Entries in taylor (6)


The environmental politics of Sitka spruce

I recently visited the Martin guitar factory; it was my 5th time taking the tour, but my first time on the 2-hour "behind the scenes" tour. I first visited Martin when I first moved to the east coast 12 years ago. At some point I'll write more about the transformations that I've seen there over the last decade. But for now, one thing that is clear: things in the tonewood world are changing. I recommended checking out the documentary previewed above, Musicwood (see my previous thoughts on environmentalism and guitars here). While this film focuses on future of Sitka spruce, this is something industry has confronted in the past (e.g., rosewoods from Brazil and Madagascar), with increasing frequency manufacturers and consumers will have to adjust their expectations.


Bob Taylor on environmentalism, guitars, and food

I've cycled through a lot of different brands of guitars across the years. Although I currently have only one Taylor (a 355 that I bought in 1998), I really respect their history, designs and technologies, philosophy, and environmental positions. Here's an interesting conversation between Bob Taylor and foodie/author Alton Brown that moves from the history of Taylor Guitars to conservation, lutherie, and marketing, to vegan cooking and eating. If you've been reading my blog, you can see why these topics resonate with me right now. If you have 75 minutes, it's definitely worth a listen.


The down-low low-down: Thoughts on baritone guitars

The band I play in (as in we've had 3 gigs in 18 months!) is currently configured with three acoustic guitar players, a mandolin player and vocalist, and a multi-instrumentalist (mandolin, banjo, slide guitar, acoustic guitar); sometimes we have a bass player as well. I count as one of the acoustic guitar players, and with three of us it can be too much of the "same thing" if we're all playing in the same position. So last week I decided to change things up and brought out my Santa Cruz Bob Brozman baritone (BBB). I got a great deal on this guitar a few years back, and have primarily kept tuned down to C# (i.e., three half-steps below standard tuning) or D (two half-steps) with standard medium strings. Mine is the standard model with the back and sides made from mahogany and a sitka spruce top, rather than the pricier koa and German spruce models. Unlike the one pictured below, mine came with a factory pickguard.

To compliment the band, I decided to throw heavier "baritone"-gauged strings on the BBB and tuned down to B. I figured that this would work best in terms of being able to play along with most of our songs while staying in common chord shapes. B is pretty low for an instrument with a 27" scale; most baritones that go down that low are 28-29". Before I got the BBB, I had a maple-bodied Tacoma baritone with a 29" scale, and I found it to be more than I could handle, both on the left hand and also in terms of the large body. So when I had the opportunity to get the BBB (at a great price), I jumped at it because it's a much more manageable instrument.

I was suprised that the BBB took the B tuning pretty well. The low B string wasn't too floppy and actually had more punch than I was expecting. It certainly doesn't blow the roof off or rumble the house's foundation, but it is satisfying and mixed in with the other instruments in the band well. So I'm well on my way to becoming my band's baritone guitar player...

Although the BBB works well, given my bouts with G.A.S., I started thinking about the other baritones out there. As well as the BBB fits the bill, I like it in C# or D tuning, and wondered if I should leave it there and find another baritone to take down to B. Since B and C#/D need different string gauges, it's not easy to go between them. Maybe I need two baritones...One for B and another for C#/D?

The Taylor Baritone is an interesting model in that it is 27" scale, designed to go down to B. There are also two models, a standard 6-string and a 8-string that includes octave strings for the 3rd and 4th strings (akin to a 12-string guitar). The idea is that the two octave strings add some "sparkle. So, in theory it would make a great second baritone since it would give a different tuning (B...so I could return the BBB to C#), has the octave strings for variety, and has a pickup (i.e., good for playing out).

I tracked an 8-string Taylor Baritone down at a local shop. I've had a few Taylors in the past, but haven't really been into them in about 10 years. I was shocked to see how much the Taylor line has expanded since I got my 355 12-string in 1998; it was overwhelming. The number of Martin models has similarly grown, although though I have (mostly) kept up with those lines. The 8-string Taylor is a really elegant guitar; it seems similarly appointed to the 800-series (i.e., rosewood, abolone rosette). At one point I was enamoured with a Taylor 814 (although I never did get one); this guitar seems like a slightly oversized version of that guitar, although it's surprisingly comfortable to play. It certainly not as cumbersome as the Tacoma baritone.

