Guitar Lessons book by Bob TaylorIt’s probably no surprise that I would end up reviewing a book written by the co-founder of Taylor Guitars, Bob Taylor.

Taylor’s become a brand name in the world of guitars despite getting started during the late 1970s and coming of age during the synth-heavy 1980s. They went from a three-person shop essentially hand-crafting instruments to making hundreds of guitars a day, consistently innovating in the field to increase productivity while maintaining quality, and  earning the respect of the best musicians — and luthiers — in the business. Along the way, they’ve suffered through tough economic times and they’ve led the industry in using computers to make precision pieces of guitars and finding new ways to assemble guitars.

Taylor may have gotten its most offbeat endorsement in 2009 when Nova Scotia musician wrote the viral hit song “United Breaks Guitars” after losing his precious Taylor to the hands of malicious baggage handlers. If you missed that video, here it is:

And in a classy and smart move, Bob Taylor recorded his own video response to Dave Carroll’s plight, and offered him a replacement instrument and other props to use in his other United Breaks Guitars songs:

But enough video fun — on to the book:

The Good

If you’re not a lover of music, or of guitars, you might think that this book won’t hold anything for you. But Guitar Lessons is not a book for music geeks like me. It’s a memoir of both a businessman and a business, and while it’s not specifically an educational book, there are lessons for the taking, if you look closely enough.

Taylor doesn’t list a ghost writer on this book, and I have no idea if he wrote it on his own. But either way, the book is a solid read, written in a matter of fact style that paints Taylor as an unflappable, phlegmatic fellow with natural talent as an engineer and as an entrepreneur, and a serious thirst for opportunities to learn and be innovative.

The book doesn’t paint an overly rosy view of the journey from three-way partnership to international business, either. Taylor seems as interested in sharing his mistakes and the times when his weaknesses are on display as he is in talking about the successes he’s experienced.

Discussions in the book about working with employees and about Taylor’s advertising campaigns (which were definitely contrarian to most of the guitar advertising that you continue to see in the marketplace) are well worth close reading. What Taylor Guitars did well was to differentiate itself by using its natural “corporate voice” in its marketing, and in the way it dealt – and likely still deals – with its employees.

Other lessons can be found in chapters such as “Making Our Case.” Taylor makes its own guitar cases, a move that came about because of supply problems in the 1980s. But as Taylor writes in the chapter, “We didn’t just solve a supply problem. We improved the entire package of what the customer bought from us. They were able to buy a Taylor guitar in a Taylor case. The case was branded and styled so that it was beautiful and recognizable…

Taylor doesn’t push these lessons on the reader. He leaves them there to be picked up.

The Bad

The simple, conversational tone of Guitar Lessons can at times  lead the reader to feel the tone is overly modulated — that hte highs and the lows have been cut down and that what you’re reading is an attenuated version of Taylor’s journey. For example, at one point the fledgling company found itself in a sales arrangement with a company that was not working for Taylor Guitars. Taylor writes that he “was terrified at the thought of telling them [he] wanted to leave the relationship…We were being killed by the dying host.” But the natural drama of the situation is undercut by the prose. And while I appreciate the plain-spokenness of the writing in phrases such as “The guitars are good and they sell well,” it’s a little flat.

The Ugly

I’m not sure I would have gone for the title of the book. While the tie-in with Taylor and his company is obvious, I worry that the book’s appeal will be limited by people who think it will be a guitar book. Other than that, there’s very little ugliness in Guitar Lessons. Taylor’s simple clear prose, realistic view of himself and the accomplishments of his company, and the ability to take lessons from the book that are applicable to almost any business situation make this a book that reads as nicely as a Taylor guitar sounds. And that, if you don’t know, is pretty darn nice.

The Info

  • Guitar Lessons
  • Bob Taylor
  • John Wiley & Sons, 2011
  • ISBN: 978-0-470-93787-7 (hardcover)

If you buy this book (or any other Amazon product) by going through this link, you’ll get what you want AND I get a little somethin-somethin. Can you feel the love? Then show me a little!

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