Taylor breaks all guitar-making rules?!

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  • Door Maarten Dispa
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Taylor breaks all guitar-making rules?!

Taylor is challenging the status quo by letting go of the x-bracing system; A tradition in guitar-building that has been used and appreciated for over 100 years!

As can be seen in the picture above, that is not the standard x-brace that we all know and love. This is Taylor's brand new V-bracing system. In the picture below you can see a standard x-brace, developed by Martin. Spot the major differences! 

 

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor x bracing

The classic X-bracing system, invented by Martin, which can be seen on almost every acoustic flat-top guitar out there. 

 

The unprecedented V-brace pattern represents an entirely new chapter in the history of the steel string acoustic guitar, creating an instrument that fits better with electronic instruments and vocalists using Auto-Tune. 

 

Awillingness to challenge tradition has defined the culture at Taylor Guitars since the company got its start in a small shop in El Cajon, California 43 years ago. Maybe because they didn’t know any better, or maybe because their resources were initially so limited, they had to improvise—but for whatever reason, partners Bob Taylor and Kurt Listug never let conventional wisdom stand in the way of their pursuit of a better guitar and better manufacturing methods. As a result, they dispensed with centuries of guitar making convention with the introduction of computer-controlled production machinery, they ignored industry lore and ditched nitrocellulose lacquer to embrace an easier to apply UV cured polyester finish, and they devised an unprecedented neck joint to achieve improved tuning stability. Some still debate the merits of these dramatic innovations, but the fact that Taylor has sold more than two million guitars to date and enjoys major market share worldwide indicates that a lot of guitarists approve. With the introduction of all the new V-Class guitars at this year’s NAMM Show, the Southern California company is making its most audacious break with the past to date.

 

These new guitars are defined by a V-bracing pattern that replaces the X-brace that has defined the steel string flat top guitar for the better part of a century. Taylor’s V-Class bracing, as the name indicates, consists of two braces that join together at the base of the top, and flare out on either side of the sound hole, creating a “V.” Three cross braces and a reinforcement plate under the bridge provide additional support. Andy Powers, Taylor’s master guitar designer, who devised the bracing pattern, describes it as “a new sonic engine” and says it delivers “better sustain, better volume, and better balance.”

 

Taylor Guitars founders Kurt Listug and Bob Taylor flank Andy Powers, the company’s master guitar builder and the creator of the new V-Class bracing.

 

Vintage expert George Gruhn, who dismisses most “new” guitar designs “as just different binding or inlay patterns,” lends credence to Andy’s claim, calling V-Class bracing a “genuine innovation.” He adds that it has created “the best sounding and playing guitars Taylor has ever produced.” V-Class bracing, like all other Taylor innovations, was preceded by painstaking deliberation and extensive experimentation. You could even say that it was decades in the making, ever since as an independent luthier, Andy Powers wrestled with the inherent tradeoffs between maximizing a guitar’s sustain and volume. “Sustain requires rigidity,” he explains. “Think of a ’59 Les Paul. It’s rugged and rigid and it has tremendous sustain.” Volume, on the other hand, calls for a flexible surface that can move air. “A banjo is super flexible and creates lots of volume,” Andy says. “But, it has limited sustain: the notes decay quickly.” He describes the traditional flat top as lying somewhere between the banjo and the Les Paul, depending on how the builder prioritizes sustain or volume. Andy long ago lost count of the many different ways he tweaked the X-brace pattern in pursuit of an optimal balance. These efforts culminated in his redesign of Taylor’s flagship 800 series, introduced in 2014. “I re-voiced the guitar and got what I thought was the last bit of incremental improvement out of the classic X-brace,” he explains. Despite positive reviews from players and strong market acceptance, the 800 series project left him feeling unexpectedly depressed. “I’ve always operated on the premise that the best guitar you build is the one you build tomorrow,” he says. “But after the 800 series, I felt that I reached a cul de sac. I didn’t know what to do next.”