Overall, it's a nice sounding guitar. I really like the octave strings; I don't play my 355 much anymore, but this seemed to have just enough of that 12-string sound to be interesting without being overwhelming. Surprisingly (or maybe not, given the physics of such things), the low B wasn't particularly strong. My BBB hits that low note better. Other than that I enjoyed the tone of the guitar and the weak bass wouldn't be a total dealbreaker since that could be boosted when playing amplified (I assume...I didn't play with the ES pickup system that comes standard on the Baritone).

So, why didn't the Taylor Baritone come home with me? It came down to playability. First, the octave string that was paired with the 4th string buzzed whenever/however I put a capo in it. Still not a dealbreaker; I assume that could be addressed with a set up or minor adjustment. The surprising thing that made this a no-go for me was the neck width. The Taylor comes standard with 1.75" width at the nut, which is typically my preference (note: the BBB is 1-7/8"). But with those extra octave strings in squeezed in there, it just feels too cramped. With a slightly wider neck, it might have pulled the trigger. Yes, I know that Taylor has a "build to order" custom shop and probably would do a wide-necked 8-string, but I'm not quite ready to commit to that...

So, the bottom line: 

  • The Santa Cruz Brozman is an awsome baritone guitar. It works for my down to B with baritone gauge strings, but it really shines at C# or D with medium gauge strings.
  • I like the tonal variety offered by the Taylor 8-string, although it's acoustically not as good as the SCGC BBB (but it is about half the price!). If it came with a wider neck, I'd be temped to get one and maybe let my 12-string go.

Update: 11/6/15

When I was in London last month I played a Lowden baritone guitar at No.Tom Vintage & Classic Guitars. What a fabulous instument! In particular, I found to the bass (tuned down to B) to be more defined and punchy than my Santa Cruz. I came close to pulling the trigger but ulitmately didn't do it; someone picked up a killer guitar. If you are looking for a baritone, definitely check out the offering from Lowden.

image from: http://notomguitars.com/products/2011-lowden-barritone


Martin (and Taylor) guitars, the seasons for bluegrass, and burritos vs. burgers, according to Google Trends

Guitar discussion boards (like the UMGF and Acoustic Guitar Forum) often devolve into brand wars..."What's better...Martin or Taylor?" with fans of each weighing in. I'm not going to get into my preferences (other than saying I've had three from each at various points in the past, and still have at least one of each), and there really isn't an answer to that question anyways. The primary questions I'm musing about here are (a) whether one of these brands has garnered more interest on the internet and (b) has that changed over time?

A third question ties into my ramblings from last week on the prospects of vintage guitars as investments, where I questioned (c) whether there would be continued interest in this instruments over the long haul.

I recently ran across the Google Trends tool...Here are the trends for "martin guitars" and "tayor guitars" (top) and "martin guitar" and "taylor guitar" (bottom):


  • In the top plot, Martin clearly outpaces Taylor until mid-2010 or so. Then things are pretty even. But more interestingly, both are decreasing over time. Does this indicate that people are becoming less interested in these awesome instruments over the last decade?
  • In the bottom one, Martin is higher than Taylor until early 2007, then things are relatively even for a couple of years, and then Taylor takes over. These differences aren't really the product of increasing searches for "taylor guitar"-- that stays relatively flat (or at least doesn't trend one way or another, although it spikes and falls sporadically). Again, it's due to Martin slipping.
  • I did versions of these plots with "gibson guitar(s)" included and Gibson outpaces both, but that's likely due do the fact they make both acoustic and electric guitars. But Gibson trends downward as well.
  • In the top plot there are regular yearly spikes in December; a holiday gift effect?
  • What's interesting about this is that in the last decade, Martin pumped out more instruments that ever (see here for more data). Even with Martins in the hands of more players than ever, there's less interest in them, at least using this metric. 

In looking at some Martin dreadnoughts, it looks like the D-28 is still king, and that the D-18, D-35, and D-15 are pretty much similarly searched. But the entry-level DX1 comes in second; this speaks to Martin's efforts to expand their market reach with affordable instruments.


Is the guitar become less popular? Maybe a bit, but the "electric guitar" is being hit a bit harder than "acoustic guitar" (this plot clearly shows the December spike).


