The Craft

Lasting Value

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One way to embrace sustainability is to make guitars that will inspire and endure for generations.

There’s something magical about the way twilight falls in a late summer sky. Being with my family and watching a wisp of smoke from a campfire float into the cooling night air, where it blends with notes drifting from the guitar I’m strumming, I can’t help but feel a deep sense of gratitude for this most beautiful of remote forests and the stillness of the oncoming night. The kids are drowsy from a long day of high-elevation swimming, hiking and fishing, barely holding their eyes open in the fading light. It’s easy to picture a stage, lights and a large crowd when thinking of a concert setting, but stars appearing in a quiet night sky are every bit as appropriate a place to play. I suppose some music was written to unite a crowd of strangers. And some was written to unite the dreams of a small few. In both cases, a moment without music seems incomplete.

In recent months, few days have passed without my either experiencing or hearing of a challenge that leaves me shaking my head. Music tours canceled, a failed and lost crop, a material that didn’t arrive and the ensuing difficulty, the tragedy of a loved one lost. Yet despite these challenges and heartbreaks, I feel a profound sense of gratitude to be building guitars. Despite all that can and does go wrong, there is so much good that can be done. When we take a moment to think of all that can go right, our difficulties seem to float up and disperse against the backdrop of a night sky. 

When I first began building instruments, my focus was solely on the instrument and the musician. This was as big a picture as I could focus on; workshop life was a daily pursuit to find the outermost limit of an ever-expanding question of how good an instrument could be made.  For those who want to know, it seems the practical answer remains: a little better each day. In the time since, that focus began growing ever wider here at Taylor to include creating a wonderful environment for employees of all backgrounds to contribute their efforts and enjoy the rewards of their work. And to the expansion and stewardship of forest operations. All while keeping the guitar and the musician positioned as the center of our attention.

The lifespan of a guitar doesn’t necessarily end with the first owner.

Andy Powers

We talk a lot about sustainability here at Taylor — about the responsible use of resources, of leaving forests in better condition than the way we found them, and of ways to improve our work while making improvements on our impact. There’s a feeling here that the word “sustainable” has been used so much it’s been worn down, diminished, so we try to be careful about our use of that word. Another way to say this is that we’re committed to finding better ways to keep up the work we do, and at ever higher levels of achievement. As a guitar maker, it occurs to me that one of most fundamental actions we can take is to make something that has intrinsic and enduring value, so that a player will want to use it for a great long while. I think of it this way: The lifespan of a great guitar is long — far longer than most things we could invest in. It can outlive a car, a computer and most other things we might possess. It can and should be crafted in a way that offers great utility to a musician for decades before being passed on to the next musician to accompany their songs. The lifespan of a guitar doesn’t necessarily end with the first owner. The best way to preserve the precious resources and efforts that go into a guitar is to turn them into an instrument that musicians will want to continue to use across several generations.

Many players ask how modern technologies might be integrated into an acoustic instrument. While there certainly are interesting possibilities, the reality is an acoustic guitar doesn’t necessarily occupy the same timeline as a product built with digital technology. We all know the digital wonders of a modern world arrive and are replaced at a pace that is hard to keep up with. An acoustic guitar, on the other hand, offers the musician a voice for songs that remains viable today, tomorrow and a century from now. In fact, we celebrate the virtues of an older instrument that, like many of us, has had time to become seasoned by its experiences and offer a deeper and fuller perspective. Knowing that, it seems our modern technologies are best working to serve the longevity of a great instrument and the musician, rather than using materials of decades or centuries of growth to accommodate the latest passing technology.

This scenario reminds me of a few old tools I use in the shop. When first purchased, they represented a significant investment for my great-great-granddad. Over the past century, they were kept in perfect working order as they were made well, were found useful and valuable, and therefore were carefully kept up. All this time later, they’re as accurate and useful as ever. I often wonder about the unknown craftsmen who worked at the Starrett company all that time ago, and if they knew the tools they made would endure and offer such lasting enjoyment.

A great guitar is lasting, and offers a musician lasting enjoyment. That seems like a solid place to start when laying out a plan to create the most good with what we’ve been entrusted with. It’s a privilege to work alongside other employee owners to make Taylor Guitars a more sustainable company — sustaining our culture, our forests, our guitars and the music of all the musicians we serve. Whether you are playing a few songs for many, or many songs for a few, I hope you enjoy every note of them as they drift to the ears of those listeners before disappearing into the night sky.