate change are forcing cities to rethink the viability of their tree populations for the decades ahead.

To that end, WCA has worked with other tree experts in California to combine data and create an even more detailed statewide database with tree profiles and planting recommendations. One partner is Matt Ritter, a professor in the Biology Department at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, a horticulture expert, author and one of the world’s foremost authorities on eucalyptus. Matt’s online database, SelecTree, is a great resource for selecting appropriate species in California.

“The program we did with Matt brought in trees that nobody has heard of in an effort to gain some momentum on species that should be brought in for future success,” Palat says.

To show some of the other capabilities of their software, Palat pulls up the tree data for the city of El Cajon (where Taylor is headquartered) to give us a tree inventory overview. We can see, statistically, the top 10 most planted species by percentage of the tree population — crape myrtle leads the pack at 12.7%, followed by the queen palm at 12.2%. This data helps guide healthy diversification of the species planted.

“You really never want to have one species dominate more than 10% of your tree population, especially here in California,” Palat says. “Species diversity is important. The reason is new pests are introduced to California every 40 days, which makes your tree population vulnerable if it’s more than that.”

Age diversity is another important statistical consideration for evaluating the health of a city’s tree population, Palat says as he looks at the tree sizes to approximate the age of El Cajon’s trees.

“The fact that they have only .55% trees over 31 inches in diameter, it would be nice to have the age diversity be better spread,” he explains. “Typically when trees get into this large range, they become targets for removals — there are a variety of things that happen as the trees mature, everything from disease and pests to decay and not being an appropriate species for where the tree was planted.”

In talking about California’s tree inventory, one factor that has made the state such a hub of tree diversity is its Mediterranean climate (and micro-climates from coastal areas to inland valleys to the mountains), which can accommodate a wide range of species. And Palat points out that a lot of California, especially central and southern portions of the state, originally were essentially “blank canvasses” without a lot of tree cover, which is why many of the species are not native. (As an example, see Scott Paul’s Sustainability column this issue, where he talks about California’s history with eucalyptus.)

The conversation turns back to the urban tree species Taylor is working with, and Palat pulls up the location of some red ironbark trees in the area. We were hoping to shoot some photos of mature ironbark and Shamel ash trees somewhere nearby, and he’s scouted a couple of locations — one is a median strip along a road featuring several large ironbark trees; the other is a park that has both ironbark and Shamel ash.

Without WCA’s data analysis, Taylor wouldn’t be able to commit to using these urban woods on dedicated models.


Scott makes the point that WCA’s tree software made it possible for Taylor to commit to using ash and ironbark on dedicated models in our line.

“The big question for Taylor, beyond if the wood had suitable properties for guitar making, was whether or not there would be a supply over time, into the future,” he says. “The WCA database was able to show us that there are large numbers of the trees that we were interested in across the state, that they’re still being planted today, and based on the average lifespan of these species, WCA can give us a pretty good estimate of annual removal rates. It will ebb and flow each year, of course, but it gave us the confidence to move forward. If not for WCA’s ability to do that, we would never have been able to commit to using those woods as a regular part of our lineup.”

Since entering into this sourcing partnership in 2020, Taylor and WCA have continued to invest in processes and infrastructure that improve WCA’s operational capabilities with wood from removed trees.

“Now, we have a mechanism so when an agency issues a request to remove a Shamel ash tree, my phone buzzes, so we can make sure we communicate with the removal crew,” Palat says. “That reminds us to be extra careful in the way we take it down, and it ensures that it gets taken to our sort yard in Ontario [California].”

In this video segment — part of a longer discussion about sourcing urban wood — Taylor content producer Jay Parkin talks with Taylor Director of Natural of Natural Resource Sustainability Scott Paul, chief guitar designer Andy Powers, and master arborist Mike Palat from West Coast Arborists. The four discuss what an urban forest is, the factors that make sourcing urban wood harder and more expensive than one might think, and what prompted West Coast Arborists to begin to create the infrastructure to support this new sourcing model.

Taylor has also worked closely with WCA to properly preserve and cut logs in a way that’s appropriate for guitars.

“We’ve definitelylearned a lot from you guys,” Palat says. “We’ve built more shade structures, we’re now keeping wood wet — that was not a big requirement of us until we started working with you. And we’re now cutting in the manner that you’ve helped us establish.”

This infrastructure will ideally create the foundation for a circular economy around this wood, and hopefully serve as a model for making other high-value products.

Along with the other criteria that help determine what trees to plant in urban environments in the future, with any luck, maybe end-of-life value will become another consideration.

Guitar Tasting with the Pros

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We invited some discerning players to test-drive our new 500 Series guitars. Here’s what they had to say.

In July, members of our artist relations team spent the day with an array of talented Los Angeles-based musicians, setting up shop at Republic Studios (a division of Universal Music Group) in a series of individual sessions to get each artist’s discerning first impressions of the new ironbark guitars.

We wanted each person’s honest reactions without “leading the witness,” so we didn’t reveal anything about the guitars beforehand other than their body styles. All of the artists are Taylor players we currently work with, so, to be fair, we should note that that they do already have an affinity for our guitars. That said, we asked what stood out to them about these particular models — good, bad or otherwise. We had both the 512ce and 514ce on hand, and encouraged them to play both, starting with whichever model they wanted.

Aesthetically, nearly everyone loved the look of the subtle edgeburst treatment, especially in tandem with the slightly darker color of the roasted spruce top, and several artists called out the faux tortoise shell binding. Musically, the group was fairly evenly split on their model preference.

Here are some highlights of their reactions.

Matt Beckley

Guitarist, songwriter, producer, engineer

[Plays the 512ce first.] That’s awesome. [Then the 514ce.] This one wants you to hit it harder. So what’s going on here? Why’s this so good? They’re really articulate but balanced…. This has a really good bass response and good resonance. It feels like it’s not a new guitar in the best way. It doesn’t feel like it needs to be broken in. It’s got that playability of an old mahogany, where it feels, again, old in a good way.

[Plays the 512ce first.] That’s awesome. [Then the 514ce.] This one wants you to hit it harder. So what’s going on here? Why’s this so good? They’re really articulate but balanced…. This has a really good bass response and good resonance. It feels like it’s not a new guitar in the best way. It doesn’t feel like it needs to be broken in. It’s got that playability of an old mahogany, where it feels, again, old in a good way.

I do a lot of recording, and sometimes, especially when you get an acoustic guitar, you have to do a lot to it, and it sounds like it had been pre-EQ’d, like in a really good way, and this kind of reminds me of that. It’s really balanced right out of the jump. It’s not scooped.

This feels like this could be your one guitar, because it feels like it would record good, but it also feels inspiring to write on. Like sometimes when you get an old slope-shoulder or something like that, they sound good in the living room, but they take a lot of work in the studio, or they don’t have the right thing on stage. This is inspiring to play, so it’s also good to write on… In the room, it feels like a good recording guitar too. So I would say, there’s not a lot I wouldn’t use it for. The other thing is that you can hit it, but it’s still satisfying to fingerpick. This one’s so fun.

With the 512ce, it’s so loud for a small-bodied guitar. And I’m really heavy-handed. It’s got compression without crapping out, because a lot of the smaller-body guitars I have I can’t hit that hard, which is not a bad thing; it adjusts how I play…. There’s so much low end coming out, in a really controlled way, not in a muddy way.

Taylors manage to have good low end and good projection, but it doesn’t muddy up the mix; as a producer and someone who plays live primarily, what I’m looking for is a guitar that will support that….

[After learning about the woods on the guitars] This [guitar] is fantastic. I can’t believe it’s not mahogany. It sounds like a mahogany guitar. That’s really special, and as somebody who likes the planet, I’m glad you guys are finding a way to keep that around…. You guys really nailed it.

Dory Lobel

Musician, songwriter, composer, producer, member of the house band on The Voice for 10 years

[Checking out the 514ce.] Feels beautiful, great neck. [Strums a chord.] Wow. OK, first of all, it’s really, really good; it’s very surprising. Super sweet and balanced. Almost no harshness that almost every acoustic has. A lot of time with acoustic guitars, they’re built for volume and projection, so sometimes the individual notes are lacking character; they don’t speak. Every note has a lot of tone, but it’s very round.

The word that keeps coming to mind is balanced. It’s super, super balanced. And I have a love/hate relationship with acoustic guitars. Not a lot of people talk about it, but I think they’re really designed first of all for volume, and I always compare to things like mandolins and banjos, which have a lot more personality and midrange there. But that’s what I’m looking for in an acoustic, to have a sound that’s interesting enough that you can play a little note and it’s enough, and you can let it hang. The intonation [on this] is crazy too.

It’s interesting because it has the hi-fi, full-frequency range, but not at the cost of a lot of sweetness. A lot of things I like, like Elliott Smith, very beautiful, emotional acoustic music, but with a kind of Tony Rice, hi-fi, bluegrass thing. The way it rings, and the intonation makes it, everything really blooms great. I knew it would be great — I’ve been playing 500 Series guitars for 20 years — but it’s really amazing.

On The Voice, I use this [Grand Auditorium] shape a ton; it’s one of my favorites. This one, I think everyone would agree, is the workhorse. I know some people say some shapes are more for picking or for strumming. This, I know for a fact, can do anything. I’ve played these with Alison Krauss and Vince Gill, Ryan Adams… there’s nothing you can’t do with this, and you can record with it as well. Some guitars you use more for live because they’re reliable, and you would use something else in the studio. This would definitely do both. It’s gorgeous… the best indication is that I don’t want to stop playing it.

Jaco Caraco

Session/stage guitarist, member of the house band on The Kelly Clarkson Show

[Plays the 512ce first.] Sounds beautiful. Wow. Initial reaction is that the sustain is still going. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before. Feels amazing, sounds great. It’s nice and woody, which I love in an acoustic guitar. Perfectly in tune. Wow, I love it.

The midrange is really nice to me. It’s not harsh. It sounds awesome fingerpicked, and then if you’re just strumming something, it sounds amazing.

[Plays the 514ce.] Obviously this is a bigger body, so it has more bass to it, almost more like a J-200. So for me, now that I’ve heard them both and can feel them, this would be more the strummer for me probably. It gets that nice jangle. Really impressive.

This is an incredible guitar. It’s really well balanced. And the bass resonates through your body, which feels really cool.

For me, the classic guitar I would record with would be an old Gibson. And I would happily record this one, and I bet that nobody would be able to tell the difference — except for the sustain and the intonation.

Horace Bray

Session/touring guitarist, singer, producer

[Playing the 512ce] First reaction: It sounds great. The first thing that stuck out is it’s really even across the neck, which, as much as I love guitars, I really love it when guitars kind of feel like pianos, where it’s balanced all over the instrument. And that’s the first thing that really sticks out. It definitely has a different thing going on in the midrange than what I’ve played with my spruce top, mahogany back and sides. It almost feels like it has a natural compression to it, which is probably attributing to the evenness all over the guitar. It’s not squishy. The quiets still really speak, and that’s the thing I’m kind of lingering on…. The attack’s more immediate with this one.

