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  • A Golden Collection: The 50th Anniversary Limited Edition Taylor Showcase

A Golden Collection: The 50th Anniversary Limited Edition Taylor Showcase

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Our year-long guitar celebration will feature an assortment of commemorative models released throughout 2024. Here’s the first wave.

Among Taylor’s product development team, there was no shortage of ideas around special guitar designs that would appropriately commemorate the company’s 50th year in business. In the end, we chose to celebrate the breadth of musical and aesthetic tastes of Taylor owners over the years and the diversity of the Taylor guitar line.

We’re thrilled to begin a year-long rollout of limited-edition guitars that were designed as a curated collection spanning the Taylor line. Some were inspired by player-favorite models over the years. Others are beautiful instruments that showcase fine tonewoods and exacting craftsmanship. Throughout the year, we plan to release 50th anniversary commemorative guitars that range from the GS Mini to the Presentation Series.

In honor of our golden anniversary, all the guitars in this collection will share the common design theme of gold tuners and ebony bridge pins featuring gold acrylic dots, along with a commemorative 50th anniversary label inside the guitar.

As special as this collection is for us, it’s also a tribute to all the players who have made Taylor a part of their musical journey over the past half century. Whether you’re a longtime Taylor enthusiast or just discovering our guitars for the first time, thank you, and enjoy!

50th Anniversary Builder’s Edition 814ce LTD

Rosewood and redwood set the stage for a rich playing experience with this refined expression of Taylor’s flagship model. 

Back/Sides: Indian Rosewood
Top: Sinker Rosewood

It would be downright criminal not to celebrate the quintessential Taylor model, the 814ce, with a special 50th anniversary edition. For starters, Taylor’s rosewood/spruce 800 Series is an integral part of our history, tracing back to 1975. Fast-forward to 1994, when Bob Taylor introduced his Grand Auditorium (GA) body style to celebrate the company’s 20th anniversary, including a limited-edition rosewood/spruce XX-RS model. The GA shape found the sweet spot between the flatpicking-friendly Dreadnought and fingerstyle-focused Grand Concert, offering expanded musical versatility. It quickly grew in popularity to become Taylor’s flagship body style. And once the 814ce joined the 800 Series, featuring a cutaway and onboard electronics, the model came to embody the modern steel-string acoustic experience and became an indispensable tool for studio musicians and stage performers far and wide. Not to mention a consistent top-seller among recreational players.

With its iconic Taylor heritage, the 800 Series also became a focal point of Taylor’s 40th anniversary in 2014 — a proverbial torch passed from Bob Taylor to Andy Powers signifying his role as Taylor’s next-generation guitar designer. Andy embraced Taylor’s philosophy of continuous design improvement, giving the series a comprehensive overhaul that once again raised the bar on playability and tone.

And just last year, Andy gave the 814ce his Builder’s Edition treatment — in fact, delivering two versions, including a luxurious Blacktop edition.

For our 50th Anniversary rendition, Andy has crafted another Builder’s Edition beauty, this time pairing Indian rosewood back and sides with a sinker redwood top. The redwood, taken from logs reclaimed from the rivers of northern California, responds with remarkable touch sensitivity, warmth and projection. Together with rosewood’s rich lows and sparkling highs and voiced with our V-Class bracing, the tone is wonderfully complex with expressive dynamic range.

The guitar’s sonic virtues are matched by a suite of comfort-enhancing playing features that define the Builder’s Edition experience — in this case a beveled mahogany armrest, a beveled cutaway, chamfered, unbound body edges and a contoured Curve Wing bridge. Elegant appointments give the guitar a distinctive aesthetic personality: a green abalone rosette framed with rosewood and maple/black purfling, a rosewood-bound soundhole, rosewood/maple/black top edge trim, and an Indian rosewood pickguard that complements the warm reddish-brown color of the top. The fretboard and peghead are outlined with thin maple purfling lines and decked out with Element inlays in gold-hued mother-of-pearl.

Other premium elements include Gotoh 510 antique gold tuning machines, Kona edgeburst back and sides accented with subtly contrasting maple purfling, and a gloss finish that wraps the body in a luxurious luster, highlighting its beautifully sculpted contours. The guitar comes with onboard ES2 electronics and ships in a Taylor deluxe hardshell case.

50th Anniversary 314ce LTD

A best-selling model that introduced many players to the all-solid-wood Taylor experience enjoys an aesthetic upgrade.

Back/Sides: Sapele
Top: Torrefied Sitka Spruce

African sapele and the 300 Series first joined the Taylor line together as a new wood/series pairing back in 1998. At the time, sapele was widely associated with mahogany (and often referred to as African mahogany) due to its resemblance in look and sound. Together, the sapele/spruce 300 Series became the gateway to the all-solid-wood Taylor acoustic experience, dressed in clean appointments that helped make the series the most attractively-priced solid-wood models Taylor offered for many years. And due to the appeal of our Grand Auditorium body style, the 314ce became, and has remained, a Taylor best-seller.

After 25 years of loyal service to recreational and working guitar players, we’ve decided to renew our vows. The 50th Anniversary 314ce LTD showcases premium enhancements, starting with a torrefied Sitka spruce top, specially roasted for a warm, played-in sound that’s also more responsive, with added performance stability. Our roasting recipe for the top slightly darkens the Sitka soundboard, and we’ve enhanced that vintage character with an artfully sprayed shaded edgeburst around the body and neck. A firestripe faux-tortoiseshell pickguard adds another eye-catching visual touch to the top.

Other featured appointments include a three-ring rosette with contrasting black and white purfling, black body binding, Gemstone fretboard/peghead inlays in Italian acrylic, and a rich full-gloss body.

Sonically, between the torrefied top and our V-Class voicing architecture, this Grand Auditorium will delight players with its range-roving musical versatility, serving up signature Taylor balance and clarity with pleasing warmth, projection and sustain. And the trademark playability of our neck promises to pull players in from the first strum. Onboard ES2 electronics and a Taylor deluxe hardshell case round out the offering. It all adds up to a beautifully crafted instrument that will deliver years of inspiring musical pursuits.

50th Anniversary AD14ce-SB LTD

Our first spruce-topped cutaway Grand Auditorium joins the American Dream Series.

Back/Sides: Walnut
Top: Sitka Spruce

An American Dream model is apt for inclusion in our 50th Anniversary collection. The series name references the guitar-making shop where Bob Taylor and Kurt Listug first met in 1973 and purchased a year later to launch Taylor Guitars. In 2020, the American Dream name was revived to launch a new guitar series in response to the pandemic. The development period (during a factory shutdown) channeled the resilient spirit of Taylor’s earliest years and the desire to meet the unique needs of players during an uncertain time, offering a high-quality all-purpose guitar featuring solid-wood construction designed without a lot of frills to make it more affordable to a wide swath of players.

For this anniversary model, the AD14ce-SB LTD, master builder Andy Powers chose our popular cutaway Grand Auditorium body style. The guitar features a solid Sitka spruce top paired with walnut, a tonewood that traces back to some of Bob Taylor’s earliest guitars. A hand-sprayed tobacco sunburst top and firestripe pickguard give the guitar rootsy, neo-vintage appeal. Like other American Dream models, it features chamfered body edges for extra playing comfort, a thin matte finish on the body to optimize the acoustic resonance, and clean Italian acrylic dot inlays. Sonically, the walnut and spruce pairing serves up a versatile acoustic palette with a pronounced midrange presence and balanced warmth. Together with the versatile Grand Auditorium body and V-Class voicing architecture, it’s a guitar that’s well-suited for a wide range of musical genres and playing styles. Equipped with onboard ES2 electronics, it ships in a super-durable AeroCase.

Sonically, the walnut and spruce pairing serves up a versatile acoustic palette with a pronounced midrange presence and balanced warmth. Together with the versatile Grand Auditorium body and V-Class voicing architecture, it’s a guitar that’s well-suited for a wide range of musical genres and playing styles. Equipped with onboard ES2 electronics, it ships in a super-durable AeroCase.

Introducing the Circa 74 2-in-1 acoustic/vocal amplifier + amp stand

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50th Anniversary Presentation Series LTDs

Three glorious tonewood pairings and our most ornate inlay craftsmanship elevate these commemorative guitars to the level of musical fine art.

50th Anniversary PS24ce LTD

Back/Sides: Master-grade Koa
Top: Master-grade Koa
Paired with Koa Circa 74 amp (U.S. only)

50th Anniversary PS14ce LTD

Back/Sides: Figured Walnut
Top: Western Red Cedar
Paired with Walnut Circa 74 amp (U.S. only)

50th Anniversary PS14ce LTD

Back/Sides: Figured Urban Ironbark
Top: Striped Sinker Redwood

Given the special milestone of our 50th year, our anniversary collection warranted something truly exceptional. Bob, Kurt and Andy agreed that Taylor’s luxurious, top-of-the-line Presentation Series was the deserving design ethos. First launched as a series in 1996, our Presentation models have always showcased our finest tonewoods, ultra-premium appointments, and elaborate inlay craftsmanship.

Through the years, the featured tonewoods of the series have rotated to reflect what we’ve had available in sufficient grade and quantity in our wood reserves, ranging from Brazilian rosewood to highly figured koa or maple to gorgeous cocobolo, often paired with our finest sets of spruce.

For similar reasons, we’re offering these anniversary Presentation models in several different wood pairings (in limited quantities), each uniquely beautiful and all featuring our Grand Auditorium body style. The first is an all-koa edition featuring densely figured master-grade Hawaiian koa. Next, we have figured walnut from Bob Taylor’s personal tonewood collection, paired with gorgeous Western Red cedar. Lastly, sets of magnificent figured Urban Ironbark are paired with richly striped sinker redwood.

In a nod to the original Presentation Series, each guitar will showcase the Byzantine inlay suite (fretboard, peghead and bridge) that was featured on those models, in green abalone. The visual complexity is reminiscent of classically ornate banjo inlays. Bob Taylor recalls collaborating with Taylor designer Larry Breedlove to create the inlay in the mid-’90s.

“We wanted a vine like old-school guitars and banjos, but we didn’t want flowers or acanthus leaves,” he says. “We wanted something a little more architectural.”

All three PS models feature paua shell edge trim around the top, back, sides, neck and peghead; ebony armrest and binding (including soundhole); Gotoh luxury gold tuning machines; a paua rosette; a rich gloss-finish body; an ebony backstrap; and no pickguard. Both the walnut/cedar and ironbark/redwood models feature an elegant shaded edgeburst body and neck, while the koa model incorporates a natural finish.

Dual Treat

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The new Circa 74 acoustic and vocal amp combines Taylor’s love of woodworking craftsmanship with warm, ear-pleasing tone.

It’s spring 2020, a pandemic has gripped the country, and guitar production at the Taylor factory is on hiatus. Bob Taylor has been spending time roaming the now oddly quiet buildings on campus with chief guitar designer Andy Powers, surveying the company’s wood inventory (especially with the supply chain now disrupted) and discussing various design projects. One is a new guitar series Andy has started working on, spurred by the circumstances, which will soon launch as the American Dream Series. Another is an idea Bob is interested in exploring: making acoustic amplifiers.

The two projects could not be more different in their timelines. There’s a sense of urgency attached to Andy’s guitar design — fueled by a desire to bring something to market quickly once the El Cajon factory reopens, in response to the growing demand for guitars as people find themselves spending more time at home.

The amp project, in contrast, has no timetable. It’s more of an offline pursuit, without the pressure to bring a product to market to support the business. Bob’s a maker by nature; if you talk to him, you learn he’s always building something. The common thread in all of his efforts is that he finds joy in designing and building quality things that are both beautiful and functional, whether it’s guitars, furniture, cutting boards or…amplifiers. In this case, the amp project gives him the creative freedom to experiment with different ideas in an organic way with more of a guerrilla, small-shop mentality.

