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Review: Taylor on Guitars: New Neck Designs by Bob Taylor, Taylor Guitars

Review: Taylor on Guitars: New Neck Designs by Bob Taylor, Taylor Guitars

Reviewed by Woody Vernice

Originally published in American Lutherie #62, 2000 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Six, 2013



Video: Taylor on Guitars: New Neck Designs
Bob Taylor, Taylor Guitars
www.taylorguitars.com

I’ve been thinking about this video for a month, and last night Bob Taylor was in my dream. Taylor, myself, and about thirty nondescript luthiers were thrown in the clink overnight on trumped-up charges, shipped out of town on a freight train, then delivered home on a battered bus. I arrived home with my pack frame, but everything in it had been scattered along the tracks and highways of our odyssey. Bob was good company, but with his close shave, razor-cut hair, and classy overcoat, he clearly wasn’t one of the boys.

Taylor (the real man) is always friendly — even jocular — when accosted at lutherie conventions. The Bob on this video is more like the guy in my dream. Not aloof, but quiet and understated. He wants to sell us on his new guitar neck but not too strongly, for he’s aware that a heavy hand might raise the hackles of a tradition-locked audience. Taylor (the company), once the iconoclastic upstart, is now a major player in the guitar world with 700+ dealers, and they don’t want their pioneering spirit to rock their empire. Stacks of companies have gone under by producing fine products that the public wasn’t ready for, and Taylor certainly doesn’t want to find themselves on the top of that heap.

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Review: Taylor on Guitars: New Neck Designs by Bob Taylor, Taylor Guitars

Reviewed by Woody Vernice

Originally published in American Lutherie #62, 2000 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Six, 2013



Video: Taylor on Guitars: New Neck Designs
Bob Taylor, Taylor Guitars
www.taylorguitars.com

I’ve been thinking about this video for a month, and last night Bob Taylor was in my dream. Taylor, myself, and about thirty nondescript luthiers were thrown in the clink overnight on trumped-up charges, shipped out of town on a freight train, then delivered home on a battered bus. I arrived home with my pack frame, but everything in it had been scattered along the tracks and highways of our odyssey. Bob was good company, but with his close shave, razor-cut hair, and classy overcoat, he clearly wasn’t one of the boys.

Taylor (the real man) is always friendly — even jocular — when accosted at lutherie conventions. The Bob on this video is more like the guy in my dream. Not aloof, but quiet and understated. He wants to sell us on his new guitar neck but not too strongly, for he’s aware that a heavy hand might raise the hackles of a tradition-locked audience. Taylor (the company), once the iconoclastic upstart, is now a major player in the guitar world with 700+ dealers, and they don’t want their pioneering spirit to rock their empire. Stacks of companies have gone under by producing fine products that the public wasn’t ready for, and Taylor certainly doesn’t want to find themselves on the top of that heap.

In short, Taylor’s new neck is rigid from the end of the headstock to the upper end of the fingerboard. It attaches to the body only with bolts, and the heel and the fingerboard extension fit into pockets of such tight tolerance that they are essentially invisible. From the outside the guitars look like the Taylors of old. In the pockets is a mated pair of tapered shims, and the neck can be reset by removing the bolts, changing the shims, and reassembling, a process that’s done on screen in less than five minutes. It’s sort of a wildly sophisticated version of the Fender Micro-Tilt neck. The headstock is also finger jointed to the neck, and Bob uses a press to demonstrate that the breaking point of the joint is at least as strong as that of a one-piece neck. There are other new features, but you should get the video to check them out.

The tape is carefully crafted to convince even the guitar idiot that the new neck is a real step forward, not just a gimmick. Paper models and dissected guitars abound as examples of old and new technology. Bob’s explanations are crystal clear. The video opens with a disjointed and rapid factory tour, and later there’s footage of a robo-luthier milling a body to accept the new neck system. A parking lot shot of Bob setting a guitar on fire with his giant magnifying lens would have livened things up, but on the whole this video is watchable and informative.

I’ve been a fan of Bob and his guitars since they hit the scene. I’m certainly willing to concede that the new neck is a step forward. Not that neck sets are that big a deal. The typical well-made guitar may go decades before distortions in the body make the action unplayable. Spending $200–$400 every ten years to keep a valuable old friend serviceable isn’t such a burden. Putting a shim under the fingerboard extension during a reset will keep the neck playable even on a cutaway guitar. This is a normal part of life for vintage-instrument enthusiasts and anyone else who keeps an instrument long enough for it to show some age. For decades to come repairmen are likely to make a good living from resets. The fact that your Taylor dealer can now keep your ax in fine playing form (and perhaps for free) as the years go by, and keep the joinery looking factory-new, will likely take some time to gain as a sales pitch.

