Taylor Guitars: the acoustic innovators born from the ‘American Dream’

The 100% employee-owned Taylor Guitars has been around since the early ’70s. Read on as we track the company’s record of acoustic innovation.

Founded in 1974 by two hard-working teenagers, Taylor Guitars was born, literally, in the heart of The American Dream (more on that later). Now a worldwide operation, Taylor Guitars has always been about premium acoustic guitars and building on the blueprint laid down by its forefathers.

Let’s look at how this company of four decades standing has become one of the most recognisable guitar brands on the planet and how it continues to reimagine what is capable in the field of acoustic innovation.

Taylor Guitars
Photo: Taylor Guitars

The American dream

Bob Taylor and Kurt Listug met when they were 19 and 21, respectively, working at The American Dream guitar shop in San Diego, California. Bob Taylor actually made his first guitar at 17 years of age. When the shop was announced for sale they decided to buy the business together and there was born Taylor Guitars.

The pair were motivated to make money from their passion for guitar making and as a tribute to the company’s roots, Taylor Guitars even have a series of acoustic guitars called The American Dream. More recently they have created a collection of hybrid hollow-body guitars and semi-hollow body electric guitars with beautiful designs and Bigsby vibrato tailpieces.

In 2011 Bob and Kurt hired master luthier Andy Powers to maintain their premium product and quality designs. As of 2019, Andy became the third owner in the partnership, and then in 2021 Bob, Kurt and Andy announced Taylor would become 100% employee-owned by its 1200 plus employees through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan. The move maintains the innovation and quality of the infamous award-winning guitar company. Taylor guitars have state-of-the-art factories in El Cajon, California and Tecate, Mexico along with a distribution warehouse and factory service centre in the Netherlands.

Innovative designs

Taylor’s bracing patterns and use of modern high-tech tools, lasers and computer mills have been key to their success and long-lasting brand name. V-class, C-class, X bracing and Fan bracing are used for the varying designs of acoustic guitars and string tensions.

V-Class is a revolutionary design that is a step away from the traditional steel-string acoustic designs. Its benefits are that the notes are more consistent across the whole fretboard as the soundboard flexes naturally creating more volume and sustain. C-class bracing is used on the smaller Taylor’s with the GT body shape and still utilizes some of the benefits of the V-class. Volume boosting, sustain and powerful bass response gives Taylor’s smaller stature guitars a bigger and well-balanced sound.

X bracing is also used on the smaller-bodied guitars like the Baby Taylor, GS Mini, Academy and their 100 and 200 series. They have developed and refined this bracing over the years to maintain the clarity and tone one gets from a Taylor Guitar. Fan Bracing is used on Taylor’s Nylon stringed guitars. Andy Powers came up with a unique three-bar design adapted from his ukulele designs. Again it gives a clear, open sound with clarity and extra sustain.

Taylor Guitars are well-loved for their pickup designs and clarity, so it comes as no surprise that Rupert Neve along with pickup designer David Hosler was behind the simple, innovative and exclusive Expression System. It’s an all-magnetic pickup system that uses two dynamic vibrational sensors and a sub-fretboard dynamic string sensor all controlled by three simple controls: Volume, Treble and Bass. The Expression system has been developed further into the Expression System 2, which features 25% hotter output, a phase switch and the ability to adjust the three sensors with an Allen key.

Electric Acoustic

With the introduction of the T5, Taylor Guitars took a dive into new territory with the hybrid acoustic/electric guitar both in design and pickup configuration. The T5 was replaced by the T5z and the semi-hollow body T3 was introduced — ‘electric’ guitars that are aesthetically pleasing and come with huge tonal options. The T5z with its modern-designed body holes blurs lines using a three-pickup system with an acoustic body sensor, concealed neck humbucker and a visible bridge humbucker. All pickups are controlled by a five-way switch and tone controls.

The T3 is a classic looking semi-hollow body guitar featuring a Bigsby vibrato tailpiece option, modern styled ‘F-holes’, and neck and bridge coil-splitting humbucker pickups (pull up the volume pot to change to single-coil). This is one classy guitar for the world of jazz, rockabilly, country and even rock for those big open tones.

Famous players

If you trust Taylor Swift, Jason Mraz, Zac Brown Band and Serj Tankian of System of a Down as songwriters and performers you’ll be happy to know they endorse Taylor Guitars. Taylor Swift — along with owning about seven models of guitars — has her own Taylor Swift Baby Taylor signature model inclusive of the ES-B (Expression System Baby) pickup system.

You’ll see a wide spectrum of musicians using Taylor Guitars, from songwriter/artists Tori Kelly and Shawn Mendes to veterans Jewel, Dave Matthews and Ben Harper to country star Alan Jackson, solidifying the reputation which has sustained for more than four decades.

A sustainable future

In 2018 Taylor Guitar’s started the Ebony Project. Bob Taylor took a trip to Cameroon in 2011, which changed his view on wood sourcing, production and sustainability forever. Being a very desirable tonewood, ebony both holds frets and also withstands constant use from playing. Understandably, it is the main wood used on fretboards and bridges on Taylor Guitars. 1100 trees were planted by Taylor Guitars in 2018 and they researched how to correctly plant and pollinate them around the forest.

In the name of inventions and the future, Taylor has released a smart battery box that monitors humidity and battery life via an app on your smartphone. You can also link multiple guitars and see impact details from travel. Future proof!

When you think of acoustic instruments, you think of decades or centuries of development and design. Taylor Guitars has taken the best of these traditions and built on them, improving everything from volume, tone, instrument care and electronics. It is no wonder that a relatively young company has become a leader in both quality and innovation, all the while committing to making sustainable instruments. You can’t help but feel you are buying into a legacy when you buy a Taylor.