[Playing the 514ce] Wow. This one feels a little bit more percussive. I feel like it reacts to the pick attacks a bit more. It makes me want to do more strummy stuff…I think I like how the pick attacks more, but the more natural compression I get with the other one kind of makes me gravitate more toward single-line stuff. Probably a little more bluegrass with that one, a bit more strummy stuff and letting the notes ring out on this one.

I think the pairing of these two would complement each other really well in a studio environment… I think the difference in how the attacks feel would make them layer really well together.

Taylor Gamble

(Ari Lennox) Session/touring guitarist (Gospel-rock, R&B, acoustic/classical)

[Playing the 512ce] This feels really good string-tension-wise. I can really get the vibrato in there…. The action is perfect. It definitely has the warmth of rosewood; I like rosewood because of how well-rounded it is, going from playing genre to genre.

[The sound is] very lush…I would love to hear this plugged in and miked at the same time because it’s very robust. When I play soft, I can really hear the overall tone… It sustains very well. The notes hold their value; I don’t feel like I’m losing anything as they [ring out]. Strumming-wise, the attack, it snaps like I need it to….

I could do an entire acoustic set on this guitar alone, from strumming to fingerpicking. I’ve paired certain pedals with my acoustic guitars because I feel like it’s beautiful when you marry the electric and the acoustic perfectly, even if you’re just strumming chords. That extra layer you get coming from an acoustic instrument can actually be the icing on the cake in a lot of situations. I would definitely use this in an acoustic setting; I would definitely use this during a live show, like if I’m performing with an artist, I would definitely whip this bad boy out and I’d be like, just mike it; you don’t even have to plug it in, it’s gonna sound good. I would also record with this. And honestly, this is the kind of guitar that I would actually record this and my vocal at the same time.

This guitar does a good job of letting me hear everything I need to hear when I play acoustic. I hear the lows real well, and still hear the highs, and the midrange, this one gives me more midrange, but the way I play, I play a lot of chords with a lot of feel, so I need that bottom. The chords have to be lush, they have to ring out, they have to sustain. I’m that kind of player. I’m very into tone.

Janet Robin

Singer-songwriter, guitarist, member of The String Revolution

[Plays the 514ce] The neck feels great as usual. Action’s great. I’m more of a percussive player… pretty good response, especially since it’s not a dreadnought. This takes my beating. I think it has a nice, even tone. It’s very balanced. [Softer strumming.] Beautiful sustain. My other Taylor is a spruce and rosewood [dreadnought Dan Crary Signature Model]. I’m not really getting that tone. It’s very velvety; very even between bass and treble and mids. I’d say it leans more towards the mids a bit more — of course, that also depends on the kinds of strings you use.

I think it’s the kind of guitar that could be used in all ways — percussive use, like I’m doing, maybe fingerstyle [fingerpicks], beautiful. Again, that sort of velvety, nice sustain. Definitely great for fingerstyle, strumming stuff, a great singer-songwriter guitar. Even if you’re a solo guitarist…I really think it lends itself to a solo performer, or because it has that bit leaning toward midrange, I think it would cut through a band…[more playing] Beautiful dynamics.

Powers Trio

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As Chief Guitar Designer, President and CEO, Andy Powers is poised to lead the next generation of Taylor innovation.

We had to order Andy Powers some new business cards. On May 31, we announced that Andy had been named Taylor’s President and CEO. If you know Andy, you know he’s not fussy about titles — only that he’d list his guitar designer role first to underscore Taylor’s continued focus on making instruments that delight and inspire players.

Co-founders Bob Taylor and Kurt Listug — now former President and CEO respectively — proudly delivered the news to Taylor’s employee-owners in a pre-recorded video with Andy that was released a day before the public announcement. Bob and Kurt also shared that they are continuing their involvement with the company as senior advisors and co-chairmen of the Taylor Guitars board, which was established as part of the company’s transition to 100-percent employee ownership.

The announcement came just days before the NAMM Show in Anaheim, California — a newsworthy event of its own after finally returning after a COVID-induced hiatus.

The following week, back on the Taylor campus in El Cajon, we held our mid-year all-hands ESOP event, where Andy had the opportunity to talk to employee-owners in person about his new role and our path forward as a guitar company. But not before kicking things off with a few songs.

And with that, Jason Mraz, a longtime friend of Andy’s, took the stage to play a few songs, with Andy joining him on guitar.

It was a full-circle moment, considering that Mraz’s performance on the Taylor stage at NAMM back in 2010, with Andy as his sideman, had brought Andy and Bob Taylor together. Conversations ensued. Bob made his pitch. Andy joined the company in January of 2011, and the rest is history — history that continues to unfold with Andy now formally at the helm.

A Smooth Transition

Given the progression of events at Taylor over the last several years, Andy’s elevated role didn’t come as a huge surprise to many of us here at the company. Rather, it seemed a logical continuation of the succession plan that Bob and Kurt had set in motion. In 2019, Andy became an ownership partner, a testament to Bob and Kurt’s confidence in him along with their desire to keep guitar design as a central focus at Taylor for the long-term future.

“Andy has the vision and the talent to continue to take guitar making forward at Taylor. He’s vital to the company’s future.”

Bob Taylor

That commitment was reinforced when the company announced its transition to 100-percent employee ownership in 2021, a move that Bob, Kurt and Andy all felt was the best arrangement to preserve the culture of creativity and guitar innovation that has fueled Taylor’s growth and success. Andy’s creative vision, player-centric guitar designs and thoughtful leadership at Taylor, together with his career commitment to the company, were important factors in that decision, giving Bob and Kurt the reassurance to choose that path.

“Andy has the vision and the talent to continue to take guitar-making forward at Taylor,” Bob says. “He’s vital to the company’s future.”

Learning From Kurt

While the passing of the torch from Bob to Andy was evident from the start, filling Kurt’s role wasn’t part of the original plan for Andy. But Kurt says that right away, Andy showed both the interest and aptitude for the business side of Taylor’s operation, and understood how all the pieces need to fit together holistically to maintain a healthy company.

“Andy has worked closely with sales, marketing, finance, human resources — all the departments under my leadership — since he joined us in 2011, and he understands their functions deeply,” Kurt said during the announcement to Taylor’s employee-owners.

Over the past several years, Kurt has spent a lot of time mentoring Andy, discussing financial budgeting, reviewing financial statements and talking about the business management philosophy that has guided the decisions he has made over the years. He says he realized that Andy was the right person to also wear the CEO hat during a period in 2020 when they were laying the groundwork to prepare for the transition to an ESOP structure.

Kurt also points out that it’s more feasible for one person to oversee both the guitar-making and business sides of the company now because Taylor is well established and has a strong and experienced executive team with many decades of Taylor experience to support him.

“It would have been impossible for either Bob or me alone to create and establish the company,” he reflects. “Bob was 19 and I was 21 when we started. We didn’t have any experience. It took each of us focusing on the things we were interested in and becoming good at them the more we worked on them. The company is much different now.”

And Andy has been the beneficiary of what each of them has learned. “It’s been fun to work with Kurt and look at things from one direction, and work on it from the other direction with Bob,” he says. “I’m hugely fortunate to get to work with both of them and appreciate their perspectives.”

Staying the Same: Embracing Change

As part of the public reveal of Andy’s new role, we recorded a special edition of our streaming video show Taylor Primetime, hosted by Taylor content producer Jay Parkin. Bob, Kurt and Andy were the special guests and shared their thoughts on why this is good for the company and its stakeholders moving forward. One question Jay posed to Andy was how he envisions his role changing.

“I’m so fortunate because we have amazing people that I get to work with all the time.”

Andy Powers

“Honestly, my role doesn’t change much,” he says. “In a lot of ways, it’s business as usual…. Frankly, it’s because we have such an amazing team of people working here that allows me to spend most of my time working on guitars. The groundwork that Bob laid with our production and product development teams, our building and machine maintenance teams, and with wood sourcing, and the work Kurt’s done building our sales, marketing, finance and human resources teams — I’m so fortunate because we have amazing people that I get to work with all the time. We have industry veterans, we have people who are at the top of their game in their field, and that makes what you might call the more typical parts of operating a business really easy. Don’t get me wrong — it’s a huge amount of work every day. But the folks we get to work with are such professionals, and they’re so good at what they do, it makes it a joy.”

While Andy’s role may not change in dramatic ways, Bob, Kurt and Andy agree that in true Taylor fashion, our guitars will, and must, continue to evolve. Bob shares with Andy a nugget of wisdom he learned over the years.

“Anytime I’ve done anything to a guitar, people go, ‘Is that going to change it?’ And what they’re really trying to say is, ‘Will that make it worse?’ This has happened to me a million times…. So feel free to change things, Andy. Make them better.”

Andy understands that it’s now part of his broader responsibility to lead the company in ways that make the overall business better as well. The bigger question, he says, is better for whom?

“In our case, we can make it better for the musicians we serve, the suppliers we buy material from, the people who sell our guitars, and our employees. So when we make a change for the better, that’s who benefits.”

  • 2022 Issue 3 /
  • Lessons: Upstroke Technique, Minor 11th Chords and Triad Movements

Guitar Lessons

Lessons: Upstroke Technique, Minor 11th Chords and Triad Movements

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R&B guitar ace Kerry “2 Smooth” Marshall is back with more tips for playing R&B on an acoustic guitar.

In July, members of our artist relations team spent the day with an array of talented Los Angeles-based musicians, setting up shop at Republic Studios (a division of Universal Music Group) in a series of individual sessions to get each artist’s discerning first impressions of the new ironbark guitars.

Kerry brings over 20 years of experience in the music world to his popular online video guitar lessons, as well as his digital guitar school, Kerry’s Kamp. With nearly 135,000 subscribers on YouTube and new lesson videos released every week, Kerry is a constant source of musical inspiration for players hoping to explore guitar techniques from the worlds of R&B, gospel and neo-soul. As a session player, Kerry has also played and recorded alongside major artists like Tori Kelly, Jason Derulo, Chrisette Michele and Ledisi.

Matt Beckley

Kicking things off with a beginner lesson, Kerry demonstrates a simple upstroke picking technique that adds a subtle rhythmic accent to your playing. Watch as Kerry illustrates this easy way to add R&B flair to your sound.

The Minor 11th Chord

Next, Kerry explores an important sound in R&B guitar-playing that can be translated to other styles as well: the minor 11th chord. Watch as Kerry shows how to use the minor 11th as a subtle variation on the more common minor 7th chord.

Triad Movements

Finally, Kerry goes deep with an advanced lesson focused on triad movements, another subtle technique that you can use to flavor your playing to create a sweet R&B vibe.

Want more R&B acoustic guitar lessons from Kerry “2 Smooth” Marshall? Be sure to check out his YouTube channel and subscribe for his weekly instructional videos.

Custom Guitar Showcase, Round 2

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Explore more stunning guitars from our custom program, featuring premium tonewoods and eye-catching aesthetic details.

