Handmade Legends – A Tour of The Taylor Guitar Factory

Andrea and I moved to San Diego in 2007, it’s been a wonderful experience living “America’s Finest City”. One of the most pleasant surprises I have had was to discover that a legend in the music world lived right in my own backyard, Taylor Guitars. If you do play the guitar or are learning to play the guitar, then you most likely know what I am talking about, if you don’t, then you still may care to know that these guitars are among some of the best in the industry and Taylor prides their brand on hand making some of the finest quality instruments in the business.

I was beyond excited to learn that they offer daily tours, except on weekends and some holidays. The tour is about an hour long and involves some serious walking. The tour starts from the gift shop and snakes through the entire production line, where at the end, you can take home the cut outs from the sound holes.. in fact, that’s where I got the materials for my Taylor Guitar DIY Drink Coaster Project.

So I packed up some excitement and headed to 1980 Gillespie Way in El Cajon for an experience that will last a handmade lifetime.

When you arrive at Taylor Guitars, the factory is in a seemingly normal corporate business park. If you aren’t looking for Taylor Guitars, you will drive right by it.

After parking, you’ll approach the gift shop. The people that work at Taylor love their jobs and have been there a long time. In fact, in the two times that I have been there, it’s been the same people hosting the tour and both times we have run into Bob Taylor (The Founder).

The Taylor Guitar Factory Entrance

Some pretty ordinary doors for an extraordinary place

The Story of Bob Taylor is pretty amazing. It’s the story of the American inventor, and like Hewlett and Packard, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, Bob and his brother started work on their first guitar in their garage.

Once you walk through the gates of glory, to your right will be room full of every guitar Taylor makes, you can pick one off the wall and play the same guitar that Jason Mraz, Taylor Swift and Dave Matthews play. If you go during the late fall, early winter months when school is in session, you’re likely to get the room all to yourself and maybe even a very small tour group. Be warned, they sell Taylor guitars there – I went in broke and walked out with one, the price was not unreasonable since I bought a factory re-furb which was just a demo.

Celebrity Guitars At The Taylor Guitar Factory

Here are some of the flagship signature models

Jason Mraz Signature Model Taylor Guitar

Jason Mraz Signature Model Taylor Guitar - Yeah, I played it.. sure didn't sound like Jason Mraz when I was strumming.

The Dave Matthews Signature Model Taylor Guitar

The Dave Matthews Signature Model Taylor Guitar - Sure didn't sound like Dave Matthews when I was strumming it.

Taylor Guitar Electric Guitar Selection

Every Electric Guitar Taylor makes is on the opposite wall of the acoustic section. From novice to pro, anyone can rock out.

After messing around in the gift shop for about 15 minutes, the Taylor Guitar tour started, we headed out to the lumber yard where they store and treat the various types of wood used in the assembly of a variety of guitars. The high end guitars are made here in the USA and the lower end ones are produced in Mexico. I have never seen the Mexico plant, but they claim to have the same quality control standards. My Taylor is proudly made in Mexico and in comparison to my other guitars, there is no comparison, it blows them away. If you want a USA Taylor, prepare to drop more than $800.00 and to sleep on the couch when the wife finds out.

The Taylor Guitar Factory Tour Wood Stock

At Taylor, They Take Their Wood Serious.. Look but don't touch, the oils in your greasy hands can damage the wood

Koa Wood From Hawaii At The Taylor Guitar Factory

If memory serves me correctly, this is Koa wood from Hawaii. Koa is a rare wood, but Taylor is very sensetive to it's eco-impact and they only buy the wood when it's ready, there's no land stripping in this process

Taylor Guitar Factory El Cajon, CA.

For a working factory, You would be hard pressed to find a lot of saw dust, but the reality is, they don't create a lot, and the dust they do create, they recycle using these large vacuums.

After touring the wood storage area, we finally made our way inside the Taylor Guitar Factory, Look closely, and tell me if you can find any saw dust on the floor. It’s amazing, I don’t know if many people realize it, but for a working and highly efficient factory, it is super clean.

Inside the Taylor Guitar Factory

Here's where they start to cut down the rough timbers, again, nearly spotless.

Next we moved into the room where they glue the body panels together. The process is pretty neat. They basically take a piece of wood, cut it in half and then glue it back together to make an even surface and control the curvature. If you have ever played a Taylor, you might have noticed a slight bulge to the back of the guitar where as other brands are flat.

The Wood Vise at Taylor Guitar Factory

The Wood Vise at Taylor Guitar Factory

Close Up Of Wood Vise At Taylor Guitar Factory Tour

Close Up Of Wood Vise At Taylor Guitar Factory

Koa Wood Bodies At The Taylor Guitar Factory

I Believe These Are Koa Wood Bodies For The Higher End Taylor Guitars

East Indian Rosewood at the Taylor Guitar Factory

This and all the wood is kept in a climate control room to keep the moisture optimal for processing.

