The Taylor Guitar

They don’t make ‘em like they used to, right Bob?  Bob Taylor would most likely just smile like the cat that ate the canary.

Taylor makes a very traditional looking and sounding guitar, but that’s where the similarities end. Taylor and his team have revived the spirit of invention that made the classic designs “classics.” Taylor turns to innovation and technology rather than reflection and re-creation.

Taylor guitars have their own voice and identity. While they do look and sound traditional, make no mistake – Taylor is the 21st century’s new classic. Taylor did what seemed impossible. Out of nowhere, he built a line of guitars that are among the bestselling, best regarded, American-made acoustic guitars of the last 25 years. This is a first in nearly 100 years of staunch traditionalism.

Taylor Guitars does not have a history dating back to the golden age of the flattop. Nor do its founders likenesses exist only in a faded oil painting hanging in the foyer. Bob Taylor and Kurt Listug are alive and well. Bob Taylor spends time working on and racing dune buggies, when he is not creating and overseeing the resumed development of the acoustic flat top.

The Taylor company didn’t invent the acoustic guitar, the cutaway, or acoustic guitar electronics, but…

Taylor rebuilt traditional sounding and playing guitars with modern methodology. Simple, smart, effective advancements in construction are utilized, as well as more complex and comprehensive tech. Taylor’s advancements transformed the acoustic and acoustic-electric guitars as much as preserving and revitalizing them. For the first time in 100 years, X-bracing and dovetail neck jointed necks have some stiff (and flexible) competition.

A Bit of Background on Taylor’s “American Dream”

Before completing high school, Bob Taylor had already built a complete acoustic guitar from scratch. This was quite some time before you could “YouTube” your way into building or repairing anything from a snow cone machine to a helicopter. You couldn’t buy a guitar neck, body, or kit, and simply assemble it in the garage. So fair to say this was quite an accomplishment for anyone, especially a school boy living in a time when a good encyclopedia or library card was the only way to seek “know-how,” outside of an apprenticeship.  Bob Taylor’s homemade guitar resume was enough for him to start working in a local guitar building factory near San Diego at the young age of 18.

Taylor’s professional guitar building days began at an unorthodox kind of “DIY” guitar mill. Builders were paid for with a percentage of whatever they personally built. There were no open work stations for someone who couldn’t build a sellable guitar. When Taylor arrived at his new work station, he was surrounded by young men like himself. They were driven, ambitious, and shared Taylor’s unswerving love of building guitars. The shop was owned by Sam Radding, who was not much older than his employees, but had skill enough to guide the budding luthiers on the right path. Radding must have been extremely lucky, quite good at nurturing the young builders, or both. Sam Goodall, Greg Deering, Kurt Listug, and Bob Taylor all worked under the same roof at Radding’s “American Dream” guitar factory.

At some point, Radding decided to follow one of the many course changes his life would take, and sell the struggling business. The sale included the unknown “American Dream” brand name, workstations, some tools, and responsibility for paying the rent. It wasn’t much to work with, but for Listug and Taylor, it was a dream come true. A loan of a couple grand from the parents of Taylor, Listug, and friend Steve Schemmer secured the sale. What would become the world-renowned Taylor Guitars was born in 1974.

The decade that followed was bleak, but Taylor and Listug were happy and devoted to their roles. Listug primarily handled the business end, with Taylor designing and building the guitars. Taylor Guitars enjoyed enough success to stay afloat during the lean years of the ’70s and ’80s. What always seemed like overnight success was really many hard years in the making.

Taylor was one of the first acoustic guitar companies to have an origin after the great Electric guitar boom of the ’60s. This disadvantage of having to compete with well-established brands had a hidden advantage that Taylor would use to its full potential.

A growing divergence in style between acoustic players and electric players developed. It is becoming more common for players to favor one style or the other. Some electric guitarists avoid the Acoustic guitar entirely. It’s not only a stylistic choice. There is a dramatic difference in playability to consider:  A well set up Electric guitar has a much greater ease of playability, especially over older acoustic guitars in need of an overhaul.

Laminated “dove tail” neck joints on older acoustics began to separate from the body, causing high action that could make playing difficult or downright painful. A truss rod adjustment relieves a bow, or back bow, but couldn’t correct an out of alignment neck angle caused by years of heavy string tension and weakening glue joints.

It can take 20 or 30 years before a neck becomes painfully out “set.” Many long-time owners will barely notice the gradual decline in playability, as the hands of time slowly tick by. Younger electric players sometimes think the acoustic guitars they have sampled are simply “impossible to play” by design, rather than in need of repair. The weakness in the neck joint that eventually affects all guitars built with this old school dove tail joint, is also strength in the tone of X-braced instruments. It is simply something guitar players get used to. The only way to correct this problem is to have an expensive resetting of the neck, to restore its original playability.

Bob Taylor was a teenager in the early ’70s. As an avid player and builder, Taylor grew up acutely aware of the problems beginning to occur with playability of all ageing steel string guitar dove tail joint guitars (for perspective, a guitar built in 1940-1950 was 20-30 years old in 1970, and likely overdue for a reset).

Taylor and Playability

Taylor reasoned that no matter how good a guitar sounds or what kind exotic tone woods are chosen, good playability is the essential factor. If playing a guitar is an uncomfortable, sluggish, painful experience, nobody will want to play it. This is not to say that all older instruments don’t play well or that quality of tone doesn’t matter. It was simply Taylor’s astute realization that the ease of “user interface” is of paramount importance. Early 1930s-50s guitars of all styles usually had a fat V-shaped carve, originally designed to be comfortable to banjo players that transitioned to guitar (ever wonder what the 4-string tenor guitar is all about? Yup—helping Banjo players transition to guitar).

