Taylor Guitars Looks Back at 40 Years of Struggles, Triumphs and Enduring Vision

October 16th, 2014

This is an excerpt from the all-new NOV/DEC 2014 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For the rest of our Taylor Guitars story, plus our Joe Perry cover story (which includes an excerpt from Perry’s new autobiography and a profile of his Wandre/Davoli BB guitar), and features on Johnny Winter, Jay Somers, Johnny A. and much more, check out the new issue at the Guitar Aficionado Online Store.

Running Down a Dream: Celebrating its 40th anniversary, Taylor Guitars looks back at the struggles, triumphs and enduring vision that made the company a great American success story.

By Chris Gill

Many acoustic guitarists have never even heard of Lemon Grove, California, but for true devoted enthusiasts, this city, located less than 10 miles east of San Diego, is as important to the history of the acoustic guitar as Kalamazoo, Michigan, or Nazareth, Pennsylvania.

During the late Sixties and early Seventies, Sam Radding operated a retail store and workshop called American Dream in Lemon Grove, where many familiar names in the stringed-instrument world once plied their craft, including James Goodall, Geoff Stelling, and Greg Deering (the latter two went on to train Larry and Kim Breedlove at the Deering Banjo Company). But the most familiar name to come from the American Dream shop is that of Bob Taylor, who, along with his co-worker Kurt Listug, formed the most successful acoustic guitar company to come along since Gibson and Martin.

Bob Taylor was already an experienced guitar builder when he started working at American Dream at the age of 18 in 1973. “I came from a family that built things,” Taylor says. “In junior high and high school, I won awards at state expositions and industrial-arts fairs for projects that I built out of metal and wood. I was learning to play guitar and I wanted one, so I decided to build my own guitar. I found Irving Sloane’s book Classic Guitar Construction and read it. When I started building guitars, I had never seen nor even heard of a Martin. I heard of Gibson, but I had never seen a Gibson acoustic guitar either.”

As Taylor started building his own guitar, he purchased supplies like fret wire and tuners from American Dream. Taylor built several guitars during his high school years that impressed Radding enough to hire Taylor after Bob graduated. “I learned to build guitars the way that Sam Radding built them,” Taylor says. “He taught me his unique way of attaching the neck to the body that wasn’t a bolt-on, dovetail, or T-shaped mortise and tenon.”

Taylor started working at American Dream about a month after Kurt Listug came onboard. “A friend of mine from college worked at American Dream,” Listug says. “I thought it would be cool to work on guitars, so I pestered my friend and Sam for about a year before I got a job there. Actually, it wasn’t a job—it was more of a co-op where you could do work and you’d get paid after someone paid for your work.”

About a year after Listug and Taylor started working at American Dream, Radding decided to sell the shop. Listug, Taylor, and Steve Schemmer borrowed $10,000 from their families to purchase it. “We took over the shop on October 15, 1974,” Listug recalls. “About $3,700 went to paying bills, buying equipment, and paying off Sam. The remaining $6,300 was our working capital, which we ended up spending pretty quickly. That forced us to figure out how to make the business work.”

Initially the new company was called the Westland Music Company, but that name was too big to fit onto a guitar’s headstock. Instead, the name Taylor was chosen, since Bob was the main guitar builder and designer, and the names Listug and Schemmer sounded too foreign for an American company. Taylor produced about 150 guitars in its first two years, selling the instruments directly to customers from its shop in Lemon Grove.

In 1976, Taylor started selling guitars to dealers, which set the stage for the company’s growth but also set its progress back, as profit margins for each instrument were now cut by more than half. With no travel budget, Listug drove a few hours north to Los Angeles, where he convinced retailers like McCabe’s Guitar Shop and Westwood Music to become Taylor dealers. A distribution company owned by Paul Rothchild, a former record producer best known for his work on the first five albums by the Doors, sold Taylor guitars between 1977 and 1979, expanding its dealer network across the United States.

“We ended up making more guitars,” Listug says, “but at the same time we were making less money because the distributor needed to get a cut as well. Our bills began to pile up, so we fired Rothchild and I started traveling across the country to sell guitars to dealers. We started to limit our weekly production to the amount of guitars that we could sell in a week, so we could stabilize our cash flow. It took us until 1986 to have a stable enough cash flow to pay ourselves $300 per week.”

This is an excerpt from the all-new NOV/DEC 2014 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For the rest of our Taylor Guitars story, plus our Joe Perry cover story (which includes an excerpt from Perry’s new autobiography and a profile of his Wandre/Davoli BB guitar), and features on Johnny Winter, Jay Somers, Johnny A. and much more, check out the new issue at the Guitar Aficionado Online Store.

Want to read more stories like this?
Get our Free Newsletter Here!

Comments

  1. Posted by Dwaayne St.Romain on October 16th, 2014, 21:02 [Reply]

    I have been a working guitarist for 45 years. I have owned Gibsons and recorded with many Martins. I primarily played Ovation and a Takamine Santa Fe. I depend on a guitar that will take all I give it and is still delicate enough to express even the slightest finger nail strokes. I found Taylor, first twelve string that played itself almost and then a T5. At the moment the guitar I dream of is the Taylor T3B. At this age I treasure the sound options that Taylor excels above all others.

  2. Posted by Mark Salyers on November 16th, 2014, 19:42 [Reply]

    I own several Taylor guitars. The are beautifully consitent…

Reply

Comment guidelines, edit this message in your Wordpress admin panel