Koa Wood Storage at The Taylor Guitar Factory USA

More Koa Wood Storage

"Tropical Mahogany" At The "Taylor Guitar Factory"

Mahogany! Rad!

The Back of The Taylor Guitar USA Model

The jointing is so accurate, that even really close up, it's difficult to detect that this is actually two pieces of wood joined together.

Next we made out way into the Robot room where the Taylor Guitar bodies were being buffed. The machine buffs 80% of the total job and the detail work is done by the fine craftsman that work the line. When you think of assembly line, you may envision a fast food place, but this is much different, these folks are very serious about quality control and from my limited experience, they only hire passionate people with meticulous attention to detail.

Next we walked into another room where the guitars were being sprayed with sealant to lock in their moisture content and protect them from the elements after they leave the factory. This is a very precise process all robot controlled with very little waste and amazing accuracy. Bob Taylor is an inventor in that he has created the manufacturing process every bit or more so than he has the guitar.

As we travel through the factory, we start to see signs of completed pieces of guitars waiting in standby for their assembly.

Guitar Necks, CNC Guitar Necks, Handmade Guitars

Because the neck is one of the most important parts of the guitar, these necks are milled in CNC machines for extreme percision. I think Taylor Guitar has a patent on this jointing process

CNC Machines, Taylor Guitar Factory

For the neck making process, there are a lot of CNC machines, I'm guessing 30 or more in this one building.

Taylor Guitar Necks Pre-Finished Handmade, CNC

Here are some Pre-finished post CNC milled necks - Sexy when they're naked eh?

From what I saw, The frets and fret boards are hand laid.

Handlaid Fret pins, Taylor Guitar Pins

Here is a collection of fret pins... is that what they're called?

Completed necks with Ebony finger boards and pins.

Taylor Guitars, Handmade Guitars, best Guitars

Here they are, a collection of high end ebony fingerboard and fretted Necks.

Next we made our way into the room where they bend the sides and get that classic curvature. This is another process where Taylor and his team made strides in the business. This is a climate controlled room that helps the each particular type of wood bend at a rate that is optimal. The shaping mechanisms are also heated to a proprietary temperature per type of wood.

Best Guitar, Taylor Guitar Factory

Here you see a few of the machines stretching and bending the wood.

Taylor Guitar Factory Tour

They Place the Bent Bodies in a jig to allow them to cool in a controlled climate

Handmade Guitar

You can't see it in this photo, but in this room are master craftsman working away to insure quality

After sweating it out in a climate controlled room that is pretty toasty.. we moved onto see how they re-enforce the bodies to give them strength and best sound production. Acoustic Steal String Taylor Guitars must withstand 275 ft. Lbs of stress while their Nylon counterpart only needs to endure 75 ft. lbs. The inner structures and gluing techniques differ.

Taylor Guitar Factory Tour, Handmade Guitars, internal bracing Guitar

Here you see some internal bracing

In this same area is the glue and finish room. They apply a dye to the glue that is shows up under ultra-violet light so that the craftsman can see the smallest amount of glue in places that it shouldn’t be. After all, that will affect the sound quality.

Handmade Guitars, Best Guitar, Best acoustic Guitar

Here is a line of bodies probably drying from glue. Next they'll go the finishing stages.

After we past the dust barrier and got out of the glue fumes, we moved into the area where they put the tuning pegs, strings and pretty stuff on. It’s kind of like that scene in Pirates when they find the treasure.. yeah.. kind of like that. It’s a place of beauty.

Here is a series of pics, they really need no explanation, Just enjoy.

Ohhhhhh....

Is that a Koa model peeking out waiting for lipstick?

The Shiny stuff means cash money but also beautiful sound!

Taylor guitars Acoustic

Those might be solid bodies mixed in with Acoustics, see... we can all just get along!

The 12 sting.. perhaps it's a Glen Campbell thing

Dave Matthews Signature Model Taylor Guitar

I tried to slip it under my shirt, but unless I gain 500 pounds, it's real obvious.

So there you have it! A great day at Taylor Guitars. Yes, I went home with one and yes, it was expensive, but the quality is amazing, I respect the craftsmanship and I love the innovation. Best of all, not only does it sound amazing, I put it in my living room as a piece of art and piece of technology.

I really do hope you have a chance to tour the factory especially if you are a musician, but the beauty is, you don’t have to be to understand and respect what the Taylor family has built and accomplished.

3 Comments

  1. Had no idea Taylor was so close by. Their operation is pretty impressive, especially the cleanliness of it all. Spending time on the couch would be worth a Taylor. Just need to practice a bit more to be worthy.

    Reply
    • Thanks Fong! Yeah, it’s a great tour and if they didn’t kick me out so they certainly don’t judge worthiness. Have a great weekend! Happy DIY!

      Reply
  2. Thanks for the tour. I don’t live anywhere near this place but now feel as though I have been there.

    Happy strumming on your new guitar!

    Reply

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