Last issue, we showcased a handful of gorgeous custom-built Taylor guitars that were designed for an exclusive dealer event held in conjunction with the return of the NAMM Show in Anaheim, California, in June of this year. These guitars, crafted in very limited numbers, reflect the very best of Taylor workmanship and aesthetic creativity. Loaded with striking appointments, many of these custom offerings boast premium-grade tonewoods that make these instruments as musically rich as they are visually enticing.

To properly spotlight the details of these guitars, we’ve also created an enhanced gallery experience on the Taylor website. You can also explore the always-growing collection of Taylor custom guitars, complete with beautiful photos, full specifications and the dealers that have ordered them at https://customs.taylorguitars.com.

And if you find that any of these guitars speak to you, just reach out to our customer service team, and we’ll help you locate one.

Custom 12-Fret Grand Concert (#7)

Back/Sides: Walnut
Top: Walnut
Appointments: Bloodwood body binding, single-ring maple/bloodwood Roman Leaf rosette, early 900 Series fretboard inlays in maple/bloodwood, glossy chocolate shaded edgeburst finish

Custom Grand Auditorium (#36)

Back/Sides: Big Leaf Maple
Top: Sitka Spruce
Appointments: Flamed maple armrest, binding and backstrap, single-ring maple/koa rosette, Art Deco fretboard inlays in maple/koa, glossy Koi Blue finish with natural back wedge

Custom Grand Symphony (#16)

Back/Sides: Indian Rosewood
Top: Lutz Spruce
Appointments: Bloodwood binding, single-ring maple/bloodwood rosette, Bouquet fretboard/peghead inlays in maple/bloodwood, stained bone bridge pins with red Australian opal dots, chamfered body edges, Silent Satin finish with Kona Edgeburst back/sides and Wild Honey Burst top

Custom Grand Symphony (#18)

Back/Sides: Big Leaf Maple
Top: Sitka Spruce
Appointments: Cocobolo body binding, single-ring paua rosette, Spring Vine fretboard/peghead inlays in paua, stained bone bridge pins with green Australian opal dots, Gotoh 510 antique gold tuners, glossy Amber finish with aged toner top treatment

Custom Grand Symphony (#28)

Back/Sides: Neo-tropical Mahogany
Top: Sitka Spruce
Appointments: West African ebony binding, single-ring paua rosette, Nouveau fretboard/peghead/bridge inlays in paua and mother-of-pearl, Gotoh 510 antique gold tuners, transparent glossy black finish

Custom T5z (#19)

Body: Sapele
Top: Quilted Big Leaf Maple
Appointments: Black binding with green abalone edge trim, Byzantine fretboard/peghead inlays in green abalone, stained bone bridge pins with green Australian opal dots, glossy Supernova edgeburst finish

Custom Grand Auditorium (#27)

Back/Sides: Indian Rosewood
Top: Sinker Redwood
Appointments: Bloodwood binding and armrest, single-ring paua rosette, Leaf fretboard inlays in paua, stained bone bridge pins with red Australian opal dots, Silent Satin finish with shaded top

Custom Grand Symphony (#28)

Back/Sides: Figured Blackwood
Top: European Spruce
Appointments: Bloodwood binding and armrest, single-ring bloodwood rosette, Running Horses fretboard inlays in maple/koa, Gotoh 510 tuners

  • 2022 Issue 3 /
  • On the Bench: Guitar Care Basics with Rob Magargal

On the Bench: Guitar Care Basics with Rob Magargal

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Taylor’s service network manager explains basic guitar care tools, how to change strings and proper humidity control.

In July, members of our artist relations team spent the day with an array of talented Los Angeles-based musicians, setting up shop at Republic Studios (a division of Universal Music Group) in a series of individual sessions to get each artist’s discerning first impressions of the new ironbark guitars.

Taylor service network manager Rob Magargal has spent many years at workbenches in the Taylor factory and out in the field, fine-tuning guitars of every shape and size to perfect playability and rich sound. In these videos, Rob identifies the essential items for your guitar care tool kit, explains the basics of humidity management, and demonstrates proper string-changing techniques for virtually every type of acoustic guitar.

Matt Beckley

Here, Rob identifies the essential tools for common guitar maintenance tasks such as changing strings.

The Minor 11th Chord

In this video, Rob runs through the one guitar care skill that every player should know by heart: how to properly change strings. Note that this video applies specifically to 6-string acoustic guitars with steel strings.

Triad Movements

If you’ve ever played a nylon-string guitar such as the Taylor 312ce-N, Academy 12e-N, 812ce-N or a traditional classical guitar, you’ve probably noticed that the strings fasten to both the bridge and the headstock differently from steel-string guitars. Here, Rob explains how to put new nylon strings on a guitar. Remember that nylon-string guitars should never be strung with steel strings — the additional tension will cause damage to the guitar.

Changing Strings: 12-String Acoustic Guitar

With twice the number of strings as a 6-string guitar, putting fresh strings on a 12-string model might seem daunting. But don’t worry — the process isn’t much different, as Rob explains.

Changing Strings: Guitars with Slotted Headstocks

Models with slotted headstocks, such as our 12-fret Grand Concert guitars, blend the processes used for normal steel-string models and nylon-string guitars. Here’s Rob demonstrating how to swap out strings with your slotted-headstock guitar.

Guitar Care: Humidity Management

Relative humidity is one of the most important factors to consider in guitar maintenance. Wood is highly reactive to changes in climate, and excessive or insufficient humidity around your acoustic guitar can lead to playability issues and sound problems. Fortunately, maintaining recommended humidity levels around your guitar is fairly simple. Watch as Rob explains the basics.

Koa-RESTORATION-LEAD

Seeding Koa’s Future

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Together with Pacific Rim Tonewoods and other important partners in Hawaii, we’re striving to develop successful models for koa reforestation and growing instrument-grade wood for future generations.

In previous issues of Wood&Steel, Taylor Director of Natural Resource Sustainability Scott Paul has shared updates on the koa forest restoration projects we’ve embarked on in Hawaii with our longtime supply partner, Pacific Rim Tonewoods. In conjunction with the launch of our koa 700 Series, we wanted to offer a fresh look at the various facets of our forest stewardship work in Hawaii, including seed selection, genetic research and plant cultivation as we grow trees for the future.

If you’re a fan of koa, you might know that it grows exclusively on the Hawaiian Islands. But chances are you’re less familiar with koa’s ecological status. Due in part to its remote island home, people often wonder whether koa is endangered. (It’s not.) But over time, koa’s Hawaiian habitat has changed, leading to a gradual decline in the health of native forests in certain areas, with koa regeneration diminished by a variety of factors.

Prior to Polynesian settlement on the Hawaiian Islands around 1200 A.D., koa grew across a wide range of habitats and elevations, nearly down to sea level. It’s the largest tree native to Hawaii, and it grows rapidly (about five feet per year for the first five years in healthy conditions). As a resource, koa wood was widely used by Hawaiians for many purposes, but especially for canoes. By 1778, when British Naval explorer Captain James Cook’s landfall precipitated a sustained wave of Western contact — and greater interest in koa as a material to make products like cabinetry and furniture — native koa forests still extended down to a 2,000-foot elevation.

After the introduction of cattle to Hawaii in 1793 by another British explorer, Captain George Vancouver — who presented King Kamehameha with a gift of six cows and a bull — Hawaii’s island ecosystem underwent a gradual transformation. Forestland was cleared for ranches, while at the same time, a growing population of wild cattle snacked on newly sprouted koa seedlings, stifling natural koa regeneration.

Additionally, in the early-to mid-1800s, agricultural conversion for large-scale sugar and pineapple production consumed some of the low-elevation koa forests. Over time, as Hawaii’s population grew, private land development, coupled with the introduction of non-native plant, animal, insect and micro-organic life, including invasive species, further reduced the natural propagation of koa.

Today, there is still a good deal of koa forest in Hawaii, but most of it sits above 4,000 feet, on private or protected lands. And much of what survives is in decline, with regeneration severely impeded by many threats, including roaming feral cattle, sheep and pigs; invasive plant species like gorse, kahili ginger and strawberry guava; various grass species that were introduced for cattle grazing but have also fueled the spread of wildfires into forest areas; and a soil-borne fungus, commonly known as fusarium wilt, that has killed numerous koa trees at lower elevations.

For these reasons, native forest restoration to reverse this decline has been a concerted effort on the Islands, with considerable research and initiatives currently underway. This includes efforts both to enhance the ecology of existing forests and to restore some previously converted pastureland back to its native forest state.

Koa and Guitars

Taylor’s history of making guitars with koa stretches back more than 40 years. Pacific Rim Tonewoods has been in the koa supply business for about 30 years and has cut the koa Taylor has purchased for much of that time.

Koa lumber was widely available until about 20 years ago, when Hawaii stopped clearing land for agriculture, which reduced the amount of koa coming to the mainland. After that, it was available chiefly — and unpredictably — from salvage. About seven years ago, in 2015, koa became extremely difficult to source for guitars, so Bob Taylor and Steve McMinn from Pacific Rim Tonewoods began to investigate further to better understand the sourcing outlook for the future. They learned more about the protections against harvesting koa on public and private land in Hawaii and met with large landowners to discuss their current land stewardship needs and future conservation goals.

In this video, Steve McMinn and other partners talk about the mission of Siglo Tonewoods and our koa forest restoration efforts in Hawaii.

Those efforts led to the launch of a formal partnership between Taylor Guitars and Pacific Rim Tonewoods. Until recently, the joint venture was called Paniolo Tonewoods — “Paniolo” being a reference to the Mexican cowboys who originally came to Hawaii to teach Hawaiians ranching skills (and brought their guitars and music with them) — but the name was recently changed to Siglo Tonewoods. (“Siglo” means “century” in Spanish, alluding to the long-term vision of the company.)

The mission of Siglo is to supply and grow Hawaiian wood for the future (100 years and beyond) and create an enduring supply of wood for musical instruments. Part of that commitment is to contribute to current forest restoration efforts on a project basis through contracts with Hawaiian landowners. This also includes the development of various tree improvement programs to improve wilt resistance and to cultivate seed orchards.

Stewardship Contracting

As Scott Paul explained in a previous Wood&Steel column (“Three-Part Harmony,” 2020/Vol. 97/Issue 2), Siglo (then Paniolo) adopted an innovative stewardship contracting approach first implemented by the U.S. Forest Service and The Nature Conservancy, which addressed the significant costs associated with forest restoration. Instead of paying a landowner for logs or harvesting rights, Siglo would be allowed to cut a select number of koa trees from a compromised forest area and in exchange would invest the dollar-for-dollar value of that wood into forest improvement projects on that land.

