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Ask Bob, Winter 2019: Mexican-Made Guitars, the GS Mini, and Ebony Coloration

Ask Bob, Winter W&S ?s

Note: Ask Bob is a feature that runs in each issue of Wood&Steel, our print magazine. These questions originally appeared in the Winter 2019 edition. Have a question for Bob? Send your email to AskBob@taylorguitars.com.


Mexican-Made Taylor Quality
When I retired a couple of years ago, I decided to catch up on a lifetime ambition and learn to play the guitar. I took advice and bought a beautiful Taylor 114ce. As I’ve slowly improved, this guitar sounds better and better. I also enjoy reading Wood&Steel, but perhaps understandably, you never focus on this model, although there must be many improving guitarists like me who enjoy playing them. I also own a fine Takamine mahogany-bodied guitar, which has a deeper tone.

As the Taylor is made in Mexico and the Takamine in China, are there any fewer quality controls in their manufacture than in your California factory? I appreciate that you can’t speak on behalf of Takamine, but I would be interested in your comments regarding Taylor guitars built in Mexico.

I hope to upgrade to a better Taylor shortly and would welcome any advice on what would be a good next step.
Mike McKortel
England

Thanks, Mike, I appreciate your question. In a word, no, there are no fewer quality controls in our Mexican factory compared to our U.S. factory. In fact, our fundamental viewpoint on this topic is that our least expensive guitars must be our best guitars because there’s no financial margin there for problems to occur. It may sound backwards to people, but let’s take an example. If a less expensive Taylor has a bridge come off, or the frets buzz because of a bad neck, that will likely be covered under the warranty. Then we have a situation where the cost of the repair could approach the cost of the guitar. But a guitar that has a high price tag can afford a warranty claim. So we put the same quality into our Mexican-made guitars as we do in the U.S. Beyond some bracing distinctions, the main differences between them are the materials, the solid wood construction (U.S.), the complexity of the finish, and the bindings and inlays. The U.S. guitars take much longer to make and have more detail. But the drying of the wood and the method of neck building and body building are either identical or perhaps even more advanced in Mexico. I’ve told people that our factory in Tecate, Mexico, is in my opinion the nicest guitar factory in the world. You should see it! Our people are engaged, and our U.S./Tecate managers and other staff travel back and forth across our border daily and weekly, making the operation of both factories truly one unified effort. -Bob


GS Mini Strings
I am a longtime Taylor fan and currently own four. My question/suggestion pertains to the strings that come on the GS Mini from the factory. I give guitar lessons as a way of giving back to my community (all proceeds go to local animal shelters). Several students/parents asked about a good all-around guitar. I recommend the GS Mini for just about everyone. It is especially appropriate for some of my smaller students, and it’s easy to carry place to place. I recently bought one for myself. My question: Why don’t these guitars come with lighter-gauge strings? My students complained of difficulty pressing the strings down. I re-strung both of these guitars with extra-light Elixir strings, and we really didn’t notice that much of a volume difference, but the playability of the guitars increased substantially. I had to adjust the neck for them. The playability vs. the minimal volume loss made it a no-brainer for me when I bought my own GS Mini. I’ll keep my heavier strings on both of my full-size acoustics, but the lighter strings make more sense on a guitar that is suited for beginner players. Having a guitar that is playable is very important! Just my humble opinion.
Dave Southall

Dave, we, too, believe in easy-playing guitars, and our design allows the strings to be changed and the neck adjusted, not only by use of the truss rod for straightness but also with our patented neck angle system. So each guitar can be made to fit any player, whether they are a beginner or advanced. We have to choose something that we feel hits the average player when the guitar leaves the factory, and with the Mini, we chose medium-gauge strings in part because we felt they intonated best with the guitar’s shorter scale length. Some owners then put on lights, some put on extra lights, and some never change. This year we will produce over 45,000 GS Mini guitars, or about 200 each day, and they go to all kinds of players all over the world. I hope you continue to recommend this guitar to your students, and it’s a huge service to us that you are willing to help beginners set up their guitar for just what they need. Thank you for getting students off to a good start! -Bob


Pickguard Concerns
I’ve owned two Taylor guitars (414ce and 814ce) and love them both. Now I’m taking a hard look at purchasing a new V-Class model and plan to try a few. The one I’m focused on is the Builder’s Edition K14ce. It’s a beauty, but I noticed it does not have a pickguard. Every guitar I’ve owned since I was a kid has had a pickguard, so the lack of one causes me a little concern as I tend to have a more aggressive attack when I play (about a dozen gigs per month). Are my concerns overblown, or can a pickguard be added locally from the dealer I purchase from? I don’t want to cause any cosmetic damage.
Tim Anderson
Prescott, AZ

