The Craft

Instruments of Change

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From musical instruments to the songs we play on them, we are constantly evolving in response to changing times.

Dad!  You’ve got to come see this!”
I could tell by the tone of the young voice that something extraordinary was occurring in the yard beyond the shop door. A quick glance through the window revealed little had changed since my last glance out the window.  “No, dad, you’ve got to come here to see this. You won’t see it from there.”

I reluctantly pulled away from the project I was elbow deep in to find one of our kids halfway under a bush, having chased some little creature as it fled from inquiring young hands. “You’ve got to crawl under here to see it. It’s important!”  

While the timing may not have been ideal for a change in perspective, I suppose the timing of a change rarely seems ideal in the moment. This past year has presented so many shifts in perspective that the perception of passing time seemed to have been dismantled altogether. Accompanying these changing seasons, it’s remarkable to hear how music and its makers respond to, and set the tone for, each shift in the wind of a society.  

It’s easy to reminisce about the good old days, and the guitar-making world is no exception.

I recently read an essay by the British writer G.K. Chesterton wherein he comments on the commonly used phrase, “History repeats itself.” While I’m sure I’ve used that phrase a thousand times without giving it so much as a passing thought, Chesterton correctly points out that, in reality, history is one of the few things that does not repeat itself. The rules of arithmetic, the laws of physics, the motion of planets in astronomy, and the mechanisms in most other fields of study do, in fact, repeat themselves. A column of numbers added together will give exactly the same result each time. In contrast, the sums of history and events might take on familiar trends, but never work out in exactly the same way.   

So it is in the world of music and instruments. The history of music is a study in dynamism, progression and development. Like other arts, at no point has music ever completely repeated itself or remained in a state of perfect redundancy. It’s an outpouring of creativity that cannot readily maintain a fixed perspective of time and place. Until the invention of recorded music and mechanical sound reproduction devices, it was impossible for two performances of the same piece of music to be exactly alike, no matter how much a musician practiced. Each repetition of a favorite piece would take on the perspective of a unique day in a unique season, flavored with the subtle or dramatic events of each changing moment.  

This same forward development can be seen in instruments themselves. While each individual guitar remains quite like itself, save for the welcomed seasoning of its own voice forged through steady playing, I have been privileged to see the progressive creation of many instruments and can easily witness the further evolution a traditional guitar. Each era, even each day, faces its own unique set of occurrences, which can influence the guitar made at that moment. The availability (or lack) of certain materials, the tools and methods used to create each individual guitar shift throughout the years, to say nothing of the concept, understanding and aesthetic that directs each design. During some eras, these shifts are dramatic and easy to point out. During others, the shifts are as subtle as the angle of the sunlight pouring through a shop window. Whether the shift is minuscule or dramatic, instruments are never the same, nor is the music they’ll play. 

As in other areas of life, it’s easy to reminisce about the good old days, and the guitar-making world is no exception. I’m often surrounded with the seemingly ancient tools of a trade far older than myself, soaking up the pearls of hard-earned wisdom from those who have come before me. It’s inspiring to see the effort of a maker in an instrument built decades prior, to think of all the melodies drawn from its voice over years and be reminded of the joy those songs brought. To see the beauty and be reminded of the comfort an instrument brought to its player is both a recollection and an encouragement to take up the tools with renewed energy and continue forward. While a detour down memory lane is always a welcome and worthwhile diversion, it remains a street on which there is no place for permanent residence.   

What remains constant is the purpose behind these instruments. They’re created to inspire and serve the dynamic expression of each musician whose hands cradle them. It’s clear that music is continuously growing, changing, diversifying and uniting with each shared story, beat, melody and chorus, like a tree that grows visibly taller and wider, supported by an unshakable but unseen foundation of roots embedded in the soil of society. In response, it becomes a profound privilege to create instruments that seek to serve this inspiring creative force.   

It has been immensely rewarding to watch as the most recent inclusions into our library of instruments — the GT and American Dream guitars — have found their way into songs being played. Whether an old favorite or a newly penned offering, it’s a treasure to hear the music a player will serve up when their perspective is changed. The nexus of a fresh voice, a new feel, and the perspective of a new time and place supplies a rich setting for a musical renaissance as players chase a creative spark that darts ahead like a living creature that can never be contained.  

While a change in perspective might arrive at what feels like an inconvenient moment, or one that finds us longing for the way we remember things to be, it also gives us a thrillingly bright opportunity to grow as we step forward into each new day, with every chord and song we play. 

Andy Powers is Taylor’s Master Guitar Designer.