A Brief History of Taylor Guitar Innovations

Taylor, one of the most revered names in acoustic guitars, has earned a place alongside the much-older giants of the industry by crafting instruments with a sound all their own and an easy playability. Strum a chord and a Taylor can seem alive.

The El Cajon, Calif.-based Taylor Guitars has developed new ways to put together guitar necks and bodies, pioneered CNC manufacturing techniques and campaigned to save endangered forests. More breakthroughs seem likely to come as the company continues to tweak its designs.

Taylor Guitar Origins

It’s a streak of innovation that arose from humble beginnings. Bob Taylor’s journey into luthiery began in the early ‘70s, when he built his first instruments in the wood shop at school. At first, he was simply trying to replicate the Echo Ranger 12-string he saw in a store-front window.

Taylor wasn’t even aware of Martin Guitars when he began building instruments, he once admitted in an interview with Acoustic Nation. Thankfully, that blissful ignorance of Martin’s 175-year history allowed him to design an instrument free of preconceived notions of what an acoustic guitar should be. He based his designs only on what he felt and desired.

By 1974, Taylor and Kurt Listug were laboring over instruments in the back of a small guitar store in Southern California. When the owner of the shop decided to move on, the duo bought the place and Taylor Guitars was born. Listug headed the business side of the company, and Taylor took responsibility for the guitars.

Taylor T5z Standard

1976 Taylor 815

Taylor T5z Classic

1982 Taylor 710

The first decade proved difficult. The fledgling company turned out an average of three guitars per day and had a difficult time selling them. But with great sound and superb action, the guitars were slowly-but-surely building the company’s reputation.

About 11 years in, guitar shops and players began understanding what separated a Taylor from other acoustic guitars. That’s when sales skyrocketed.

Neck Profile

Taylor Guitars became known for their effortless playability. When they hit the scene most companies were building necks with larger round or V profiles. It’s the way it had been for decades, and many of the most sought-after guitars of all time were made that way.

But from the beginning, Taylor designed his necks with slimmer dimensions so they would feel great in the player’s hand. That carve, along with low, even action, was especially important to acoustic players accustomed to the light touch of electric guitars. And those qualities continue to impress anyone who picks up a Taylor.

NT Neck

Taylor was ready when machinery with computer numerical control, or CNC, became a factor in guitar making. He used it to improve the way he joined the guitar’s neck and body, creating what the company called the NT neck. The design uses precision-cut spacers and bolts to attach the neck to the body.

While Old World luthiers may scoff, the process allows for optimal contact of the wood, perfect neck angle on every guitar, fast construction and short adjustment time. What used to take a week now requires five minutes and yields better results.

Expression System

The Taylor Guitars Expression System (ES), engineered by Taylor’s David Hosler and audio-industry giant Rupert Neve, creates one of the most natural-sounding acoustic guitar pickup system possible.

Expression System control on a Taylor 314ce

Expression System control on a Taylor 314ce

It uses sensors to capture the movement of the top wood. Sporting a low-profile set of controls, the system enables a player to plug an acoustic guitar straight into the board and achieve natural, warm and woody tones.

Today, Taylor has improved on the ES with the ES2. It affords players a level of live acoustic tone and ease-of-use that is quickly becoming the new standard.

Taylor’s Conservation Efforts

While Taylor Guitars has always been environmentally conscious, Bob Taylor has taken on an even more active role in responsible forestry and conservation in recent years. And he’s becoming very well known for his efforts. His “The State of Ebony” video has racked up more than 200,000 views on YouTube.

Much of the wood Taylor Guitars uses is grown in North America. But Taylor is also deeply involved in conservation across the globe. The company operates an ebony mill in Cameroon and work with co-ops in Honduras to source mahogany responsibly.

“By the time I die, I think that Taylor will own wood-growing lots,” Taylor has declared. Conservation is becoming such a large part of Taylor Guitars that Bob himself views that as the trajectory of his storied career.

Introducing Andy Powers

Taylor 600 Series 614ce

Taylor 600 Series 614ce

Taylor Guitars celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2014, and Bob Taylor decided the time had come to begin the process of finding a successor to bring Taylor Guitars far into the future. Taylor listed the qualities he’d seek in a candidate, and some seemed so specific they’d be impossible to fill.

But then Taylor found Andy Powers, a luthier with his own line of custom acoustic instruments. In his brief time at Taylor, Powers has significantly improved the iconic 600 and 800 series guitars.

Powers is taking on more responsibility at the company, freeing Bob Taylor to devote more of his attention to his passionate concern about wood and forest conservationism. It's just coincidence that Andy’s middle name is Taylor.

The Next 40 Years

Taylor Jason Mraz Signature

Taylor Jason Mraz Signature

The last 40 years have seen Taylor Guitars become a world leader in acoustic guitar manufacturing. The company has introduced technology, revolutionized the sound of live acoustic performance and worked toward 100% responsible wood sourcing. With Powers onboard and Bob Taylor pursuing conservation, the next 40 years could prove as revolutionary as the past 40.

Electric Guitars

Taylor Guitars has also had a strong presence in the electric guitar market. And the same adherence to quality and innovation are found throughout their electric lines as their acoustics.

Taylor’s flagship electrics are their T5 line hybrids. Far from an acoustic with a peizo, the hollowbody T5 line boasts an array of different pickup options that can be combined for anything from pure acoustic tones to high-gain humbucker rock sounds. These are finding favor with many artists that need both sounds at the flick of a switch.

Taylor T5z Standard

Taylor T5z Standard

Taylor T5z Custom

Taylor T5z Custom

Taylor T5z Classic

Taylor T5z Classic

But Taylor also dipped their foot into the solid-body guitar market for a time. The solid-body electrics featured a new type of wide-range pickup designed by David Hosler, Taylor’s resident pickup guru. Available as single and double-cutaway body styles, these guitars are still highly regarded for their quality and tone though no longer available from Taylor.

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