Vintage Maple Custom Taylors
Back in the early 1970s a lot of Gryphon’s business was building banjo necks. Virtually all the necks we made were to convert 4-string tenor and plectrum banjos by Gibson and Vega into 5-string models. Gibson wasn’t offering a wide variety of vintage-style banjos during those years the Vega Banjo Company was defunct, and Ome, Deering, and Bart Reiter were not yet offering banjos in the vintage style (Steve Huber, one of the best of the current banjo makers, was still in grade school). We soon got tired of chasing after highly figured maple in the right dimensions for building a one-piece banjo neck and so decided to search for a good supply and buy a lot of it.
To our surprise highly figured maple of the right dimensions was available but it wasn’t being cut for banjo necks, instead it was intended for builders of early American rifle stocks (for what’s now usually called a “Kentucky rifle”). Monteath Hardwood of New Jersey (in business since the 1860s) had excellent maple with lots of curly figure but they didn’t want to ship just a few boards, they wanted a big wholesale order. We borrowed enough money from relatives and jumped in. Of course gunstock makers wanted to get more than one rifle stock out of a board, and preferable several, so some of the boards in such a shipment were quite wide. Our order came on a freight car, and after being blown away by the figure in the wood we huffed and puffed to find room for it in a nice dry place.
But by then Gryphon Stringed Instruments was becoming better known for repair work, which paid a lot better than building banjo necks, and in a few short years all those heavy maple boards were stashed in a corner of the attic at 211 Lambert. We used some of it to make a display banjo for the 1984 Guild of American Luthiers Convention in San Francisco but for the most part our stash of curly maple just sat up there, getting more and more seasoned as the years rolled by until Billy Gill, our Taylor Guitars rep, saw it and got very excited. A quick measurement proved the wood was wide enough to build a guitar out of and he set us up with Taylor’s Custom Shop who agreed to make some guitars from our wood.
For our first batch, we ordered five guitars. We liked the combination of Sitka spruce and maple, which gives a balanced tone with lots of projection. We knew we wanted a simple but elegant look so we opted for ivoroid binding and a pearl soundhole rosette. We couldn’t decide on whether to go for a Grand Auditorium or a Grand Concert so we got one of each.
We upgraded to Adirondack spruce bracing, which when combined with the greater density of a maple neck produces a powerful sound with lots of sustain.
We love the sound of small steel-string guitars with cedar tops, so we ordered this Taylor Custom Grand Concert as an example of how “less is more” when you start with really high quality woods. The maple used for the back and sides has so much figure that any more decoration might be too much. This doesn’t sound like a Grand Concert model, it delivers a big warm tone with a lot of sparkle and sustain and thanks to the cedar top it responds to the lightest touch. We also ordered this guitar in a 12-fret version.
Cedar and maple also sound good when used on Taylor’s larger Grand Auditorium body size. The larger body produces more volume and bass response than the Grand Concert but it still has a nice balance of bass and treble.