Tim, if you buy that Builder’s Edition K14ce you’ll be getting a very fine guitar. First, I’ll say that you can easily install a pickguard, either at your dealer or even yourself. They’re just peel-and-stick. If you find that you scratch the guitar you can add it. Having made so many guitars, we know that very few people actually play in a way that gouges the top, so when we feel the look or the tone of a model is enhanced by omitting the pickguard, we make that choice. I might add that players have a vast array of feelings concerning how perfect their guitar looks. Some players want their guitar to look like the day they bought it, and others prefer natural wear to show. With the K14ce, you definitely have room to change that to your own liking. -Bob


V-Class Bracing in 12-String Guitars
After 40 years of not being able to play because of psoriasis on my fingertips, I finally was able to take up the guitar again after chemotherapy nuked my immune system and did away with the psoriasis. I celebrated by purchasing a Taylor 114 and, through the magic of online videos, finally learned to play many of the Travis-picked folk-pop songs I grew up listening to.

I love the 114, but I find myself longing to play a 12-string again. The 362ce, in particular, has caught my eye. I was about ready to pull the trigger on one when I learned that Taylor had come out with V-Class bracing. I put the purchase on hold, hoping against hope that V-Class bracing would make it into Taylor’s 12-string lineup. Is this a vain hope? I understand that the tension of 12 strings puts a terrible strain on a guitar’s top, and I don’t know if the V-Class bracing would stand up to it. Will the magic of V-Class resonance and intonation ever make its way to the 12-string world?
John McCoy

Yes, John, V-Class guitar bracing will find its way to 12-string guitars, but I can’t say the actual date as I’m not sure at this time. V-Class is very strong, stronger than X-bracing. If you remember, or if you’ve seen any of the articles on V-Class, you’ll know that this bracing makes the top more stiff and more flexible at the same time. The extra stiffness helps enhance sustain, and that stiffness is in the direction of the neck and strings, so it’s great for a 12-string and the added pull on the top. The extra flexibility comes in the side-to-side rocking motion, which increases volume. And together they improve intonation and equal sonority as you play on different areas of the neck. And it all works very well on a 12-string. -Bob


Should I Keep My Guitar in a Case?
I read your interesting comparison of two 20-year-old guitars, one cased, one uncased, in the Fall 2018 issue of Wood&Steel. Have I made a mistake by keeping my 1996 412 in its case these 22 years? Every new guitar I’ve ever owned came with instructions to keep it in the case when not in use, and I always have.
Andy Buschmann
Batesville, AR

I’m glad you asked, Andy. I do still recommend that you keep the guitar in the case when you’re not playing it. I also recommend that you play it as much as possible. I was just trying to state that a guitar that experiences the changes in climate, even while not being played much, sounded better than a guitar that was cased and not played much. It was a way to isolate one of the many factors that makes a guitar sound better with age. I meant it as a data point, not a recommendation. Play your guitar. Store it in the case. If you hang it on the wall instead, along with that better sound might also come a crack, or swelling that hurts it. So it’s a trade-off. I have the advantage of being able to know from the weather when I need to protect a displayed guitar in my house or office. It’s ingrained in me, so maybe I should have said, “Don’t try this at home.” I might add that the cased guitar doesn’t sound bad. I haven’t made it worse; it’s just that the guitar that was toughened and tanned by climate has a little extra something. -Bob


Bridges on Sinker Redwood
While reading last issue’s “Ask Bob” my heart stopped! The last question in volume 92 was about a sinker redwood top for a custom 12-string. The response explained that it can be hard to glue a bridge to redwood. I was terribly frightened. Three years ago I purchased a sinker redwood custom 12-string. I absolutely love this music machine. It is my only Taylor and has taken me on a wonderful musical journey. My brother, who owns two Taylors, and I have played together for years, culminating in a small band. I am the rhythm guy since my early years were spent being a drummer. At times I dive hard into the strings to highlight the percussive beat of our songs. But after this article I am spooked as to what could happen to my guitar. I have visions of the bridge flying off my beautiful redwood-topped guitar, reducing my one-of-a-kind 12-string to scrap! Tell me it ain’t so, Bob.
Dave Lambert
Olympia, WA

Dave, let me talk you off the ledge. I didn’t say that bridges come off, I just said they’re more difficult to glue. It takes extra time and attention, and so we cannot make them in quantities, even if we did have the wood in quantities. You don’t have to wear protective clothing or worry about the bridge flying off. Incidentally, I’ve just heard of a redwood log that might be for sale that would make a lot of guitars, even if we have to meter the production. Fingers crossed. -Bob


Italian Tonewoods
My name is Paolo, I write from Italy, and I am a happy and satisfied owner of a Taylor 710ce.

