Taylor Stories: Linda Perry
Last year in Wood&Steel (Soundings, Vol. 94), we wrote about trailblazing singer-songwriter, multi-platinum producer, and activist Linda Perry, whose hit-studded musical resume includes success in the band 4 Non Blondes, followed by songwriting and production collaborations with some of pop music’s brightest lights, including Christina Aguilera, P!nk, Alicia Keys, Britney Spears, Gwen Stefani and Adele. Perry’s musical Midas touch has produced a remarkable run of pop gems over the years; you can hear some essential cuts on the Spotify playlist we compiled.
As we shared in Soundings last year, Perry had discovered our Grand Pacific guitars while working with songwriter/producer/guitarist David Saw (517e) on a recording project with Dolly Parton. After putting our mahogany Builder’s Edition 517 and rosewood Builder’s Edition 717 models through an extensive test-drive comparison, Perry favored the 717e (with a sunburst top), and it became her go-to acoustic, which she played live during several performances with Parton.
In conversation with Taylor Director of Artist Relations Tim Godwin one day, Perry asked if Taylor would make her a custom version of her 717e with a different pickup system, modeled after the acoustic/electric guitar (a Martin D-18e) famously played by Kurt Cobain during Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged concert. (The guitar had been outfitted with electric pickups and featured front-mounted tone knobs, like on a solidbody electric guitar.) Tim relayed the request to Andy Powers, who agreed to make her one. Custom features include a neck pickup designed by Andy and mounted across the soundhole, along with our behind-the-saddle ES2 pickup. David Judd from our product development team assembled and wound the pickups and configured the electronics to enable the two different pickups to work in the same circuit. He also installed the soundboard-mounted volume and tone control knobs. As a finishing detail, Perry’s initials were inlaid into the pickguard.
At the 2019 Winter NAMM Show this past January, Godwin and Jay Parkin from our marketing team caught up with Perry, who was gracious enough to sit down and share her Taylor story, show off her new custom Grand Pacific, and perform an acoustic rendition of her hit “Beautiful,” originally recorded by Christina Aguilera.
Beyond her creative drive as a musician and producer, Perry is equally passionate about mentoring and providing resources for artists, which she’s done with the record label/publishing house/production company she co-founded, We Are Hear. Perry also devotes her energy to an array of charitable causes, including MusiCares and CORE (Community Organized Relief Effort), founded by Sean Penn. She’s been actively involved with both organizations in recent months to support COVID-19 relief among members of the music community and in neighborhoods throughout the Los Angeles area.
Just Call Him Finneas
If you’ve been paying even the slightest bit of attention to pop music over the last few years, you’ve heard of Billie Eilish, who, as of late, has cornered the market on music awards on the strength of her latest album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? What you might not know is that Eilish’s co-writer and producer was her brother, Finneas O’Connell, who goes by the professional moniker FINNEAS.
A lifelong creative born to musical parents, Finneas has been acting and writing songs since his teenage years. His band played the Warped Tour in 2015, and his first solo single, “New Girl,” saw public release in 2016. He and Billie had been recording music at home for years before her songs were released and set the music world ablaze, and since then, Finneas has earned his share of accolades for his songwriting and producing chops. He also regularly performs alongside his sister, handling guitar and keyboard duties.
Taylor first connected with Finneas last year through Aron Forbes, a guitarist, producer and songwriter who has collaborated with Billie and Finneas along with pop acts Halsey, BANKS, Donna Missal, One Direction and others. Late last year, Eilish was announced as a special honoree at the inaugural Apple Music Awards event, and she and Finneas were invited to perform an intimate acoustic set at the company’s Steve Jobs Theater in early December as part of the festivities.
In advance of the event, Taylor Director of Artist Relations Tim Godwin and longtime Taylor guitar guru Terry Myers sent Finneas several Grand Pacific guitars to test-drive, including versions with an array of different pickup options to assess his preferred amplified acoustic sound. Finneas fell in love with the mahogany Builder’s Edition 517 (sunburst top) and opted for a Baggs system.
Myers worked with Finneas and his guitar tech, Trevor Jackson, to set up the guitars to suit his playing preferences, which included stringing them with lighter gauge strings (11s) — a setup Myers says he’s seeing more among players. The guitar enjoyed a lot of stage time during the performance, which you can find online.
