Taylor Guitars Puts You In The Luthier’s Seat

Inside every guitarist lurks a guitar designer: someone wanting to tweak some aspect of the guitar to better suit their needs and  desires. Taylor Guitars’ new SolidBody Configurator allows guitarists to release that inner beast and design the instrument of their dreams, see a virtual image of their creation, and then purchase that guitar.

We decided we’d put the Configurator to the test by compiling our own version of form and functionality, and submitting the results to Taylor for fabrication. Then, we thought we’d head over to Taylor’s El Cajon, California factory to see if we could catch our soon-to-be reviewed test model during some phase of its construction.

Using the online Configurator was easy enough. The user selects a solid or maple-topped chambered body, cutaway configuration, pickups, bridge and finish. As each component is chosen, the on-screen image of the guitar reflects the changes. We opted for an instrument that has classic looks and versatility, but would be something special not offered by other manufacturers.

After fussing, swapping out, comparing, pondering, reconsidering, and finalizing our virtual model, we decided on a double cutaway chambered body with a fixed bridge, a pair of high-definition mini-humbuckers, and a Del Mar Edgeburst finish.

On a typically sunny Southern California day, we stopped by the sprawling Taylor factory to find the body of our guitar on the docket to be routed for the pickups.  At this point, the body’s tone chamber and neck slot had been routed, the figured maple top had been attached and the binding had been inlayed (giving the guitar a classy appearance). Additional work would also be done this day on the body for the contours on the lower bout and inside the cutaways.

Taylor uses an intriguing mix of CNC machinery and hand craftsmanship. The computer-controlled machines allow precise tolerances and consistency for woodworking and applying certain finishes. For example: Taylor acoustic guitars feature a bolt-on removable neck that sits in a shallow pocket on the top and side of the guitar, which is indistinguishable from a guitar constructed in a more conventional manner.

This innovation allows a neck reset be as simple as unbolting the neck to add or remove a shim; a procedure that can be handled in a matter of minutes. The corresponding procedure on a guitar with a glued on neck is a labor-intensive operation that takes considerably more time and costs hundreds of dollars.

Similarly, the Taylor SolidBody features a detachable neck so ingeniously designed, with a tolerance so tight, that it is held in place with a single bolt.

As with any fine musical instrument, there are aspects of construction and finishing that can be only handled by craftsmen. Our guitar body once routed and contoured will be headed to another such craftsman (pre-qualified during our visit) for the application of the sunburst finish.

This combination of hand craftsmanship and high-tech machinery, along with an equally impressive production protocol and inventory control, not only allows for the efficient manufacturing of a large number of high-quality instruments, but also allows consumer defined instruments (such as our guitar) to trundle through the factory without disrupting regular production. Acoustic guitarists should be happy to know Taylor also offers an Acoustic Build to Order option.

After our body is finished, it will be assembled with all our other chosen components. We had ordered direct mount pickups, but Taylor also offers a pickguard mounted pickup option. Guitarists that choose that option can purchase additional Loaded Pickguards with different pickup configurations and solderless connectors that can be swapped out on their guitar in minutes for an even greater pallet of tones.

As our visit began winding down, we headed to yet another building on the Taylor complex to visit master luthier Andy Powers at the R & D building to get a look at some one-off special creations, innovations in the works and other dark-ops. Shortly after talking about the wiring in our Solidbody guitar, Powers explains that because of the way the factory is set up and operates –and in keeping with the Taylor philosophy in general – innovations can be implemented into the line at almost anytime.

Sadly, we must leave the factory without our Taylor SolidBody in hand: it still has several days in production … and then … a few more days till it reaches our test bench for review, where we’ll evaluate both Taylor’s construction and our own ability to configure a dream guitar.