 

Inspiration for a next move came from an unexpected source. Sitting on his surfboard, Andy was mesmerized one morning as he watched waves crashing on either side of a stone jetty that protruded off the San Diego coast. The jetty was immovable while the surf on either side was in constant motion. What if, he wondered, you could create a bracing pattern that would be still and yet flexible at the same time? One that could provide a stable foundation under the strings to extend sustain, but simultaneously would allow the edges of the top to freely vibrate for volume? Working into the night at his well-equipped shop behind his house, the V-bracing pattern quickly emerged as the answer to his question. He contends, it resolves the conflict between sustain and volume. “It provides rigidity in the center of the guitar, delivering good sustain, but it has a lot of flex at the sides for volume,” he explains. As an added and unexpected benefit, Andy says that V-Class bracing also solves some of the inherent tuning problems that plague many acoustic guitars without having to readjust fret positions or the nut. “Because the movement of the top is more orderly,” he explains, “the fundamentals of each note are stronger, with fewer stray harmonics, and they ring more evenly up and down the neck.”

 

Vintage expert George Gruhn (left), above with Andy Powers, calls the V-Class the “best guitars Taylor has ever produced.”

 

The improvement is subtle, but important when so much music is now being made with perfectly intonated electronic instruments, and vocals corrected with Auto-Tune. “People ask us all the time about the future of the guitar,” he says, “We think it’s important to build instruments that work better in the current musical environment.” But what about that intangible quality that tops the priority list of every guitarist, namely “tone?” Andy has a ready response and opines that “tone” isn’t as subjective as most people think. “Guitarists would agree that balance across all the strings and up and down the fret board is a good thing. They also think a wide dynamic range is important, as are volume and projection,” he says. “These attributes have a lot to do with what players refer to as ‘tone,’ and they can be measured and controlled. The VClass bracing performs well in all these areas.” Guitars with V-Class bracing may represent a break from tradition, but outwardly they’re hard to distinguish from any other Taylor guitar: The only visual cues are a black graphite nut instead of Taylor’s traditional white nut, and a new interior label that highlights Andy Powers’signature.

 

The new V-Class Taylor models. Outwardly, the V-Class guitars look little different from other Taylor guitars. The headstock, appointments, and Grand Auditorium body style remain unchanged. The only visual cue is a black nut, and a new interior label. Above, left to right, the flagship “Builder’s Edition” K14ce with a beveled cutaway, with koa sides and back and a torrefied Sitka spruce top; the K24ce in all koa; and the 914ce with rosewood back and sides and Sitka spruce top.

 

Three standard models are offered in the Grand Auditorium body style with the distinctive Taylor headstock. The PS14ce is built with a striped West African ebony back and sides with a sinker redwood top; the K24ce is an all koa model; and the 914ce features Indian rosewood back and sides with a Sitka spruce top. For the flagship “Builder’s Edition,” to showcase the new “sonic engine,” Andy added a beveled armrest, a compound cutaway with finger bevel, and elaborate inlay work. Eventually, the V-Class bracing system could be applied to any guitars in Taylor’s lineup. However, for now, only high-end guitars made in the El Cajon, California factory will receive the new bracing innovation. For Bob Taylor, the new V-Class bracing is more than just another product improvement; it is a defining characteristic that will set Taylor guitars apart as genuine originals in a world populated by replicas. “We developed our own trade dress and headstock that was distinctive. Then we came up with an original body shape with the Grand Auditorium,” he says. “With V-Class bracing, we’ve developed something that completes the Taylor guitar building style.” This bracing innovation also signals an important new chapter in company history, and Andy Powers’ expanded role. To ensure that their guitar business would outlive them, Bob and Kurt both agreed that it was critical to have a skilled guitar maker in the upper echelons of management to succeed them. They were convinced that a reputation built on four decades of hard work could be quickly dissipated by someone without a firm grasp of the guitar maker’s craft. As Kurt explains, “This isn’t a ‘brand’; it’s a guitar company, and we’re guitar builders.” As they discussed a succession plan, Bob scribbled down a list of characteristics he wanted in his “ideal” guitar maker candidate. He still has the note that reads, “Dear God, I need just one guitar maker. He has to be a better guitar builder than me, and he has to be self-taught with no prior factory experience. He has to be a great player with a thorough understanding of the history of the guitar. He has to be a good person with a good lifestyle that would enable a long-term commitment. He has to be under 30 with 20 years of experience, and he has to be from San Diego.” Reading the list today, Bob laughs and says “these were just my ponderings and I knew it was an impossible list. But then I met Andy.”

