With forest restoration, ecology research, community engagement, and original V-Class bracing, Taylor Guitars creates a conscientious and flawless tone.
To understand the movement to push sustainability forward in the guitar industry, one needs to get to know Taylor Guitars. In order to understand the company, one of the most influential acoustic guitar manufacturers to date, you have to take a look at what defines them. In an industry in which the words “sustainability” and “innovation” are frequent buzzwords, Taylor is showcasing true action.
A Passion for Quality and Sustainability
A quality guitar begins with quality wood. In the case of Taylor Guitars, one traditionally used wood species, ebony, is highly valued for its durability, strength, and density. For these reasons, ebony is used for the fretboard and bridge of every single guitar that Taylor produces. Since the start of the company in 1974, co-founder Bob Taylor has seen first-hand the supply of tonewoods dwindle, and cites the lack of environmental conservancy as a cause:
“Many of the woods traditionally chosen to make acoustic guitars—ebony, spruce, mahogany, maple, and rosewood, just to name a few—come from forests that are increasingly at risk due to a range of factors, including rising global consumption patterns, climate change, land conversion for development such as large farms and plantations to feed export markets, and in some cases, a lack of good governance.”
Taylor realized that the company had an obligation to do its part to safeguard the future of the natural resources it relied upon. And while the company has long maintained a close working relationship with the businesses and communities that supply the wood, visiting most of them annually, Taylor recently upped its game with a series of forest restoration projects. In 2016, Bob and others from Taylor traveled the world to visit forest restoration projects and gain knowledge and inspiration. They learned about different approaches and gained a deeper understanding of the economic impact of sourcing on local communities, all in order to further prepare the company to launch its own restoration projects. One such initiative is called The Ebony Project.
The project started with Taylor’s co-purchase and transformation of an ebony sawmill in the African country of Cameroon in 2011, and has since expanded to include groundbreaking research into ebony ecology and a community-based planting program. The project joins ethical business, ecology research, and local community engagement, all geared toward forest restoration and long-term conservation.
Taylor Guitars has also chronicled the work being done in Cameroon, giving us as an audience a better understanding of the realities of sourcing, including the important role Taylor’s supply partners in Cameroon play. The result is a multimedia storytelling experience that lives on the Taylor Guitars website and offers a virtual trip to Cameroon:
“The Ebony Project takes you there to learn more about the people, the challenges, the work, and the improvements being made in the sourcing and processing of West African ebony (Diospyros crassiflora Hiern)… You’ll also learn more about the lives and families you are supporting when you buy a Taylor guitar, along with Taylor’s efforts to cultivate a more sustainable future in Cameroon through a scalable replanting program.”
One of the reasons that Bob has been able to devote more time to sustainability initiatives in recent years is that he passed the torch as Taylor’s chief guitar designer to another skilled guitar maker, Andy Powers, who joined the company in 2011 and currently serves as Taylor’s master guitar designer. As Taylor’s next-generation guitar architect, Powers continues the company’s mission of making the most player-friendly guitars in both feel and sound.
Innovation and Craftsmanship in V-Class Bracing
Taylor Guitars is headquartered in El Cajon, California, where they produce their premium-grade instruments, crafted with solid wood tops, backs, and sides. Taylor also operates a factory in nearby Tecate, Baja California, Mexico (less than an hour from El Cajon), where they proudly bring the Taylor sound into a more accessible price point. Known in the guitar industry for its pioneering advances in guitar-making, Taylor has combined the ideals of old-world craftsmanship with modern tooling and manufacturing processes, including the use of computer-controlled milling machines, advanced robotics, and other proprietary technology. This ensures that every instrument is consistent with the quality and standards of their designs. A lot of emphasis is placed on playing comfort, particularly on the necks, which are designed with low, playable action on every model. Taylor has also applied its precision manufacturing capability to infuse their guitar line with tone-enhancing innovations that give players a rich palette of acoustic voicings to explore. In a market stacked with companies devoted to preserving the traditions of vintage guitars from another era, Taylor’s focus is on evolving the guitar-playing experience through constant improvement.
