Go Ahead and Ask: Bob Taylor of Taylor Guitars
Bob Taylor talks picking wood, Taylor amps and basses, camaraderie between luthiers and more when he answers your questions.
Some of us make gear, some of us play it, and, in our case, some of us work at a media company that aims to keep everyone informed. That’s why we facilitate this discussion every month. There are certain conversations that need to take place just between us gearheads. This month we wanted to give Premier Guitar readers a chance to ask acoustic (and now solidbody) innovator Bob Taylor a few questions.
Not content just to develop new instruments out of wood and wire, Bob Taylor and his company, Taylor Guitars, are constantly pushing the boundaries of manufacturing processes and building techniques, exploring different methods and materials, and even creating custom tools to aid in the work. Taylor’s sometimes unorthodox approach to a very traditional art— which is evident in such choices as the use of bolt-on necks and non-traditional tonewoods— has earned him some scoffing from more conservative and conventional builders, but time and perseverance have proven more than effective at turning those tables. Bob Taylor has become one of the most highly respected and admired guitar makers in the industry, and his company has grown from its humble beginnings as a small San Diego guitar shop to become a major instrument manufacturer with worldwide distribution, an ever-increasing popularity, and a growing list of accolades and accomplishments.
Following are the questions you submitted (selected by our editors from a pool of online submissions) and the answers from Bob Taylor. For next month’s “Go Ahead and Ask,” let us know what questions you’d like to ask Joe Bonamassa.
1. What is the process you go through when you buy new wood? What things do you look for?
Well, first I look to see if the wood excites me on a visual level, and then on a structural level. Guitar wood has to have small-scaled grain patterns that fit into the sides and backs of a guitar. The next question is whether or not I can actually get the wood. Often a sample presents itself, but there is no way to get it in large enough quantities. If only a small quantity is available, I may offer a run of limited editions just to check out the whole scene. If I can’t get the wood, then it’s all a moot point, so that is as much a concern as whether the wood is good or not.
2. My 1996 Taylor 815 has a mustache bridge. Why did you change the bridge design and what are the advantages or disadvantages to each design?
That was a design that I inherited from The American Dream, which was the small shop my partner and I worked for and later purchased to start Taylor Guitars. In the days when we did everything by hand, that bridge was just too hard to make, so we designed our current bridge. Your guitar is actually a reissue of the original, and we made it on some guitars here and there. Its advantage and disadvantage only relate to its ability to be manufactured, rather than its sound quality.
3. How close are you to unveiling a new Taylor bass—acoustic or otherwise?
We are not close at all. Right now, the bass is just one of many ideas floating around in our heads—fairly firm ideas, but it would take a year’s worth of tooling effort to bring it to market. Plus, lots of new and exciting guitars keep getting in the way.
4. It seems like your generation of builders cut their teeth in an era of open information exchange. There was competition, but also a sense of camaraderie. Do you think that “golden age” of individual or smallshop luthiery is behind us?
No, not at all. As a matter of fact, I just got together with two young luthiers with whom I’ve formed a friendship to get an exchange of ideas going. Groups such as The Guild of American Luthiers and the Association of Stringed Instrument Artisans are still going strong. It’s true that some of us have grown since those days, and we have to be careful simply because of antitrust laws and perhaps even competition, but we still are friendly and love to brag… oh, I mean share ideas.
5. I had to reset the neck on my 2003 314-CE-L1—I believe the luthier took .015 off the shim—even though I control the climate in my home and have always kept the guitar in its case when not playing. Is it normal to have the neck reset after such a short amount of time?
No, I would not say it’s normal. But that doesn’t automatically mean something is wrong. Our ability to adjust the NT neck comes in handy when a guitar moves just a bit more than normal. Once reset, it’s usually good for a long, long time. The beauty is it’s so easy to reset the neck that we don’t have to try to figure out why, unless it moves again. If something turns out to be wrong, of course, you know where to find us. But I wouldn’t worry about it if I were you.
6. I was looking forward to ordering an 8-String Baritone via your Build to Order program but was disappointed to see the jumbo body style was not available. I have seen other manufacturers offer jumbo baritones and I was wondering what your reasons were for not offering that option?
Curiously, I’m probably asked why we don’t do something more often than I’m asked why we do do something. Honestly, the reasons we don’t offer the baritone in a jumbo are boring—not exciting at all. It just has to do with what we were excited about, and that was crafting the 8-String with a Grand Symphony body. It’s our most current design, it makes a good baritone, its shape has “Taylor” written all over it, etc. One might call that marketing, but we’re just more excited about that guitar. You might still want to inquire about having an 8-String Baritone made with a jumbo body through our Build to Order program; you’d be the first to ask, and we might say yes.
7. I see summer humidity levels of more than 75% drop to 30% and worse in the winter, and it’s nearly impossible to manage the climate in my entire house. I keep the guitar in its case, use an in-case humidifier in winter, etc., but I was wondering if you could suggest any special strategies or products for dealing with those vast seasonal differences?
Humidipak by Planet Waves! Don’t forget that name. Buy them. They will absorb moisture in the summer and humidify in the winter. They work both ways. Many of you may know of the early recall of Humdipaks while some manufacturing issues were solved. They’re back, and I can’t imagine being without them. Oh, and by the way, thanks for storing your guitar in its case. You are miles ahead of people who want to display them on their walls. Guitars are not furniture, nor are they artwork. They’re instruments and need to be kept in the case when not played.
8. Having the ability to create, play and own any guitar you could possibly imagine, what would your dream guitar be? Please include details such as woods, body style, bracing, etc.
Oh man, don’t make me, please don’t make me. Well, it would include Brazilian rosewood and Adirondack spruce. It would be a Grand Symphony shape and would have ebony binding and an armrest, and a Brazilian back strap behind the peghead. And I’m not copping out when I say I’d be just as happy if that same guitar were made from Indian rosewood and Sitka spruce. That’s the truth. Or I’d have Bill Collings build me a mahogany dreadnought with tortoise binding, and then there is this 000 Martin, made in the ’20s, that a friend of mine owns. That guitar is really good. See, I can’t do it!
9. A few years ago, I was watching a Taylor video and I saw a Taylor amp. What is the story behind those, and will they ever make it to the public market?
Well, the story is we’re always tinkering and working on designs. This was made as a cute little thing that works well with our Expression System. It sounds great and has one knob: Volume. Yeah, it will make it to the public market sometime, but it’s too hard to say when.
10. What types of woods will Taylor be experimenting with in the near future—and what sorts of sounds would those produce?
I think we’re experimenting with the future woods now. For instance, ovangkol and sapele are future woods. There’s some neat South American rosewood species that are available in very small quantities, so some of those might find their way into a guitar here and there. We’re still working on Tasmanian blackwood, knowing it sounds great; now the problem is getting it. Also, we’re looking at some different species to replace ebony if the day comes when that might be needed. There’s mesquite too. It sounds like rosewood, more or less, and is pretty and stable. Yet there’s no real method of obtaining it. I think the major woods are defined now, with lots of “wood du jour” guitars that will be made along the way.