A life of making guitars is much like a life of making music. An expected cycle of work and reward doesn’t play out the way it might elsewhere in life — a period of effort, followed by a sense of completion or celebration of some kind, like crossing a finish line in a race.
While that sense of anticipation and arrival is a natural rhythm, making guitars and playing music seem to be steeped in a more extended path of continuity. Sure, there are the anticipation and enjoyment of stringing up a new instrument for the first time after hours at the bench turn into weeks and months, or playing a new song after diligent practice. But rather than a natural end point like a finish line at a race, this is simply the next step on an unending trail to explore.
There is no point where instrument making is truly finished, just like there is no real end point where music has been learned. Creating music, like creating instruments, is a never-ending pursuit of more: more understanding, broadening ability, new ideas to explore, new pieces to build. Along the way, it’s experienced in micro-sized rhythms of work and reward: gluing up a fretboard and appreciating it done well; installing frets and admiring their smooth consistency; or playing a new string of chords and appreciating how one falls into the next in a fresh way.
When I was growing up, my dad, a carpenter, often told me to learn to love working, because life was full of working. While these words could easily be mistaken for a dour resignation, the sentiment was sage advice and always laced with optimism and opportunity. The real message was one of encouragement: to appreciate and celebrate the myriad of small tasks performed in pursuit of some beautiful, larger project. It makes perfect sense. In my dad’s case, his effort as a carpenter was to create a beautiful home. That’s a big project, but one that can be broken down into thousands of small jobs, each of which can be enjoyed, nail by nail, board by board.
Building a guitar is also a big project, but likewise can be broken down into small actions, each with a joy of its own, just like learning and playing music.
Perhaps even more than building houses or guitars, playing music is a trail with no ultimate destination. I’ve been privileged to share music with musicians of fantastic ability, and one common lesson I’ve learned is they are never done. There is no point where they stop playing after having learned all they need to know and played all the songs that needed playing. Far from it — musicians continue onward, refining their ability, delving into new styles and influences, broadening the sounds they can contribute to their art. While I was in college, one music professor summed it up by asking rhetorically, “How many times can you practice a C major scale, the simplest of all scales? Not enough.”
I’ve been privileged to share music with musicians of fantastic ability, and one common lesson I’ve learned is they are never done.
With this idea of continuously evolving work in mind, it’s easy to picture a world of projects that are continuously reinvented, as if only those things that already exist can be used as a platform for new work. In some cases, this is a great approach. I love to hear a favorite song or melody refreshed with a new feel or instrumentation. As guitar makers, we love to draw from our body of work and freshen up a favorite piece with new inspiration and a different look or sound. But alongside those existing pieces, we love the vibrancy of new additions into our portfolio of work. A new creation doesn’t diminish or make obsolete an older one, just as a newly penned song doesn’t detract from a perennial favorite in a setlist. They simply add to the catalog of choices.
In perusing our latest lineup of instruments, I’m confronted by the surprising number of choices. Realizing just how many different versions of guitars we’re making is nearly overwhelming and for a fleeting moment leaves me wondering just how we arrived where we are. Considering each guitar in turn serves to remind us that they all have a purpose and are the result of our continuous work as guitar makers. Tending to each fretboard, fret, soundboard, neck or string was a small task to enjoy in our guitar-making life. Some of these models are the favorites we return to time and again. Others, like our new Grand Theater guitars made from walnut or mahogany, are additions with fresh sounds for our enjoyment. Our new flametop Grand Pacific wears its maple top and steps forward as a newcomer in our repertoire of hardwood-top guitars, revealing a character all its own.
Whether a new instrument or an enduring favorite in our catalog, here at Taylor, we are privileged to savor all the steps that go into the creation of each one of our guitars. And we love hearing the songs musicians bring from the ones they choose for their music.