Guitar Lessons: Using the CAGED System

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Pro guitarist and music educator Taylor Gamble explains the CAGED chord system and demonstrates simple techniques to expand your chording command across the fretboard.

By Taylor Gamble

Welcome back to the Wood&Steel Guitar Lesson! This time around, we’re excited to feature pro player and guitar teacher Taylor Gamble, who has toured and recorded with artists such as Ari Lennox, Stevie Wonder, Tye Tribbett, JJ Hairston, Anthony Brown, Bela Dona and more. An experienced studio musician, Taylor specializes in gospel, classical acoustic, R&B, and rock styles. Follow her on Instagram @taylrtheg and get more in-depth lessons from Taylor through her online guitar course on Skillshare.

Beginner: Intro to the CAGED Chord System

To start things off, Taylor introduces the CAGED system of open guitar chords, which forms a simple foundation on which you can build chord progressions and melodies.

Intermediate: Getting More Out of Your Chords

Next, Taylor demonstrates how the CAGED system can lead you to new sonic territory by making simple changes to chord shapes, including how to change upbeat-sounding major chords to more somber-sounding minor chords.

Advanced: Moving Through the CAGED System

Finally, Taylor shows how you take the chord shapes and voicings you learned in the previous lessons and move them up the guitar neck, allowing you to mold chords and progressions into different keys and frequency ranges.

We hope you enjoyed this edition of the Wood&Steel Guitar Lesson! Be sure to read our next issue for more videos to help you grow your skills.

Native Roots

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Guitarist Stevie Salas, RUMBLE and the Native American musicians who helped build rock ‘n’ roll.

Picture this simple scene: On the left, a record player spins an LP. On the right, a woman named Pura Fé listens, her earrings and clothing subtly but clearly signaling her Native American heritage—Tuscarora and Taino. The music is rough, lo-fi, a classic blues recording by a singer and guitarist named Charley Patton, and when it plays, Fé laughs, her face lit up with recognition. She taps out the rhythm, and begins to sing along. A century and more of musical influence sparks to life, the connection indelible.

“It takes me right back to where I come from,” she says. “I can hear all those traditional [Native American] songs. That’s Indian music, with a guitar.”

This interview sequence of no more than two minutes reconstructs generations of sound passed across cultures and down through lineage—indigenous American folk music, African-American roots blues and a classic rock ‘n’ roll rhythm—all unmistakably linked in a way that’s so obvious that even an uninitiated listener can’t help but appreciate it.

That’s the power of the 2017 music documentary RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World, executive-produced by one Stevie Salas. Titled after the classic instrumental by Link Wray (Shawnee) and its thundering three-chord motif, RUMBLE is a rare film with a kind of restorative power, illuminating cultural threads once actively dismantled by the powers that be and bringing them into plain view for modern listeners. Awarded a handful of honors from independent film festivals upon its release, it’s an absolute must-watch for any fan of classic rock, blues or roots music of any kind.

Stevie Salas: Hands of Excellence

Watching RUMBLE, it’s clear from the outset that the film is a labor of love, imbued with an authenticity that elevates it from standard public-television fare into heartfelt, inspired craft. With executive producer Stevie Salas at the helm, it’s no surprise the movie delivers on its promise of rocking your world.

Born in 1964 in Oceanside, California—serendipitously close to Taylor’s San Diego home—Salas is the kind of musician who, in a more just world, would be a household name. In rock circles, though, his credentials are bona fide. Though he picked up his first guitar around age fifteen, Salas wasted no time kicking off his rock ‘n’ roll dreams, joining up as a session and touring guitarist with funk legends George Clinton and Bootsy Collins starting in 1986. Growing up on the sounds of classic staples like Led Zeppelin, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown and others, Salas credits the influence of his stepfather, also a rock musician, with pulling him into the world of music. Soon, Salas’s name was circulating among some of the era’s biggest acts, and he began touring with Rod Stewart in 1988.

Despite his stacked resume—which includes work with artists ranging from Mick Jagger, Ronnie Wood, Bernard Fowler and Steven Tyler to rapper TI and pop mainstays Justin Timberlake and Adam Lambert—Salas’s most recognizable sonic outing to many is an appearance in the cult-classic film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Starring a young Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter, the movie is a stoner magnum opus of the highest order, following two underachieving teens who, despite their dreams of hard-rock stardom, find themselves beset by mundane obstacles like high school and a total inability to play their instruments. Granted time-traveling powers by Rufus, a mysterious future-human played by George Carlin, the boys hop between eras in search of figures that might help them make the most epic history report of all time—which might just be enough to salvage their grades and keep their dreams of musical heroism alive.