You probably have heard from the media about the wave of bad weather that hit Italy recently, causing serious damage. If you are not aware of it, among the areas most affected are the regions of Trentino and more specifically the Val di Fiemme and Friuli Venezia Giulia — more precisely, the Val Saisera. In both of these valleys grows the famous red spruce, used by Stradivari and Guarneri for the construction of their violins and still today by the best violin makers of Cremona.

The beautiful conifers that formed the “forests of the violins” have been torn down by strong storms, and it seems it will take at least a century before the landscape returns as before.

Although tons of precious timber are being recovered before the deterioration begins, I fear that the number of trees knocked down is much higher than what could normally be used in the market, and it would be a pity to see the waste of the trees. For this reason, I wondered if this event, although sad, could be an opportunity for Taylor Guitars.

I am not a lute maker, nor an expert to guarantee that the wood of the Italian valleys is suitable for your production, but this wood is notoriously used for stringed musical instruments. Perhaps the loss of those trees could still make sense, because they would live again as musical instruments.
Paolo Barbera
Seveso (MB), Italy 

Yes, Paolo, we’ve not only heard of the event but also have investigated it. Much of that wood will make its way into musical instruments by way of the efforts of some timber companies in Austria and Italy. They are much closer than we are, and are better able to harvest it. Of the 1 million cubic meters of wood on the ground (300,000 trees), 70 percent is on public land and 30 percent on private land. Half the wood will be sold as timber and the other half donated for firewood. The timber will likely need to be airlifted out. This forest was planted after a great harvest during World War I to supply the military effort. It was planted as nearly a monoculture of Norway spruce (Val di Fiemme), which is a shallow-rooted tree. That means that when one tree falls it knocks over the next tree, and they all come down like dominos. While Taylor won’t be involved in the harvesting, there are others who will naturally extract the valuable trees for instruments. This will happen quickly because the Italian authorities do not want them lying there and creating a fire hazard. -Bob


Bearclaw Spruce
I recently bought a Taylor 214ce, which has some striking bear claw [spruce] features. I was wondering if this will have any effect on sound quality and soundboard durability. Is it more prone to cracking or warping?
Dave

No, Dave, this doesn’t negatively affect the sound or durability of the top. You can relax and enjoy playing the guitar. This is merely a wiggly feature in the wood itself, and many find it to be very beautiful. Some people say it makes it sound better, although I don’t agree. But it certainly does not make it sound worse. We’ve made many hundreds, or thousands, of guitars using this wood. -Bob


Ebony Fretboards and Mango as a Tonewood
I have a couple of questions regarding wood choices. First, reading Andy’s comments from his column in the last issue of Wood&Steel (“Rethinking a Flaw”), reminded me of you discussing making better use of ebony a couple years ago. In your piece, due to the scarcity of black ebony, you mentioned that you would be using more ebony that wasn’t a consistent black, but showed some grain, for fingerboards. I thought it was a great idea, as I love some character in my fingerboard (I own a beautiful K24 with wood vine inlay), so I’ve been keeping my eye out for a Taylor with some beautiful grain in the fingerboard. But I haven’t seen any yet. Did you give up on that idea?

Secondly, we were shopping for a nice ukulele for my daughter-in-law and playing various instruments when we were in Hawaii last year. We eventually decided on a beautiful Kanile’a koa model, but one of the ukes we were impressed with was made of mango wood (from another manufacturer). I found that wood very warm yet complex, with an excellent tone. It made me wonder if anyone has tried to use mango for building a guitar.
Bill Peterson
Sandy, UT

Thanks for asking, Bill. No, we haven’t backed off that goal at all. In fact, we use more ebony with color than ever before, making up nearly 70 percent of the ebony we buy. That said, I’ll try to solve your curiosity of why you aren’t able to find a vast array of colors when you shop. At Taylor Guitars, our first coat of oil that is applied to a guitar fingerboard and bridge is linseed oil. We use it because it sets in the wood, whereas mineral oils evaporate. This first coat provides a long-lasting base that enables a player to then use fretboard oils that are available on the market without building up a finish, because they, too, evaporate. We don’t recommend that customers use linseed oil because only one coat is needed, and we do that at Taylor. Linseed oil wets the wood, and since it sets and doesn’t evaporate, it darkens the wood, not as a stain, but in the way that water darkens wood while it remains wet. So the colors just blacken. It requires almost severe amounts of color in the raw state to equal any color in the linseed-oiled state. This is something I wish other manufacturers would believe and adopt, because when our Crelicam partner, Madinter, sells ebony wood from Crelicam, they are constantly asked for the blackest of wood, of which there is little. But at Taylor we know that the less-black wood can be used, oiled and also satisfy customers. 

