Taylor Acoustic Guitars: Breaking Convention and Prioritizing Conservation

In a few months, the acoustic giant that is Taylor guitars turns forty-five. The luthiery project of Bob Taylor and Kurt Listung may have started in the backend of a tiny shop in southern California, but from 1974 on, the pair developed a brand that is now synonymous with innovation, playability, and sustainability.

Well before his surname was on the headstock of instruments played by sensations like Taylor Swift and Jason Mraz, Bob Taylor began crafting acoustic guitars in high school. Sourcing product back then wasn’t as easy as it is now. You had to know a guy who knew a guy. For Taylor, this connection came from Sam Radding, who ran the American Dream workshop and guitar retail store in Lemon Grove, California. After seeing the potential in Taylor’s high school builds, Radding hired Taylor to join the team upon his graduation.

Taylor’s time at American Dream was formative as he continued to develop his craft under Radding. As Taylor noted in many interviews reflecting on these days, his approach to building was largely a blank slate. Without a clear understanding of how other acoustic giants like Gibson or Martin built their instruments, Taylor was developing designs that made sense sonically, ergonomically, and materially. In a way, form and function cannot be dictated by tradition. For example, Radding’s shop is where Taylor first explored alternative methods for joining acoustic necks to bodies. Fast-forward decades later, and you get the now brilliantly streamlined NT neck system, which uses precision cuts from CNC (computer numerical control) machinery and strategic bolts to find the perfect fit and enable maximum tone transfer.

American Dream was not only formative to Taylor’s growing understanding of luthiery, it was also significant for founding a lasting business partnership. It’s in this same shop where Taylor connected with Kurt Listung. Not long after these two began working alongside one another, Radding decided to move on but didn’t have to look far to find buyers for the business. Taylor and Listung cobbled together $10,000 of loans from family members, acquired the shop in 1974 and renamed it Westland Music Company.

With the cash capital dwindling quick, Taylor and Listung had to focus on developing, building, and shipping product. In the early days, this came in the form of three acoustic builds per day, with a largely direct to customer sales approach. To extend their reach, by the late 1970s, Taylor partnered with a distributor to move their guitars well-beyond their home turf in southern California and the company grew from there. These days, Taylor employs some 900 people, has state-of-the-art facilities in both California and Mexico, and distributes internationally to more than sixty countries. That initial $10k went a long way!

Taylor’s international success and demand, however, are always balanced with a west coast consciousness for equitably sourced raw materials. The majority of Taylor guitars are tailor made from woods grown in North America with select materials, such as ebony and mahogany, coming from company owned or co-op mills in Cameroon or Honduras. Through new approaches to forest management and ethical approaches to harvesting tone woods, Taylor ensures that both the instruments they build and the forests used to create them are passed on for generations to come.

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