Demonstration Cases

One of the earliest projects, which helped Siglo demonstrate its unique capabilities and ethical intentions in Hawaii, was a collaboration with Haleakala Ranch on Maui in 2015. Two stands of koa had been planted in 1985 in conjunction with a program called “A Million Trees of Aloha,” started by Jean Ariyoshi, the wife of Hawaii’s then-governor, George Ariyoshi. Unfortunately, the 30-year-old trees were in decline for various reasons, which had stunted their growth. They had begun showing signs of heart rot, which would only get worse. Typically, such “young” koa (not from natural forests), especially these compromised trees, would be shunned by buyers. But Siglo, and later Taylor, agreed to work with this wood. Taylor had to take additional measures to be able to make guitars with the wood, but in the end it was used on tens of thousands of guitars, proving that young koa could in fact make instrument-grade wood. The proceeds from the sale of the wood in turn allowed Haleakala Ranch to increase the rate of its ongoing forest restoration efforts on neighboring land.

Another early project, which launched in 2017, was a five-year stewardship conservation contract on 1,600 acres owned by Kamehameha Schools, the largest landowner in Hawaii, in the Honaunau Forest, located on Hawaii Island. Though a mandate had been established to restore the health of the forest, there had been no tree harvesting there since the 1990s, which meant no income stream to fund the efforts needed. The contract enabled Siglo to harvest a select number of koa trees, and according to Siglo general manager Nick Koch, the proceeds from the sale of the wood — about $1.6 million — have gone into a conservation fund, about $1 million of which has been spent so far, largely for fencing and animal control. As a result of these efforts, there are tens of thousands of new koa trees in that area.

Koa is one of the few woods in the world for which the supply forecast for the next 25 years is brighter than it is today.

These types of project-based stewardship contracts will provide Siglo with a more predictable supply of koa in the short term, while other efforts are simultaneously underway to rehabilitate forests and plant trees for a more sustainable long-term supply into the next century. It all adds up to a favorable outlook for the future: Koa is one of the few woods in the world for which the supply forecast for the next 25 years is brighter than it is today.

Planting Trees and Building a Mill

Siglo took an important step toward its planting goals in 2018, when Bob Taylor purchased 564 acres of pastureland on the Big Island, near Waimea. The land had been a legendary koa forest some 150 years earlier. Officially named Siglo Forest, the land is being leased by Siglo Tonewoods, and a plan was developed to plant mixed native species in the steep-sloped areas, which will be set aside for conservation (30 percent of the property) and to plant koa in the less steeply sloped areas for timber production. When Siglo Forest is mature, it will provide more than twice the volume of wood that Taylor currently uses, and the management plan will ensure a perpetual, diverse native working forest supply.

As we reported in the fall of 2021, planting efforts began that June with koa seedlings and mixed native tree and shrub species on 20 acres. A lot was learned, which helped to improve the viability of future plantings. The goal is to plant 150,000 koa trees there by 2030, with the first useful harvest likely in 2050.

When Siglo Forest is mature, the management plan will ensure a perpetual, diverse native working forest supply.

There are also plans in the works to build a mill, which will enable Siglo Tonewoods to cut koa efficiently in Hawaii and enable vertical integration. Once operational, the mill will be used to cut both koa and additional instrument woods, while also producing other value-added wood products such as flooring for the Islands. The mill will enable better quality control and generate jobs to support the local economy. In the meantime, Siglo has improved its operational capabilities in Hawaii by investing its own logging equipment, which allows better, more careful utilization of the trees it extracts.

Seed Selection and Improving Koa Genetics

One critical component of developing a successful koa planting program — one that yields healthy and desirable koa trees — is conducting appropriate ecological research for optimal results. Both Bob Taylor and Steve McMinn understand the importance of such studies from their work with other tonewoods. For Bob, the scalable ebony planting initiative in Cameroon, better known as the Ebony Project, was predicated on groundbreaking research Bob funded to better understand optimal ebony propagation strategies. In Steve’s case, some Wood&Steel readers may recall our story (Winter 2015, Vol. 81) about the research Steve pursued into growing Big Leaf maple with desirable genetics for musical instruments, i.e., with attractive figure. That project has continued to progress, with forestry trials currently underway on a plot of former farmland near their company’s mill in Washington state’s Skagit Valley, called Utopia Forest, where they are researching whether figure in trees is genetically transmissible. There are interesting parallels between maple and koa, both of which grow to a useful size rapidly — namely the desire to grow trees with figure for musical instruments and other premium products. Steve and his team recently made a video that explains the project.

Kevin Burke, a horticulturist from Pacific Rim Tonewoods who has overseen the maple trials, has also been coordinating a similar project with koa in Hawaii. The goal is to propagate genetically superior trees to restore the genetic range and quality of koa, which has been diminished over the previous centuries.

The project launched in 2016, shortly after Siglo Tonewoods was established, as a research partnership with Haleakala Ranch and is being conducted at Native Nursery on Maui. It began with the cooperative cultivation of lines of trees from Haleakala Ranch that had been selected for the extraordinary quality of the wood. Currently, 65 clonal lines from the trees are under propagation, and 10 lines have been micro-propagated.

In a similar vein, Siglo has sponsored research with the Hawaiian Agricultural Research Center (HARC) and the U.S. Forest Service Tropical Tree improvement Program. This led to the launch of a seed selection program in 2021, which aims to help reforest Hawaii with the genetics of superior koa trees. Seeds were captured from 42 “plus” trees, which are now growing on as seedlings and being tested for wilt resistance, which will optimize their chances of staying healthy. The research has also identified many more “plus” trees whose seed they will eventually be able to collect.

Compared to maple, Burke says, koa is easier to grow from seed. Figure in young koa is also much more prevalent, and evident earlier.

Two-year old koa trees that were planted at Keauhou Ranch on the island of Hawaii

Siglo also worked in partnership with HARC to plant a 1,600-tree seed orchard/progeny trial at Siglo Forest, using wilt-resistant seed. This should yield operational seed in 2026. HARC is also currently in the midst of a wilt-resistance testing program with cultivars developed at Haleakala Ranch along with seed collected from Siglo’s 2021 seed selection/tree improvement program.

So far in 2022, 12,500 windbreak trees have been planted at Siglo Forest, the seed orchard has been expanded, and another 30 acres of koa and mixed forest were planted. Meanwhile, Siglo Tonewoods has also leased a greenhouse in Waimea to support its ongoing propagation efforts. Ultimately, Steve McMinn says, the research and other strategic thinking the team has poured into developing and refining their planting initiative is intended to provide a scalable blueprint for others who are interested in koa reforestation and afforestation (planting trees on land that was not recently covered in forest, such as pastureland) across Hawaii. Look for more stories on the progress of these projects in future editions of Wood&Steel.

Support System

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How our artist relations team has grown and evolved to support the ever-changing needs of musicians

In July, members of our artist relations team spent the day with an array of talented Los Angeles-based musicians, setting up shop at Republic Studios (a division of Universal Music Group) in a series of individual sessions to get each artist’s discerning first impressions of the new ironbark guitars.

That innovative philosophy has been richly reflected in our ongoing relationships with artists, whose musical yearnings and real-world needs have helped inform our approach to design and, in many cases, pushed us to make more useful, more expressive musical tools. The key component is creating genuine relationships, and for that, you need a strong artist relations (AR) program. Obviously, as Taylor has grown and the needs of musicians have evolved, so has our AR team, helping to welcome a wider array of diverse, talented artists into the Taylor family.

Matt Beckley

For a long time, we handled artist relations the old-school, grassroots way. After all, we were the scrappy new kid on the block, trying to build some cachet in music circles. Fortunately, we had Bob Taylor’s slim-profile, easy-playing necks as a calling card — you could put a Taylor in the hands of a player and it would often sell itself. Our proximity to Los Angeles also didn’t hurt — we were fortunate to find a couple of music store owners there who championed our guitars and who were well connected with musicians from the Laurel Canyon scene along with other pros passing through to record or perform.

Early on, Bob developed personal relationships with some artists who had discovered Taylors, which in some cases led to creative collaborations on signature models that allowed them to better articulate their unique playing styles — like 12-string fingerstyle virtuoso Leo Kottke and progressive bluegrass picker Dan Crary. In that sense, artists have often been a part of the creation process at Taylor: In the 1980s, fingerstyle champion Chris Proctor helped us develop the first Grand Concert, while a decade later, interest from country star Kathy Mattea spurred Bob to finish the flagship Grand Auditorium body shape he’d been tinkering on. Though Bob never aspired to be an AR guy (he writes about it in his book, “Guitar Lessons”), the personal relationships he later forged with artists like Taylor Swift (and her dad, who called Bob years ago to sing the musical praises of his then-12-year-old daughter) and Zac Brown, have underscored the importance of being honest and genuine.

As Taylor grew, so did our artist relations outreach, as other key Taylor staff, like former sales director TJ Baden, music industry veteran Bob Borbonus, and longtime AR coordinator Robin Staudte, built our AR operation into a more formalized infrastructure, helping to forge relationships with some of music’s marquee names, like Kenny Loggins, John Denver, Dave Matthews, Clint Black, Sarah McLachlan, U2’s The Edge and many others.

Today, of course, the music industry looks radically different than it did when Taylor started building guitars in 1974. Most artists will tell you the business looks different than it did just two years ago. Words like “influencer” and “engagement” would have raised eyebrows among most industry pros, but social media is a key factor in music today. The industry now includes a growing focus on DIY releases and self-promotion, along with a global audience that continues to grow more diverse. Seeing these changes, we realized a few things. First, it was no longer possible to rely on major names without courting emerging artists and working musicians. Gone are the days when a single big name is enough to keep a musical instrument brand relevant. Second, we saw there was more we could do elevate artists while they helped us achieve our own goals. Finally, we recognized that as a brand that was becoming more diverse and international by the day, we needed an AR team that was truly international in both scale and style.

Meet the Taylor Artist Relations Team

Scattered between our headquarters in El Cajon, California, major music centers like Nashville and Los Angeles, and across Europe and Asia, Taylor’s AR team is a fun, knowledgeable bunch with a multi-pronged approach to building an artist roster.

At home, Tim Godwin and Lindsay Love-Bivens split the never-ending task of reaching out to artists, maintaining relationships, shipping guitars, and flying to shows for in-person meetings. But it takes a village, as they say, and much of Taylor’s marketing team is also deeply engaged with artist relations. Jay Parkin and Andrew Rowley head up the content production side of things, contracting with a global array of videographers, photographers, editors, and other creatives to produce exclusive video performances and intimate artist interviews. Sergio Enriquez and Matt Steele bring that content to the masses through social media, while Billy Gill connects marketing and artist relations to the sales department. Devin Malone holds things down in Nashville, and Terry Myers helps keep players happy with custom setups and other tweaks that make each artist’s guitar unique to them.

Abroad, the team seems to grow every month. Andy Lund holds it down in China, while Masaki Toraiwa manages Taylor in Japan. Dan Boreham from the U.K. helps coordinate artist activity across Europe. From his home base in Colombia, Juan Lopera stays connected with artists across Latin America.

