For American Idol season 11 winner Phillip Phillips, landing in the Hollywood spotlight and being broadcast to millions of viewers whose votes controlled his fate was overwhelming exposure. The Leesburg, Georgia native, who had spent much of his adult life studying industrial systems technology and working in his family’s pawn business, never expected to land a top spot in the finals, let alone win. But week after week his nimble fretwork and soulful take on popular songs endeared him to viewers, culminating with his tears-of-joy reaction to winning after a record 132 million votes were cast during the final episode. The song Phillips performed that night, “Home,” debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 at the number 10 spot, and within a week of its release, accounted for nearly 300,000 downloads, quickly surpassing previous Idol records.
Phillips picked up his first Taylor, a rosewood/cedar Grand Symphony (GS7), when he was 17.
“I needed something with a better sound, and I’d seen a lot of great artists play Taylors, so I thought I’d try one,” he says. “I picked up the Taylor, strummed a chord, and said, ‘Oh man, that was it.’ It had that deep, but not too deep, rich sound. I said, ‘Man, I have to have this.’ It’s been my go-to guitar ever since; I take it everywhere. It’s got some battle wounds, but I love it. It’s got a smooth feel, and the Indian rosewood is my favorite kind of wood on a guitar. There’s something about the sound I just love.”
Phillips says he loves a full-bodied guitar voice, and that his Taylor GS gives him the tone he’s looking for when he writes and records. “Every song I’ve written has that perfect sound for me, especially when I record with it — it just has that tone that I look for. If I want to put it into Drop D tuning, it really has a beautiful sound. I can play in a whole bunch of different tunings with it and it just has that perfect sound. It’s just it.”
Like many developing players, as a teenager Phillips gravitated towards hard rock and electric guitar before returning to acoustic music. “I played a lot of AC/DC,” he says. “I love Angus Young — he’s one of my favorite guitarists — and Steve Vai and all those guys. Then I picked the acoustic back up and started listening to John Butler, Dave Matthews, Damien Rice, Eric Clapton and lots of other acoustic guys. Man, I just fell in love with the acoustic. It’s a lot different than playing the electric; you can have so many different sounds from an acoustic. You have to be really precise. I like that challenge. I didn’t want to be a regular strummer. Ever since I started writing my own songs I didn’t want to play regular chords. I would just mix songs up, [relying on] what I’d learned over the years — some different chords and strumming patterns — and bringing it all together.”