Assembling His A-Team

To help bring the project to life, Bob enlisted three sharp thinkers with complementary skill sets from Taylor’s product development team: Tyler Robertson, a robotics engineer, guitar player and electronics and amp expert; Terry Myers, a seasoned guitar player, builder/repairer and amp guru who has worked at Taylor for over 30 years and knows the trials and tribulations of getting a good amplified acoustic sound; and David Judd, a remarkably versatile craftsman who has been a vital part of our prototyping team for decades and has worked on the design team for Taylor’s Expression System acoustic electronics.

From left to right: Tyler Robertson, Bob Taylor, Terry Myers, David Judd.

Reframing the Role of an Acoustic Amp

Bob says his thinking around an amp design centered on serving the practical needs of players but had started with an interesting point of view.

“Initially, I found myself questioning the utility of an acoustic amp,” he shares. “I’m thinking, who uses them and for what?”

He clarifies that he’s talking about gigging musicians like his longtime friend and brother-in-law Mike who both sing and play acoustic guitar, or players who perform with a singer in small venues.

“Any place you would go to perform with an acoustic guitar and would need an amp, you’d also need a PA for whoever is singing,” he says. “So, why not just plug the guitar into the PA? That’s the right solution for an acoustic guitar in that situation.

“The only reason my brother-in-law would need a guitar amp would be if he could sing through it too,” he explains. “If he can’t, he’ll never have an acoustic guitar amp. He’ll take his Bose Stick L1 and plug his guitar and vocal mic into it. But what if he had an amp that was super portable, with enough power to fill a room and that was capable of making both his guitar and voice sound good?”

Bob and his team immersed themselves in the R&D process, talking about the sonic and other qualities they felt were important and the shortcomings of some of the products in the market. They listened to a range of different acoustic guitars with different pickups plugged into different systems. They compared and eventually found the amp chassis they wanted and started modifying it. They also tested a lot of speakers.

“We liked the ones that had some warmth to the sound rather than studio-monitor clarity,” he says.

The Pursuit of a Warm-Clean Sound

Many of today’s acoustic amps are designed to prioritize accuracy — but as plenty of players and recording pros will tell you, accuracy doesn’t always translate to a musically appealing result for listeners. Because of how most acoustic pickups work, many amps yield a “gainier” sound than players would like, relaying a great deal of treble-range detail but losing the warmth that makes an acoustic guitar so musically appealing in the first place.

“Many modern acoustic amplifiers can sound clinically reproductive in their tone,” Tyler Robertson says. “You’re hearing a faithful reproduction of the pickup, but not a great version of the guitar.”

Bob agreed.

“Along the way, we worked with some audio engineers who were sending us oscilloscope readings of how clean their amp is. But a customer isn’t buying an oscilloscope reading; they’re buying something that sounds good.

“We wanted to design our amp to sound clean, but not cleaner than clean,” he adds. “It’s made to be on the analog side of clean…not studio-monitor clean, but beautifully warm-clean.”

Terry Myers was on the same page.

“We designed it with an appreciation for the human listening experience,” he says. “It was informed by the pleasure of listening to records from the ’60s and ’70s.”

A Wood Cabinet

As a guitar manufacturer, Taylor was in the unique position of having an inventory of tonewoods, and especially as a skilled woodworker, Bob had always envisioned the amp featuring an elegantly crafted wood cabinet. In his factory walkabouts during the pandemic, he rediscovered some additional stocks of mahogany whose dimensions weren’t suitable for guitars. Putting those pieces to use, the team built some amp prototypes with solid mahogany cabinets, experimenting with different wood thicknesses.

“We came to appreciate that mahogany has a sound in this context too,” he says. “It’s something you don’t realize unless you make a bunch of different mahogany cabinets like we did.”

Those sonic characteristics played into the warm, smooth character they wanted in the amp’s sound.

An Amp for All Occasions

As Bob and the team bounced ideas around and refined their amp prototypes, the freeflowing creative vibe of the project reminded Terry of the early days of Taylor Guitars as a small shop, and he coined the name Circa 74 (a reference to the year the company was formed). It stuck.

They continued to distill the sound, look and functionality of the amp. Beyond the warm-clean sound and the ability to support a guitar and a singer, they wanted it to be portable yet powerful enough for working musicians. That meant packing serious wattage into a small cabinet so players could use it in any space, from basements and living rooms to cafés, recording studios and live venues. The team landed on a class-D solid state amp with 150 watts of power, giving it an expansive, room-filling voice that doesn’t lose clarity or warmth with the volume cranked.

They also wanted to offer broad versatility, so they designed it to be compatible with all major guitar pickups. (The final version includes suggested EQ presets for Fishman, Baggs and K&K systems along with Taylor’s ES2, as well as common microphones from brands like Shure and Electro-Voice for vocals.)

Another aim was to make the amp easy to use, with intuitive controls, rather than over-engineering it.

“We specifically wanted the features to be inviting to new players or people who don’t need a ‘spaceship,’” Tyler says. “We didn’t want an extensive set of features getting in the way of being able to walk up, plug in and sound good with any guitar, any pickup.”

The amp boasts two input channels: one XLR/quarter-inch that can handle either a microphone or a guitar cable and one quarter-inch input specifically for guitar. Both feature simple independent channel level, volume and EQ controls that make it easy to dial in your sound for any scenario, plus simple room reverb and a master volume knob. It also includes a 1/8-inch line-level aux input for additional effects and Bluetooth connectivity for streaming recorded music.

Compatible with Modelers and Effects

Expanding on the amp’s versatility, the team also made sure the amp could be used not just with a standard acoustic-electric guitar, but also with modelers and effects. Digital sound has grown in both quality and popularity over the last decade or so, with players of all types keying in on the practicality and convenience of using rack- or pedal-based modelers to produce virtually any tone profile. As Tyler explains, the design team ensured that players could use the Circa 74 amp in whatever way works best for the individual musician, including those who rely on digital technology.

“It’s very functional as a full-range amplifier for modeling setups,” Tyler says. “The aux-in bypasses the preamp and reverb, so it won’t affect the sound of your modeled amplifier or cabinet IR.”

And at just 24 pounds, it’s easy to transport.

“Many modern acoustic amplifiers can sound clinically reproductive in their tone. You’re hearing a faithful reproduction of the pickup, but not a great version of the guitar.”

Tyler Robertson

Midcentury Vibes + a Stand

With his guitar designs, Bob Taylor has always taken great pride in creating an elegant, uniquely appealing aesthetic, from the curves of Taylor’s family of body shapes to our bridge, peghead and pickguard designs.

“It’s not in my nature to make something that sounds beautiful that doesn’t also look beautiful,” he says.

That same mindset informed the aesthetic design of the Circa 74 amp. Surveying some of the other acoustic amps in the market, Bob and the team saw this as another opportunity to craft something that would look just as good in a person’s living room as it would on a stage or in a recording studio. They wanted to build an amp you wouldn’t feel the need to move to a back room when guests drop by.

“I wanted the elegant aesthetic appeal of a piece of finely crafted furniture,” Bob says. “Something that looks great in a living room or at a wedding reception or a wine bar.”

The mahogany cabinet, with its rich woodgrain and warm, reddish-brown hues, certainly fits the bill, marrying the vibe of fine furniture with that of a premium acoustic guitar. The light brown grille cloth, leather handle and vintage-style control knobs add other modern-retro touches.

Finally, the team found an opportunity to enhance both the amp’s musical functionality and aesthetic appeal with the design of a stand to be included with the amp. Taylor’s David Judd led that effort.

“Amps just sound better when they’re off the ground, so we tried several different styles of construction before this design,” Judd explains.

The matching mahogany stand features screw-in legs for easy disassembly if needed, a slightly angled orientation for an upward tilt to enhance projection, and routed footholds that keep the amp securely in place. Between the warm wood tones and seamless marriage of form and function, the amp and stand make an elegant Craftsman-style presentation.

“This one was ‘spouse-approved’ to stay in the living room, not just the music room,” Judd says.

After nearly four years of development and field testing in different performance settings — including a lot of use by Bob’s brother-in-law, who loves his — the Circa 74 amp made its official debut in January and has been well-received by Taylor dealers.

Early Reactions

Taylor District Sales Manager and gigging player Rich Casciato has been using his Circa 74 amp at shows, and his report sums up the experience well.

“What I love about it is that it doesn’t sound like an ‘amplified’ acoustic guitar — it just sounds like a louder acoustic guitar,” Rich says. “That’s exactly what I was hoping for.”

Over at Guitar Player magazine (April edition, on newsstands March 1), reviewer Jimmy Leslie gave the amp an Editors’ Pick award. He loved the living-room-friendly vibe and the “ingenious” way the amp and stand fit together. He also praised the “flexible and practical” design and enjoyed testing the amp with different guitars and pickups, starting with a Builder’s Edition 814ce equipped with our ES2 electronics.

“The overall sound was very much what one might expect from a flagship Taylor guitar through Taylor amp design: high fidelity, dynamic and very touch responsive,” he writes. “It’s not all in the mids like some acoustic amps, particularly those with small woofers.”

He also liked the way the “shiny-smooth tone” worked with vocals.

“Troubadours will dig how the vocals come across sounding more full like a P.A. than like a lot of other 2-in-1 amps where it gets squished,” he observes.

Leslie also noted the amp’s power and sustain.

“Turn it up, and boy is it punchy. The Circa 74 helps notes sing out with strong sustain. The mahogany cabinet seems to contribute more to the punch and projection as you crank it…. There’s plenty of headroom.”

When he experimented with two other guitar/pickup systems, he felt the amp admirably channeled the sonic character the respective pickups were designed to deliver. He started with a Martin CS-SC-2022 with a Baggs HiFi bridge plate transducer system and a Baggs M1 passive magnetic pickup in the soundhole.

“With all the controls set to noon, the difference between the body energy of the former and the distinct string sound from the latter was very apparent,” he writes. “A few tonal tweaks to home in on the best combination yielded a wonderfully comprehensive sound.”

He also tried an older Taylor 514ce equipped with a Fishman Prefix piezo system plus a Seymour Duncan Active Mag in the soundhole.

“Once again, the distinct qualities of that piezo and the active magnetic were apparent, and I was able to dial in a beautiful blend.”

Ultimately, he sees the amp as a welcome addition to the acoustic amp world.

“It’s especially interesting coming from the team at Taylor, giving it a familiarity factor but also coming kind of out of left field…. The Circa 74 hits a Goldilocks zone in a great size with just the right juice.”

Over time, the plan is to introduce additional versions of the amp crafted with cabinets featuring other acoustic guitar tonewoods. (As an ultra-premium example, see the Hawaiian koa and walnut versions offered in tandem with two of our 50th Anniversary Presentation Series models. [link]) You’ll find Circa 74 amps at select dealers across the U.S., with models slated for release internationally later this year. For more details, including video content, visit Circa74.com.

The 2024 Catch Custom Collection

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We present another stunning array of custom guitars showcased at our annual pre-NAMM dealer event in January. You’ll want to explore our gallery — there’s a lot to love.

Back in 2015, Taylor Guitars organized a special custom guitar showcase event for Taylor dealers at The Catch restaurant in Anaheim, California, on the eve of the Winter NAMM trade show. On display was an array of uniquely stunning guitars we’d designed and built for dealers to peruse. They were given the opportunity to opt in for a chance to purchase the ones they liked (based on our ability to reproduce each in very limited quantities). Beyond being a great in-person hang with our longtime retail partners, the gathering allowed them to see, play and potentially acquire some truly extraordinary guitars from Taylor to offer their customers.