Soon afterward, Finneas asked if we could make him a custom, all-white Grand Pacific to play on stage in support of his first solo release, Blood Harmony, which showcases his songwriting range, along with his smooth, nimble vocal style. The guitar, essentially a custom 517e, features an arctic white body, neck and peghead overlay, Silent Satin finish, sapele binding, and custom electronics. It looks great under the lights on stage, especially with the muted sheen of the finish over the brilliant white.
We also made a custom guitar for Billie. The base model was an all-mahogany 322e 12-Fret. Custom touches include an all-black (satin) finish, black binding, a Baggs pickup, and custom artwork screen-printed on the top. She also has a Taylor nylon-string Academy 12-N.
Though the coronavirus pandemic forced the postponement of Billie’s tour, she and Finneas have made the most of their down time, working on new material together and streaming performances of their music from the comfortable confines of home. You can find more videos on Finneas’s Instagram account, and listen to his music on streaming platforms everywhere.
Guitar Review Roundup
“One of the beautiful things about the V-Class idea is that it allows for a much wider range of guitars…. A lot of these different personalities that we’re building into instruments are more significantly different than they would have been in the past.”Andy Powers, reflecting on the Builder’s Edition collection in an interview with Guitar.com and Guitar Magazine
While Andy Powers has been extolling the virtues of V-Class bracing as an exciting new foundation for acoustic guitar design since its debut in 2018, our recently expanded Builder’s Edition collection — now featuring nine distinctive models — delivers on that bold promise in a remarkably tangible way. With four new models joining the family to kick off 2020 — the Builder’s Edition 324ce, 12-string Builder’s Edition 652ce, Builder’s Edition 912ce and Builder’s Edition 816ce — reviewers have been jumping at opportunities to demo these latest guitars and discover their unique musical personalities. Here are some highlights of what they had to say.
“The future of Taylor Guitars is in safe hands.”
Back in January, the UK website/print publication Guitar.com and Guitar Magazine ran multiple features that included reviews of the Builder’s Edition 324ce and Builder’s Edition 816ce (see Michael Watts’ comment on the latter further down), plus an insightful piece on Andy Powers by Chief Editor Chris Vinnicombe (which produced the quote above). Vinnicombe, who had chronicled the debut of V-Class bracing and the Grand Pacific over the past two years, paid another visit to Andy’s home workshop in Carlsbad, California, where the two discussed Andy’s process of bringing his Builder’s Edition ideas to life. As heady as Andy can get when discussing the technical nuances of a particular design, he revealed the simpler essence of his creative approach.
“Despite his deep understanding of the anatomy and science of musical instruments, fun and approachability are always at the forefront of Powers’ mind,” Vinnicombe writes. “‘More than anything that’s my criteria,’ he insists. “Whether or not a guitar is good. Is it fun to play or not fun to play? That’s what it comes down to, right?
Vinnicombe also observes how Andy’s talents, coupled with Taylor’s manufacturing resources, enable truly envelope-pushing design.
“Part of what makes Powers unique isn’t just his ability to translate the drawings in his notebook into fully realised instruments,” Vinnicombe says. “It’s the scalability of his designs, his ability to work with Taylor’s engineering team in devising methods and even new tooling in order to produce them in significant numbers, and the way in which his ideas create a platform for further innovation.”
Among our class of 2020 Builder’s Edition guitars, none received more love than the Builder’s Edition 324ce. Our new Grand Auditorium, crafted with responsibly sourced Urban Ash recovered from trees in need of removal from municipal areas in Southern California, showcases a level of refined contouring that makes these guitars such a dream to play, paired with a new tonal flavor that has reviewers singing its praises.
To kick things off, Paul Riario from Guitar World called the Builder’s Edition 324ce a “guitar that exudes sheer elegance,” and praised its combination of luxury appointments with a traditional style that will appeal to working musicians. As for the sound of Urban Ash, Riario had plenty of thoughts:
“It’s reminiscent of good mahogany that radiates a crisp top end and a taut bass, but its sonic strength is that it dutifully serves up a warm, sweetened midrange with a clear, bell-like ring,” he says. “Whether you strum hard or pick softly, it tends to stay within that middle register, and its euphonious voice is so detailed that I sometimes found myself leaning over the soundhole to listen from different angles because I couldn’t believe an acoustic could sound so three-dimensional and smoothly balanced here. It’s a genuinely studio-quality tone, which I’d venture to say even a cheap mic would have a hard time making sound bad.”