Until recently, one could say that the Taylor sound was detailed and bright, with a lot of sustain. The dynamic range has always been quite excellent, and that alone got the guitar into the hands of countless musicians. One of the company’s recent innovations, V-Class bracing, introduces a groundbreaking new internal architecture for an acoustic guitar (Taylor describes it as “a new sonic engine”). Taylor sees its patented design as a whole new platform for improving acoustic tone, and something truly unique among the entire guitar industry. Traditionally, the way an acoustic guitar has been braced was one of the following few methods:
Fan bracing, which was developed on classical guitars.
Ladder bracing, which was used on both classical guitars and steel-string acoustics.
X-bracing, which is mainly used on steel-string acoustic guitars.
The way the guitar is braced has a significant impact on its tonal characteristics, and for steel-string acoustic guitars, X-bracing has been an industry standard for more than a century. Yet with X-bracing, there is an inherent compromise that must be balanced between the guitar’s ability to produce two important tonal traits: volume and sustain. The challenge is that increasing one typically comes at the expense of the other. That’s because volume comes from flexibility—the vibration of the guitar top—while sustain comes from stiffness. The breakthrough of V-Class is that it allows independent control of each, meaning an acoustic guitar can now be designed to produce both more volume and sustain.
- Maintains the stiffness of the top along the middle of the guitar, which is what helps give it its tremendous sustain.
- Allows for more even movement along the sides of the top, which then in turn makes it capable of projecting loudly.
- Produces greater harmonic agreement, or in-tuneness, among the notes. With more pitch accuracy across the entire fretboard, ringing notes and complex chords have less dissonance and sound more musical to the ear.
Quite the bold claim, I know—but that is exactly what I experienced when I played the 522e and the Builder’s Edition 517e. Another clear difference I noticed in both of the V-Class guitars was a much deeper low-frequency response than I have come to expect from playing their guitars in the past. All in all, the V-Class bracing techniques engineered by Andy Powers are a step forward in the world of acoustic guitars, especially for those seeking unwavering sustain and depth without the sacrifice of power and volume.
A Taylor For Everyone
It’s always daunting to figure out where to begin when purchasing a guitar, even when you stand behind the mission and ethos of the company. We tried a few of Taylor’s most popular guitars, and below are three models that stood out the most as both budget-friendly and quality-driven.
The Academy Series: It starts here.
Price Range: $499.99 and up
Perfect for both beginners and advanced musicians looking for an affordable guitar with high-quality sound and performance. Each guitar in this series has a comfortable arm contour that makes it easy to play for extended periods. The ones equipped with pickups for playing live and recording also have built-in tuners, gig bags included! And Taylor offers both steel-string and nylon-string editions.
GS Mini Series: Travel-sized guitars with full-sized sound
Price Range: $499.99 and up
One of Taylor’s bestsellers, the GS Mini line, brings the Taylor sound to a smaller package. These guitars are perfect for anyone on the smaller side and anyone who just wants a high-quality guitar that is compact for traveling or playing on the couch. These come in a few varieties, including a bass, and all of them sound and feel shockingly good. Many are even equipped with pickups, making them suitable for gigging, too. Well-padded gig bags included.
V-Class Guitars: For the all-around pro
Price Range: $1699.99 and up
The new V-Class bracing is currently used on the best guitars in the Taylor line. If you are looking for the best of what Taylor has to offer, then this is where you want to start. I was lucky enough to spend some time with both the new Grand Pacific Builder’s Edition 717 WHB (Wild Honey Burst) and a Grand Concert 522e—both equipped with the new bracing system. My expectations were exceeded in both cases by a country mile, and I would recommend that every guitarist experience this for themselves. The Grand Pacific blew me away with its incredible punch and volume; I believe that flatpickers would rejoice if they tried one. The 522e, though, was my clear favorite. It’s kind of funny, but the specs of this guitar are some that I have been dreaming of my entire life. The Grand Concert has a more compact size, and the neck is joined at the 12th fret. It feels just right on my frame (I’m 5’5 and 140). The 12-fret configuration and slightly shorter scale length, in combination with the V-Class bracing, give it a low-end response that I’m more used to hearing with and love about playing with much larger dreadnought-shaped acoustics. This instrument, in my opinion, might be one of the best recording guitars out there today. There is truly something to the intonation of V-Class instruments that left me in awe, and I think the players who get these guitars will be inspired to new heights.