 

Andy Powers grew up in Oceanside, just north of San Diego, and developed a fixation with fretted instruments shortly after he left the cradle. He built his first instrument—unsuccessfully, he points out—when he was eight. But he persisted, and by age 12 was building and selling ukes and guitars to his friends. By the time he was 18, he was wearing bifocals because of all the time spent hunched over his work bench, turning out instruments. When he wasn’t building guitars, he was playing them with other locals, including Jason Mraz. At the University of California at San Diego, Andy studied guitar performance, with a heavy dose of musicology, and developed a working knowledge of instrument making history from the great violin makers of Cremona, Italy, to Bartolomeo Cristofori, the inventor of the piano, to the Southern California inventors, led by George Beauchamp and Leo Fender, who pioneered the electric guitar. After graduation, he put these skills to work, setting up shop building custom guitars. Bob Taylor’s curiosity was piqued when he kept hearing about “the local kid who builds some really nice guitars,” and he set up a meeting. Only after a few interactions did he realize that “Andy checked off all my boxes.” When he learned that Andy’s middle name was Taylor, that “sealed the deal,” and a job offer was made. Andy initially had second thoughts about giving up his independence to join an organization with 1,000 employees. He says that he was “happy, like Geppeto, working alone in my shop all day, and talking with musicians.” But, the opportunity to guide a guitar company that touched the lives of thousands of musicians worldwide proved impossible to resist, and he signed on in 2011. He’s at the Taylor factory in El Cajon four days a week, but retreats to his home shop on Fridays to experiment with new ideas. Bob describes himself as a “mechanical guitar builder,” but says Andy brings “an added musical dimension because he’s such a great player.” He adds, “We’ve built this great production machine in El Cajon and Tecate. It’s been incredibly exciting for me put it to work building Andy’s designs.”

 

Although Andy brings a Southern California perspective to his new post that Bob considered essential—free wheeling, and willing to experiment—he is guided by a deep knowledge of instrument building history. He’s conversant on 19th century German physicist Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz, who developed the theories of sound and acoustics that are still in use today; he’s practically committed to memory the books authored by George Gruhn on the evolution of the modern guitar; and he has an encyclopedic knowledge of the make and model number of just about every notable guitar produced in the past fifty years. This academic background has found practical application at his work bench, where knee deep in wood shavings, he’s handcrafted hundreds of instruments—archtops, flat tops, solid body electrics, and even the occasional mandolin. But what motivates him is a pure and almost childlike enthusiasm for anything with strings and frets. Andy is clearly proud of the new VClass bracing pattern, but it hasn’t dimmed his reverence for the traditional acoustic guitar, which he describes as “the people’s instrument.” He says, “The flat top pre-dates electronics, recorded music, and synthesizers but still remains relevant. That’s an amazing testament to how great it is.” But looking back through history, he says that just as the changing demands of musicians led Stradivarius to redesign the violin, and Cristofori to transform the harpsichord, guitar makers have to keep moving forward. “It’s not about sales and marketing,” he says. “The currency of our customers is musicality, and if we don’t offer musical solutions, they won’t follow. We’re confident the new bracing system is the musical solution."

 

Sometime around February and March we will be receiving our own first V-Class guitars from Taylor! Check our website regularly to see when you can get one for yourself!

 

 

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