Of course, the Builder’s Edition philosophy is also about optimizing the playing comfort to give guitarists as smooth a musical path as possible. Reviewers like Christian Seaman from American Songwriter have responded positively to the Builder’s Edition 324ce’s ergonomic touches, noting that the body shape, armrest and beveled cutaway make for a truly seamless playing experience:
“[It’s] an incredibly comfortable guitar to play, assisted by all facets of its construction,” Seaman writes. “Its body contours increase ease of access to the entire range of the guitar, its Silent Satin finish moves with the player and allows a slick yet organic feel, and of course the classic Taylor neck is fit for many hands whether small or large.”
This brand-new 12-string embodies Taylor’s forward-thinking philosophy in virtually every aspect of its design, from the beveled cutaway and armrest to the reverse-strung setup that gives the guitar its clean, focused sound. Reviewers have been generous with praise, applauding its playing comfort and unique tone profile within the 12-string arena. Chiming in from Peghead Nation, Teja Gerken talked up the reverse-strung setup and ease of play:
“Like other Taylor 12-fret grand concert 12-strings we’ve tried, the Builder’s Edition 652ce WHB is incredibly easy to play; your fingers might not believe they’re playing a 12-string,” Gerken details. “Played acoustically, the guitar had a bright, assertive sound. The reverse stringing is noticeably different from a standard setup, the fundamental note of each pair being more present than the octave string…”
Other reviewers focused on this 652ce’s fluid, nearly electric feel, the product of the compact body shape, the 12-fret configuration that moves the bridge closer to the center of the lower bout, and the elegant contouring of the beveled cutaway. Art Thompson from Guitar Player appreciated its inviting neck, noting that players will find it easy to explore the guitar’s entire range:
“Playability is awesome, thanks to a mahogany neck with a fairly shallow profile that sits beautifully in the hand, and an ebony fingerboard with rolled edges, immaculate frets and low, buzz-free action,” Thompson writes. “I hate to say things like ‘guaranteed to win you over,’ but the 652ce plays so well that it may blow away any preconceived notions that 12-string acoustics are demanding to play. Not this one, which feels so slinky and effortless.”
This Builder’s Edition beauty has been a hit with reviewers and artists alike. The Grand Concert body delivers again here with a smooth response and intimate feel, complemented by the warm, overtone-rich sound of solid Indian rosewood and Sitka spruce. V-Class bracing, which we originally launched within the Builder’s Edition collection, remains the finely tuned musical engine of these guitars, and reviewers like Art Thompson continue to expound on the musical benefits of our interior bracing scheme:
“[The Builder’s Edition 912ce] sounds solidly in tune in all positions, and it sustains wonderfully,” he says. “That’s all part of what V-Class bracing brings, including exceptionally well-balanced sound and abundant sustain. Strum a chord and hear how even and consistent it is from top to bottom. Frequencies don’t jump out or reveal any peaks, even when picking hard. Rather, they coalesce into lively and full-bodied tones that breathe in response to playing dynamics.”
Other reviewers of the 912ce mentioned its fast-playing feel and robust tonal response, like Teja Gerken from Peghead Nation:
“Not only was it easy to play, but it also facilitated up-the-neck playing and fast, electric guitar–style techniques,” he says. “The guitar’s tone was rooted in the classic Taylor rosewood grand concert voice: balanced, rich, and larger sounding than might be expected given the guitar’s small body. The Builder’s Edition 912ce is a lovely instrument for fingerstyle, and with its wonderful clarity throughout its range, it would also make an excellent choice for accompaniment and lead guitar roles, especially in an amplified setting.”
That brings us to the most radical entry in our Builder’s Edition lineup: the Builder’s Edition 816ce, a Grand Symphony acoustic-electric featuring a new soundport cutaway and a handful of other shapely contours. Reviewing this 816ce for Guitar.com, Michael Watts delves into the history and function of a second sound aperture in acoustic guitars before sharing his thoughts on how that feature performs on this particular Taylor:
“The instrument comes to life, with an immediately open and beautiful voice, which gives us the sense of being surrounded by the sound,” Watts says. “Dropping the tuning to DADGAD and applying a medium gauge celluloid pick to the 816ce takes the performance up yet another notch, giving the trebles a silky shimmer all the way up the fingerboard, while lending muscle to the bass and low mids.”