Here's "acoustic guitar" and "banjo" (note that if you just enter "guitar," it dwarfs "banjo"). They both are relatively flat, just trending downward a bit, and the "martin" downward slope is steeper than the general "acoustic guitar" slope. Also, "banjo" doesn't show the December spike in the same way that "acoustic guitar" does. Kids must not be asking for banjos for Christmas.


This one for "bluegrass" is cool because is so perfectly cyclical. Interest is low in November and then increases through the following summer, peaking in the height of bluegrass festival season in July and August. Then things drop in the fall season.


Just to show that some things have gone up over time, here's "facebook" (the plots for "twitter" and "iphone" are similar).

And here we see "wendys" being passed by "jimmy johns" and "chipotle".


*Note, these analyses were inspired by research by my friends and colleagues Drs. Patrick and Charlotte Markey.


Guitar history - Graduate school

Last time I chronicled the guitars I started with through college. All of those are long gone, as are most that were acquired during graduate school (1996-2001). But this was an important time; along with furthering my education in psychology, this is really when I started to learn about what to look for in a good guitar and what I tend to like (e.g., mahogany). Student loans really helped with this part of my education! The fact that West Lafayette didn't have a good Martin dealer (and had an excellent Taylor dealer) very much shaped this stage.

  • Taylor 414K from 1997.Taylor 420R (1997; serial #970604026) - This came from Klaverenga Guitar & Piano in West Lafayette, where I first heard of Taylor. Sitka and rosewood. Sold it in 2001. Reflecting back on my progression through guitars, my feeling now is that Taylors are a great entry to acoustic guitars...They are very "sweet" sounding and accessible. As I got older I started to gravitate towards more complex-sounding guitars, but for me, it was a great way to get hooked on the acoustic guitar.

  • Taylor 414K (1997; serial #971030018) - A koa grand auditorium, limited from 1997. This is when I realized that there were other sized guitars than jumbos and dreadnoughts, and that I prefer 1-3/4" necks to 1-11/16". This one stayed around until 2006, give or take a couple of years, when I sold it on Craigslist.

  • Larrivée LS-05 (1995; serial #16903) - I used money from my first teaching gig to get this at Front Porch Music in Valparaiso, Indiana, in 1998. A nifty little classical-inspired steel-string guitar; ended up selling this at the Philly guitar show in 2005 or so.

  • Taylor 355 (1998; serial #9808xxxxx) - For some reason, I can't seem to be without a 12-string guitar, although admittedly, I rarely play it these days. I've been tempted to sell it, but I suspect I'd find myself wanting another 12 again in the future. This seems like a good one to keep around; a quality instrument, but without too much invested in it. Like the other Taylors, this one came from Klaverenga.

  • Tacoma Papoose P1 (1997; serial #5012) - A neat high-strung instrument with a factory-installed pickup. Bought in West Lafayette in 1999; sold on-line in 2006.

  • Taylor Baby - Mahogany top (1998; serial #981124xxx-x) - Thought I needed a travel guitar. Other than a couple of trips, this one has pretty much sat in its case.

Rickenbacker 360.

  • Rickenbacker 360 mapleglo (1999; serial #9929827) - I had wanted one of these for a long time. I had a picture of a blonde Rickenbacker 381 pinned to my wall in my dorm room at Grinnell, and when I got the Taylors my Guild seemed expendable, so I took a road trip to Elderly Music and traded it towards the 360. A beautiful guitar, although it made me realize a couple of things. First, I prefer larger necks, and the 1-5/8" neck was pretty small; second, I don't really play electric much. So I sold it (and actually made a bit of money) on Craigslist in 2010 or so. Used the money to buy an 85mm f/1.4D Nikon lens.

  • 1977 Taylor 915.Taylor 915 (1977; serial #37x....last digit missing due to a torn label when the neck was reset) - My first internet guitar purchase; I got this from a fellow in New Jersey in 1999...One of the first 400 guitars Taylor ever built...A maple jumbo with an uber-cool moustache bridge. Sold this on Craigslist in 2008 or so.

  • Larrivée Parlor Koa prototype (2000; serial #34226) - A limited run of parlors built in other woods (besides mahogany) for the NAMM show. Bought from Buffalo Brothers; sold on ebay in 2006 (and made some money on it!). A cool little guitar.

Bob Taylor on the future of (and our expectations for) ebony