The Craft

Maker’s Joy

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The process of crafting beautiful, useful musical tools at Taylor is often accompanied by a profound sense of creative excitement.

It’s pretty clear that we love making things here in our Taylor workshops. Walking through the different spaces that make up the Taylor campus reveals unbridled creativity at every turn. The range of sights, sounds, aromas and sensory input is nearly overwhelming to take in. Walk through our tooling shop and you’ll come across piles of aluminum shavings being swept up from around a milling machine, like sparkling industrial fairy dust sprinkled around a new part still held in a vise. Not far away, a machine is completely disassembled into parts, while all the worn and tired components are renewed and made ready for rebuilding. Further on, the high-energy glow of an arc welder radiates from behind a screened-off area where steel parts are fused together to create custom carts for shuttling half-built guitars from place to place. Without even walking through our guitar-making shop, there’s all sorts of creative work going on here.

Stepping into the first room of active instrument building is a fresh-level sensory experience. Walking through a mill that’s teeming with woods and their aromas from around the world, you’ll enter a wood-holding area, where ready-to-use woods are acclimated and cataloged like volumes in a library. Further on through our factory, you’ll step into worlds of different sounds and sights — the quiet tranquility of a room where braces are attached; the calculated precision of neck shaping; the bustle and whir of finishing, polishing and tuning up strings. Everywhere you look here at Taylor, creative work is bringing guitars to life.

To me, all of this is as it should be. The desire to create something beautiful and useful is a strong impulse — one that is simultaneously primal as well as artful, refined and celebrated. The method of making comes in lots of forms. Some projects are formed with hands alone, or with brushes, tools and instruments, or even a factory full of machines. In an introduction to “The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight into Beauty,” a collection of Sōetsu Yanagi writings, potter and author Bernard Leach defines craft as “good work proceeding from the whole man, heart, head and hand in proper balance.” Rather than a strict adherence to a specific method, set of tools or even industry, the desire to create something vibrantly wonderful that benefits and enriches the user is an instinct as old as time.

The desire to create something vibrantly wonderful that enriches the user is an instinct as old as time.

This desire to create starts from a young age. With three young kids, my home is seldom tidy, although that’s not for lack of cleaning effort. The creative process tends to be worked out in bursts of energy that typically involve paint spills, drips of glue and cast-off pieces of countless different materials. From somewhere within the disarray of materials emerges what I like to describe as maker’s joy — a curiously profound sense of excitement that accompanies a fresh creation. In our home, this excitement is heard everywhere as shouts followed by, “Come see what I’ve made!”

I suspect this is true for most young kids, but interestingly enough, the same sensation tends to follow most makers engaged in a craft. Songwriters and composers are not immune to it. Musicians and painters know the feeling well. So do machinists, welders, hot rod mechanics, carpenters and guitar makers. We love to do our work and be immersed in the process.

Having oriented a life around this endeavor, I’ve had time and occasion to observe that the process of making can be catalyzed by the simple fact that you have materials something might be made from as much as by a desire to make a specific thing. It was never so clear as with a recent conversation with our seven-year-old daughter when she wandered into the old barn I use as a home shop. The conversation went something like this:

“Dad, I want a piece of wood.”

“Well, what would you like to make?”

“I don’t know yet. What do you have that I can use?”

There it was — the desire to create something was there, even though she hadn’t a clue as to what object was going to emerge from her effort. She would be led into that creative place by whatever material was available. Similarly, a surfboard-making friend recently dropped off a sculpted foam surfboard core ready to be coated in fiberglass at my shop. He returned to his home shop with a wedge from a cedar tree that couldn’t be turned into guitar tops. While the wood’s destiny was still undecided, it was clear the raw material could serve as a catalyst for a project simply for the fact that the wood has a wonderful aroma, which could guide what it turned into.

Musicians are often spurred by a similar scenario. Some songs might be written from a desire to speak about a subject or put an emotion into a musical narrative. Just as often, I’ve watched songs be written for the simple fact that an appealing melody was hummed, or the sound of a certain chord or rhythm had a quality that offered an opportunity. It was in this same spirit that our newly reconceived 700 Series guitars took form. Colleagues began sawing into these Hawaiian koa timbers, which revealed beautiful colors and grain. Swirls and stripes of woods telling stories of growth, seasons, storms and passing years. The wood was practically begging to be turned into something beautiful and deeply musical. Now, a few years since we started sawing into these trees, we’re feeling the excitement of maker’s joy in these new instruments. It’s our hope that whether found in one of these fresh guitar designs or a perennial favorite instrument, you will find some maker’s joy of your own — the inspiration to finger a new melody, strum a fresh rhythm, and savor a harmonious new chord.