The event’s popularity turned it into an annual pre-NAMM tradition. Though we later changed venues after the restaurant closed, we kept the Catch Customs name, as these guitars make special, heirloom-quality additions to anyone’s guitar collection.

We’ve since expanded the Catch event further to include an online presentation, which has allowed dealers not traveling to the show to participate virtually.

This year brings a new collection of more than three dozen custom builds featuring premium-grade tonewood pairings, striking aesthetic details and meticulous craftsmanship, with each guitar boasting distinct visual and musical flavors.

We couldn’t be more excited about this year’s collection. Here’s a sample of what you’ll find:

Custom #3

This visually stunning Grand Orchestra is a showcase for figured maple’s aesthetic beauty, pairing quilted Big Leaf maple back and sides with a Lutz spruce top, all finished with a striking royal blue color treatment and a gloss finish. Figured Hawaiian koa accents include a contrasting beveled armrest, heel cap and body binding. The paua shell rosette and peghead logo are accentuated by mother-of-pearl and paua shell fretboard and peghead inlays featuring our Mission design.

Custom #15

This gorgeous Grand Theater boasts a unique pairing of figured Hawaiian koa sides and back in a Simons wedge configuration, and a sinker redwood top, offering a rarefied sonic experience. A tobacco shaded edgeburst on the entire guitar and a gloss body finish give it a dusky character. The rosette features a rosewood frame and diamond inlays in maple and paua shell, reminiscent of our legacy NS74 rosette style, and is complemented by paua shell edge trim and a mother-of-pearl peghead logo.

Custom #27

Opulent appointments, a unique hardwood and comfort-enhancing features define this custom Grand Auditorium. Bocote back and sides are paired with a bearclaw Sitka spruce top. The fretboard and peghead feature paua shell/koa inlays with a breathtaking Sea Forest Vine design. Those inlays harmonize with the ornate paua shell rosette and edge trim. Figured Hawaiian koa accents include the beveled armrest, back strip, backstrap, heel cap, and the soundhole and body binding.

Custom #37

Boasting a captivating Midnight Sapphire color treatment, this custom T5z hollowbody hybrid pairs a lightweight Urban Ash body with a beautifully figured Big Leaf maple top, all finished with a lustrous gloss treatment. The fretboard features faux-pearl/silver inlays with Spires inlays in a progressive design. An integrated armrest and rounded edges offer supreme playing comfort.

Custom #41

Capturing the lush tone and captivating visual character of figured Hawaiian koa, this custom Grand Pacific features an elegant four-piece Simons wedge back configuration and a glossy Kona burst finish. Elegant paua shell appointments include a single-ring rosette, peghead logo, and fretboard and peghead inlays with an organic Spring Vine design.

It’s easier than you might think to create your very own custom Taylor guitar. If you already have some ideas in mind, what are you waiting for? All custom orders are placed through our network of authorized Taylor dealers. Start a conversation today! View the other models in our Catch Customs Gallery here.

Baritone Basics

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A rich-voiced baritone guitar makes a remarkably versatile addition to your acoustic arsenal. Meet your new secret weapon.

Ed. Note: This article originally ran in our summer 2016 edition. Since we recently released batches of special-edition 6-string and 8-string baritone guitars, we thought we’d republish it for readers who may have missed it the first time.

When I saw a Taylor 8-string baritone guitar for the first time, I thought, it’s so weird … and so perfect for me. I saw this magnificent instrument as something new and very specialized, without hope for a wider playing audience. Once I got one home, I realized that it was also born from the luthier’s tradition of small evolutionary steps. As a result, this logical design makes the 8-string baritone — and the slightly less eccentric 6-string baritone — not only a unique instrument, but one that any guitarist can be comfortable with almost immediately. 


When I had a chance to ask Bob Taylor who he thought that guitar was made for, I was delighted that his answer doubled my appreciation for the instrument. “It’s for old guys who can’t hit the high notes in ‘Have You Ever Seen The Rain’ anymore,” he quipped. And there you have it: a simple way to play your favorite song but still sing melodies that are otherwise out of your range. No more transposing or retuning; just pick up that baritone, strum a C chord shape, and out comes a glorious G. And that high A note — found in far too many John Fogerty songs, not to mention Journey, The Who, Eagles, et al. — becomes a much more comfortable E. (If this pitch and singing jargon is new to you, check out my “Hit Your Mark” singing lesson in the Spring 2013 issue of Wood&Steel.)

I realize that Bob was only being half-serious in his comment — if anyone knows that there are innumerable uses for the baritone it’s Mr. Taylor himself — but there is also a lot of truth in his jest. Guitar-playing singer-songwriters tend to favor “guitar-friendly” keys (G, A, E and C, for example), which means many of them end up singing a lot of “high” notes that the average guitar hobbyist just can’t hit without some professional vocal training. What the baritone allows the average player/singer to do is to play songs, strumming the original chord shapes, but the chords that are heard are a fourth lower, thus giving the recreational player a better chance of staying in key vocally.

A normal guitar only allows you to go up in pitch with a capo. The baritone, by being tuned a fourth lower, actually allows you go up and down in pitch.

“This is all great,” I hear you saying, “but what if I don’t need to go a fourth lower? Maybe I just need a whole step lower. Or I don’t need it lower at all, I just like the sound of the 8-string.” Well, the answer to these questions is so simple that some people call the solution a “cheater.” Yes, I’m talking about a capo. (I’ve found that the Kyser 12-string capo works best.)

Unlike a normal guitar, which only allows you to go up in pitch with a capo, the baritone, by being tuned a fourth lower, actually allows you go up and down in pitch. All you have to do to get a baritone into standard tuning is to put that capo at the 5th fret. Play a G chord; a G chord is what you hear. But if you want to jam out with a Van Halen song in Eb, don’t retune; just drop the capo one fret, strum E, and out comes Eb. Or say you want to play along with the original version of “Yesterday” by The Beatles. Drop that capo two frets — “Yesterday” sounds in F, but McCartney played it out of G, tuned down a whole step. Is Hendrix’s “Hear My Train a Comin’” more your speed? Capo the baritone at the first fret and I wish you luck (Hendrix was tuned down two whole steps!). As you can see, the versatility of the low tuning alone is enough to encourage one’s interest in the baritone. But wait, there’s more….

Texture, Tone and Faux Bass

One of the other many virtues of the baritone’s lower tuning is the sonic manifestation of chords and single-notes that place the baritone’s sound in between a standard guitar and a bass…or as I like to think of it, a cello. The 8-string has the additional benefit of the jangle of the two middle octave strings, which fills out the sound even more, particularly when strumming.

The practical applications of these unique characteristics include: 1) textural variation when playing with other guitarists, due to the thicker strings and unison strings (just strumming G, C and D in unison with a standard guitar is an auditory thrill); 2) chord voicing variations that allow the baritone to be played in different frequency registers, using different chord shapes; and 3) the ability to play faux basslines. These last two functions could stand a bit more explanation, so let’s put them into song context. 

Example 1 is the A section melody for the old-time/bluegrass staple “Angeline The Baker,” notated for standard tuning guitar, in the key of D, using open position “cowboy” chords. Nothing unusual here.

Download File

Example 2 is the exact same melody but here transcribed for baritone. If you don’t have a baritone handy, don’t let this confuse you: Yes, the key has changed on paper, but when you play the baritone in the key of G, it will actually sound in the key of D. As you’ve no doubt noticed, not only has the melody changed positions, but the chords also are different. Once again, because of the baritone’s down-a-fourth tuning, the G chord will actually sound as a D chord. This is an example of using the baritone for chord voicing and frequency register variations. 

Example 3 introduces a bassline for standard guitar. Now if you are playing this on a normal guitar, you’ll hear that Example 3 does work, but it’s pretty thin for a bassline.

On the other hand, Example 4, transcribed for baritone, is fat, rich and full, like a bassline should be.

A New Instrument?

In the early 1700s Bartolomeo Cristofori invented what we now call the piano, which was a radical variation of the harpsichord (and then some). Though the outward physical appearance of both harpsichord and piano are similar, no one would ever confuse the sound of the two instruments. Additionally, the two instruments could be played the same way, but the greater expressive control and tonal flexibility the piano offered required composers to rethink their approach to keyboard music and helped create a new body of musical works that changed music forever.   

This is how I see and hear the 8-string baritone.

I’ve already made my case for the 6- and 8-string baritone as a fine addition to any player’s collection, but now allow me to get a little more personal and suggest that the limits of the 8-string baritone are only those of our own imaginations.

Personally, I have been doing my best to slowly but surely compose a body of music specifically designed for the 8-string baritone. These pieces emphasize the individual texture, tone and timbre of the instrument; highlight the massive, resonant overtones the guitar produces; and exploit the extreme register differences found between unwound, doubled, and wound bass strings. For all intents and purposes, these pieces can only be properly performed on an 8-string baritone, a guitar that can produce music no other instrument can. And I’m writing the music because it wants to be written. Ultimately this is why the 8-string baritone is perfect for me: It inspires. It induces. And it responds!

Artist Spotlight

Making Noise: Glen Andrew Brown

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The award-winning artist, composer and sound designer for film, television and video games offers a glimpse into his creative process.

Ed. Note: Taylor’s artist relations team is in the enviable position of working with a wildly diverse community of talented musicians all around the world. That diversity isn’t just limited to musical genres or cultural backgrounds, but includes the many different creative paths artists explore to make their unique imprint on the world.

Case in point: U.K.-based Glen Andrew Brown, a BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) award-winning composer, sound designer and audio post-production engineer for film, television, theater and video games. Brown’s impressive musical resume includes scoring and sound design in advertising for some of the world’s biggest brands; creating musical soundscapes for Playstation video games like Returnal, God of War and Sackboy: A Big Adventure; composing for TV shows on the BBC and Amazon Prime, and writing the theater score for London’s West End adaptation of The Great Gatsby.

Earlier this year, Brown connected with fellow Brit Dan Boreham, our U.K.-based marketing manager for the U.K. and EU and a key member of our artist relations crew who covers that region of the world. We’ll let Dan pick up the story from here.

Glen and I agreed to meet at a café near my local town. He had driven down to the English south coast to get away from the bright lights of London work life for a few hours. Glen was a Taylor fan and wanted to talk about partnering more with us. Our conversation turned into a new friendship.

A quiet person, Glen is as comfortable listening as he is talking, and we spent quite some time talking about recording and mixing (where I first started my career in music) as well as his love for Taylor guitars. We agreed on so many aspects of the industry, and he began to open up about his work in composing for gaming, theater shows and TV as well as his new venture, having just signed a deal as one half of the duo Tendai + Glen. 

I found myself so engaged by Glen’s humility, stories and wisdom. He was so generous with his knowledge and was keen to do more than just get a loaner guitar and ride off into the sunset. The upshot is our “Making Noise” video piece. We really wanted to inspire musicians of all levels with a narrative that tapped into a spirit of creation, experimentation and finding a musical voice using something as simple as an acoustic guitar.

As Glen shares in the video (he had a 618e and 312ce-N with him), with just a few guitar notes and a few ideas, it’s possible to build richly layered soundscapes that evoke a wide range of moods.

I hope you enjoy learning more about Glen’s creative process. You can also explore more of his work and learn more about how he builds custom music systems for video games on his website.

Tendai + Glen

In this performance for our Taylor Soundcheck series, Glen is joined by Tendai Humphrey Sitima, his musical partner in the duo Tendai + Glen, to play two original songs, “Boldly Growing” and “I Didn’t Want Me.” Together, they create an eclectic mix of pop, R&B, jazz and other cross-genre flavors, shaping a sound that’s uniquely theirs. Between songs, the pair talks about what makes their creative collaboration unique and the way they layer different musical elements together into an arrangement that magnifies the essence of a song. On both tunes, Tendai plays a 312ce-N, with Glen on a 724ce, and they are accompanied by a string quartet.