Hijinks aside, Bill and Ted conclude their journey with an impromptu rock show fronted by Carlin’s Rufus, who plays a slick, if musically ludicrous, guitar solo to cap off the film. Seeking a bit of hard-rock authenticity, the producers hired Salas to perform the solo, and it’s his hands you’ll see on screen. To achieve the messy-yet-shreddy sound for the solo, Salas turned his guitar upside-down and played it left-handed while recording the audio.

An auspicious moment for a well-respected musician, Bill & Ted preceded a long career that brought Salas around the world to play with a laundry list of rock and funk greats. He kicked off his solo career with a project called Colorcode, which debuted with a self-titled album in 1990 produced by Bill Laswell. Salas followed by touring as an opener with Joe Satriani, and the album sold well globally. Salas went on to release six more studio albums as Colorcode, along with a pair of live albums.

I was never the guy that made my heritage a part of how I sold myself. The Native thing was who I was as a person in the background.

Stevie Salas

Salas has also recorded under his own name, and indigenous influence appears in much of his solo work. Apache by lineage, Salas acknowledges that for much of his career, his Native American heritage appeared in his work mostly filtered through non-indigenous players like Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck, who themselves drew on Native sounds through the lens of American blues, a sound typically associated with the African American communities of the pre-Civil War and Reconstruction-era South.

“I was never the guy that made my heritage a part of how I sold myself,” Salas explains. “I wanted to be known as one of the greatest, and to work with the greatest, purely from what I was doing musically. The Native thing was who I was as a person in the background.”

Distant Thunder: How RUMBLE Came to Be

Salas recalls growing closer to his indigenous heritage when he began collaborating with Brian Wright-McLeod, a Dakota-Anishinaabe music journalist and radio host based in Toronto. Wright-McLeod exposed Salas to Jesse Ed Davis, a guitarist known for playing with Taj Mahal, Eric Clapton and John Lennon, among others. It was around that time that Salas decided to pursue cultural projects linking Native American musicians to the mainstream of popular music. Soon, Salas begun work with Tim Johnson (Mohawk), an associate director at Washington, D.C.’s Smithsonian Institution, where he developed an exhibit on the theme titled “Up Where We Belong: Natives in Popular Culture” before beginning work on RUMBLE.

“I needed to do something, in the position I’m in as a Native American person,” Salas says, “to give back to the Native American people, to leave something other than me being a monkey jumping around on stage with a guitar. I needed to do something more important.”

RUMBLE premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2017, five years after Salas pitched the idea. It garnered immediate critical acclaim, netting the festival’s World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Masterful Storytelling. It also picked up awards at other indie fests, including Best Music Documentary at the Boulder International Film Festival and three Canadian Screen Awards in 2018.

An Interconnected Ecosystem of Music and History

In form, RUMBLE plays like most music documentaries, and its talking-head interviews interspersed with vintage and modern performance clips along with historical imagery dating back to the early 20th century will feel familiar to most audiences. Where the film truly breaks ground is in its remarkable commitment to unearthing connections between musical signposts that most people, regardless of their knowledge of music history going in, would likely have thought to be independent. RUMBLE carefully tracks features of musical styles from their conventionally understood originators back to hidden influences in American indigenous communities, like a biologist might discover invisible links between species in the long chain of evolution. The filmmakers manage to wring surprise and delight from stories many viewers may have thought they already knew.

The most potent illustration of those connections dives more than a hundred years back into the history of indigenous peoples, African American communities and the United States as a nation. Take Robert Johnson, the influential guitarist whose playing is commonly thought to have formed the foundation of the blues, and by extension, rock ‘n’ roll of all varieties. But the real story is more complicated, and though Johnson’s influence is real, RUMBLE points viewers toward a different originator of the blues sound.

Quoting a conversation with friend, neighbor and fellow guitar player Charlie Sexton, Stevie Salas sums up the true history behind the well-known myth.

“Everybody talks about Robert Johnson because he had the sexy story,” referring to the crossroads legend of Johnson selling his soul to the devil in exchange for his musical talents. “But anybody who knows, knows that it was really Charley Patton.”