But there’s a philosophical side to this that I can’t ignore. Taylor was already a frontrunner in high-tech guitar making, but according to their website they had to install equipment capable of higher precision in order to implement their new neck technology as invisibly as they wished. Forget the issue of patent infringement — a guitar factory has finally gone where hand builders probably can’t afford to follow. The impact may be years in the future, but if demand for technically refined instruments snowballs, the definition of a well-made guitar may change in a way that puts the lone luthier in jeopardy. But I suspect that the CNC revolution has just begun, and its impact on our industry probably can’t be guessed at from our vantage point.

Alone among the crafts, the more a handmade guitar looks like a factory product, the more successful it is deemed. Traditional concepts and cosmetic perfection are market priorities, regardless of what most musicians maintain, and guitars are seldom made as a personal statement of creation.

Where is our James Krenov? Krenov founded a school of furniture making that eschewed trick joinery, shiny finishes, and overstated decoration in favor of an elegant simplicity of design, surfaces that displayed tool marks (especially his beloved hand planes) as the sign of a human creation, and oil or wax finishes that let the wood feel like wood. Not that Krenov’s ideas would transfer directly to the guitar. But enough craftsmen were so enamored of Krenov’s ideas that they bucked major trends in furniture design until their market presence couldn’t be ignored.

Orville Gibson briefly provided such an influence before he sold out to a corporate entity, and we certainly have contemporary builders who are founts of inspiration, but by and large guitar makers still strive for factory perfection at the expense of personal statement. For the last decade or so the factories have followed the lead supplied by the little guys and the one-off builders. Now we have a sign that the factories may lead where the rest of us can’t follow.

The factories will always furnish the world with 99% of its guitars. In the future the “one-percenters” may need a new ethic to explain their presence. I hope to see the day when handmade guitars are so distinctive that they need no logos to identify their makers.

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Review: Ring the Banjar! The Banjo in America from Folklore to Factory, by Robert Lloyd Web

Review: Ring the Banjar! The Banjo in America from Folklore to Factory by Robert Lloyd Web

Reviewed by Woody Vernice

Originally published in American Lutherie #58, 1999 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Five, 2008



Ring the Banjar! The Banjo in America from Folklore to Factory
Robert Lloyd Webb
The MIT Museum, 1984
ISBN 0917027019

In 1984 the MIT Museum sponsored an exhibition of banjos that focused on the companies that existed in and around Boston. This book is a catalog of the instruments exhibited, and the essays sort of explain why such a prestigious organization spent so much energy on such a humble instrument. Contemporary luthiers think that they are leading the way for the factories. Webb maintains the reverse, that individual builders were basically hackers who kept the instrument alive until the large factories brought it to its zenith.

The banjo began life as a stick and a gourd. It evolved rapidly into a recognizable configuration and the Victorian banjo craze that followed the Civil War made it a hot-ticket item, bringing a rush to make better and fancier models. Venues changed from parlors to large burlesque halls, and louder and gaudier banjos filled the need. The jazz age and the banjo were both put to death by the Great Depression, and Webb credits Pete Seeger and Earl Scruggs as the men who resurrected the latter. It’s a thumbnail sketch, but a good one.

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Review: 1996 & 1997 Luthier’s Art

Review: 1996 The Luthier’s Art & 1997 The Luthier’s Art

Reviewed by Woody Vernice

Originally published in American Lutherie #55, 1998



1996 The Luthier’s Art & 1997 The Luthier’s Art
String Letter Publishing
1996: 111 pages
1997: 141 pages, ISBN 1-890490-01-6
$19.95 per volume
Available from Acoustic Guitar magazine

These two lovely collections of instrument photos represent the participants of the Healdsburg Guitar Festivals of their respective years. Since the books came out well before the events, it’s obvious that the photos were submitted by the luthiers and weren’t taken at the shows. I’m sure the photos are better for it, but these aren’t necessarily the guitars you would have seen at the festivals.

As one of the sponsors of the festivals, Acoustic Guitar magazine has tried hard to make the guitar a cultural icon and the festivals a matter of artistic importance. These books are compiled to look like gallery or auction catalogs. The layout is formal and the photographic reproduction very good. If the collection is biased towards Left Coastians, the books are more interesting for it. The progressives and weirdoes lend an air of excitement and airiness to the pages, though they may send some staid readers on a quick search for a Martin copy just to regain their balance. All in all, however, there seems to be a lot more luthiers happily chugging away within the tradition than pushing the envelope. This is a pretty bunch of instruments with enough ideas in either volume to keep any builder thinking for a long time. The photo spread is followed by a short biography of each luthier.

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