Art of the Craft: Making a Custom Armrest

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Here’s a closer look at the skillful handwork that goes into sculpting a beveled armrest for our custom guitars.

An armrest on an acoustic guitar is a thing of beauty. It marries form and function in a way that offers the practical benefit of a more ergonomic playing experience while also elevating the aesthetic appeal of the instrument. Between its sculptural contours, visually striking woods, and in many cases, decorative purfling lines topped with a glossy finish, an armrest can transform a guitar into a piece of playable, musical art — especially in the hands of our talented craftspeople.

Our guitar lineup features three styles of armrests: a beveled armrest, with its elegantly sloped surface, showcased through our ultra-premium Custom program and on several Builder’s Edition models; a radius armrest, featuring a rounder softening of the body edge and built into our Presentation, 900 and 800 Series; and a simplified, production-friendly bevel-like armrest on our entry-level Academy Series guitars made in Tecate — because we think a developing player has the most to gain from the extra playing comfort.

Beveled Armrest

Radius Armrest

Bevel-like Armrest

High-end Hand Craftsmanship

Though the world may know Taylor as a production-level manufacturer, the truth is that there is an extraordinary amount of skilled handwork that goes into each guitar we make. And the skill level required to execute the beveled armrests we make for some of our custom models at our El Cajon factory is exceptional.

“It’s a practice in focus and patience,” says chief designer Andy Powers, who speaks from experience.

“It requires the utmost attention to detail, as we are essentially teasing all these components — tiny purfling pieces, compound glue surfaces, and bent veneers — into a perfectly blended piece of wood sculpture,” he says. “And it demands flawless sanding at the end, with the risk of potentially ruining all the work that came before it. Despite the huge effort, the results are worth it.” 

One clarifying note about the beveled-armrest guitars made in El Cajon: We actually make two versions. Custom models built with an armrest demand the highest level of individual skill because they incorporate a veneer and are hand-carved. The armrests featured on our Builder’s Edition models are slightly more production-friendly and benefit from additional tooling (developed in-house) that allows us to CNC-machine the mahogany armrest piece. The armrest is also finished without an additional wood veneer.

We’ll share some of the steps required to produce a beveled and radius armrest below, but truthfully, you need to see the process to fully appreciate it. While it would be a bit tedious to show you every step, we wanted to bring you some highlights, especially for a custom beveled armrest. Here, we see a custom Grand Auditorium body featuring beautiful figured koa as an armrest is crafted and topped with a veneer of figured maple. 

Making a Custom Beveled Armrest

How does an armrest affect a guitar’s sound?

A common question we hear from customers about an armrest is whether it changes the sound of the guitar. The short answer is yes, but as Andy explains, it’s not so much because it changes the inherent voicing of the instrument in a substantial way. It’s more the product of changing the physical interaction between the player and the guitar.

“It optimizes the relationship between the musician and their instrument,” he says. “We’re never listening to merely the hands of the player or the voice of the guitar. We’re hearing the relationship between the two. So, by making this a more ergonomic guitar with an armrest, we improve the overall musical performance because it puts a more comfortable, appealing guitar into the hands of a musician, which allows for more relaxed playing. Essentially, it encourages a better performance from the player. That’s the way it changes the guitar’s voice.”

The process begins in our Sidebending department after the sides are bent and glued together to form the outline of the guitar body. Normally, slotted kerfing strips are added to the interior edges of the sides to provide a wider glue surface for the top and back to be secured. For an armrest guitar, a CNC-machined piece of solid mahogany is glued in the area of the lower bout where the armrest will be located. This will supply the wood material that will later be carved into proper shape.

After the top and back are glued in place, the binding and purfling slots are routed into the body. Next, a pair of custom jigs — a separate set exists for each different body shape — is used to locate the exact position of the top and side purfling inlay slots that will border the armrest. One is used for the top cut; the other for the side purfling that will run along the bass side of lower bout. Each jig will be vacuum-secured to the body. Once the slots are routed, the slot edges are blended into the purfling slot previously cut for the rest of the body to create a smooth transition.

The binding and purfling inlay processes are similar to our standard installation techniques, although the top inlay can be more complex for a custom guitar, perhaps featuring colorful abalone shell framed by pinstriped purfling lines and then the wood binding or armrest material. All the purfling lines will be inlaid before the armrest is sculpted.

A two-sided Japanese rasp is used to manually carve and shape the contours. The majority of the wood is removed using the coarse side; the finer side is used later in the process, followed by a round of nuanced shaping with a file. A straight edge is used to inspect the level of the armrest surface, and if necessary, a scraper is used to make any additional refinements. A sanding block is used to create an ultra-smooth final contour. From there, a laser-cut wood veneer that has been color-matched with the binding (the same species of wood) is glued in place. Any excess veneer material is then scraped away, followed by additional sanding.

Making a Radius Armest

Our radius armrest made its debut in 2017 with the introduction of our 800 Deluxe Series. (That series was later discontinued when we streamlined our guitar line, but that armrest became a standard feature of our 800, 900 and Presentation Series.)

Compared to the sloped chamfer of the beveled armrest, the radius features a slightly narrower and rounder softening of the edge in the lower bout area. On the 800 Series, the armrest incorporates a rosewood insert to echo the rosewood-centric aesthetic of the flagship series. The insert is shaped into a sleek contour whose tapered ends transition into maple binding (accented with rosewood top trim). For the 900 Series, the armrest and binding are made of ebony with paua shell and koa trim. The Presentation Series features an ebony armrest and binding with paua edge trim frame with ultra-thin black and white purfling lines.

  • 2023 Issue 3 /
  • Guitar Lesson: Strumming, Picking and Palm Muting

Guitar Lesson: Strumming, Picking and Palm Muting

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Taylor Gamble is back with a set of foundational lessons to help any new guitarist sound like a pro.

Welcome back to the Wood&Steel guitar lesson, featuring session player and guitar teacher Taylor Gamble.

This time around, Taylor takes things back to square one with a trio of essential concepts for any guitar player: strumming, picking and palm muting. New learners should practice these techniques until they become second nature, incorporating volume dynamics and the varied touch that makes a piece of music truly resonate.

Beginner: Strumming

Taylor kicks off our lesson with an introduction to strumming technique, demonstrating the basics while illustrating how subtle variations can add feeling to your sound.

Intermediate: Strumming & Picking

Next, Taylor explains simple picking techniques before showing how mixing strumming and picking together can create beautiful melodies with basic chord shapes.

Advanced: Palm Muting

Finally, our lesson concludes with a technique utilized by guitarists from pop and R&B to country and heavy metal: palm muting. Taylor illustrates how using your strumming hand to gently mute the strings can add dynamics to your playing, especially when mixed with open strumming and picking.

Lead image of two Taylor acoustic guitars sitting on their sides next to a pack of D'Addario strings and a coil of guitar strings on a white background

Wire Transfer

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After extensive string testing with our friends at D’Addario, Taylor is transitioning to their XS coated strings

After 24 years, we’ve decided it’s time to change our strings.

We’re happy to share that we’ve begun installing D’Addario’s premium XS coated phosphor bronze strings on our acoustic steel-string models. As of this summer, most of Taylor’s U.S.-built models are being strung with the XS coated strings (along with XS coated nickel electric strings on our T5z models), and we’ve begun that transition on our Mexico-made guitars (Baby Taylor through 200 Deluxe Series).

The decision came from Taylor’s chief guitar designer, Andy Powers, who favors the sound, feel, durability, consistency and performance of the XS coated strings in tandem with his latest guitar designs and other models within the Taylor lineup.

“We’re excited for this new chapter of partnership with D’Addario,” Andy says. “The XS strings are really consistent and produce a great response. By working to optimize the musicality of our guitars, we want to help musicians express themselves to the fullest.”

The move builds on a longstanding association between Taylor and D’Addario, whose steel-string sets we used for many years, and whose nylon strings we’ve used since the introduction of our nylon-string guitars in 2003. There’s always been a kinship between the two companies —reflecting a shared passion for innovation, manufacturing excellence and sustainability leadership.

“I feel like we’re really on the same wavelength,” says D’Addario founder, Chairman of the Board and Chief Innovation Officer Jim D’Addario of the two companies. “We really run our businesses the same way.”

Performance Consistency

Throughout his tenure at Taylor, Andy has talked about the different ingredients that factor into a guitar designer’s recipe for a guitar — like the choice of tonewoods, the body dimensions, the internal bracing architecture — and the distinctive ways they interact to shape a guitar model’s sonic identity.  

Another essential ingredient is the guitar strings, which literally set the guitar in motion. By design, the strings should optimize the musical output of the guitar. And for Andy, there are clear musical metrics he looks for in a string’s performance: pitch accuracy, dynamic range, sustain and feel.

Of particular importance, he says, is the performance consistency across a set of strings.

“More than anything, what I always look for is whether the strings all behave in the same kind of way,” he says. “As a guitar maker, I want the exact same character from one string to the next. Otherwise, you can ruin everything about the guitar.”

That desire for consistency across each string set is amplified by the scale of Taylor’s production — in the range of 200,000 guitars each year. With our manufacturing sophistication, we’ve been able to bring an extraordinary level of consistency to the build quality of our instruments. Similarly, D’Addario has achieved impressive consistency through its proprietary string-making technology and precision manufacturing processes, which allow them to produce 800,000 strings a day.

The Value of Coated Strings

There’s another important consideration with strings: their performance longevity, especially in a store environment, where a guitar might be played by many customers before it finds a permanent home. No matter how well-crafted a guitar might be, dirty or dead strings will compromise the guitar’s tonal response, potentially causing it to languish in a store.

That’s one reason why Taylor adopted Elixir strings for our steel-string acoustics back in 1999. The company was the first string maker to introduce a coated guitar string, and that revolutionary technology proved to extend the string life considerably in a high-traffic retail setting.

Collaborating with D’Addario to Make the GS Mini Bass

A great example of the innovative spirit that connects Taylor and D’Addario is the development of our award-winning GS Mini Bass, launched in 2017. Andy had been exploring ways to take the compact proportions of the popular GS Mini and make a small, ergonomically friendly acoustic bass — a radical notion given that the scale length was about 10 inches shorter than a typical bass. A traditional string set simply wouldn’t be able to make accurate notes at that string scale length.

Andy pitched his idea to D’Addario’s string engineering team, who proved to be hugely instrumental as a development partner. For more than a year, D’Addario’s team worked with Andy to develop a custom string formulation that would allow the bass to function. In the end, the collaboration yielded a unique solution — a nylon-core string overwound with a traditional phosphor bronze wrap wire.

“That combination worked great,” Andy says. “Without those strings, I’m not sure this instrument would have been possible.”

Since the bass’s launch in 2017, Andy has stayed connected with the D’Addario team, both as he pursued his new guitar design recipes and as D’Addario pushed forward with their own string R&D projects, on their way to releasing their premium XS coated strings in 2021. Andy had the opportunity to beta test some of the XS string set prototypes along the way and offered feedback on how they performed with his V-Class bracing designs and other new models he was developing like the Taylor Grand Pacific.

Jim D’Addario remembers the impact of a complimentary note Andy sent after testing one particular iteration of XS strings.

“When that email about the testing sample went around the office, there was a bit of celebrating,” he shares.

XS String Innovation

Developing and refining the technology to produce the coating for the XS strings, says Jim D’Addario, took his engineering team more than four and a half years.

“We had to develop our own film that we would treat, impregnate and slit, and put it on spools,” he says. “We had to make special winding machines to wind that thin ribbon — it’s 1/30th the thickness of Saran wrap. And we came up with what I think is the best coated string on the market because it’s long-lasting and you can’t tell it’s coated [in terms of] the sound. It’s almost identical to an uncoated string. It’s one of the products we make that I’m proudest of.”

