Like Henry Ford or George Lucas before him, Bob Taylor is one of those rare innovators whose ingenuity is matched by their creativity. It takes a special kind of mind to be equally enamoured by the process and the outcome, and Taylor’s guitars are a testament to that vision. Every little piece has its place, and every process, tool, template, jig, material and measurement has been scrutinized to within an inch of its life before being permitted the reward of playing a part in making a Taylor guitar. Guitar Lessons is Taylor’s first book, and it explains how and why Taylor Guitars came to be what the company is today.
Guitar Lessons can be read in three ways: as a memoir of a legendary guitar builder for those interested in the instrument from a player’s point of view; as an insight into the design and construction processes from a luthier’s perspective; or as a ‘how to succeed in business’ manual for those who may not have a particular affinity for the guitar building industry but who might like to gather inspiration and advice in whatever form it appears.
Taylor takes us from his earliest days as one of those ‘take something apart and put it back together’ kids right through to the present day. Along the way he lets us in on his very first guitar creations, his job repairing and building guitars at a store called American Dream, the chain of events that led to him and colleagues Kirt Listug and Steve Schemmer acquiring the store (and renaming it the Westland Music Company), the decision to name the company’s guitars after Taylor – after all, it’s a more ‘brand-friendly’ name than Listug Guitars – the thrill of seeing his guitar in the hands of a famous player for the first time, and the design of the unique tools and construction techniques used by Taylor Guitars. There are photos which lay out milestones in the lives of Bob Taylor as a person and Taylor Guitars as a company, and it’s intriguing to see the brand grow from such humble beginnings to such a grant present day.
Taylor’s not shy to talk about his misfires and failures along the way, nor does he back away from the struggles, uncertainty, tensions and grievances that can slow the progress of any business, such as cashflow, the distribution chain, and everybody being on the same page. That’s why the book is so readable to so many readers, whether they’re interested in the minutiae of guitar construction or not: it’s the story of a man who took a passion and built it into an empire, and you don’t need to be a guitar geek to appreciate it.
Guitar Lessons is written in a very warm, conversational style, and if you’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting Taylor in person you would recognise the matter-of-fact, down-home turns of phrase as well as the detail and care taken with every word. As a reader it kind of feels like you and Taylor are sitting on the porch strumming guitars and swapping stories.
Okay, maybe Taylor’s telling the stories and you’re listening and learning.