Building the Family

In 2010, Taylor brought on Tim Godwin as the Director of Global Artist & Entertainment Relations. Tim’s long career as a touring musician, session player and all-around industry pro put him in prime position to manage an artist program — he’s lived a musician’s life and understands their needs, for one thing, and later worked as head of artist relations for Line 6, so he was well connected with many artists from that gig. Those kinds of connections matter, because artist relations isn’t just about the artists themselves. It’s also about guitar techs, music directors, staging companies, venues, managers, recording and live sound engineers — everyone who works in the business of making music.

Godwin was brought on to do what he does best: get our guitars into the hands of artists and let them experience a Taylor for themselves. But cultivating an artist roster takes time and resources, and we didn’t have the depth of resources or established heritage of other legacy brands. What we did have as a company was a commitment to design innovation — it’s what continues to set us apart from legacy brands and keeps us at the leading edge of musical instrument-making. We also had consistency and performance reliability in our guitars, backed by the kind of service and support that were music to a touring musician’s ears.

Still, Godwin acknowledges that after his arrival, to enlist the company support he felt was needed, he had to demonstrate how artist partnerships could advance Taylor’s goals in ways that company decision-makers could get behind.

He recalls one experience that proved to be a turning point for artist development at Taylor. It happened in 2012, when singer-songwriter Philip Phillips was making a name for himself on the TV program American Idol.

“There was one performance where, after the song, [show judge] Randy Jackson said to Philip, ‘Hey, I like that guitar. What is it?’” Godwin says. “And it was a Taylor GS7, an early Grand Symphony model. After the episode aired, we went on our website to check the traffic to the GS7 page. Normally we were seeing single-digit views on that page over an entire month, but after American Idol, it was up to 5,000 or so views in just one week.”

Godwin recalls this being the moment when he could concretely show that artists could move the needle.

Putting Down Roots

Another major force pushing us to evolve our approach to artist relations was the scene in Nashville, a veritable mecca for renowned acoustic guitarists, country and Americana music, recording engineers and virtually anyone involved in making music. In the ‘90s, we made inroads thanks to the popularity of the then-new Grand Auditorium body shape, which local studio engineers and session players loved for its reliable balance and clarity in recording applications.

But Nashville can also be tough; it’s the traditional heart of American roots music, and the players who make the scene reflect that tradition in their guitar choices. Godwin remembers pulling out all the stops, setting up meetings with management at classic venues like the Bluebird Café and with executives from Big Machine, a major independent label. Even with a solid presence in Nashville already, Taylor had its work cut out.

“Nashville is practically Gibson’s backyard,” Godwin says. “Taylor really had to prove that we had a right to be there.”

Persistence pays off, and Taylor is now more firmly enmeshed in the Nashville community than ever. Setting up our Taylor showroom and getting guitars to local artists made a big difference — our studio at SoundCheck Nashville, where we film our Taylor Soundcheck series of acoustic performances, brought in a wide range of new players. The work continues at home, where long-tenured Taylor staffers like Terry Myers provide custom setups for artists and make sure every guitar being shipped to an artist plays exactly like they want it to. We’re not just visitors in Nashville anymore, either. Artist relations representative Devin Malone lives and works in Music City and keeps busy supporting artists there, running events and doing much of the behind-the-scenes work to keep Taylor’s presence thriving.

Growing New Branches

Nashville also helped us recognize the ever-increasing diversity of the music world. A major part of Nashville’s Americana heritage is the rich history of music made by African American artists, and the AR team wanted to integrate those perspectives in a way that would help Taylor become a more inclusive brand.

To that end, we created a special digital story in Wood&Steel from the summer of 2021 titled Deep Roots: The National Museum of African American Music. Developed by Taylor Artist and Community Relations Manager Lindsay Love-Bivens, the piece offered a multimedia showcase of the impact of African American artists on today’s music. Lindsay traveled to Nashville to visit the newly opened museum, which chronicles the deep history of Black musicians who shaped American music. The trip had an immediate impact, encouraging us to think bigger as a company when it comes to creating a community of artists that reflects our values as a company.

“Representation matters,” Lindsay says. “If you want to have a global artist reach, you have to be intentional about building a diverse program.”

Lindsay’s perspective is informed by a lifetime in the world of music. A longtime musician with extensive touring and performance experience as an independent artist, she began working with Tim Godwin and the artist relations team in 2018. Her experience and numerous connections made her an ideal representative to artists and musical communities with whom Taylor hadn’t historically connected.

“I wanted to develop, strengthen and elevate our relationships with BIPOC artists [Black, Indigenous, and People of Color], as well as broaden our involvement in genres we haven’t previously been associated with,” Lindsay says. “I’ve been playing acoustic guitars since I was a kid, performing neo-soul, R&B and hip-hop. As a Black woman musician, I knew we belonged in those communities and genres; all we had to do was reach out.”

Lindsay’s contributions helped our global squad engage with diverse music communities on behalf of Taylor around the world.

Think Bigger, Listen More

Since then, the AR team has grown considerably. Andy Lund, a 16-year Taylor veteran, heads up our efforts across much of Asia, including China, Hong Kong, Japan, India, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam. Masaki Toraiwa is a liaison with the local scene in Japan, working with Andy to bring artists like Otake, Iko Asagiwa, Ryosuke Yufu and Thailand’s Natee Chaiwut onto the Taylor roster in recent years.

In Latin America, Juan Lopera has put Taylor front-and-center in the music business, leading to relationships with major names like Chile’s Mon Laferte, Argentina’s Silvina Moreno, Mexico’s Jorge Blanco, Techy Fatule from the Dominican Republic, and Colombian rising star Camilo. In Europe, U.K.-based Dan Boreham has built relationships with artists like singer-songwriters Jade Bird and George Ezra, pop trio New Rules, and multi-instrumentalist Jake Isaac.

We connect with new artists around the world the same way we do in North America: by listening to their needs and responding in kind.

“Exposure isn’t enough anymore,” Lindsay says. “Artists today are thinking harder about what they want a brand partnership to look like. It has to be more than handshakes and social media posts.”

Starting an artist relationship is the easy part. Keeping it going is another matter. Like any relationship, connections between brands and artists require maintenance and mutual support.

“Artists are thinking, ‘What am I getting out of this other than a loaner guitar?’” says Jay Parkin, who oversees content production for Taylor. “What about long-term support? What can we do to make a difference for artists?”

That perspective helped birth a new wing of the AR team, one focused on using content as currency to attract and keep artists on the Taylor roster. There’s something special about being able to capture an artist’s vibe in a faithful way, and the vast majority of players don’t have the resources to do that kind of promotion on their own. Jay Parkin heads up the content side of AR, along with a global team tasked with generating high-quality video and digital content involving Taylor players.

Those efforts include series like Taylor Soundcheck and Taylor Acoustic Sessions, ongoing productions that brings artists into the Taylor studio to record unplugged, all-acoustic versions of their songs. Between both series, we’ve filmed GRAMMY-winner Allison Russell, pop-punk upstarts in Meet Me @ the Altar, renowned singer-songwriter and producer Linda Perry, Chilean superstar Mon Laferte, and many, many others.

Showing up for our artists can take many forms. Often, we build one-off custom guitars (not signature models) that can help artists bond with Taylor in a uniquely personal way. Taylor fans might remember Prince’s iconic purple acoustic guitar, and we’ve also created custom builds such as Katy Perry’s all-white guitar, Richie Sambora’s famous double-neck acoustic, and Zac Brown’s guitar emblazoned with his name. More recently, we’ve built guitars for pop superstars like Billie Eilish & FINNEAS.

Sometimes, supporting artists requires more direct action. Every musician who’s ever been on tour knows the frustration of not having a guitar when you need one, whether yours has been stolen, lost or rendered unplayable. Staying in-tune with our roster makes it possible for us to ship out guitars on the fly to make sure artists can keep tours going or get recordings done. We work closely with staging companies as well, ensuring our artists have everything they need when they hit the stage.

“It’s a concierge approach to artist relations,” says Tim Godwin. “You have to be a real partner for these artists, not just a sponsor.”

The Big Picture

Our team also credits Taylor’s evolution as a company in two areas for making it easy to bring artists on board: guitar design and environmental responsibility.

As detailed in Scott Paul’s Sustainability columns in this and previous issues of Wood&Steel, Taylor has made meaningful investments in creating a more environmentally responsible supply chain for our guitars here in California as well as around the world. We do this because we believe it’s right, and our artists, like many of our customers, believe the same.

Artists across the genre spectrum increasingly describe Taylor’s environmental work as a draw. Some are just as passionate about the subject as we are, most notably U.K. singer-songwriter Beatie Wolfe, who regularly appears at Taylor sustainability events. Others, especially up-and-coming Gen Z artists, are happy to join the fold knowing that Taylor is leading the way toward a more environmentally responsible music business.

The spirit of inventiveness at the heart of Taylor’s philosophy is also core to our AR approach. Many artists have preconceived notions about what a Taylor guitar can do. That’s why, especially since the arrival of master builder Andy Powers in 2011, we’ve thoughtfully diversified our acoustic guitar line to make it as multifaceted as our artist roster — so there’s something for every kind of player. This makes it easy to reassure artists who suspect a Taylor guitar isn’t for them.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to players who think there’s not a Taylor for them,” Godwin says. “I always say that if you don’t like what we have now, you’ll like something we make next year. Glen Phillips [of Toad the Wet Sprocket], for example — not a Taylor fan, never liked our guitars. But he ended up playing a Builder’s Edition Grand Pacific with a friend, and pretty soon he’s calling me asking for one of his own.”

Our history is full of innovations aiming to fill more musical needs and reach new musicians. The Grand Pacific dreadnought, designed to yield a blended tone that hearkens back to vintage guitars and acoustic recordings, turned heads when it arrived in Nashville. Other developments, like the pair of new koa guitars entering the 700 Series this summer (detailed elsewhere in this issue), boast a raw, organic aesthetic that gives traditionalists even more to enjoy in the Taylor line. We’ve designed more short-scale guitars, like the GT and GS Mini, to reach players who prefer a compact experience. Even on the inside, our designers build to the needs of the player — our V-Class bracing was a hit with recording professionals, which helped put even more Taylor guitars in studios around the world. 

Our guitar development team is singularly focused on delivering a better playing experience; they always have been. At its core, that’s what artist relations is all about, too — showing players how useful our guitars can be, and then stepping up and supporting them in a way that makes a difference.

  • 2022 Issue 2 /
  • Custom Guitar Showcase: Exclusive Designs for NAMM

Custom Guitar Showcase: Exclusive Designs for NAMM

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With the return of the NAMM Show to Anaheim after more than two years, we were thrilled to build a fresh batch of exceptional guitars for visiting dealers to offer to customers. Here’s a sneak peek of some of our faves.