Likely born in 1891, Patton grew up in central and northwest Mississippi, close to territory inhabited by Choctaw indigenous Americans. He is thought to have Choctaw ancestry in addition to his African American heritage, a combination that was both quite common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and entangled with the racial politics of the time. As RUMBLE takes care to point out, Black and indigenous communities were often intertwined as a result of escaped enslaved people seeking refuge among tribal populations, among other causes. Native villages and communities often welcomed fugitive slaves and became integral parts of the famous Underground Railroad.

Charley Patton was immersed in these integrated Black and American indigenous communities, soaking up the musical styles of both peoples.

After the Civil War and the end of slavery in the United States, relationships between Black and Native peoples grew more complex. In particular, the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, and Creek tribes possessed significant percentages of people with Black heritage. To Reconstruction-era governments in the American South, this intermixing was often viewed as a threat, and racial discrimination continued. Often, African Americans descended from freed slaves and Native peoples had the full complexity of their lineages suppressed by the government of the time; mixed-race individuals were categorized as Black, and not Native, in order to deny their rights to land ownership. Likewise, lawmakers at the time sought to use this racial intermixing as a tool for eliminating tax exemptions for Native American communities.

Politics aside, Patton was immersed in these integrated communities, soaking up the musical styles of both peoples. Famously flamboyant in his showmanship, Patton was known for tricks like playing his guitar behind his head, a bit of flair that Jimi Hendrix would later adopt. Patton’s influence on rock music cannot be overstated—blues legend Howlin’ Wolf identified him as a primary influence, and Howlin’ Wolf himself was a font of inspiration for European musicians, the most well-known of which were none other than the Rolling Stones.

Stevie Salas describes this chain of influence as being hidden in plain sight.

“Once you started to look, all the information was there,” he says. “But none of us ever saw it.”

RUMBLE’s history lessons are wide-ranging in scope, covering the spread of musical concepts across an entire continent.

“We used the music to tell the story of how North America was developed,” Salas says.

Personal Bonds Across the Landscape of Rock

The film’s directors (Catherine Bainbridge, Alfonso Maiorana) and subject matter experts draw out the plot points in that story with great care. Illustrating Native American heritage and inspiration from Link Wray to Jimi Hendrix to Johnny Cash (who fought a protracted battle with his record label to release a collection of songs inspired by Native American culture), RUMBLE transforms sounds likely already well-known by fans of classic and blues rock into crossroads where ideas collided and grew into bedrock musical concepts. The film also explores the careers and influence of lesser-known musicians such as Jesse Ed Davis, whose bluesy solo on Jackson Browne’s “Doctor, My Eyes” turned him into a sought-after touring player; Redbone, whose 1974 hit “Come and Get Your Love” found a new audience four decades later after being featured in the 2014 Marvel film Guardians of the Galaxy; all the way up to Randy Castillo, hard-hitting drummer for Ozzy Osbourne and Mötley Crüe.

Castillo’s story has all the hallmarks of classic rock ‘n’ roll folklore: an unmistakable musical aesthetic that set him apart from other drummers of the time, a larger-than-life persona, a tragic ending. As RUMBLE draws to its conclusion, Stevie Salas himself steps in to tell Randy’s story alongside Native American poet and activist John Trudell (Santee-Dakota). Salas credits Castillo with bringing him closer to his own indigenous heritage in the 1980s, at a time when Salas was himself neck-deep in the rock-star life.

“I’m on a private jet,” Salas recalls. “I’m making tons of money, I’ve got all these women, but pretty soon, I don’t know who I am anymore. Randy Castillo befriended me knowing I was a Native American. He met me right when I was finishing the Rod Stewart tour. I was going deeper and deeper into alcohol and partying…and he could tell I was losing my mind. He said to me, ‘I’m gonna take you to New Mexico.’”

Salas says that for much of his career, he didn’t think of his Native ancestry as being a defining characteristic of who he was as a musician, or how he identified himself to the rest of the music world. But connecting with Castillo helped him connect with his roots.

“[Randy] goes, ‘I need to take you to Indian country,’” Salas says. “I’d never really heard that phrase, Indian country.”

A common thread throughout RUMBLE is the idea that there’s something musical shared between people of Native ancestry, a different way of approaching sound that let them carve out roles in the mainstream culture—and spread their influence down through the family tree of rock music.

“My Native American sense of rhythm, it’s in my DNA,” Salas says. “It’s a sense of how we hear the downbeat.”

The sentiment is echoed by the experts the RUMBLE producers chose to speak in the film, ranging from music industry insiders like Quincy Jones and Steven Van Zandt to well-known musicians like George Clinton and Taj Mahal to cultural scribes like Martin Scorsese and John Trudell.