1970s and 80s Taylor brand guitars had a somewhat thinner neck shape that was comfortable to acoustic and electric players alike. Though Taylor guitars were not yet a worldwide sensation, they were building a reputation as builders of a great playing, comfortable guitar. Distribution to retail stores, rather than direct sales helped get the Taylor name outside its own neighborhood.

Money from Taylor’s growing success and a business loan bought the modern tools Taylor needed to apply his skills and visionary ideas of building a 21st century acoustic guitar. Taylor’s methods are modern, but are also simple, intuitive real-world solutions.

Taylor didn’t want to reinvent the guitar. His goal was to bring the acoustic guitar into the modern world. Taylor sets out to bridge the gap between electric players and acoustic players. The result is a flattop acoustic guitar that plays with the ease of an electric and sounds great acoustically or when amplified.

Taylor’s Modern Acoustic Guitar Milestones

Taylor Guitars’ fine quality was consistent from the very beginning, but the technical advancements of the late 1990s put Taylor on the world’s map.

CNC Technology

Commonly used today by nearly every major manufacturer today, Taylor guitars are the first to use computer driven tech to help make guitars faster, and with greater precision. The Taylor “4” series guitars are the first all solid wood guitars using CNC machines. The original 4-series Taylor is the only American made, all solid wood acoustic guitar priced under $1,000 at the time of its introduction.

Sustainable Woods

Bob Taylor’s “Ebony project”

Bob has invested in re-planting 1,500 Ebony trees in Africa’s West Congo basin. Working with the government of Cameroon, Taylor is helping to assure a sustainable source of Ebony for future generations. All the Ebony used by Taylor is through Cameroon’s responsible, sustainable source.

Taylors NT Neck Joint:

The Taylor NT neck joint was a breakthrough in acoustic guitar technology. In fact, it is the most significant and dramatic alternative to the age-old dove tail joint, ever to be introduced. Nothing short of visionary, the New Technology (NT) neck joint is a giant leap in playability of the acoustic guitar. Taylor guitars was transformed from a well-regarded guitar maker, into one of the world’s largest and most beloved makers of acoustic guitars in the world.

The fingerboard is attached and supported by the neck all the way up to the last fret, eliminating the potential for a hump to develop where the fretboard is traditionally supported by the vibrating top. The Taylor NT neck set also avoids the need to painstakingly set and glue the most ideal neck angle and clamp and glue it into place. Though the dove tail joint might be set to a perfect angle, time, tension, and weather will eventually cause the neck angle to gradually slip, causing higher and higher action.

Taylor necks are bolted on from the inside and shimmed with computerized proficiency to the most ideal angle. The result is an acoustic guitar with a neck that has playability, action, and feel, closer to the ease-of-play enjoyed on a well-made electric guitar. If the NT joint ever loosens, it can be unbolted and corrected in minutes, not weeks. Taylor guitars are already well regarded for tone, beauty, quality of construction, and innovation. The NT neck makes Taylor guitar playability second to none. From the outside, you can’t see the NT joint, but you can’t miss it when playing. This brilliant, but subtle change in how the neck is joined to the body makes Taylor one of the world’s most popular acoustic guitars. It not only increases Taylor’s profile, but the acoustic guitar in general. More and more “electric only” players take notice. When V-Class braces were introduced in 2018, Taylor fully reinvented the acoustic guitar, in its own outer image.

Taylor Electronics

In addition to a great playing guitar, Taylor electronics are always ahead of the times, and constantly upgraded. The Taylor “Expression System” was a giant leap forward. The under-saddle transducer was coupled with the kind of microphone that is attached directly to the soundboard, allowing you to hear more of the “wood.”

The Expression System 2 is Taylor’s current system and the Gold Standard. Taylor’s “ES2” features a repositioned transducer and two contact mics attached to the underside of the soundboard. The placement of the two contact mics provides a broader and more complete sound of the guitars unique character.

The Taylor Way

All these years of experience have created an acoustic like no other. Taylor’s story is one of progress, innovation, and satisfaction for all players. The real beauty is that it’s only just begun.

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Mike Rock
A fixture in the Rock and Roll guitar community since 1978, Mike Rock is the “Go-To” source for Sam Ash's most intricate questions involving Guitars and related gear. A collector whose true passion is playing, Mike has performed over 2,500 gigs around the world. Mike began his musical journey studying the trumpet. While buying sheet music for a recital, Mike first heard an electric guitar through a fuzz box. Forty years later, he still maintains that the fuzz WAS germanium based (he is a bit crazy). This encounter drove Mike to his first guitar and a tube amp. Soon his guitar was heavily modified and the amp was on its 3rd replacement speaker. Mike was hunting for tone and blowing guitar speakers before there was a “boutique” or “vintage” market. It wasn’t long before Mike was buying, and validating vintage guitars and gear for some of the biggest companies in the world, finally finding a home assisting mentor and friend Sammy Ash, at the place where he heard that first Fuzz Guitar, so many years ago. Mike still performs regularly and recognizes the history and beauty of vintage and modern gear. Mike is aware not everyone is a collector and most players need a set up that works for the sound they chase, regardless of its pedigree, or vintage or status.