Every year at the NAMM Show in Anaheim, California, Taylor’s sales team hosts an event showcasing an array of beautiful guitars through our custom program. It’s an opportunity for us to meet with representatives from some of the world’s coolest guitar shops, who can see, play and order some of these phenomenally crafted custom builds — some available in very limited quantities — to present to customers in their stores. The Taylor custom program is home to some of our most inventive designs and intricate visual appointments, and you’ll often find novel tonewood combinations adorned with details you won’t find anywhere in the standard Taylor line. Take a look at some of our favorite guitars from this year’s batch of NAMM customs below. If one strikes your fancy, reach out to us and we’ll help you find one.

Custom 12-Fret Grand Concert (#7)

Back/Sides: Figured Big Leaf maple
Top: Sitka spruce
Appointments: Grained ivoroid binding with zipper-style top purfling, a zipper-style ivoroid/black rosette, grained ivoroid/mother-of-pearl Mission inlays, Gotoh 510 tuners, bone bridge pins.

Custom Grand Orchestra (#14)

Back/Sides: AA-grade figured Hawaiian koa
Top: AA-grade figured Hawaiian koa
Appointments: Hand-laid Roman Leaf koa/boxwood rosette, koa/boxwood Ocean Vine inlays, Gotoh 510 tuners, bone bridge pins with awabi (abalone) dots.

Custom Grand Auditorium (#13)

Back/Sides: Blackheart Sassafras
Top: Adirondack spruce
Appointments: Sapele binding, boxwood/sapele Art Deco rosette, boxwood/sapele Euro Deco inlays, Gotoh 510 tuners, bone bridge pins with iridescent Australian opal dots.

Custom 12-fret Grand Concert (#9)

Back/Sides: Figured Big Leaf maple
Top: Sitka spruce
Appointments: Faux tortoiseshell binding, ivoroid/faux tortoiseshell rosette, Vintage Sunburst back/sides/neck with black top, gloss-finish body/neck, Gotoh 510 tuners, bone bridge pins.

  • 2022 Issue 2 /
  • Posture, Seventh Chord Inversions and Voice Leading
Lessons

Posture, Seventh Chord Inversions and Voice Leading

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In these video lessons, Nick Veinoglou shares more tips to help you level up your playing.

Welcome back to our regular series of digital instructional videos produced and taught by Taylor artists, pro players and music educators.

Nick Veinoglou is back to shed light on a few key topics for acoustic guitar players that will help you improve your skills and add new sounds and techniques to your musical toolkit. Nick’s experience as a session guitarist and touring musician, as well as his time as a musical director and producer, make him one of Taylor’s most insightful partners. He records original music under his own name as well as his artist monikers Donut Boy and Lo Light. With three albums under his belt, Veinoglou has played alongside artists such as Justin Timberlake, Camila Cabello, Shawn Mendez, and Dua Lipa, and has also made numerous appearances with Joshua Bassett, Fletcher, Dove Cameron, Jordan Fisher and other musicians across genres.

To start off, Nick explains a seemingly simple concept that can have a serious impact on your playing: posture. Watch below as Nick demonstrates the best way to hold your guitar to reduce unnecessary physical strain and get the most out of your playing sessions.

Next, Nick digs into seventh chords and their composition, explaining the concept of chord inversions to help you discover a broader range of voicing flavors and diversify your chord vocabulary.

Finally, Nick gets into the weeds with a challenging topic for any guitar player: voice leading, the art of blending different melodic lines (such as a guitar melody played with vocals) to create a single harmonic sound.

Review Roundup

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What critics are saying about the new American Dream Flametop, AD22e and our latest GT models. Plus, which Taylors made the latest “Best Guitars” lists.

In the wake of their launch earlier this year, our newest Taylor models have been making the rounds among discerning guitar reviewers. The brightest spotlight was centered on the all-maple AD27e Flametop, our marquee release to kick off 2022 and without question the most unique musical personality among our crop of new guitars. Here are some highlights from the color commentary dispatched on that and our other new models so far.


AD27e Flametop

Most reviewers were quick to affirm our contention that the Flametop was the “least Taylor-sounding guitar you’ve heard to date,” a point that was visually signaled with the guitar’s figured maple top — not a typical tonewood associated with an acoustic soundboard.

“Taylor continues to push boundaries with their American Dream Series and this model fits right in,” wrote Eric Dahl from American Songwriter. “The AD27e doesn’t have the typical Taylor mid frequencies that you expect from their guitars. The tones are more subdued and softer, really lending themselves to singer/songwriters looking for a unique sound.”

Dahl picked up on the use of D’Addario nickel bronze strings to voice the guitar and give it a mellower, more played-in sound.

“Unplugged I felt that our review guitar had a rawer sound when I strummed it, which I liked,” he says. “Plugged in, the ES2 electronics allow you to tweak the sound to your personal preference, but the AD27e sounds most at home when it is a bit more rugged and on the edge.”  

Over at Guitar World, Chris Gill also picked up on the sonic flavoring the strings provide, describing the overall tone as “a big, masculine voice with exceptionally dynamic response.”

“Its tone is truly unique thanks in part to the nickel bronze strings, which enhance the softer, mellower textures when played with a light touch and make the guitar sound brighter, bigger and bolder when played with heavier force,” he says. “This guitar covers an impressive range of tones just through playing dynamics, but with a consistent roundness and woodiness throughout, even when amplified via the Expression System 2 electronics.”

David Mead (Guitarist/Guitar World) acknowledged the inviting playability and the evenness of response across the entire frequency range of the fretboard as he and his colleagues put the guitar through its paces.

“There’s a delightful dryness to the sound,” he writes. “It’s woody and earthy and we very quickly found ourselves running through all our acoustic blues licks and favourite singer-songwriter chord progressions.”

Premier Guitar’s Charley Saufley appreciated Taylor’s envelope-pushing design efforts with the guitar, which he says “prove that acoustic guitar design still has room for imaginative deviations from the norm.”

“You won’t find the thumping grand-piano-like low-end resonance of a D-28 in the AD27e, yet it projects volume as a dreadnought should and gets loud without sounding brash or overdriven — probably because there is less low-end woof to obscure the pretty midrange and clear, chiming top end,” he says. “Unlike a lot of dreadnoughts, the AD27e also responds dynamically to a gentle touch.”

Saufley also felt the Flametop would be a “recording superstar.”

“It rings sweetly without overpowering a mix and provides beautiful counterpoint in arrangements and mixes where the low-end is occupied by other instruments — no small consideration in modern effects-laden mix styles,” he says. “But while its voice is focused, the AD27e can still sound big, and it most certainly sounds sweet. Any curious flattop aficionado should check out the AD27e to hear what it does differently.”

Jimmy Leslie from Guitar Player bought into what Taylor master builder Andy Powers was aiming to do with this “outlier” of our guitar line, calling out its “hearty, earthy tone” and colorfully likening it to “feeling like some new version of a pawnshop prize.”

“The Flametop takes another giant step away from traditional Taylor turf, venturing further to a place that’s downright funky and down home on the back porch,” he writes. “[…It] begs to be strummed aggressively with a thick pick, cowboy-style. It’s a no-frills, broken-in and practically road-worn tone that lends authenticity to blues.”

Leslie closes with an anecdote of putting the guitar in the hands of an owner of a recording studio who typically shuns Taylors because he finds them too bright.

“He took one solid strum of the Flametop and proclaimed, ‘That’s my favorite Taylor ever.’”


AD22e

Another American Dream model from our “new for ’22” collection, the Grand Concert AD22e, which sports solid sapele back and sides and a solid maple top, scored high marks from Chris Gill at Guitar World. Gill assessed the guitar as part of a double review with our Flametop — in which Gill gave both a Gold Award for performance. Both guitars, he says, arrived with a “perfect” factory setup, with signature Taylor playability.

“The necks have Taylor’s characteristic slim, fast feel, and the chamfered body edges truly do provide a comfortable feel,” he writes.

With the AD22e, Gill keyed in on the unique virtues of the smaller body.

“The AD22e should prove irresistible for fingerstyle players whether they specialize in folk, Celtic, blues or even jazz styles,” he says. “Like the AD27e Flametop, it too supplies a compellingly rich and woody tone, although its overall range is more midrange focused, with less bass thump and slightly more sparkling treble. Still, it sounds much bigger than its body size, making it ideal for players who prefer the comfort of a smaller body without sacrificing too much range.”


GT Three: GT 611e LTD, GTe Mahogany, GTe Blacktop

Peghead Nation’s Teja Gerken is as knowledgeable as anyone about the nuances of Taylor designs throughout our history (case in point: he wrote “The Taylor Guitar Book: 40 Years of Great American Flattops”), and his combo written/video reviews are always insightful. Over the last several months, Gerken explored three models featuring our newest body style, the Grand Theater, assembling separate reviews of the GT 611e LTD, GTe Mahogany and GTe Blacktop.

Kicking things off with the maple/spruce GT 611e LTD, Gerken leads by noting the appeal of the GT design framework.

“Featuring compact dimensions and virtually unbeatable playability, but with a surprisingly full tonality, the instruments have been popular with players looking for something akin to a modern parlor guitar,” he writes.

Like the other GT models Gerken has played, he found the 611 seductive on his hands.

“Difficult fingerings become doable; the lower string tension is easy on the fingers; and, of course, its compact dimensions are a boon for overall comfort,” he says.

As for the guitar’s tonal personality: “Having played other GTs, I was prepared for the GT 611e LTD’s rich, full-size guitar sounds, but I was delighted that it did so in the way I would hope for a maple instrument. The guitar has great clarity, a nice percussive quality when strummed, and a controlled, yet full bass response.”

He also loved the guitar’s amplified voice.

“As with other GTs, plugging the guitar’s stock ES pickup into a Fishman Loudbox amp removed any remaining illusion that this is a sonically small guitar. In an amplified situation, the GT 611e LTD sounds just as big as any ES-equipped Taylor, making the guitar a fantastic choice for anyone looking for a compact stage guitar.”

In March, he sampled the all-mahogany GTe Mahogany and called it “a fabulously fun guitar to play!”

Of its unique tonal character he says: “…the result is a rich, warm sound that has the slightly compressed character typically associated with hardwood tops. The guitar has a lovely strumming voice and great balance when played fingerstyle.”

Like the 611, Gerken loved its amplified sound. And he once again praised the GT’s player-friendly dimensions.

“It’s a great choice for smaller players who struggle with larger guitars,” he writes. “But it’s also a wonderful ‘couch guitar’ to keep within easy reach when inspiration strikes. And beginning and developing players will find that the effortless playability of all the GTs will facilitate learning new techniques.”

Last up was the GTe Blacktop, which pairs solid walnut back and sides with a solid spruce top. Gerken was pleased to see a walnut model in the mix.

“Taylor has used the wood frequently in the past, and it’s great to see this tradition revived,” he says. “Sometimes described as having tonal qualities that reside between those of mahogany and rosewood, this choice ensures that the GTe Blacktop offers an original voice in addition to sporting a unique appearance… The spruce top helps give the guitar a large dynamic range, and the walnut back and sides seemed to contribute to a balanced overall sound that doesn’t favor any particular playing style.”


