Printed on: April 01, 2013

Provo man has the world on a guitar string

The Daily Herald

PROVO, Utah (AP) - Lots of people have taught themselves how to play a guitar. There's almost certainly a considerably smaller number of guitar enthusiasts, on the other hand, who have taught themselves how to make a guitar. As in build one from scratch. You probably can't just pick up a kit for that at your average hobby store.

Provo resident and self-taught guitar player Tim Taylor didn't even need a kit when he decided on a whim last year to take his interest in six-stringed sound makers to the next level. Instead, Taylor, 65, followed a time-honored approach more often reserved for things like cars, or vacuum cleaners, that have standard replaceable parts: Find one that works and take it apart to see what's inside.

"I was just going down the road and I happened to see this yard sale," Taylor told The Daily Herald. "I saw a guitar sitting there and I thought, 'I'll stop and look at it.' It was pretty beat up."

Taylor, a father of five and grandfather of nine, decided to rescue the old battered guitar and took it home to show his wife, Sherry.

"He brought it home and I said, 'Why did you buy this?' It smelled like smoke," Sherry Taylor said. The odor wasn't enough to get in the way of Taylor's curiosity, however, and he carefully rebuilt and refurbished the old guitar.

Encouraged by that experience, as well as by reading a couple of books about guitar building, Taylor set himself a more ambitious goal to build his own guitar. Even family members were skeptical at first.

"I was a little shocked when he decided to give it a try," son-in-law Mat Taylor said. "I honestly did not think it was something that was going to work out very well."

Sherry Taylor said that her husband does have an impressive ability to focus, once he gets going on a project: "I've told him the world could come down around his ears and he wouldn't even know it."

When his interest in building a guitar took hold last year, Taylor was prepared. "I needed a band saw," he said. "I had to buy a band saw. I had a router, and I had the drills, and I had hand saws and a lot of sandpaper. I just started from there."

For his first attempt, Taylor used mahogany.

"That's kind of a common wood for guitars," he said. "I bought the wood from a guy in Georgia."

As you might expect, he encountered a bit of a learning curve. "It was terrible, it was horrible," Taylor said.

One major blunder involved putting the guitar's body together backwards, so to speak.

"I had to heat it up with a steam gun and tear it apart," Taylor said.

A lot of amateur guitar builders would have given up, but Taylor's son, Branden Taylor, said that his father is made of tougher stuff than that.

Of course it's one thing to put all of the pieces together, and another thing to have an instrument that makes beautiful music. After watching the progress on Taylor's first guitar, son-in-law Mat Taylor said that he knew the guitar would look good.

"It was obvious that he had the talent to do the woodwork; it was beautifully done," Mat Taylor said. "But I was still a little skeptical that it would sound like a guitar."

Getting the sound right requires extremely careful construction and stringing. Taylor said that most guitars, for example, look like the neck is butted against the body of the guitar at a 90-degree angle.

Another piece that requires careful attention is the truss rod, a steel rod embedded in the neck of the guitar that can be adjusted very slightly to compensate for tension in the neck caused by the strings.

"You might raise or lower the fretboard by a thousandth of an inch," Taylor said, "but a thousandth of an inch makes a big difference in the sound."

And Taylor's guitars - he's made seven so far - have excellent sound. One of them was a gift to Mat Taylor, who learned to play the guitar after picking it up from Taylor about five years ago. Mat Taylor said that the guitar his father-in-law built for him is an acoustic-electric model, and that it's gotten rave reviews from a few friends he knows who are guitar experts.

"These guys are professional musicians who play every weekend and are paid to play," Mat Taylor said. "They're just absolutely amazed at the quality of the craftsmanship and the sound."

Mat Taylor said that he's priced custom-made guitars in shops, and thinks that Taylor could sell his guitars for between $2,000 and $4,000 apiece. Taylor, who enjoys gardening, fishing, hunting and some television when he isn't making guitars, said he's not intending to go into business. He's just doing something he enjoys.

"It occupies some of my day," Taylor said. "And I can make something for my grandchildren. They may not look at it today and say, 'Oh, gee, Grandpa made that.' But maybe in 20 years from now it will mean something."