How I Met Bob Taylor: A Guitar’s Journey Home – Part I of II

This story begins in 1975 in a largely unknown guitar shop in Lemon Grove, CA, just east of San Diego.  Warren Brown, a man who was to become a good friend of mine years later, had walked into this shop upon a friend’s recommendation.  He walked out with a new guitar, hand-crafted almost entirely by a young luthier named Bob Taylor.

A few months before, Bob and his friends Kurt Listug and Steve Schemmer had purchased American Dream, the guitar shop they had been working for, and renamed it Westland Music Company.  Since Bob was the chief luthier, they started putting the much shorter name “Taylor” onto each guitar’s headstock.

Warren played that guitar for years until, like so many, he retired it in its case to a closet.  Last Christmas his granddaughter and his son decided to take guitar lessons and he pulled out his old guitar to play some music with them.  Realizing it was in need of some repair work, Warren took his guitar to a local guitar shop. Upon inspection, the store employee became aware of the guitar’s significance and refused to touch it any further.

“Bob Taylor will probably want to see this,” the employee mused, “You should take it down to San Diego.” Which is just what Warren did.

It turns out Bob Taylor did want to see this guitar, as did most of the employees at Taylor.  After decades of innovation, seeing a fully-handmade guitar built by one of the company’s founders in that first year of operation was like holding a history lesson fashioned out of wood and metal.

Fast forward to yesterday.  Now that all of the repairs had been completed (as a courtesy), Bob felt like it was time to release the guitar back to its owner.  Warren had asked me to accompany him to the Taylor factory in San Diego, and I’d jumped at the chance.  We arrived in time to take the factory tour.

Like all woodworking processes, the guitar-making process begins with the procurement and selection of the raw wood.  Our tour guide showed us their stockpiles of beautiful and extremely rare Hawaiian hardwood called Koa, and bundles of Mahogany, Rosewood, Maple, Ebony, and Cocobolo.  Between the wood selection and the high tech woodworking equipment, this place was a woodworker’s dream!

I was impressed to hear about the care that goes into making the cuts to waste as little wood as possible.  The Taylor factory models good stewardship of resources and a respect for the environment without sacrificing quality.

If I had to choose one word to describe Taylor’s factory, I’d would have to say: transparency.  Everything about this place oozes honesty and promotes a culture of sharing.  Taylor has openly shared many of their best innovations as a means of bettering the industry and the musical instruments made by everyone.  They also welcomed the taking of photos on their tour, something not every factory is willing to do.

One of my favorite features of the Taylor factory was the guitar hanging in each room.

Employees are encouraged to relax and play the guitars when on their breaks.  As you can imagine, this gave the whole factory a musical air as employees practiced their riffs and fingerpicking.

There was quality and attention to detail in every aspect of the process, as in the case of these fretboards.

The tour was over.  It had been an education in bookmatched tops, laser cutters, robotic buffers, and kerfing clamps, and we were left invigorated with a respect for the craftsmanship of Taylor guitars.

We returned our headsets and passes.  It was time to meet Bob.

Tim Whitehouse - July 16, 2010 - 8:20 pm

Fantastic job! Your shots are terrific, writing is great.

daniel - July 16, 2010 - 8:26 pm

Thanks Tim! That means a lot coming from you! I had a chance to check out your portfolio. Great stuff! I enjoyed the latest issue of Wood & Steel too.

Brittany Machado - July 17, 2010 - 12:56 pm

This is such a wonderfully improbable story! Thanks for inviting us into the story.

daniel + megan - July 18, 2010 - 4:37 pm

Thanks Brittany, happy surprises make my heart happy.

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