Taylor Best of 2022 Models

Guitar World recently posted a series of online Buyer’s Guides for 2022, which were broken into different acoustic guitar categories (e.g., acoustic-electric, high-end, high-end classical/nylon, three-quarter-size), with best-in-class model recommendations for each. Taylor was well represented across the board. Here’s a quick rundown of the Taylor models that made the grade…

Best High-End Acoustics: Our flagship rosewood/spruce Grand Auditorium 814ce nabbed the no. 1 spot on the list as a “desert-island guitar.” Playing comfort and musical versatility were among the guitar’s appealing attributes: “Aided no doubt by Taylor’s V-Class bracing, it’s got a voice that’s easily deep and powerful enough to handle strong flatpicking and aggressive strumming duties,” writes Simon Fellows. “At the same time, its sweet, balanced, well-defined midrange makes it eminently suitable for more delicate fingerstyle.”

Best High-End Classical and Nylon-String: The 814ce’s nylon-string counterpart, the 814ce-N, scored high marks as the “perfect crossover guitar” for steel-string players looking to explore the sonic palette of the nylon sound. Like its steel-string sibling, the 814ce-N was praised for its premium-quality materials and impeccable workmanship, along with the “characterful yet superbly balanced” tonal character of the rosewood/spruce tonewood combination.

“If you’re a Taylor fan looking for a nylon-string guitar on which to play jazz, bossa nova or country, then this is a no-brainer,” writes Simon Fellows.

Best Acoustic-Electric Guitars: Players on a budget might gravitate toward the two Taylor models that made this list: the AD17e Blacktop, one of our most accessibly price all-solid-wood, U.S.-made guitars, and the Academy 12e.

With the Blacktop model, our V-Class bracing won over the Guitar World review crew: “Offering stunning intonation and resonance across the fretboard, you’ll find yourself visiting the dusty end more than you’d imagine,” says Rob Laing. “This Grand Pacific slope shouldered dreadnought is a pro-level guitar for life, offering tonal balance and wide frequency response that makes it a great example of dreadnought class.”

Laing also dug the “Johnny Cash and Everly Brothers vibe” of the matte-black spruce top.

Meanwhile, the compact Grand Concert Academy 12e earned plaudits as a great guitar to accelerate the progress of a beginner or developing player on the strength of its slim-profile neck, shorter scale length, low action and an armrest: “We believe for playability, comfort and performance it is the best, and a guitar that will go the distance with any guitar player.”

Best Three-Quarter-Size Acoustic Guitars: Not surprisingly, both the GS Mini and Baby Taylor share positions on this list. As a true three-quarter-size guitar, the spruce-top Baby (BT1) led the pack as the best all-around choice.

“Make no mistake, this is a proper Taylor guitar,” writes Guitar World’s Matt McCracken. “A tight low end with clear mids and crispness in the highs is matched with great projection, making for one of the best ¾-sized acoustic guitars money can buy.”

As for the GS Mini, McCracken called the popular series a “modern classic” and picked the GS Mini Rosewood model (layered rosewood back/sides, solid spruce top), highlighting the “effortless playability,” “bright and articulate sound” and “silky high end.” 

Tone Talk

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In an in-depth conversation, Taylor master luthier Andy Powers reflects on the evolution of Taylor guitar design and the many factors that contribute to an acoustic guitar’s musical personality, including the player.

Andy Powers and I have bellied up to a big, beautiful work table in the middle of his newly renovated workshop on the Taylor campus to talk about the state of guitar making at Taylor. The studio space is an ideal setting, sure to inspire anyone who loves wood and woodworking — tidy, spacious, filled with natural light from floor-length windows on one side. The shop is appointed with a mix of handsome custom-built worktables and storage cabinets, all crafted with off-cut pieces of sapele, blackwood, ebony and other wood that couldn’t be used for guitar parts, including the checkerboard-style ebony-and-sapele flooring. The vibe is refined-rustic — warm, unpretentious and highly functional.

Ultimately, what you hear from an acoustic guitar is a composite of all of its elements.

Every component in the room is thoughtfully arranged, from wall-mounted racks cradling select sets of guitar wood for future prototypes to a wooden A-frame unit that houses an array of clamps to sanders and other essential machines, including a workhorse Davis & Wells bandsaw built pre-World War II that Andy loves.

“Bill Collings turned me on to those,” he says, proudly expounding on the history and superior performance virtues of the unit. “I’m fortunate to have one at my home workshop too.”

As a craftsman, Andy says he’s always had an appreciation for the environments people create to live and work.

“My dad’s been a carpenter my whole life, though the closest I get to the family business is working on my own house,” he says. “Since I carry that background with me, I think it’s interesting to see the spaces people create for themselves — it says something about the way people live, the way they see things, the way they want to experience things.”

It’s not lost on Andy that so many of us have been forced to radically change the way we live and work over the past two years in the wake of the pandemic. If there’s any silver lining to this collective reckoning, it may be the way it has caused us to reconsider our priorities in life, perhaps gain a fresh perspective, and look to reboot our lives in more meaningful ways.

Some people decided to learn to play guitar; others returned to it after a long hiatus. In Andy’s case, he seized the opportunity to not only redesign his workspace but reflect on his relationship to making guitars.

We don’t all play alike, we don’t all listen alike, and I don’t want to build all our guitars exactly alike.

“I can tell you I’m more thrilled with building guitars now than ever,” he says. “I’ve been doing it for a long time, and I continue to love it. As with any long-term relationship, with time, there come shifts and growth. I think it’s important to step back, look at the instrument and think, how do I approach it now? How has this relationship developed? Even the component parts are worth considering — we’ve worked with thousands of pieces of mahogany or maple or spruce, but it’s good to pause and think, usually we do this, but what if we did this? I feel like there’s still a lot to discover about wood and the instruments we make from it.”

Besides sharing a love of woodworking with his father, innovation is apparently another trait in Andy’s blood. He gestures to a wall adorned with framed reproductions of hand-rendered patent drawings of inventions by his great-great-grandfather, Arthur Taylor (yes, his last name was Taylor) from the early 1900s. They range from a sparking lighter for internal combustion engines to a hammer head with a nail-driving device built into the claw end that would allow a person to start a nail with one hand.

“It’s fun to glance at those drawings and think about how he was looking at something as familiar as a hammer in a fresh way to improve its function,” he says.

—–

Since this is our guitar guide edition, we thought what better way to set the stage than by taking a step back along with Andy to talk about his design pursuits at Taylor, how our guitar line has evolved, and where he sees things heading. One thing seems certain: Thanks to Andy’s envelope-pushing designs, we’ve never had a more diverse assortment of musical personalities represented within our guitar lineup.

You’ve been at Taylor 11 years now. Looking back, do you feel like you arrived with a particular creative mission or mandate that was agreed upon between you and Bob?

We didn’t start with a mandate or marching orders from a design perspective other than to say we wanted the guitars to be more musical. We think of that as the noble path, so to speak. Our job as guitar makers is to serve the musician. I love when instruments are collectible, when people appreciate the instrument for the instrument’s beauty, but our purpose extends to a guitarist making music. At face value, playing music is a very impractical thing, yet I think it’s utterly essential in that it’s a way for people to make sense of the world and express themselves. As an extension of this, I want every one of our guitars to serve a musical purpose.

And those purposes may vary from guitar to guitar.

Each guitar should serve a unique purpose. They can’t and shouldn’t perform in the exact same ways. When I go through our entire catalog and play all the guitars, one theme that stands out to me is all the instruments sound fundamentally musical, like guitars should. Beyond that, we don’t listen to them all in the same way. Some sound more intimate, some sound large, some project really far, some are very touch-sensitive, some sound warm, dark or moody, some are vibrant and cheery. Some are guitars you want to listen to in a beautiful, quiet room; others you want to walk onto a large stage with. They all have different purposes and personalities, and that’s where I see the value in building guitars of different kinds. There are a lot of variables that make an instrument uniquely appropriate for a certain thing.

When you joined Taylor, I’m sure you were familiar with our guitars, but did you see an immediate opportunity to further diversify our line?

Yes, I saw a clear opportunity to further develop our portfolio. If you glance back at the guitars we made 15 years ago, you’ll see a lot of similarities in construction. We would primarily change the outline and the wood on the back and sides as the two big variables to alter. Many of the parts inside were identical to each other. Some would get re-shaped in minor ways to fit, but many were very similar. To me, that felt like an opportunity to expand and yield a broader portfolio of sounds.

Plus, you came from a custom-building background, where every guitar you made was crafted specifically to fit the needs of one person.

Yes, my experience had been on the other end of the spectrum with respect to production. When a person would come to me and ask for a guitar, I’d say, “Before we decide whether this is to be an archtop guitar, a flattop guitar, an electric or whatever it might be, what do you want to sound like? What are you listening to? What kinds of sounds do you like? What kinds of sounds don’t you like?” With the table set, we’d start making choices to make an instrument that would result in the desired outcome. Steeped in that background, musical variety remains a great interest for me. I like diversity among musicians, in musical styles, in songwriting styles, in performing styles. I think that’s great. We don’t all play alike, we don’t all listen alike, and I don’t want to build all the guitars exactly alike.

Eleven years in, as you look at our guitar line, how do you evaluate it in terms of what it’s become?

I’m proud of the state we’re in as guitar makers. When we look at all the models we make, there is a significantly broader range of sounds available now than ever. A bigger range of appearance, of musical function, of tone, of feel, all standing on the foundation of certain qualities we want to remain consistent. Those foundational qualities are what Bob would describe as the objective elements he sought for decades. I’d describe them as the must-haves. The guitar has to play well. The setup has to be great, the neck has to be straight, it’s got to be reliable, it’s got to be accurate, the notes have to play in tune. The mechanics of each instrument have to be fundamentally solid. Only after these are established can you consider the sounds the guitars are making. With modern equipment, you can evaluate sonority using spectrum analysis and things like that, but I find it more useful to evaluate sounds the way an artist would interpret them. With a particular guitar, you could use technical terms and say it has sensitivity of a certain amount centered around so many hertz [the unit of measurement for frequency], but what I feel is, this guitar is sensitive to the way I touch the strings. Or this guitar feels very emotive because I can articulate it delicately, I can play it forcefully, I can play it with a solid hand or a gentle hand, and it’s responsive that way. Each design feels like an invitation to play with a certain emphasis. With one of the current Grand Orchestra guitars, you feel like grabbing a thick pick and laying into it — that is a strong, bold sound, the triple espresso of guitar sounds. It’s powerful. I like a variety of sonic colors and want to be thinking about them in terms of how they make me feel as a musician.

We’re a few years into the V-Class bracing era, and part of the promise was a new sonic engine that would open up a new frontier for ongoing development. That in turn has led to C-Class bracing for the GT guitars. Do you feel as though V-Class is living up to your expectations?