Referring to Castillo’s time with Ozzy Osbourne, bassist Robert Trujillo recalls in the film how Ozzy sought out musicians who brought the distinctively “indigenous” approach to how they made music.

“Ozzy always said he loved working with indigenous people, Hispanic people. He had a connection with them,” Trujillo says. “He felt that they had better rhythm. He always mentioned Randy as being a direct connection to that indigenous energy and that rhythm that he loved.”

More than anything, Salas wanted to make a film that illustrated those connections between Native musicians and the now-universal understanding of rock as a genre. He says he was deliberate about not making RUMBLE a “race film,” instead wanting to make a film about heroes—the individuals who carried those sounds in their DNA and lovingly delivered them through generations of music.

In a recent Taylor Primetime interview with Salas hosted by the Taylor content team, he laid out his vision for the movie.

RUMBLE was about people who changed the world,” he says. “What it was really about was how the people who taught all of us about rock ‘n’ roll learned from these [Native American] guys. If I told you Jesse Ed Davis was one of the greatest guitar players of the seventies, you might say, eh, he was alright. But if Eric Clapton says it, you say, maybe I better think about this.”

Even with its somber recollections of historical wrongs and reckoning with the challenges faced by Salas’s ancestors, RUMBLE is unquestionably a rock documentary of the best kind. Drawing together disparate threads of history and culture into a tight, compelling timeline, RUMBLE makes explicit the lines of influence previously known only to music historians and the handful of players who actually worked with these Native American heroes of rock. Much more than a niche documentary, RUMBLE is essential viewing for any musician or listener who wants to understand how rock became what it is today.

Taboo (Shoshone) of the pop band the Black Eyed Peas sums up the message near the end of RUMBLE.

“When you’re surrounded by beautiful people that come from the Nations and they’re proud of their heritage, it just inspires everybody.”

Keepers of the Trees

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

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

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

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

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

How Cities Manage Their Tree Populations

West Coast Arborists — By the Numbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right Tree, Right Place

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guitar Tasting with the Pros

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

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

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

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

Here are some highlights of their reactions.

Matt Beckley

Guitarist, songwriter, producer, engineer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dory Lobel

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

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

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

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

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

Jaco Caraco

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

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

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

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

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

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

Horace Bray

Session/touring guitarist, singer, producer

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

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

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

Taylor Gamble

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

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

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

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

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

Janet Robin

Singer-songwriter, guitarist, member of The String Revolution

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

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

Powers Trio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Smooth Transition

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

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

Bob Taylor

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

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

Learning From Kurt

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

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

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

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

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

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

Staying the Same: Embracing Change

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

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

Andy Powers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guitar Lessons

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

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

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

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

Matt Beckley

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

The Minor 11th Chord

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

Triad Movements

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

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

Custom Guitar Showcase, Round 2

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

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

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

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

Custom 12-Fret Grand Concert (#7)

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

Custom Grand Auditorium (#36)

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

Custom Grand Symphony (#16)

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

Custom Grand Symphony (#18)

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

Custom Grand Symphony (#28)

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

Custom T5z (#19)

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

Custom Grand Auditorium (#27)

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

Custom Grand Symphony (#28)

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

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

On the Bench: Guitar Care Basics with Rob Magargal

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

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

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

Matt Beckley

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

The Minor 11th Chord

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

Triad Movements

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

Changing Strings: 12-String Acoustic Guitar

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

Changing Strings: Guitars with Slotted Headstocks

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

Guitar Care: Humidity Management

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


Seeding Koa’s Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Koa and Guitars

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

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

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

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

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

Stewardship Contracting

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

Demonstration Cases

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

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

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

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

Planting Trees and Building a Mill

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

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

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

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

Seed Selection and Improving Koa Genetics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Support System

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

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

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

Matt Beckley

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

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

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

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

Meet the Taylor Artist Relations Team

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

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

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

Building the Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

Putting Down Roots

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

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

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

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

Growing New Branches

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think Bigger, Listen More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Big Picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Custom Guitar Showcase: Exclusive Designs for NAMM

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

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

Custom 12-Fret Grand Concert (#7)

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

Custom Grand Orchestra (#14)

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

Custom Grand Auditorium (#13)

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

Custom 12-fret Grand Concert (#9)

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

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

Posture, Seventh Chord Inversions and Voice Leading

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

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

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

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

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

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