I’m happy you bought a Kanile’a ukulele. Joe and Kristen make great ukes and are planting thousands of koa trees on property they purchased. That’s the right idea! -Bob


Back Bracing
I have been buying acoustic guitars for many, many years and always loved looking inside the soundhole at the bracing inside the back of the guitar. I love the new style on my 800 Series with the back bracing going off on an angle, which I am sure was something the design guru Andy Powers thought of to create a better sound. And boy does it! The other day I went into my local music store and tried out some 200 Series guitars. I picked up a 200 Series Dreadnought — the wood gods must have been in alignment the day it was born because it rang true on every fret of the guitar. What I am wondering is why, when I looked in the soundhole, was there not back bracing on the guitar? This guitar sounded so great I played it all week in the acoustic room of my music store. Finally I could not stand it anymore; I came back and traded two guitars so I could have this sunburst beauty.
Steven Kane

Steve, I love it when someone like you falls in love with a guitar. We did a series of ads some years ago as part of a campaign called “Seconds,” all of which were based on real customer stories of how many seconds it took before they decided to buy, and then how many days they spent yielding to those first few seconds. They were delightful ads. Now, on to you question. It’s very simple why we don’t brace the backs of the layered guitars that we make in our Tecate, Mexico, factory. Since we are laminating layers of wood veneer together to make a back, we also press an arch into it at the same time. This arch is a bit like an archtop shape, or a violin shape, or even the shape of our guitar case top. When we do this we kill two birds with one stone. We laminate the layers, plus we make the back very strong and able to support itself without any bracing. This allows us to save manufacturing expenses and concentrate on other areas of the guitar so we can deliver an excellent guitar at an excellent price. I’m glad you liked it enough to come back. -Bob


Harmonics and Intonation with V-Class Bracing
I play a 414ce that I have owned and gigged with forever. I get a lot of compliments on the guitar’s unamplified and amplified sound and one day hope to buy a V-Class instrument. I was confused, though, by a statement in the “Hit the Harmonics” section of V-Class Driving Tips in Volume 91 of Wood&Steel, where it says the ability of V-Class guitars to produce harmonics that are normally not heard is a reflection of their accurate intonation. Isn’t it a reflection only of the ability of the instruments to produce the harmonics, as the same harmonic would be produced even if the neck were fretless? The node is the node, regardless of where the fret is positioned. That said, I am totally pleased with my 414ce’s intonation, as I am uber-sensitive to pitch.
Steve Keller

[Ed. Note: We went straight to the source on this one and asked V-Class architect Andy Powers for his thoughts.]

I’m glad to hear you are enjoying your 414ce, Steve. That guitar will get better and better the more it’s played. Your observation about harmonics being produced whether the neck had frets or not is correct. The way the V-Class design changes the intonation of the guitar has nothing to do with the fret spacing or string compensation. Rather, the body is now capable of more accurately reproducing the vibration of the strings — both the fundamental notes and the harmonic series generated by each note. Conventionally, a guitar body won’t resonate accurately enough to replicate all of the sonic information in the string, and these natural string harmonics are lost in the higher frequency intervals. Our V-Class guitars are capable of replicating these with a high degree of accuracy along with the fretted fundamental notes we play. This more uniformly resonant response is reflected in both the more accurately pitched fretted notes and the body’s ability to replicate the natural string harmonics. -Bob


New Inlay Designs
I’ve owned several wonderful Taylor guitars over the past few years and am currently playing a 2004 DDSM and a 2015 K26ce. In the past, Taylor has had several different inlaid themes —humpback whales, turtles, etc. Are there any new themes in the works?
Dave Stauver

Nice guitars, Dave! If Doyle Dykes is reading this I know he’ll be happy that you own a DDSM. The guitars you’re referring to were part of our Gallery Series. At this time we’re not making themed guitars like that, although I know that if we did, people would buy them. So why are we not making them right now? Because I’ve passed the baton to Andy Powers to design our current and future guitars. Andy’s main concern is to improve our guitars in a way that makes them better musical instruments as opposed to being an art piece. He’s pouring his creativity into sound and feel. This seems to be working for us, and I want the world to know what an incredible guitar maker Andy is. His guitars sound better than mine, and that pleases me. One day we may see some luxury art guitars again, but for now we’re concentrating our efforts to make Andy’s designs. We do have some pictorial inlays for the fretboard available through our custom guitar program, but none that move off the neck and onto the body. I hope you can understand that concentrating the sound and feel is probably a much more noble pursuit for us as Andy takes his place in our history. -Bob