Braced for the Best: With V-Class Bracing, Taylor Guitars Preps for a New Era of Guitarmaking

by Victoria Wasylak • in
  • April 2018
  • Issue Articles
• Created: April 9, 2018

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Andy Powers’ contributions to Taylor Guitars have varied over the years, but for his most recent innovation – this time around, the invention of V-Class bracing for flat-top acoustic guitars – came from an unlikely source: Powers’ West Coast penchant for catching a wave.

“My whole life, I’ve been an avid ocean enthusiast and guitarmaker, so here’s what I have to draw from,” Powers says. “For me, most of the interesting thoughts I’ve had about guitars actually come from surfing. I’m not the only person interested in acoustics who’s taken inspiration from the ocean.”

After comparing the choppy ocean waters after a storm to the serene lull of the tide once the weather had cleared up, a new idea nestled in the back of Powers’ brain for how to approach a new kind of bracing for acoustic guitars.

“In some ways, this is still kind of what my guitars are doing,” Powers says of watching the choppy water. “I can see the particular way these waves want to move, but there’s still a bit of interference, kind of confusion here.”

The next day, however, proved to be a different story, and that’s precisely when Powers had his pivotal “aha” guitar moment.

“The waves are perfectly ordered, they’re breaking around this jetty, the weather is beautiful, the ocean surface is super calm – those particular waves look totally musical. This is what I’m after. This is what I want to accomplish in a guitar form,” Powers says of his thought process that day.” I was looking at the structure of this jetty, thinking about other instruments that I’ve built – the solid body electric guitars, the arch-top guitars, the mandolins, and all these things – [and I thought] ‘what if I approach a flat-top guitar from a totally different direction?’ That’s where the guitars came from. I basically duplicated this funny jetty that happened on a really good surf day, and turned that into a guitar.”

Powers lugged back to his workshop, and halfway through, realized his idea was actually going to work. The result – a guitar with more volume, better projection, and a more robust presence – has been four years in the making ever since- and Taylor Guitars owner Bob Taylor can tell the difference.

“I got that first guitar done, and Bob Taylor and I started talking about it more, and I was building a lot more versions of it after that,” Powers recalls. “He heard me playing the first guitar and immediately just stopped in his tracks and said ‘okay, something changed. What have you done here?’”

Finally, the V-Class bracing makes its debut this year in four Taylor Grand Auditorium models, including a new Builder’s Edition model. Looking back at all of his prior contributions to the Taylor world, Powers sees each step as a refinement of what Taylor had already worked to create – great steps forward, but ultimately a stumbling block when it came to further, more novel improvements to the guitar itself as an instrument.

“In the wake of out 800 series that we relaunched in early 2014 – we put everything that we could possibly do into these guitars and as exciting as that is sort of terrifying to go back to the workshop and go, ‘Great, we just did everything we could think to do. Now what? How do we do an even better job than that? What’s left?’” Powers notes.

The answer – this time around, at least – lies in something other than solving a basic and obvious problem.

“We want the instruments that we make to be better than they’ve ever been,” Powers says. “Sometimes that means eliminating problems that we’re familiar with, sometimes that means improving what you’ve already done. I’ve got a workshop here at the Taylor campus where I design and build our prototype guitars and work on projects, and I have a shop built behind my house for the midnight projects. A lot of these guitars, I started building them, in a way, in secret, because they are just so different than how acoustic flat-top guitars have been done in the past.”

“I’ve built a lot guitars, I’ve restored a lot of guitars, I’ve repaired a lot of guitars, I’ve been studying the guitar my whole life. I’ve haven’t actually seen any design quite like this,” he adds. “There haven’t actually – as far as I know – been other guitars built this way. In hindsight, it seemed like such an obvious way to do it.”

The novelty of both the bracing and situation is what Powers says separates his latest work with Taylor from his contributions to Taylor’s 800 series.

“Those are all really unique guitars, but in many ways, those are the refinements of an existing idea,” Powers says of the 800 series. “That was like fine-tuning to get the last bit out of it. This is a whole different mechanism for us. It’s not the last page of chapter one anymore, it’s the first page of chapter two.”

According to Powers, some musicians who pick up the new models with the V-Class bracing will think the tone simply sounds nicer – and for others, it will totally change their lives and the way they play. Taylor Guitars says that the V-Class bracing offers louder, more consistent notes with more sustain, a more pure and solid pitch, and fewer “sour” sonic qualities with chords.

“I got halfway through building this first guitar and realized, I’m seeing all of these musical benefits come from just designing and building the initial parts of the guitar, and I thought ‘okay, this is something musicians are going to need. They’re going to want these flavors,’” Powers elaborates. “For most players, they’re gonna notice something’s different. It’ll open up a whole new world of opportunities for them.”

When deciding which Taylor models would include the new bracing in their four-year development of the invention, Powers and Taylor took retailers into consideration. As a result, the new bracing – for now, at least – appears only in four Taylor Grand Auditorium guitars to prevent other models that don’t offer the new bracing from becoming obsolete.

“With something like this, we had to start somewhere. We build a lot of guitars, and there’s a lot of guitars in the inventory of dealers, there’s a lot of instruments out there, and those guitars are just as good as they were yesterday or a month ago,” Powers says. “I don’t want to make those inventories obsolete, so we wanted to start in a relatively small number and that there be time for the idea to keep developing we can develop more capacity and capability in building these guitars so that we can broaden it out to more models in the future, and at the same time, protect the inventories of dealers. We decided to go with the most expensive guitars first – the more expensive, most difficult guitars should be the best-sounding ones, so let’s make those the best. And the side benefit is there are the fewest of them that we make. So, we’ll start with those ones so it gives everyone a chance to get ready for these new designs to come out.”

As for what the future holds for the V-Class bracing, Powers remains unsure about how many models it will eventually be incorporated into.

“I expect that it’s going to spread to a lot more models, I don’t know that it will spread to every model,” he notes. “We’re building everything from a baby Taylor to our GS mini to our Presentation Guitars. I think it’s okay for those different instruments to have different levels of performance, but at the same time, I love to make everything better.”

With regards to the V-Class bracing spreading over to guitars at other companies, Powers has patented his exact version of the bracing, mainly to thwart any potential issues with counterfeit Taylor Guitars. As for exploring new ways to implement bracing in guitars, however, Powers remains eager to see what other manufacturers can come up with, spring-boarding off his new way at approaching the ordeal.

“In many ways, as a guitarmaker, I love to encourage other builders to try things,” Powers says. “I want to know what their experience is like. There are some folks I would prefer to not see copying ideas. We’ve had some issues with counterfeit Taylor Guitars lately – so in those regards, I don’t want to welcome copying. We’ve patented the exact versions that we’re building to help mostly against the counterfeiting. That doesn’t really benefit anybody. I imagine – at least my hope is – a lot of other makers will see this idea and feel bold enough to try some of their own unique ideas, because I don’t think that the convention of the guitar is done, or that it’s at its highest and best form.”

Considering that this new V-Class bracing epiphany came to him on a whim, what’s possible going forward for other designers in the industry is limitless.

“When it comes to the steel-string flat-top guitar, largely as a guitar-making community we’ve been working off the same X-brace idea for a long time, so I’d love to see what happens when more and more builders feel emboldened to try some new things,” Powers concludes. “I don’t think the guitar is anywhere close to being done.”

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