It’s the 2016 A to Z Blog Challenge, so I thought I’d focus on one of my favourite subjects: Guitars. Care to join me?
I’ll be up front on this: I adore Taylor Guitars. There is nothing about them I do not love.
From the design and choice to materials, to the sound of the instruments themselves to the business practices that Bob Taylor and company have developed, I am a complete fan girl. It was a Taylor guitar, the 414CE I dubbed my Baby, that made me sound like I’m a far better player than I really am.
Bob Taylor started building guitars in his high school woodshop class. If there was a tool he needed for some part of the construction but didn’t have, he’d make it. It is a practice he has carried on to the present day. When the guitar manufacturing shop he worked in came up for sale in 1974, he bought the company with his friend and co-worker, Kurt Listug. The new company was named Westland Music Company before eventually becoming Taylor Guitars.
The innovations Taylor has brought to guitar manufacturing has come in the processes themselves. Taylor Guitars is not afraid to try the latest technology, the latest design tools or to experiment with already existing design elements to see what the impact on the sound of the guitar might be. From laser cut tops to using computer-aided design and three-axis machine tools, even down to the type of glue and varnishes used, the Taylor philosophy has been that consistency in manufacturing leads to consistency in playability.
For the longest time, Taylor only made acoustic guitars. Bob Taylor always said they wouldn’t make an electric guitar unless they could make one of the best. Then in 2005 Taylor introduced the T5, a slim, hollow body model, with a unique pickup configuration that allowed the guitar to “switch” from a more conventional acoustic sound to a more obviously amplified electric sound. For the record, I had a chance to play one of these not long after they were introduced and I am in serious guitar-lust over this model.
Taylor did take a dip in the world of solid body electrics with an interesting design feature in which the pickups and the pickguard were one unit. If you wanted to change the sound of the guitar, all you needed was a screw driver and a new pickup/pickguard unit. In theory, you could be jamming with a different sound within maybe 10 minutes. I always thought the concept was limiting. There was no way to customize the guitar other than to swap out the pickup units, and the proprietary nature of the electronics was always going to be problematic. The solid body design is no longer available as a production model.
I think some of Taylor’s most impactful innovations have to do with their business practices. They have gone to great lengths to improve the sustainability of the tone woods used in guitar manufacturing, such as changing cutting techniques to minimize waste and, in the case of ebony, moving away from the “ideal” of a uniform black colour. They have also insisted that US labour standards be implemented at all of their harvesting partnerships, with the result that workers’ pay and working conditions have steadily improved. With plans for worker education and training, Taylor is working to ensure a stable, sustainable source of tone woods for years to come. You have to love a company that endeavours to be a good global citizen.
If you’re interested in some of Taylor’s efforts in responsible and sustainable forestry management, check out some of these articles.