For Andy, the final version of the strings checked all the boxes he was looking for in advancing his designs.

“The [XS] string moves more in the way that it should to make an accurate note,” he says. “That was a big step for me. It just feels more musical. It’s a beautiful feeling. A great response. Really consistent. It’s got all the metrics that I could say make something musical: the dynamic range, the pitch accuracy, the feel, the sustain… And then you learn how it’s made and it starts to make sense.”

Anatomy of a String: A Closer Look at D’Addario’s XS String Technology

  • Ultra-thin coating: Ten times thinner than a human hair, D’Addario’s proprietary coating technology offers the highest degree protection from contaminants to maximize the string life. It incorporates a super-thin film coating on the wound strings and a unique polymer treatment on the plain steel strings.
  • Hex core construction: The hexagonal core wire enables the wrap wire to grip in a way that improves the dimensional stability and durability and produces precise intonation.
  • Fusion Twist technology: According to D’Addario’s team, this construction technique optimizes the tuning stability and improves the break strength for the plain strings.
  • Premium high-carbon steel core wire: D’Addario touts its in-house steel processing capability to improve tuning stability and break resistance.
  • In-house wire drawing: D’Addario’s proprietary wire drawing machines and processes give them precise control over the quality and consistency of their wire.

Taylor x D’Addario: The Conversation

Earlier this year, in preparation for the launch of our string partnership, Bob Taylor and Andy Powers visited D’Addario’s headquarters in Farmingdale, Long Island, New York, to participate in a conversation with Jim D’Addario. Fretboard Journal publisher Jason Verlinde moderated the chat, which was captured on video, as Bob, Andy and Jim reflected on their relationship, their respect for each other, the philosophies of their respective companies, and why they make compatible business partners.

“Jim [D’Addario] and I have always had a common love for industrializing things,” Bob points out. “Making machines, making high-quality things. I’m highly respectful of Jim’s abilities.”

What’s made D’Addario successful, Jim says, is curiosity and a kind of persistence that’s become ingrained in their culture.

“If I think we’ve got a good idea and if it’s not working out, I stick to it until we get it to work, and that’s really made us what we are. We are always looking for ways to do it better.”  

Persistence in pursuit of guitar innovation underscores the symbiotic nature of both company cultures and speaks to the parallel paths each has traveled over the past half century.

Although Andy came to Taylor later (2010), he has known Jim for a long time and has great respect for what Jim and D’Addario have accomplished.

“When I met Jim, I found a kindred spirit,” Andy says. “It’s the guitar maker in us that wants to be standing alongside the string maker in them.”

Watch the conversation in its entirety below.

The conversation about the strings calls to mind comments Andy made about the importance of feel and response in a 2022 interview in Wood&Steel.

“There are differences beyond sonority, because we’re not talking solely about what you’re hearing, but what the guitar makes you feel,” he says. “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 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.”

Reducing String Waste and Launching a String Recycling Program

An important shared value between Taylor and D’Addario is a commitment to environmental stewardship and socially responsible business practices. One common denominator is the desire to use modern manufacturing methods to create efficiencies and reduce waste. As part of our new string partnership, Taylor and D’Addario have been discussing ways for D’Addario to make strings that are closer to the actual length needed, especially for guitars with shorter scale lengths like the GS Mini, to minimize the waste of excess string material.

Another obvious example of D’Addario minimizing its environmental impact is by making coated strings that greatly extend the performance life, meaning that players won’t have to change their strings as often. And to reduce the waste associated with used strings, D’Addario has invested considerable resources into a pioneering string recycling program called Playback, created in partnership with TerraCycle, a company that specializes in developing solutions for hard-to-recycle products.

Currently administered in the continental U.S., the program enables players to recycle their used guitar and orchestral strings (steel and nylon) by dropping them off in a D’Addario/TerraCycle recycling collection bin at a location near them. Most recycling bins are located in participating music stores. (You can find a recycling location near you here.) Metal strings are melted down and smelted into new metal alloys; nylon strings are recycled into industrial plastic applications.

As part of our string partnership, Taylor is proud to join the program and encourage Taylor owners to recycle their strings. On our campus in El Cajon, California, we’ve set up collection bins for our own internal use in strategic areas of the factory (such as our Repair department). We’ve also become a public string recycling drop-off center listed on the D’Addario website, with a recycling bin located in our Visitor Center.

Through the Playback program, individuals also have the option of shipping their used strings to be recycled by creating a free Players Circle account on the D’Addario website. (A shipping label can be downloaded via the account.) The qualifier is that, in order to reduce the carbon footprint associated with shipping strings, shipments must weigh a minimum of five pounds.

Given that threshold, the folks at D’Addario suggest that interested individuals could collect used strings from other players (friends, bandmates, music classmates) in order to meet the weight requirement and ship larger quantities more efficiently. (Terracycle calls this “brigade work.”) An additional incentive is that the individual will accrue points through their Players Circle account that can be applied as currency toward eligible D’Addario products. 

Between heirloom-quality guitars and premium, long-lasting strings that can eventually be recycled, players can feel better than ever about playing a Taylor.

Image of a worker handling spruce boards at a sawmill with a computer screen

Making the Cut

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Ever wonder what goes into cutting spruce for guitar tops? We visited our friends at Pacific Rim Tonewoods to spotlight their operation and discuss spruce’s outlook for the future.

An acoustic guitar’s top — the soundboard — is prime real estate. The very name “soundboard” signals the important role it plays — of transferring the energy of a guitar’s vibrating strings into greater air movement and, ultimately, acoustic sound.

“I always think of the soundboard kind of like the cone of a speaker,” says Bob Taylor. “It’s the part that’s really vibrating. And I think of the back and sides of the guitar as being like a speaker cabinet.”

For centuries, spruce has been the predominant tonewood choice for the soundboards of stringed instruments, ranging from violin-family instruments to mandolins to acoustic guitars. Piano soundboards are also made with spruce.

So, what’s special about spruce? As a coniferous softwood, spruce is lightweight yet also stiff and strong in the right ways, especially when properly quartersawn (more on that in a bit). Its favorable strength-to-weight ratio, which includes a high degree of elasticity, allows it to hold up to considerable string tension yet also turn the vibrating string energy into a clear, dynamic tonal response.

A quality spruce top can be set in motion easily with a lighter playing attack, yet it also tends to respond well to more aggressive playing without losing tonal clarity. It also projects well and produces pleasing sustain. Spruce is also used for a guitar’s internal bracing, even when the top is a hardwood like mahogany or koa.

Over the years, curious Taylor owners have asked many questions about the important properties of spruce, the choices we make in our selection process, and how different physical characteristics impact the tonal response.

We’ve also talked a lot about soundboards in recent years in conjunction with a guitar’s internal bracing architecture, particularly as we unveiled our innovative V-Class and C-Class bracing designs. These and other bracing patterns orchestrate the movement of the soundboard in nuanced ways and work in tandem with the back and sides to voice the guitar and give it distinctive tonal character.

Straight to the Source: Pacific Rim Tonewoods

This year, with the release of our new Builder’s Edition 814ce, spruce has once again become a topic of conversation due to the model’s four-piece top construction rather than a traditional two-piece top. This unique design feature gives us a great opportunity to take a closer look at our use of spruce from two distinct perspectives: First, we wanted to shed more light on exactly what goes into producing a high-quality spruce soundboard; second, we wanted to put more context around the idea of making four-piece tops as we confront the changing realities of commercially available spruce trees. In both cases, we knew exactly who to enlist to share their expert knowledge: our longtime spruce supply partner, Pacific Rim Tonewoods (PRT).

Located in Concrete, Washington, in the Skagit Valley/North Cascades region (about 50 miles southeast of Bellingham), PRT has been a supplier of premium tonewoods for over 35 years. It’s hard to overstate their importance in the acoustic guitar industry. They supply the lion’s share of Sitka and Lutz spruce tops used on American-made guitars, to the tune of 300,000-400,000 tops per year.

In addition to spruce tops, PRT also supplies sets of figured maple (sourced from their region) and Hawaiian koa for musical instruments. Speaking of koa, PRT is also our partner in the collaborative venture Siglo Tonewoods, a multifaceted forestry initiative that combines native forest restoration in Hawaii with growing instrument-grade Hawaiian koa for future generations of instrument makers.

We wrote about PRT back in our winter 2015 issue (Vol. 81) in the context of the innovative research they were doing with maple — more specifically, how to grow figured maple that would be ideal for musical instruments.

In many respects, PRT founder Steve McMinn and Bob Taylor are kindred spirits: in their natural curiosity and passion for their work; in their desire to make high-quality wood products in innovative ways; and in their commitment to responsible forest stewardship. Through their collaboration over the years, including the Siglo venture, both value taking the long view and are highly motivated to do the work to invest in the future of tonewoods for musical instruments.

Building a Specialty Sawmill for Musical Instruments

As we noted in our 2015 piece, McMinn’s father was a forester in the Pacific Northwest, and Steve followed a similar path, working as a logger to put himself through college, and on trail crews for the U.S. Park Service during summers, which deepened his appreciation for environmental stewardship.

McMinn’s interest in supplying tonewoods for musical instruments was sparked after building a guitar from a kit he ordered and realizing the quality of the woods he received was inferior to what he could get himself. So he started salvaging storm-downed Sitka spruce from U.S. Forest Service land in Alaska and Washington. In the beginning he’d hike into the forest, split a choice spruce log into blocks, and backpack them out. He also learned which properties luthiers look for in a spruce soundboard, and gradually refined his milling operation accordingly to provide the best possible product.

McMinn first pitched Bob Taylor about buying spruce tops with some sample sets pulled out of the trunk of his car in the late 1980s, as Bob told Steve in a recent conversation at the PRT mill.

“You said, ‘If I make a top like this, would you buy them?’ and I’m like, ‘Oh yeah!’” Bob recalled. “You don’t know how close I was to not even being able to get [guitar-grade] spruce — it was getting harder and harder for me to have access to it.”

And that was when Taylor was only producing 4-6 guitars a day.

Bob’s comment speaks to the particular way spruce needs to be cut to optimize it for the performance demands of a guitar top.

Several decades later, PRT has devoted its operation to supplying premium quality tonewoods to instrument makers, and like Taylor and the rest of the guitar industry, has grown larger and more sophisticated. There are new buildings, machines and processes on their campus, all in the service of transforming hulking logs into refined guitar parts.

The PRT team is also pushing the envelope with pioneering research into the science of how spruce produces acoustic sound, identifying the roles that attributes like stiffness, density and damping play, and quantifying those properties in ways that have allowed them to start grading wood based on predictable sonic performance.

The value-added benefit of sonically graded tops, Steve says, is that they can steer the right wood to the right guitars based on its sonic properties rather than simply cosmetic appearance. Or, as Steve likes to say, “We move people past the tyranny of the eyes.”

If you’re into guitars, a visit to the PRT campus and seeing firsthand the combination of skill and care that goes into their processes promises to give you another level of appreciation for what it takes to produce wood sets for musical instruments. That’s why we wanted to go there and spotlight their work.

In mid-March, I traveled with Bob Taylor, Scott Paul (our Director of Natural Resource Sustainability) and Taylor Director of Marketing Craig Evans to Concrete for a two-day trip. There, we joined video producer Gabriel O’Brien and another cameraman, Chris Lallier, to document their operation.

Gabriel and Chris spent one day with Steve’s righthand man, general manager and partner Eric Warner, who walked them through the process of transforming a spruce log into guitar tops with the help of a couple of experts: log buyer and splitterman Justin El-Smeirat and sawyer Derrick Schmidt. The second day’s main agenda was to shoot a roundtable discussion with Bob, Scott, Steve and Eric covering a range of topics around the use of spruce for guitar tops.

