Winter NAMM 2013
Grand Entrance: The GO Makes a Big Impression
It was a dream scene for any Taylor lover: a showcase room richly stocked with wall-to-wall Taylor guitars, an open invitation to play them, and a clutch of knowledgeable factory staff on hand to talk shop. Anyone who’s been to our exhibition room at NAMM knows that we transform a generic convention center space into a living, breathing Taylor Guitars venue where everyone is welcome to hang out and play guitars. Our friendly vibe means a lot to people, whether they may be a dealer, artist, vendor, guitar owner, fellow manufacturer, member of the media, or random drop-in. Especially at a huge trade show like NAMM, where the sheer volume of manufacturers and the clashing din of instruments on the main exhibition floor below can quickly swell into a thick haze of sensory overload.
This year’s show opened on a sweet note for Taylor, as Vinny Testa, publisher of The Music & Sound Retailer magazine, presented Bob Taylor with a Lifetime Achievement Award. “I’m really honored to have it, and I accept it on behalf of myself and my partner, Kurt, of 38 years,” Bob said. “We built this company together.” The company was also in the running for several other of the publication’s annual Music & Sound Awards: the 714ce, which enjoyed an aesthetic makeover in 2012, for Best New Acoustic Guitar; the SolidBody Standard Double Cutaway for Best New Electric Guitar; and Taylor’s public outreach efforts, which earned a nomination for Outstanding Community Service Award. The nomination recognized our guitar contributions to organizations including the Wounded Warrior Project, the Red Cross, and the March of Dimes, along with ongoing guitar donations to music education programs through our Taylor Guitars for Schools initiative.
From a new product perspective at NAMM, our big story was the debut of the Grand Orchestra (GO). Early impressions matched our excitement about the guitar and confirmed that it brings a fresh, inspiring voice to the Taylor line. Taylor communications manager Chalise Zolezzi and the GO’s designer, Andy Powers, introduced the new body design during a special media event the day before the show opened, giving Andy an opportunity to explain and demonstrate the guitar. Numerous interviews with Andy and our product specialists followed throughout the show, helping to give the GO a nice blast of initial exposure. The GO also made a favorable splash among the Taylor dealers who attended the show.
“They commented about how it was truly a stand-out guitar and ‘was different yet familiar,’” shared Taylor’s Director of Sales, Monte Montefusco. Bryan Rankins, the sales manager at Fazio’s Frets and Friends, a Taylor dealer located in Ellisville, Missouri, wasn’t expecting to be impressed by the Grand Orchestra because big guitars typically don’t respond well to his light touch as a player. But he was pleasantly surprised. “Taylor managed to take all the things I dislike about big guitars and make them disappear, turning the GO into a big guitar so versatile that even a finesse-style player like me can love it,” he said after the show. “This is the type of guitar that will inspire players and bring out things that one could never do on a small guitar.”
On Thursday and Friday mornings, before the show officially opened for the day, Bob Taylor and Andy Powers presented a dealers-only preview of the 2013 line, sharing the development story behind the Grand Orchestra. Bob emphasized Taylor’s ongoing commitment to designing great guitars and noted that Taylor’s product development team was in great hands with Andy driving guitar designs such as the GO. By the end of the show, an independent panel of retailers at NAMM had chosen the GO as one of its “Best in Show” products.
“The Grand Orchestra blew me away with its versatility,” said Donovan Bankhead, Vice President of Springfield Music in Springfield, Missouri, and a member of NAMM’s retail panel. “Most Jumbos are a one-trick pony, but the new Taylor Grand Orchestra proved to have more dynamic versatility and superb ergonomics, while still retaining the power and volume of a traditional Jumbo.”
Another development for 2013 that was showcased abundantly throughout our room was the integration of non-cutaway acoustic models into the standard line. Of the orders placed by independent dealers at the show, more than half were non-cutaway models. Elsewhere in the room, our spectacular Build to Order wall was never lonely, attracting waves of admirers who were eager to indulge our latest batch of tantalizing custom acoustic configurations. (For a closer look at a few, turn the page.) At another nearby wall, headphones-clad players noodled blissfully on our electrics with the help of several listening stations.