We’ve certainly been enjoying the development opportunities V-Class is allowing. I was thrilled to get to implement the asymmetrical C-Class on the GT guitars, and there are future developments in that regard. With the V-Class guitars themselves, there are different ways that they can be tuned. Even among different models where we use similar woods, we’ve gone so far as to create different voicings for back braces just based on the model. You’ll hear these different colors come out based on how they get used. For example, if you look at the back braces on a maple Builder’s Edition 652ce 12-string, it’s a very different profile than our other maple guitars — the way the brace tips finish, the way they’re positioned, are different to fit the voicing of that guitar.

You’ve also expanded Taylor’s sonic palette with new body styles like the Grand Pacific. As those and more GT model offerings get into the hands of players, it feels like we’re seeing a noticeable broadening of the line’s appeal beyond our flagship Grand Auditorium, which, for a long time was synonymous with what people considered the signature Taylor sound.

Yes, there’s some truth in that. People are known by their body of work, and that’s the case whether you’re a guitar maker, a musician or an artist of a different medium. It’s very easy to become accustomed to a certain style when that becomes most of what you do. It’s similar to listening to a favorite band — you get used to their sounds, their songs and style. Then they produce a new record that’s very different, and you can hear that this is the same band, but they’ve evolved, they’ve developed some more flavors, more sounds. As a guitar manufacturer, sure, lots of people think of us as the Grand Auditorium company. We build the quintessential modern acoustic guitar, which is a GA with a cutaway. And we love those guitars. They fit perfectly in a big swath of what a musician wants to do with an acoustic guitar. But it’s not the only thing that should exist. As company, we started with jumbo guitars and dreadnoughts before creating the Grand Concert. We’ve created the GS and GS Mini guitars. And more recently, the Grand Pacific and Grand Theater guitars. I really like how the GP and GT guitars are working for players. It’s great to see all of these varieties fall into place within different musical settings. I like all of those flavors.

With our annual Wood&Steel guitar guide, we tend to deconstruct our guitars and explain the tonal characteristics associated with key components like body shapes and tonewoods. Last year, you helped us create visual tone charts for different woods, and what you identified were four categories that help create a tone profile for each wood [frequency range, overtone profile, reflectivity (player/design-reflective vs. wood-reflective) and touch sensitivity]. But the truth is that a guitar is a more complex system of components. So in a sense, a more accurate approach would be to create that chart for each model because it would be more broadly reflective of those elements working together.

The reality is that when you pick up a guitar and you pluck a note, it’s difficult to tell what you’re hearing. Are you hearing the string? The pick? The saddle, the bridge, the top, the back, the neck, the bracing inside, the size, the air mass inside that thing? The sound is not solely any one of those aspects, and I struggle to even apply a percentage of a guitar’s sound that comes from one component versus another. I know that we want to deconstruct things to better understand them because we love them, and every enthusiast wants to understand their guitar better. I think that’s great. But ultimately, what you hear is a composite of all of its elements.

Including the player.

Absolutely. I was recently reading a book by an engineer who was recording Elton John in the early ’70s, and at the time everyone wanted Elton’s piano sound. The engineer used some mike placement and other techniques to try to replicate Elton’s sound, but it still sounded like the studio’s piano. Then Elton arrived for the session and started playing, and it sounded just like him. It wasn’t about the piano — that was just delivering his touch. It’s rather remarkable because a piano has mechanical links between the string and the musician’s fingertips. There are a whole bunch of contraptions to get the motion of one key down through the hammer covered with felt and hitting the string, and it’s hitting the string in the exact same spot every time. It makes me wonder about the way you could touch keys that allows nuance to be heard even through this complex mousetrap of little wooden/felt/leather mechanisms that eventually hits a string, which radically changes the outcome. Now put that into the context of a guitar, where the musician’s fingertips are directly touching the strings, and it’s no wonder the guitar feels like such a personal instrument. It sounds like the person who picked it up.

Let’s set tonal characteristics aside for a moment. You’ve talked about feel and response, which are related to sound but a little bit different.

There are differences here beyond sonority, because we’re not talking solely about what you’re hearing, but what the guitar makes you feel. In turn, this isn’t even directly speaking to how far the strings are from the fretboard, their tension or scale length — setup qualities that are measurable. It’s about the back-and-forth communication you experience when you’re playing a certain guitar. When you pick up a guitar and there’s something about the combination of the sound that comes out of it, the feel of those strings under your fingertips, the resiliency and flexibility, the touch sensitivity — the combination of all the tactile elements and the resulting sound that comes from them — that informs how a player interacts with the guitar.

A player should never feel overwhelmed by choices. Varieties are simply there to enjoy exploring when a musician wants to.

I’ve been playing a lot of different kinds of instruments lately, and this dynamic conversation becomes very apparent. When I pick up an archtop guitar, it has a certain response and pulls me in a different direction in how I’ll play. I notice I have a different touch on a guitar like that than another. When I pick up a GT, there’s something about the slinkiness of the strings and the quickness of its response that makes me phrase even the same melody differently. I’ll inflect it differently; I’ll articulate the string in a different way. If I pick up a Grand Pacific or Grand Orchestra, I might play the same thing, but my touch won’t be the same. It’ll have changed based on what I’m hearing come out of the guitar. Many musicians will use this player/instrument interaction to their benefit and deliberately choose an instrument in order to lead their own playing in a certain direction. Occasionally, they’ll even choose what might be an atypical instrument over their comfortably familiar one to force themselves in an entirely different creative direction.

Can we camp on strings for a minute? In your more recent guitar designs, you’ve started to diversify your string choices a little more with D’Addario strings on the American Dream guitars. Strings are an important element of an acoustic guitar’s feel and sound, and it also speaks to a player’s preferences. Can you talk more about the impact of different strings on feel and sound?

Continuing the idea of an instrument as a system that informs the player and their performance, this dynamic relationship between the instrument and the player interfaces through the touch points of a guitar. I often draw a comparison to surfboards. Each surfboard inherently has a different thing it wants to do, a way it wants to be ridden, and will work best in certain conditions. Beyond this inherent personality, you can tune them by altering smaller characteristics, which can augment their function in unique ways. Guitars are like this. First, what does the guitar itself inherently do? The next important thing is what strings you put on. If a friend tells me they have a new guitar, my first question is, “Which guitar did you get?” followed quickly by, “What strings did you put on it?” My third question would be, “What pick are you using, if you’re using one?” It usually comes in that order because surely the guitar matters — that tells you what you’re working with — and you’re going to decide how to refine that sound with what strings you put on it. The choices are not just about coated or uncoated strings; the choices are what alloy is used for the wrap wire, and what tension range are they? What composition are the strings? Are these phosphor bronze? Is it the nickel-laced bronze like what we’re using on our new AD27e Flametop? Every one of those variables emphasizes a different spectrum, a different kind of response, a different kind of sound that’s being fed into a mechanical system. Moving to the pick, if a player is using one, it’s fun to consider what influence it has in the equation. There are a myriad of variables to play with in terms of the pick’s hardness, shape and surface texture when it rolls off the strings. Despite the numerous parameters to consider, a player should never feel overwhelmed or intimidated by the choices. Varieties are simply there to enjoy exploring when a musician wants to.

For us as a manufacturer, there are often other considerations with string choice, including having the guitars sound and perform well in variety of a retail environments around the world, right?

Yes, absolutely. In a way, this is similar to what a car manufacturer goes through when they build a car or truck. They’ll want it to perform well throughout its break-in period to ensure a long, healthy lifespan and good performance. To help the process, they might select a certain engine oil with additives, or specific tires. In our case, when we build and string up a guitar, we don’t really know if the first musician or tenth musician is the person who will ultimately take it home. We don’t know if it’ll be sold a mile from our factory at a local music shop or if it’ll go halfway around the world on a ship before it finally gets to a music store. Knowing that, we want to use a string that will hold up to all those potentially adverse circumstances and have a nice neutral response for a player to audition that guitar. Beyond that initial break-in period, there are a lot of good, musically interesting options. With some of my own guitars, I use uncoated strings because I like the texture of the string; I like the way it feels. It’s very familiar. It means I have to change strings pretty often if I don’t want it to have a duller sound, but even there, for the right context, I like a duller sound.

As an example, I’ve got an old bass that I’ve played on many recordings, and I use what’s known as a half-round string on it. It’s not flat-wound or ribbon-wound like a jazz guitar string; it’s not a round-wound like an acoustic or electric guitar string; it’s halfway between the two. Fresh out of the package, it has a dusty, somewhat dull sound. On that one particular bass, I love the sound. It works just right for that instrument.

What does a duller string do for how you play it — this might relate to the new AD27e Flametop — and how does it change the way someone might play?

Mechanically speaking, some strings will dampen out a percentage of the high-frequency overtones, giving the audible result of less metallic “zing.” A recording engineer would say it doesn’t have as much sibilance, transient attack or presence. The high-pitch harmonic content gives definition to a note, creating a clear, audible edge to the beginning and end of the note. When this is tempered, the musician will hear a softer, smoother beginning and end of each sound. It’s as if you were hearing more wood and less metal. This warmth will draw a player in a very different direction in how they articulate the strings.

What informs the designs you choose to pursue? I’m sure you’re inspired and influenced by many things. You live a musical life, you have many artist friends you play music with, and you’re attuned to what’s happening out in the music world… but how do you assimilate that input with your own ideas in a way that translates into a design that moves forward?

Design decisions are multifaceted, because part of making anything is discovering what materials you get to work with. It’s rare that any maker says, “I want to build this design, and now I’ll simply go find the perfect material to work with.” Some design decisions are as pragmatic as working with the materials you have on hand or a supply of material that’s reliable and healthy. All the while, I’ll have stewing in the back of my mind different sounds or musical applications I’ve heard or appreciated. I might be thinking of a group of musicians that have been making certain sounds and are inching toward a unique feeling, emotion or playing style that would warrant a good use of a material. Then I’ll think about what complements that: the right guitar shape for this wood and musical purpose, the right voicing, the right finish to put on it, the right strings to put on it. It becomes a recipe unto itself. It’s similar to the way a chef might find some unique ingredient and ask themselves, “What interesting, good thing should we make from this?”

Speaking of available ingredients, I wanted to touch on our use of urban woods, and our desire to operate in a more responsible, ethical way. We want to source materials that will be available to us. Urban Ash has been one. Are you eager to continue venturing down this path?

The urban forestry endeavor remains an exciting adventure for us. When we started working with urban woods, it was one of those projects we pursued because we knew we should, even though it’s surprisingly expensive to do initially, and it seemed like it might not be entirely viable. Despite the obstacles, it seemed like it should be done, and somebody has to start. In the years since we’ve started working with these woods, the concept has turned out to be a lot more fruitful than I had first expected in terms of the quality of the materials we could get and the benefits this forestry model could offer for best use-case of the timber and reducing the pressure on other woods. It’s wonderful to start easing some of the pressure off one material or supply by augmenting our wood portfolio with additional species, with some now coming from urban forests. That means this initiative has a chance to continue at a healthy and steady pace, and we can continue to diversify. That’s a healthy and exciting position to be in as a guitar maker.