Among the discussion points were where and how PRT selects spruce logs, why spruce is so suitable for stringed instrument tops, what characteristics they look for, how to cut tops, the importance of quartersawn pieces, and the specialized skills PRT brings to the process.

Eric Warner and Scott Paul also weighed in as the conversation shifted to the changing availability of Sitka spruce and why cutting four-piece tops will become necessary for guitar makers. Bob, Steve, Scott and Eric talked about the realities of working with younger, smaller trees (80-120 years old) rather than the larger old-growth specimens (250 years or more) that people have relied on for hundreds of years, and the importance of adaptability on both the wood cutting and guitar-making fronts.

The conversation, along with a closer look at the milling process, were then edited together and separated into four sections, which you can watch below.

Part 1: The Hunt for Good Top Wood

Bob Taylor and Steve McMinn talk about the growth of Pacific Rim Tonewoods into an industry-leading spruce supplier for musical instrument makers, the characteristics they look for in spruce logs for guitar tops, and the best way to cut spruce for soundboards. PRT log buyer/splitterman Justin El-Smeirat also explains the process of sourcing and transporting spruce logs, what characteristics they look for, and how they assess and cut a log for maximum value.

Part 2: The Beauty of Spruce

Steve McMinn explains in more detail why spruce is suitable for guitar tops. We meet Justin El-Smeirat at the splitting deck, where he demonstrates how to split a spruce round into blocks to maximize yield. Eric Warner explains how making four-piece tops enables PRT to extract more value from a log. And Eric heads inside the mill to show us how spruce blocks are quartersawn into boards on a headrig, dodging defects within the block. Defects will dictate whether they can cut a larger dreadnought-size two-piece guitar top or a four-piece top. In between top board cuts, they’ll cut brace wood.

Part 3: Finding the Best Spruce for Guitars

Steve McMinn and Eric Warner talk about their newest “secret sauce,” sonic grading technology, which allows them to measure and sort spruce based on attributes like density, stiffness and damping. This helps predict its sonic performance properties in a way that provides guitar makers with greater predictability and consistency. Steve and Bob Taylor also talk about the value of precisely quartersawn wood and explain their preference for wider-grain spruce. In the mill, Eric shows us how boards are edged for four-piece tops and explains how boards are steered toward either tops or braces as the sawyer works around defects in the wood.

Part 4: A Changing Forest

Bob Taylor, Steve McMinn, Scott Paul and Eric Warner discuss the diminishing commercial availability of large, old-growth spruce and how sourcing smaller-diameter trees is leading to the cutting of more sets of four-piece tops. Despite it being more work both for cutting tops and making guitars, there are also benefits to be had, such as the ability to use more wood from a log and create an even more consistent grain structure with guitar tops. Bob and Steve talk about their willingness to adapt to the available resources in a way that respects the forest and continues to serve musicians without compromise.

Guitar designer Andy Powers plays a light blue Powers Electric guitar in a luthier's workshop

Passion Project

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Andy Powers has a sweet new side hustle. It’s an electric guitar. And it’s not a Taylor.

It’s been a few years since Andy Powers put his name on a guitar peghead.

When he joined Taylor Guitars back in 2011, Andy officially shuttered his business as a thriving custom builder whose instrument-making repertoire included flattop acoustics, archtop guitars, mandolins, ukuleles and electric guitars. That diverse instrument range speaks to his omnivorous love of — and expertise for — crafting an array of music-making tools.

Since his arrival, Andy’s focus at Taylor has been on advancing Taylor’s acoustic guitar designs, which have produced a raft of tone-enhancing innovations like his V-Class bracing, along with many award-winning models. But what Taylor fans may not know is how deeply Andy’s life has been rooted in the world of electric guitars.

That’s about to change.

On Andy’s behalf, we wanted to share the fruits of his exciting new solo project: a line of electric guitars called Powers Electric.

First, a few disclaimers. This is not a Taylor guitar. It’s a pure electric, a guitar with a design and musical identity all its own, a guitar that currently can only be made by Andy and a few select craftspeople, and in very small numbers. Andy fondly calls it his workshop guitar because of how personal a design it is — his dream electric guitar.

Taylor co-founders Bob Taylor and Kurt Listug encouraged Andy to pursue the project. And they agreed that, in order for it to be the best possible expression of his vision, Andy needed the creative freedom to build it outside the established design language of the Taylor brand.

Of course, we’re excited to share what he came up with. Andy believes there’s room in the electric guitar category for something unique, and we believe he’s created something special.

Before we reveal more about the guitar, it might help to shed more light on how Andy’s background informed his design approach.

An Early Love of Electrics

As a kid, Andy’s first exposure to a guitar was an acoustic that sat at the ready in his family’s house. Between a dad who was a skilled carpenter and a mom who was an artist, there was plenty of encouragement (and surplus wood) to make things, which spurred the precocious kid to attempt to build his first acoustic guitar before he’d even turned 10. In hindsight, he muses that the crude result could at best be referred to as a “guitar-shaped object.” But he was hooked on the idea of making an instrument.

As a player, the first guitar Andy actually bought (with help from his parents) was a used Strat.

“Wow, did I ever have fun with that guitar,” he recalls. “Early on, I was obsessed with early ’60s instrumental surf rock like the Ventures and absorbed that before I moved on to the later rockers and the earlier rockabilly, blues and jazz players. I supposed I never really grew out of that.”

He remembers the powerful spell electric guitars cast on him as a teenager — and still do to this day — between their bold colors, cool contours and the endless range of amped-up sonic flavors and moods they could conjure with the flick of a switch or the click of a pedal.

“Their shapes, sounds and expressions felt like they had their own gravity, pulling attention toward themselves,” he reminisces.

A Golden State of Mind

The area where Andy grew up also nurtured his creative sensibility in a big way. That would be Southern California’s northern San Diego County. Living near the Pacific Ocean, Andy fell in love with surfing at a young age, and it remains a passion to this day.

Southern California’s vibrant ethos invited self-expression and envelope-pushing experimentation.

The Southern California lifestyle was richly flavored by the region’s culture and the offbeat characters that helped shape it. Surfing, skateboarding, hot rodding and classic cars, music, art, architecture, industrial design and other cross-pollinating creative influences formed a vibrant ethos that invited self-expression and envelope-pushing experimentation.

Bob Taylor can testify to this unique regional sensibility from his own experience as a San Diego acoustic guitar builder. In fact, when he began thinking about a guitar-making successor years ago (eventually Andy), one of his essential criteria was that the person also be from the San Diego area and be self-taught.

“In my lifetime of guitar building, I realized through experience that it was easier and more acceptable to show our guitars here in California than in the East, where there was already a rich history of guitar makers,” Bob says. “I also started to notice the creative differences in guitar builders from here rather than elsewhere. We were willing to break tradition.”

When it came to electric guitar design, Southern California was ground zero for many early innovations. Only about an hour north of where Andy lived, guitar-making pioneers Les Paul, Leo Fender and Paul Bigsby had hung out and talked shop at Les’s place on their way to making musical history with their groundbreaking designs.

And in the surfing world, during the transition from traditional longboards to shorter, more maneuverable boards in the late ’60s and early ’70s, Southern California became an epicenter of surfboard design innovation. As a surfer, Andy was drawn to the aesthetics of surfboard curves and the aesthetic of the act of surfing itself. Over time, he would find a natural connection between surfing and making music — how one might similarly use different boards or guitars for different scenarios, and how both riding a wave and playing guitar are deeply expressive acts. With the right piece of gear, people could express themselves in a fluid, melodic way.

Finding His Musical Path

By the time he was a teenager, Andy had found a groove fixing and making instruments. Before he even had his driver’s license, he was already known around town as a skilled instrument repair person, working with local music shops and private customers when he wasn’t surfing or playing music in bands with friends.

He refined his playing chops in college at the University of California, San Diego (fortuitously located near one of his favorite surf spots), where he studied music with an emphasis on guitar performance. He’d sometimes sit in on live jazz gigs with some of his music professors, while continuing to repair and build guitars — often with them as clients.

A Student of Guitar-Making History

As part of his immersion into instrument restoration and building, Andy soaked up the history and evolution of instrument design. Some of the important books he consumed in his self-education were the reference guides written by George Gruhn, founder of Gruhn Guitars in Nashville, who is widely regarded as one of the foremost experts on American vintage guitar design. Andy developed a relationship with Gruhn over the years, and especially in the years since Andy became the lead design architect at Taylor, Gruhn can testify to Andy’s range and depth of knowledge, and more specifically, his ability to contextualize the history of guitar design.

“If you study the progression of electric guitar design, you learn what was done and what wasn’t, and why things changed.”

Andy Powers

“Andy is one of the most knowledgeable people I have ever encountered in the musical instrument business,” Gruhn says. “He understands design. He also understands tradition — the pathology of instruments: what doesn’t work. When he designs a new guitar, he can look at the evolutionary systems that preceded it.”

Gruhn’s comments place a helpful frame of reference around Andy’s approach to designing a new electric guitar (in addition to acoustic guitars). As someone who has either played, worked on or studied many of the great electrics of the past 70-plus years, he has an almost savant-like knowledge of electric guitar design history.

“If you study the progression of it, you learn what was done and what wasn’t, and why things changed,” Andy says. “The cool part is you can study that a lot faster than you could participate in it in real time. I didn’t have to wait until the next model year for somebody to make their refinement.”

In conversation, Andy can easily slip down a rabbit hole of electric guitar design history, detailing, for example, the year-by-year iterations of a Les Paul Standard from 1952 to 1953 and onward, noting what changes were made and why. Chatting from a workbench in his design studio, he casually sifts through Fender’s early electric guitar development almost as though he had been there, from their seminal transition from lap steels to a Spanish-style guitar with a round neck, to Leo Fender’s modular approach to design in order to make his guitars easy to service, to the reasons for Leo’s preference for single coil pickups.

Andy delights in nerding out about this stuff, not to strut his knowledge, but because he genuinely loves absorbing and talking about the thinking and the creative problem-solving and trial-and-error approach that have gone into electric guitar design. Or classic cars. Or surfboards.

Defining What His Electric Should and Shouldn’t Be

Technically, you could say that Andy has been thinking about this new electric guitar for most of his life. His urge to design a new type of electric guitar ultimately came from a simple, practical truth: Though he has played, owned and repaired plenty of great electric guitars — and loved various attributes of many — the guitar he wanted, one that checked all his boxes, didn’t exist.

“I wanted a sound and a feel I didn’t have,” he says. “I wanted something that shared in the inspirations of past makers but was created for a more modern context. For me, it meant creating a fresh design from the ground up based on decades of work and study.”

He was keenly aware of the design features that defined other guitars and intentionally challenged himself to embrace a different approach.

“There are elements that already exist on other guitars for good reason — they suit those unique guitars.” he says. “This guitar was meant to be a fresh creation, so at one level, there was an exercise of deliberately excluding the things you know already work in search of a fresh direction.”

“I wanted something that shared in the inspirations of past makers but was created for a more modern context.”

Andy Powers

In some cases, he was able to draw from the pioneering ideas of early electric pickup design that were limited by the materials of the day and now, decades later, reapply them in a more modern context based on new materials or technologies.

Not a Taylor Design

One constraint that would prove to be liberating was how his guitar might — or might not — relate to the Taylor design identity, particularly the T5z. After all, Andy is Taylor’s chief guitar architect. And he already had been working on migrating Taylor’s T5z design toward a more electric aesthetic and personality. So initially, he began to conceive of this new guitar within a related stylistic framework. He made some early prototypes that boasted innovative pickup designs and other features, trying to make it somewhat compatible with the Taylor brand identity. But his efforts to preserve some family connection seemed to limit the guitar’s potential, as Kurt Listug explains in his column this issue.