The artist performances we host in the afternoons at NAMM have become another signature component of the Taylor NAMM experience. Artists like playing our room for many reasons, among them the fact that they feel like members of the Taylor family, they have an amazing selection of models from which to choose, and because our sound crew — led once again this year by Nashville sound engineer Gary Hedden — does a wonderful job. This year’s eclectic lineup featured acts from across the U.S. and around the world.
Thursday’s first set featured Nashville-based guitarist/singer-songwriter Phil Brown, who was joined by steel guitar icon Al Perkins for a pair of songs, including the Peter Green instrumental “Albatross.” Brown’s warm, weathered vocals added vintage character that suited the relaxed tempo of his tunes, including a laid-back Jimi Hendrix medley that sampled his record The Jimi Project, a reinterpretation of the songs of the legendary guitarist. Brown also covered tunes from Mose Allison and Burt Bacharach and alternated between playing a T3, 618e and rosewood baritone 8-string. Next up was rising Nashville act The Farm, whose dynamic country-pop showcased tightly wound harmonies and foot-tapping melodies. Their set featured their hit singles “Be Grateful” and “Home Sweet Home.”
On Friday, Americana showman David Mayfield, whose musical antics were a highlight of last year’s NAMM performances, stopped by the Taylor room, and after chatting with Andy Powers about the Grand Orchestra, was coaxed into taking the stage and playing a few songs on a 918e. After covering the folk chestnut “Old Joe Clark,” Mayfield invited Andy to join him, introducing him as “Andy the janitor…I think he mops the floors at Taylor.” Andy obliged on a 618e, and the two kicked up some dust with some freewheeling bluegrass jamming. Backstage Mayfield hammed up his endorsement of the GO like an old-time huckster: “They’re made out of 100% more guitar than the average brands,” he deadpanned to a video crew.
Next on the bill was Pat Simmons from the Doobie Brothers, who sprinkled wry humor into a rare solo acoustic set played on an 812e. “They told me nobody’d be here,” he quipped as he took the stage in front of a packed room. Simmons, who has lived in Maui for the past 16 years, channeled the sounds of the Hawaiian Islands on his slack-key-flavored tune “Five Corners.” He also laid down some ragtime picking and unearthed an old Doobies tune, “Slippery St. Paul.” Other highlights included a sweet rendition of the Doobies’ ballad “South City Midnight Lady” and a couple of cuts from the band’s 2010 release, World Gone Crazy: “Far From Home” (co-written with producer Ted Templeman) and “I Know We Won,” penned with Willie Nelson. Simmons enlisted David Mayfield and Andy Powers as his wingmen on a couple of crowd-pleasing hits to end the set: “Black Water” and “Long Train Running,” the latter featuring some zesty jamming from both. Closing out the day was Malaysian chanteuse Yuna, whose ethereal vocals infused her electro-pop set with a melodic glow. She alternated between a red T3 and a Taylor uke on groove-rich tunes, including “Island,” “Decorate,” “I Wanna Go,” and “Live Your Life.”
On Saturday, the all-female indie-rock-folk quartet Raining Jane, from Los Angeles, brought strong harmonies and upbeat energy to their set, inviting Andy Powers to sit in on a couple of songs. Night Ranger guitarists Joel Hoekstra and Brad Gillis dropped by for a visit that afternoon, and though they weren’t slated to perform, were happy to play a song between scheduled sets, treating the unsuspecting crowd to a blazing acoustic instrumental (“L.A. No Name”) that the two co-wrote. Next, up-and-coming soul revivalist Allen Stone slayed the crowd with his vintage Stevie Wonder-inspired vocals, blending raw power with a sky-high falsetto during a stripped-down set of R&B originals, plus a deliciously deconstructed cover of Bob Marley’s “Is This Love?” The day’s final act, envelope-pushing Japanese guitarist/singer Miyavi, uncorked an electrifying torrent of techno-funk-rock, fueled by his percussive bass-slapping attack and blistering riffs on the T5, his main performing guitar. Using his on-stage looper, he amassed a wall of sound with the help of his drummer, Bobo, leaving the crowd pleasantly stunned. Miyavi graciously thanked Taylor for making inspiring instruments and professed that he loved his guitars, even though he wasn’t sure if Bob Taylor would like his music.