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Big Baby, Big Impact

Friday, September 7, 2012
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Taylor guitars were not introduced to me; I was introduced to them. I did not approach anyone asking about them, nor did the enticing looks of the high-end models pull me toward salespeople, my eyes glazed over and tongue thick with synonyms for “beautiful.” I was living in blissful ignorance of Taylor until one was sprung on me.

It wasn’t just Taylor that I was unaware of, though. It was ALL acoustic guitars. I was a teenage metal-head who also loved punk rock, and I had zero interest in anything acoustic. Then in my senior year of high school, my mother threw a party for me. Parties were common among her circle of friends, who all worked together and loved to blow off steam at the end of the week. This time the occasion was my graduation. They were good people, and we all had a good time eating food, swimming and enjoying a late Southern spring evening in Alabama.

Among the cards, well-wishes and the obligatory copy of “Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” my mom had me hunt around the room for a present, not telling me what it was. Eventually I saw something that wasn’t there before — a tan gig bag. I pulled it out from behind the woman sitting in front of it and read “Taylor” with “Quality Guitars” making a circle around it. I recognized the momentousness of the occasion and savored it as much as possible. The zippers were big and seemed heavy-duty, and the gig bag sturdy. I unzipped the bag and pulled out a pristine new Taylor Big Baby.

I had no idea what a Big Baby (or even a Taylor) was, but it was beautiful, and it was the first acoustic guitar I had ever held in my hands and liked. I didn’t know at the time that the Big Baby was slightly reduced in size to increase the comfort factor, or that it came from one of the biggest names in acoustic guitars. All I knew was that it was a very nice acoustic guitar and it was all mine.

I looked at my mom, who told everyone that I had recently remarked that I would love an acoustic guitar to put in my trunk and bring with me wherever I went. A bang-around guitar for the beach or camp-outs or just for my dorm room. She’d gone to the music store and asked what a good acoustic guitar was, and the salesman had said that Taylor made the best acoustics he’d ever played. She’d explained that it was for a teenage boy, and he’d responded by suggesting the Big Baby. 

“It has a full sound, but it’s not as big as other acoustics,” he’d said. It was also very affordable.

Unfortunately, there was no way it would fill the niche that I had said I wanted an acoustic for. It was far too pretty, far too high-quality to just be thrown in a trunk. Then I started thinking about other things like glue, temperature changes, warping, etc, and decided that this guitar needed special care (and that no guitar should ever live in a trunk).

It is interesting (for me) to think that my favorite acoustic brand was THRUST into my life in such an irrevocable way. I could never trade or sell this guitar even if I didn’t like it. I’m a sentimental kind of guy — any guitars I have ever sold or traded did not have sentimental value, while the ones that do will be with me forever. I know this, my kids know this, even my wife acknowledges this (though she doesn’t seem too keen to hang them on the wall like I keep suggesting). 

It was ten years ago that I received this fantastic gift from my mom, and I appreciate it more and more every day. Ten years can bring a lot of baggage, and one can change considerably in that span of time. I know I did. I still love metal and punk rock, but I like my metal lyrics filled with thought, and I like my punk rock acoustic. I’ve expanded genres and started enjoying blues, fingerstyle, flatpicking, even solo ragtime guitar. If it features a guitar, I’ll give it a shot, and if it features that guitar prominently, I’ll probably enjoy it. 

Through all the personal changes — going to college, the moves, the different jobs, getting married and having kids, hope, disappointment, jubilation, heartache and basically turning into an adult — this guitar has remained there for me, ready to tackle whatever musical fancy I was on to. Guitarist Mark Tremonti [Creed, Alter Bridge] spewed out random tunings, and the Big Baby was more than happy to have its strings tuned to them, even if it was just for one song before being put back to standard, drop D, or some other crazy alternate tuning.

The guitar has been banged around on, but rarely by me. Usually it was my daughter, who would use it as it rested against a corner to pull herself up as she learned to walk. I think she may have even tried to teethe on the headstock at one point. 

I’ve hung out with friends at get-togethers with it, sat on my porch with my wife and kids and played it for them, and passed it around at guitarist conventions. A close friend told me that if I ever wanted to sell it to contact him first. The years and playing have made it sound amazing, he said, and he loves the fit of the smaller body and the slightly aged look that the spruce has taken on with all the UV exposure. The added dings and scratches only add to the character.

Ten years with this guitar. It’s amazing to think about where it’s been and what it has helped me through.

Only within the last year did I try out any other Taylor guitars. I was flabbergasted by the beauty and succulent tones of the 814ce, and fell instantly in love with the 616ce that was put in my lap at a Taylor Find Your Fit event — so in love that I began saving for one of my own right then and there. Taylor offers a huge range of incredibly impressive instruments, and I kind of want them all for one reason or another, but you could fill my whole house with them and I would still have a very soft spot in my heart for this Big Baby. It was my base for appreciating all other Taylor guitars.

A Taylor guitar may have been thrust into my life, but I’ve never been so appreciative of an unexpected guest. It was this guitar given to me by my mom (thank you, Mom!) that made me a fan of Taylor for life.

Russell Southard is a husband, father, SSgt in the United States Air Force, and the lead writer for the guitar/music blog the Fifth Fret (http://www.fifthfret.org).

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