“I told Andy I thought the guitar was well designed, well made and aesthetically pleasing but it was just plain wrong,” Kurt says. “I suggested he build the electric guitar he really wanted for himself.”

In his column, Kurt also recalls the lessons learned from Taylor’s solidbody electric line, launched in 2008 (preceding Andy’s arrival), which found a devoted segment of fans but never achieved widespread success. (After several years, it was discontinued.) In hindsight, Kurt says, the guitars didn’t fit the brand.  

“Acoustic guitar culture and electric guitar culture are very different,” he says. That kind of electric guitar needs its own brand, its own styling and its own trade dress.”

Andy’s ideas for his ideal electric guitar were the equivalent of being in a band and coming up with great new song ideas that simply weren’t right for the band — they were better suited for a separate solo project.

“Like a surfboard or roadster, every line was considered both for its looks and its handling.”

Andy Powers

It turned out that the arrival of the pandemic became a catalyst for bringing the project to life, giving Andy additional time to refocus on designing the guitar in his home studio. With a newfound sense of creative freedom, he was able to bring all of his ideas together holistically in form and function.

Flicking the Switch on Powers Electric

After decades of studying and experimenting, Andy is ready to unveil the electric guitar he’s always wanted to make, offering something new (including some patented designs) while retaining elements of familiarity that electric players will appreciate. Aside from the tuners, strings, frets and a few other sundries, virtually everything about it was designed, engineered and built from scratch in-house. It’s richly infused with Andy’s Southern California aesthetic sensibility, drawing inspiration from the innovative, DIY spirit of the surfing and hot-rodding communities.

“I wanted the body to look good from every viewing angle,” Andy says. “I wanted an asymmetrical shape without sacrificing visual balance. I wanted timeless styling with modern embellishments. Like a surfboard or roadster, every line was considered both for its looks and its handling.”

The fully enclosed, slim hollowbody design features unique internal trussing that maximizes resonance and sustain and suppresses feedback.

The vibrant palette of colors for the bodies is largely inspired by memorable paint colors used on classic cars. Other proprietary design features include the two different pickup options, a specially engineered trem/vibrato system with a “camshaft tailpiece” that allows players to maintain closer relative pitch between notes when using the vibrato and bend strings without pitch droop, a uniquely asymmetrical fretboard radius, and colorful control knobs (crafted in house) made from layers of surfboard resin — inspired by art pieces created by Andy’s friend, surfboard shaper Josh Martin. Even the case is a unique design, beautifully crafted with the same upholstery materials found in classic Porsche cars.

We’d prefer to give Andy his own space to fully showcase his new guitar brand, so we encourage you to make your way to Powerselectricguitars.com or Instagram (@powerselectricguitars), where you can see the guitar line’s stunning design aesthetic, learn about all the unique performance features, and watch Andy and others play and talk about the guitar.   

After months of beta testing with some of the music industry’s top players, including showcase events in Los Angeles, New York and Nashville, the Powers Electric Guitars brand officially launched in mid-June with an initial small-batch release of about 30 guitars. It’s not a guitar that will be available in significant numbers anytime soon — only Andy and a small team of craftspeople are able to build the guitars, which will be sold exclusively through a select network of eight Powers Electric dealers to start.

You’ll find the full list of dealers at Powerselectricguitars.com. You can also join the Powers Electric mailing list, which will give you an inside track to all the latest developments moving forward — including each new batch of guitars as they are released.

We really think you’ll like what you see and hear. We know Andy does.

Guitar Lessons: Harmonics

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Taylor Gamble returns with a trio of lessons showing you how to use harmonics to color your compositions.

By Taylor Gamble

Welcome to the latest edition of the Wood&Steel guitar lesson, featuring session player and music educator Taylor Gamble.

For this batch of lessons, Taylor demonstrates a deceptively simple technique that has broad applications across playing styles: harmonics. With their beautiful, bell-like sound, harmonics are useful as creative accents in your playing, but can also be repurposed in chords and fingerstyle arrangements.

Beginner: Intro to Harmonics

Taylor starts out the lesson with a demonstration of how to play basic open harmonics on the fifth, seventh and twelfth frets, including where to pluck the strings depending on which harmonic you’re using.

Intermediate: Open Harmonics and Chords

Next, Taylor shows off a way to incorporate harmonics into chords, adding a striking, unexpected texture to your playing style.

Advanced: Fretted Harmonics

Finally, Taylor dives into advanced fretted harmonics, a more challenging technique that yields a harp-like response at virtually any position on the fretboard.

Check back next time for another batch of Wood&Steel guitar lessons!

Where Songs Are Sacred

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At Nashville’s storied Bluebird Cafe, songwriting is always the star of the show.

Nashville is widely known as the country music capital of the world, so it might seem odd that Music City’s mecca for country songwriters is a tiny listening room tucked into a row of small-business storefronts in a nondescript suburban strip mall.

We’re talking about the legendary Bluebird Cafe, established in 1982 and still in its original location in Green Hills, 10 miles south of the neon sheen and tourist traffic of downtown Nashville’s bars and clubs on lower Broadway and the iconic Ryman Auditorium.

“People say that country artists have the Ryman, and songwriters have The Bluebird,” says Erika Wollam-Nichols, Chief Operating Officer and General Manager of the Bluebird. Erika started working at the Bluebird as a waitress while in college back in 1984, two years after founder Amy Kurland opened the place as a gourmet eatery that served lunch and dinner. Erika was there to experience the café’s transition from a restaurant that occasionally featured live music to a hallowed haven for country tunesmiths and listeners.

“Amy had a boyfriend who was a guitar player,” she recalls. “He asked her if she would put up a little stage, and he would bring his friends to play. So that’s how the music started. When I first started here, it was bands. It wasn’t a songwriter’s venue.”

But the small room proved to be no match for loud bands. One night the booking person put together a songwriter’s guitar pull instead, and the rest is history.

“When Amy came in that night, the room was completely engaged in the songs,” Erika says. “She also saw that the cash register printed out more sales than ever before. “She was like, maybe the songwriter thing is something to look into.”

In many ways, the Bluebird’s homey, largely unchanged interior décor — with its weathered wooden chairs, vinyl table cloths, worn carpeting, drop-panel ceiling and wall of signed headshots of past performers — give it a quaint, throwback charm that underscores a lack of interest in chasing trendy styles. With a seating capacity of just under 90, and with performers often playing “in-the-round”-style sets, close enough to set their drink on a patron’s table, the venue has held true to its mission of honoring songwriters and their craft by providing an intimate environment for them to workshop their original material and connect with listeners.

“I’ve seen Vince Gill hand his guitar to a table sitting next to him,” Erika says.

If you’re interested in soaking up the rich history of the Bluebird and its important contributions to Nashville’s songwriting community, check out the excellent 2019 documentary Bluebird: An Accidental Landmark That Changed Music History. The film traces the café’s evolution into a songwriter-centric showcase room that helped launch the careers of countless writers and artists like Kathy Mattea, Garth Brooks, Faith Hill, Keith Urban, Taylor Swift and others. An array of songwriting hitmakers, performing artists, Bluebird staffers and others pepper the documentary with stories that reveal how the music club became a vital part of the musical ecosystem in Nashville.

Watch the trailer for the Bluebird documentary

A Partnership with Taylor to Support Developing Songwriters

A few years ago, Taylor Guitars had the opportunity to begin a collaborative relationship with the Bluebird. Though the club is selective about its partnerships, Erika and Taylor’s Director of Artist Relations and Entertainment, Tim Godwin, recognized that both the Bluebird and Taylor share a passion for helping songwriters advance their craft.

“When we were looking at our partnership with Taylor,” Erika says, “we thought, what can we do together that will support both Taylor’s goals of bringing opportunity for performance to musicians and artists and songwriters, and our commitment to allowing people to develop their craft?”

As a former professional musician and a fan of great songcraft, Godwin says seeing performances at the Bluebird over the years has given him a deep appreciation for the nurturing environment the venue has cultivated.

“What I love about seeing shows there is how the lyrics really come alive,” he says. “When you listen to a record, you’re hearing all the production elements, but here, it’s the guitar and the lyric, and you feel like you really get inside the song. It’s a great experience for both the performers and the audience.”

“Songwriters are royalty here, and it’s our job to make sure that people realize that.”

Our partnership officially took flight in 2019 in the form of the Bluebird Golden Pick Contest, offering songwriters a path to earning a coveted performance slot at the Bluebird’s Monday Open Mic Night. Singer-songwriters from anywhere can post a video performance of their original song on Instagram for a chance to be selected to play two songs at the Bluebird. One winner is chosen by a Bluebird-assembled committee per month, and each winner also receives a Taylor American Dream guitar along with a free professional video recording of them performing their winning song at Taylor’s Nashville showroom at Soundcheck Studios. (You can find more details about the contest and view the full list of prizes here.)

This year marks the fourth year of the contest, so to kick off the new season, a few members of Taylor’s artist relations team, including Godwin, Artist and Community Relations Manager Lindsay Love-Bivens, and video producer Gabriel O’Brien, traveled to Nashville to talk with Erika and others about the Bluebird’s history. They also spoke with a couple of artists and veteran Bluebird performers who have hosted the club’s famed “In the Round” showcases — Marshall Altman, a songwriter, record producer and A&R executive in Nashville; and singer-songwriter Dave Barnes.

As luck would have it, an up-and-coming country music duo that Taylor has been working with, Kat & Alex, had just performed their first early round at the Bluebird, so Tim was also able to gather their impressions of the experience while they were fresh.

How the Bluebird Forged an Identity

One bit of context worth noting is that historically (and still to a large extent today), many performing artists don’t write all their songs. This has made songwriters an integral creative component of the industry in Nashville. But writers aren’t in the spotlight like the artists who’ve recorded their songs, so they typically aren’t known outside the industry. And years ago, there weren’t many venues for writers to showcase their material in a live setting.

Once the Bluebird began to cater to songwriters and became known as a listening room in the ’80s, it quickly became an important hub for discovering new songs and songwriting talent in Nashville.

Erika talks about the history of the Bluebird Cafe

“A&R people and artists would come here to listen for songs, and artists could start building their career,” Erika says. “Kathy Mattea played here on a regular series and got a record deal. Once the songwriters started to claim this place as their home, that’s when Amy started the auditions, the Open Mic and the focus on not just the current songwriters with hits on the charts, but also the craft of songwriting.”

Similar to up-and-coming stand-up comedians who hone their craft by performing new bits in front of a live crowd, songwriters now had a live platform to play versions of their songs for listeners.

“If you’ve been in this room at all, you know that a good song is easy to spot, and a not-so-good song is the same, because you see the audience face to face, and the audience responds to the music,” Erika says. “So it was, and still is, a bit of a lab for songwriters to try out new material.”

In some cases, the material might be very new — a song written that day, or even just a partially completed version of it.

In the Round

The Bluebird’s signature performance format is “in the round,” where, instead of performing from the stage, several songwriters sit circled together in the center of the room, surrounded by the audience, where they take turns playing their songs and sharing the stories behind them. In an already small club, the setup creates an even more intimate exchange between performers and listeners.

The format made its debut in 1985, when a group of seasoned songwriter friends and Bluebird regulars — Don Schlitz (“The Gambler”), Thom Schuyler (“Love Will Turn You Around”), Fred Knobloch (“A Lover Is Forever”) and Paul Overstreet (“When You Say Nothing At All”) noticed that when they performed on the stage, people were talking during the songs. One night, they came in and, determined to hold the crowd’s attention, Schlitz and Schuyler decided to set up in the middle of the room. The approach not only worked, it created a uniquely immersive experience both for the artists and listeners.

