The Craft

Built to Last

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Among the virtues of a well-made guitar are its ability to ripen sonically with age and its serviceability.

Recently, I had a chance to do some servicing work on older guitars I made. Once I got over the startling realization that I’m not as young as I used to be (having seen the completion date I wrote on the labels), it was fun to work through a few worn parts and return them to the playing condition they were built for. I had built these different instruments knowing they were going to be played and would need work at points in the future, and it felt gratifying to see their worn-in frets and a nut that needed refreshing and know these instruments were performing their jobs.

Around the same time, my wife and I were shopping for a clothes drying machine. That’s not a thing I shop for often, and I was pretending to not be overwhelmed by the number of available choices. Some machines had many features I probably would never use, some were inexpensive, some very expensive. I was about to pick the least expensive model available, when my wife mused, “Which one would you prefer to rebuy after you realize it’s not a repairable machine?” She makes a good point. (Yes, I realize I seriously married up.)

The contrast between the two experiences caught my attention. On one side, an object is an object whether a guitar or a clothes drying machine. On the other side, these guitars had a sense of lasting value, as they were intended to be serviceable over a long lifespan, while the inexpensive dryer was meant to be used until the first component failed, at which point the entire machine would likely need to be replaced.

The lifespan of a well-built wooden instrument can often exceed that of a single person.

When it comes to things, the thing is, there are a lot of them. By that I mean there are a lot of choices. Within those choices, we’re lucky when we can find something that will offer good value for a long time. There’s a unique goodness in a thing that performs its task and has the benefit of being serviceable to maintain functionality, and repairable when something fails.

I love that trait of a well-made musical instrument, especially a wooden one. An instrument that was built with care to begin with, and designed with the foresight to know it’ll need some work further down the road, has an inherent worth that’s rewarding to the owner. Yes, an instrument grows and develops with a player over years as its wood wears in and becomes more resonant. That trait is rare among objects and seriously fun to experience.

Alongside the steady maturing of its sound and responsiveness, an instrument will develop the scratches, nicks and wear of use. I like to think of it as wearing in, not wearing out. While many musicians appreciate the richness of sound that develops in their instrument with age and use, it’s also worth remembering that some things, such as a well-made instrument, are worth repairing for the simple fact they can be fixed. After all, a big step along the path of sustainability is to reuse what already exists.

An instrument grows and develops with a player over years as its wood wears in and becomes more resonant.

Something else I appreciate about a well-made thing is the ability to adapt it into a different use case. On one of the instruments I was servicing, the player had originally set it up to make a set of sounds and a feel to fit the music of a band they were playing in at the time. Now, years later, the same guitar was being used in a different context — a totally different style of music, different approach to playing, different stages to play on. The setup and adjustment parameters were best changed to adapt to the new musical context as if it needed a costume change for the second act of a play. To me, that level of adaptability is a vital element of a good design. The lifespan of a well-built wooden instrument can often exceed that of a single person. For that reason, it seems logical to limit permanent alterations that can only accommodate technologies with lifespans far shorter than the instrument itself.

As an example, with our Expression System pickups, that system has been updated a good many times since we started installing it. With each change, we’ve tried to hold true to a consistent format of knobs in order to not make the instrument itself obsolete. The ability to retrofit a better-functioning component at a later date is wonderful and a great way to adapt an instrument for present-day use. Only occasionally can we predict what exact adaptations we might make in the future with an existing design, but the ability to leave those options open is a gift we’re grateful for when those days arrive.

I suppose these same traits I love in guitars — the ability to service, repair and adapt — also apply to a company itself. When built with care and foresight for the future, a company can be maintained in good operating condition long into the future. When things go wrong, components are repairable and replaceable. There is an enduring quality in a great company that makes it last and continue giving value. It becomes adaptable to the needs of the era and the conditions it operates in to stay relevant. Those characteristics keep it from becoming stale or obsolete.

This season, we’re happy to introduce a variety of fresh instruments from our workbenches. Each one has a unique place in our lineup, intended to serve the music of a wide variety of musicians long into the future. As wonderful as each of these instruments is today, I feel particularly grateful to be designing and building these instruments knowing they’ll be in service for decades, probably outliving me. In a season where we as Taylor Guitars are approaching the anniversary marking our 49th year of operation, I’d also like to say thanks to Kurt and Bob for founding and designing a company that can offer lasting value long into the future for the benefit of all those within our musical community, growing stronger all the while. I’m privileged to continue leading us down this path.