The Great Divide: How the electric guitar changed acoustic guitar design

Taylor Guitars’ master designer tells us how the electric guitar revolutionised the way acoustics are built.

Taylor Andy Powers The Great Divide

All images: Eleanor Jane

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As told to Chris Vinnicombe

Having built and restored guitars, appreciated and played a lot of instruments, I’ve kind of assembled almost my own timeline of instrument history. A lot of us talk in terms of pre-war guitars and post-war guitars. Really, from a builder’s perspective, other than the quantity, not much actually changed with the guitar itself. Sure, there’s some subtle distinctions, little tweaks and things, but the guitar largely didn’t change after World War II.

I have this timeline where I look at instruments developing, with this great divide between all the instruments from antiquity up until this divide, and all the instruments that come after it.

To me, the great divide is the electric guitar. It was not World War II, as most people would place it. It was the electric guitar, because that was the first time that we really have a systemic approach to making a sound.

Up until that point, an instrument is developed and it makes a sound. You have a violin, you have a piano, you have a guitar, you have a clarinet, whatever… it does this thing and it makes that sound. You either like it, or you don’t. You choose it, or you don’t, but that’s what it is. And that’s the way instruments were developed and built.

Taylor Grand Pacific Builder's Edition 517e, 717e, 317
(L-R) Taylor’s Grand Pacific Builder’s Edition 517e, Builder’s Edition 717e and the affordable 317

Of course, the electric guitar starts before World War II, with the ES-150 et cetera, and lap steels playing Hawaiian music, you have those precursors. But really, I look at the solidbody electric guitar and go, okay, that was significant in the development of modern music and in a way, modern culture. Because now you have this thing where you need an amp, you have a cord and you have a guitar… but because it’s got components, a systemic approach to making a sound, you get to choose what it sounds like. That’s an interesting development.

Now you can take a Telecaster and plug it into a Champ or a Deluxe and it makes a sound, or plug it into a Vox or a Marshall and it makes a totally different sound! You’ve got these elements where you can mix and match and it gives the player a lot of flexibility. I don’t see instruments ever being the same, from then on.

As a modern guitar maker, I’ve only lived on this side of the divide. Taylor lives on this side of the divide. So we look at this and go, there’s a lot of things that systemic approach gave us, that the electric guitar gave us, that I am totally not willing to give up. I’m totally not willing to give up a neck that plays well, a good action, accurate intonation. I’m stuck with that, I want that, I’m gonna keep it.

Andy Powers Taylor Grand Pacific talk through
Master guitar designer Andy Powers and VP of marketing Tim O’Brien talk journalists through the rationale behind the new Grand Pacific

And yet there are parts of an instrument’s development that I do appreciate that came from before that great divide. I want that projection. I want that volume. I want that sustain, I want the articulation. All those really good attributes that are just inherent to a good musical instrument, whether it’s a mandolin, a violin, a guitar or whatever. Those things are really interesting to me.

And in the modern world, most guitar makers to one degree or another have ignored that. So what we’re trying to do, especially with this guitar, is go: ‘I want the parts of a modern guitar that I want, I want consistency, I want control.’

And with the V-Class idea, it allows us so much ability to shape what we want the sound to be like. We can choose these different aspects. I love old machines and old cars more than most people, but there’s a lot of what we gain from a modern set of tools and modern manufacturing techniques… we’re spoilt, really. If we have those tools available to us, absolutely we should use them.

Check out our review of the 2019 Taylor Grand Pacifics.

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