With the entire Builder’s Edition collection now available in stores everywhere, we’re excited to see the new musical avenues Taylor players are sure to illuminate with these guitars in the coming months.
Introducing Taylor Acoustic Sessions
There’s something wonderfully pure about a single player, a single acoustic guitar, and a microphone. With Taylor Acoustic Sessions, we try to capture the magic of an intimate acoustic performance, getting up close and personal with exciting up-and-comers as well as acclaimed artists. Our family of artists stretches around the globe and across genres, and we’re excited to bring these intimate musical portraits to Wood&Steel for the first time.
This installment features three live sessions we shot at the Winter 2020 NAMM Show.
Mimi Fox Knows What Love Is
Jazz sorceress Mimi Fox has been ripping licks on Taylor guitars for years. She especially loves her koa/torrefied spruce Builder’s Edition K14ce. (“It’s warm but not too warm, bright but not too bright; it hits that sweet spot,” she says.) She puts the guitar through its paces with this rendition of “You Don’t Know What Love Is” from her latest release, the all-acoustic This Bird Still Flies, showcasing the guitar’s vibrant, contemporary sound in her signature virtuosic style.
Sae Banjoya Brings the Light
Singer-songwriter Sae Banjoya traveled from Japan to California to play at NAMM and brings her impassioned vocals to this sparkling performance of “Koko Ni Aru Hikari.” In this session, Sae plays a Builder’s Edition 324ce, our new Grand Auditorium made from responsibly sourced Urban Ash.
Shane Hall Guides the Way
With his bold acoustic style and burly, soulful voice, Shane Hall is making waves as a bluesy singer-songwriter and Taylor player. Here he performs his song “Lighthouse” with a Builder’s Edition 324ce.
Marty Dodson, songwriter and founder of musical collective SongTown, is no stranger to the world of Taylor, having been a part of our artist family for years. For this episode, Marty shares stories about his career as a songwriter, including the time he put a nail in the wall at home to save a place for the gold record he was determined to earn. Marty also reveals insights about the songwriting process and the parts that make a good song.
Nashville producer and drummer David Huff sits down with Cameron and Jay to chat about his dad’s musical influence on his life and share stories of his career as a producer in one of the strongholds of American music.
Southern Ground is a famed recording studio in Nashville, Tennessee, and boasts an impressive catalogue of work, including albums by Dwight Yoakam, Kacey Musgraves, Zac Brown, the Foo Fighters, Neil Young and many other world-class artists. Cameron and Jay talk with the studio crew about their gear, their approach to recording, and the history of their venerable establishment.
McFly Hails the Heroes
Across the music world, artists from all genres have spoken out to share their support and gratitude for the efforts of front-line workers, first responders, and health care providers in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Joining the chorus was British pop-punk band McFly, who put together an inspiring performance of their song “All About You” from across the barriers of distance and isolation in each of their respective homes. All proceeds from the song for the rest of the year will go to the UK National Health Service, who are fighting to keep the nation well and recovering from COVID-19. The band is just one of a growing number of artists using their voices to spread positivity and creativity during an unprecedented and stressful time for all, with songwriters and bands using an array of digital tools to bring music to fans from their homes. For this recording, McFly rounded up (virtually) the whole gang—including family members and even pets—along with a couple of trusty GS Minis. With some clever video editing and an uplifting message in support of the people putting their lives at risk to protect our health, McFly’s performance makes us proud to have them as part of the Taylor artist family.
Brian Collins Shines a Little Love
Adding to the roster of artists doing their best to spread messages of support and solidarity during these times, acoustic ripper and soulful Americana songwriter Bryan Collins(517 WHB, Western Sunburst 710, custom 710 with Vintage Sunburst, GS Mini-e Bass) led a group of over 60 musicians, singers and other entertainers in a fresh take on his song “Shine a little love.” Cut from pieces filmed in basements, living rooms and breakfast nooks across the country, Brian’s tune asks us to offer each other what positivity we can while practicing social distancing.
[Brian Collins photo credit: Annette McNamara]