“It fits the room so well,” Erika says. “It feels like you are in somebody’s living room. Everybody’s included, and even if you’re sitting 20 feet away at the farthest table, you still are a part of what’s happening. I think it really gives the audience a chance to feel like they’re experiencing what the music industry is here in Nashville.”

Over the years, the Bluebird has developed a hierarchy of different performance formats to support and advance artists at different levels of their development. Anyone can sign up for their Monday Open Mic Night. They also hold auditions four times a year for a chance to play their Sunday Writers Night series (six writers on stage, each playing three songs, giving them an opportunity to build up their material). And after performing in four Sunday night shows and making a favorable impression, they become eligible to apply for a Sunday Spotlight (band show) or an early in-the-round performance with two or three other writers.

You might have a lackluster show from wonderful writers if they don’t know each other.

Erika Wollam-Nichols

Erika says that arranging a compelling in-the-round lineup is an art form unto itself.

“Those shows are not put together casually; they really have a synergy and an intention behind them,” she explains.

The lead writer gets to pick the other artists that will play the show with them. This ensures that the writers already have a strong chemistry with each other, which makes a big difference.

“You might have a lackluster show from wonderful writers if they don’t know each other,” Erika says. “They would just sit and listen to each other. But when you have four writers together who have written together, who take their kids to school together, who have had the same publisher, walked the same walk, then you get something that you just can’t get anywhere else. Their stories are amplified by the connection they have together. And that’s what the audience feels when they’re in the room.”

Marshall Altman Sits In

From a songwriter’s perspective, playing the Bluebird can be both inspiring and daunting, especially the first time, says Marshall Altman, a songwriter (Frankie Ballard, Eric Paslay, Cheryl Cole), producer (Marc Broussard, Walker Hayes, Matt Nathanson), and A&R executive (Katy Perry, One Republic, Citizen Cope).

Despite a background as a gigging musician, Altman says the first time he played in the round at the Bluebird was nerve-racking — partly because he wasn’t actually scheduled to perform.

“My friend [songwriter] Rob Hatch was getting married that weekend, and there was a round for him,” Altman remembers. “I think it was Rob, Dallas Davidson, D. Vincent Williams and Lance Carpenter — four really huge songwriters. Rob had his bachelor party the night before and was still feeling a little unwell. I was sitting right at [a nearby] table with my wife, Lela, they’re playing this round, and it’s just like hit, hit, hit, hit.

“Dallas Davidson plays “Rain Is a Good Thing,” a huge Luke Bryan hit, one of my favorite country songs, [D. Vincent] plays “I’m Moving On,” (Rascal Flatts), which is one of my favorite country songs of all time, and then Rob looks at me and [whispers] ‘I’m gonna throw up. You need to come play.’ I had never played here before — I’d really written one country song at the time because I’m primarily a pop and rock writer and producer — and he gets up and goes to the bathroom and says, ‘Marshall’s gonna take my spot,’ and I play this song I wrote with a great writer named Andrew Dorf. I’ve not been that nervous to do anything in a very, very, very long time. I said no to playing here for years after that.”

Altman has since gone on to lead many in-the-round shows, but says every time he plays, it’s still special.

“Standing on the shoulders of all the writers who’ve been here before me is an incredibly powerful thing,” he says. “Every time I play here, I feel the energy of all the huge writers and the unknown writers who played this room.”

What also makes the Bluebird a special environment, he says, is that many of the songs he and his fellow songwriters create and play here have never been recorded and heard by the public.

“[For] every song that almost got cut and didn’t, it makes the sharp pain of those moments go away,” Altman says. “The openness and respect and love that the audience, the people surrounding you, feel for the craft is beautiful. I’m eternally grateful for this room, for the people that run it, for Erika. It’s an oasis where we get to share what we’ve spent our lives creating as writers.”

Dave Barnes

Singer-songwriter Dave Barnes, who moved to Nashville in 2001 and also has assembled and played a lot of in-the-round sets at the Bluebird over the years, says he still considers the venue hallowed ground whenever he arrives.

“Walking through the back, I feel so cool,” he says. “Ten minutes [ago] when I got here, I’m not kidding, I got a little bit of chills because it’s such a special place. It’s sort of ground zero for so much magic that happens in Nashville for songwriters and really anybody.

“I think this place is part of the special sauce of Nashville; you don’t get this in any other city across the world. I’m very proud to be a part of [it], even just playing shows or telling people about it because it’s a very necessary part of the ecosystem for Nashville.”

We’re like a little whisper here. It doesn’t have to be a loud shout.

Erika Wollam-Nichols

Faces in the Crowd

What also makes the club a special place is that you never know who might be sitting in the crowd and get invited up to play a song on a given night. It might be a writer who wrote a hit song, and whose original acoustic rendition magnifies the lyrical content in an entirely different, uniquely personal way than the recorded version everyone knows — revealing the essence of the song in a more emotionally resonant way.

Or there might be a surprise appearance from an established artist like Ed Sheeran or Taylor Swift, or someone nestled in the corner watching a show — like the night Dave Barnes was on stage and saw fingerstyle guitar legend Tommy Emmanuel in the crowd and invited him up.

“I said, ‘I don’t know if anybody knows, but that’s Tommy Emmanuel, who’s probably one of the greatest living guitar players alive,’” Barnes recalls. And he sits in and plays, and of course I was like, can we just call the round after that because anybody else who’s playing G, C, D, it’s kind of boring all of a sudden,” Barnes laughs.

A Golden Opportunity

The Bluebird’s Brand and Merchandise Manager, Liana Alpino, has a hand in many operational aspects of the venue, from marketing to social media to overseeing the website and working as the Bluebird’s partnership liaison. She has played an important role in coordinating the logistics behind the Golden Pick Contest the Bluebird and Taylor have run over the last several years. She says that what makes the contest appealing is that it gives developing songwriters from all over a chance to earn a prized performance slot and meet other artists.

Erika and the Bluebird’s Liana Alpino talk about the Bluebird’s partnership with Taylor and the Golden Pick Contest

“We’ve had winners from all over the country and even one U.K. winner, and it’s been awesome to see the talent that lives outside of Nashville,” she says. “I’m fortunate because I get to meet all of these winners when they come for their performance, and they’ve all said how much this contest means to them. A lot of them have said, ‘This gives me a reason to write every day.’ A lot of these people submitting to the contest are not professional songwriters, they’re not full-time artists. They have everyday lives…. That can [make it] hard to be creative, but they’ve found that the contest is a good [reason] for them to continue to write every month.”

Kat and Alex

Wife-and-husband duo Kat and Alex bring unique Latin flavors and rich vocal harmonies to their country sound — sometimes weaving English and Spanish lyrics into their songs. Kat is a first-generation American from a Cuban family, while Alex is of Puerto Rican descent; the two met in their home town of Miami. Their shared love of both country and Latin music formed the foundation of their musical identity, and since moving to Nashville to advance their career, they’ve focused on writing and recording their original songs, infused with their blended influences.

Taylor had already arranged to shoot a video performance with them at our Nashville showroom for our Soundcheck series the same week as our team’s Bluebird visit, so it was a happy coincidence that Tim Godwin was able to catch up with them the day after their Bluebird debut, having also watched them perform. They were still feeling the afterglow of the milestone experience as they reflected on it.

“I’ve never cried so much playing a round ever,” Kat says.

“People are so close all around you,” Alex adds. “It’s such an intimate moment, where you really get to let people into your career, your life, and I think that’s very special to share. It’s a sacred place, and I dare compare it to the Grand Ole Opry.”

The two debuted several new songs for the first time during their set.

Kat and Alex perform their song “I Want It All”

I sang a song that I wrote for Kat and dedicated to her,” Alex says. “She also sang a song we wrote that we dedicated to her parents. We also sang another song we haven’t put out yet called ‘Cowboys Need Sunsets.’ It was a very special night to share a lot of vulnerable stuff that we’ve written and not released yet, not even on social media.”

“I saw people crying with me,” Kat says. “Someone passed me a napkin. It’s like, OK, they feel it too, they get it. I feel like we did our job when that happens.”

Investing in Tomorrow’s Songwriters

While the Bluebird has become a revered establishment within Nashville’s music community, founder Amy Kurland’s long-term vision included finding a way to preserve its future once she stepped aside. So, when she retired in 2008, Kurland sold the Bluebird to the nonprofit Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), the world’s largest not-for-profit songwriters trade association. To her, NSAI’s mission “to educate, elevate and celebrate the songwriter and to act as a unifying force within the music community and the community at large” made the organization an ideal custodian for the venue’s operation.

Kurland also had the perfect person in mind to take over the operation: Erika, who had actually left the Bluebird and been working at NSAI as the Director of Development for the previous three years, and who agreed to return to the Bluebird as General Manager and COO.

The Bluebird Becomes a TV Celebrity

In 2011, Erika got a call about a TV development project for a drama series set in Nashville and based on storylines around several fictional country music stars. The creative team wanted to make the Nashville setting as authentic as possible, so they asked to shoot some scenes for a pilot episode at the Bluebird. Erika agreed, and the show, Nashville, was picked up by ABC. It would run for six seasons, from 2012 through 2018, on ABC and, later, CMT.

The Bluebird would become a featured setting throughout the series, but in order to do that, the production company (Lion’s Gate) built an exact replica of the club (exterior and interior) on the studio soundstage. It was designed with painstaking attention to detail to make it as accurate as possible. (The set designers went so far as to borrow all the photos of performers that hang on the wall in the actual Bluebird, scan them, and hang them on the walls of the set in exactly the same way.)

While the show turned the Bluebird into a globally recognized brand and a must-visit destination for many fans of the show, it also brought an overwhelming surge in tourist traffic that the small club struggled to manage.

“I think the most interesting part was that people responded to the celebrity of the Bluebird Cafe,” Erika says. “They didn’t know we did music…that we had two shows a night. They didn’t care. They just wanted their physical body in this place or maybe a picture. If you watch the documentary, you’ll get an eyeful of it because it’s astounding.”

The positive side of the attention, Erika says, was that it offered the Bluebird a bigger platform to showcase why songwriters are so important in Nashville.

“Songwriters are royalty here, and it’s our job to make sure that people realize that,” she says. “So it became our opportunity to say, we’re a music club, we do original music, we do songwriters, so that part worked out. But we still only have 86 seats.”

The success of the TV show also spawned more outside interest in making a documentary film about the Bluebird — a project that Erika had already been pursuing to chronicle its extensive history. She had met filmmakers Brian Loschivao and Jeff Molyneaux, who had worked on the TV show, and they jumped at the opportunity to bring the project to life.

Erika was thrilled with the end result, Bluebird.

“It couldn’t have been better,” she says. “You would laugh to watch the filming of the [performances] — the camera crew was under the tables, behind the poles, coming up between people’s feet, just to be able to capture what it feels like, the kind of closeness that’s in this room and the intimacy that creates between a person, a songwriter and a song.”

After celebrating the Bluebird’s 40th anniversary in 2022, Erika remains passionate about continuing to preserve the essence, and the heritage, of the venue in its current location — even as Nashville and its surrounding suburbs continue to experience major commercial and residential growth.

“We’ve got a 22-story building being put up next to us that’s going to make this super commercial around here,” she says. “You might look at this interior and go, this is old carpet, table cloths, all of that, but this room has an energy and I believe an inspiration to encourage people to make the best music they can. And we also are very aligned on the artists we work with and how we move forward in representing each other. That’s really, really important to me because we’re like a little whisper here. It doesn’t have to be a loud shout. It really needs to be very focused on who were are and what we do, and I think Taylor has that same commitment.”