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The Geppetto of Taylor Guitars

You want romance? Buy three Taylors and play until one of them sings to you.

“I realized that higher quantity did not necessarily mean lower quality.”
“I realized that higher quantity did not necessarily mean lower quality.”

I once asked my wife if she thought I should attend art school. “How about business school?” she replied.

A fellow I know, call him Tony, recently pared his collection of 40 guitars down to 20 or so. When he buys a guitar, he buys three of the same model, plays them until he finds the one that works with him, and returns the other two. He’s built enough guitars over the years that he’s now building one from the spare parts he has left over. He counts professional musicians among his close friends. But Tony is happy that he didn’t try to make a career out of music — because it’s a terrible business. “Geffen Records sued Neil Young for making albums that didn’t sound like Neil Young albums,” Tony marveled. (He added that the company was right about the albums; it was the thought of getting sued for not turning yourself into a brand that galled him.) Instead, he works in regular business, the kind where you negotiate contracts that don’t get quite so personal as Young’s was with Geffen.

Guitar neck being carved by a Fadal robot.

Tony doesn’t live in San Diego, but he did pay a visit to El Cajon a while back, to take the Taylor Guitar factory tour, offered nearly every Monday-Friday at 1 pm. “When we finished the tour,” he recalled, “I heard one of the other guests say, ‘I thought there would be more people.’ I think he was hoping to see Geppetto, bent over his workbench, assembling every piece by hand.” A note of impatience crept into his voice. “Taylor makes a good guitar,” and using robots — to carve the necks, to buff the bodies, to apply the finish — helps them achieve better consistency and keep costs low. It’s just good business. You want romance? Buy three Taylors and play until one of them sings to you.

Or maybe read Bob Taylor’s business memoir Guitar Lessons, which Tony admired for its account of the author’s ability to, as Taylor writes, “stick with it and make adjustments to your course as you go.” It sounds blah, until you hear that Taylor “had to fire all his employees, more than once,” and find a way to keep going. Until you read that he took inspiration from Our Hills and Valleys’ account of Spring Valley pioneers, and the way it often took three owners to make a homestead thrive — the third building atop what had been left them by the first two.

Geppetto at his workbench in the Taylor Guitar factory?

Last week, I followed Tony’s lead and took the Taylor tour. As we waited in the showroom, I overheard an old-timer telling his friend about his Deering banjo. Greg Deering got Taylor started on improving his guitar-making mechanics just a month after Taylor opened shop in 1974: “This was the first time I realized that higher quantity did not necessarily mean lower quantity.” The two wound up combing the Convair salvage yard for hardware, and Taylor spent most of his “free, nonworking hours building machines” to improve his business by making better music-making machines. Besides Mr. Banjo, there were several guitarists in the tour group, plus a guitar builder. Also present: students from the University of San Diego, analyzing Taylor as part of a Decision Sciences class in Operations Management.

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“I realized that higher quantity did not necessarily mean lower quality.”
“I realized that higher quantity did not necessarily mean lower quality.”

I once asked my wife if she thought I should attend art school. “How about business school?” she replied.

A fellow I know, call him Tony, recently pared his collection of 40 guitars down to 20 or so. When he buys a guitar, he buys three of the same model, plays them until he finds the one that works with him, and returns the other two. He’s built enough guitars over the years that he’s now building one from the spare parts he has left over. He counts professional musicians among his close friends. But Tony is happy that he didn’t try to make a career out of music — because it’s a terrible business. “Geffen Records sued Neil Young for making albums that didn’t sound like Neil Young albums,” Tony marveled. (He added that the company was right about the albums; it was the thought of getting sued for not turning yourself into a brand that galled him.) Instead, he works in regular business, the kind where you negotiate contracts that don’t get quite so personal as Young’s was with Geffen.

Guitar neck being carved by a Fadal robot.

Tony doesn’t live in San Diego, but he did pay a visit to El Cajon a while back, to take the Taylor Guitar factory tour, offered nearly every Monday-Friday at 1 pm. “When we finished the tour,” he recalled, “I heard one of the other guests say, ‘I thought there would be more people.’ I think he was hoping to see Geppetto, bent over his workbench, assembling every piece by hand.” A note of impatience crept into his voice. “Taylor makes a good guitar,” and using robots — to carve the necks, to buff the bodies, to apply the finish — helps them achieve better consistency and keep costs low. It’s just good business. You want romance? Buy three Taylors and play until one of them sings to you.

Or maybe read Bob Taylor’s business memoir Guitar Lessons, which Tony admired for its account of the author’s ability to, as Taylor writes, “stick with it and make adjustments to your course as you go.” It sounds blah, until you hear that Taylor “had to fire all his employees, more than once,” and find a way to keep going. Until you read that he took inspiration from Our Hills and Valleys’ account of Spring Valley pioneers, and the way it often took three owners to make a homestead thrive — the third building atop what had been left them by the first two.

Geppetto at his workbench in the Taylor Guitar factory?

Last week, I followed Tony’s lead and took the Taylor tour. As we waited in the showroom, I overheard an old-timer telling his friend about his Deering banjo. Greg Deering got Taylor started on improving his guitar-making mechanics just a month after Taylor opened shop in 1974: “This was the first time I realized that higher quantity did not necessarily mean lower quantity.” The two wound up combing the Convair salvage yard for hardware, and Taylor spent most of his “free, nonworking hours building machines” to improve his business by making better music-making machines. Besides Mr. Banjo, there were several guitarists in the tour group, plus a guitar builder. Also present: students from the University of San Diego, analyzing Taylor as part of a Decision Sciences class in Operations Management.

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3

Geppetto Guitars owner, Mike O’Donoghue, worked on the development of The Nomad for almost a year. The result is a visually beautiful and audibly stunning finished product. O’Donoghue is an Air Force Veteran and former brick and mortar guitar store owner, as well as a father, grandfather and husband of 33 years. He lives and builds pickups in Taylor, Texas.

Oct. 17, 2019

Yeah, but he doesn't make guitars, which is what the story is about.

Nov. 11, 2019
This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.
Oct. 17, 2019

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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