Andy Powers, who started at El Cajon-headquartered Taylor Guitars in 2011 as head guitar designer, and while there has advanced the state of guitar making at the facility and expanded the company’s line of products, is decidedly not strummin’ the blues.
Named the company’s president and CEO last year, Powers continues to keep Taylor perfectly in tune, even as he launched his own line of electric guitars earlier this year.
The Powers Electric guitars are now being made in a shop on the campus of employee-owned Taylor Guitars by a small team of machinists and guitar makers, Powers said, where every component is made in-house and is unique to the Powers brand.
The Powers Electric A-Type guitar is, as Powers describes it, is “a fully enclosed, slim hollow body guitar inspired by the surf, skate, car and music cultures of San Diego.”
He said he wanted to create a guitar that doesn’t sound or play like something known, but still offered the comfort of a favorite guitar. He was looking to create a guitar that didn’t offer “off-color notes, dead frets or useless pickup positions” but instead felt “amazing every time you pick it up, inspiring you to explore fresh ideas while allowing you to sound more like you.”
Powers, who grew up making and playing all kinds of instruments, including electric guitars, said he had wanted to make this type of guitar for years.
Later, “having worked on and studied some of the world’s great designs,” he said he knew what he wanted to achieve musically with his own brand, and the individual concepts he wanted to incorporate in everything – from how the woodworking components like the neck would feel and function to the metal hardware to the look of the aesthetics.
“As with many great things, the ideas and designs preceded the brand or any specific plans,” Powers said. “Those were created once the guitar was in hand and proved itself an idea worthy of living.”
Co-Founder of Taylor Guitars a Backer
Powers said that Taylor Guitars co-founder Kurt Listug was a primary driver for him to establish a separate brand.
Taylor Guitars was founded in 1974 by Bob Taylor and Listug and is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of guitars, a leader in the acoustic guitar space as well as prolific in electric guitar creations. Its guitars are played by Christopher Cross, Dave Matthews, Jason Mraz, James Taylor and Alan Parsons, among others. Taylor Guitars has about 1,200 employee-owners altogether at its hub in El Cajon and factory in Tecate, Mexico.
“I knew the electric guitar I wanted to make, and Kurt Listug encouraged me to make it what it should be, including its unique identity,” Powers said. “Our players have applauded our approach with these guitars and welcomed them into the musical landscape.”
Prices for Powers Electric A-Type guitars range from $3,700 to $4,299 and although currently sold out, they have been made available to sell by select dealers around the country hand selected by Powers.
The closest retailer to San Diego County that has offered Powers Electric guitars is Truetone Music in Santa Monica, with other retailers in Chicago, Nashville, Texas and New York.
Powers said that from a musician’s perspective, the Powers Electric guitars are “radically different” than those made as a Taylor guitar.
He said that where Taylor guitars, including the electrified versions, are firmly rooted in the playing styles, sounds and feel of an acoustic guitarist, the Powers Electric guitars “are steeped in the vibrant culture of Southern California and the dynamic sounds and feel of electric music made here.”
“It seems to me that successful brands, and particular designs, have what I’ve described as a design language that is unique to them,” Powers said. “The community of enthusiasts who use those creations understand the aesthetic or ethos of those designs and associate them with a maker. For these electric guitars, the approach, the look, feel and use were very different than the Taylor guitars we love making. As such, it made more sense to create a separate brand around these guitars I have a passion for.”
Powers said his goals when he first began at the company 12 years ago included the hope of taking what he was good at: creating instruments that musicians enjoy and using that to help serve a larger community of employees, suppliers, retailers and players around the world.
“I’ve been fortunate to enjoy watching this hope unfold, and I’m thrilled to do more of it in the time to come,” he said. “I’m fortunate to do work I love – building guitars – with a great team of people who work alongside me in their areas of expertise,” Powers said. “It’s wonderful to participate in the continuation of work we’ve done for decades.”
Navigating Volatile Marketplace
Powers said the post-pandemic climate has been a dramatically volatile marketplace to navigate — from labor force and material supplies to rising costs or customer purchasing trends. He said as disruptive as the beginning of the pandemic was, “the ending of a pandemic is equally so as businesses reestablish what a new version of normal looks like.”
Powers said he is optimistic that this brand will continue to grow larger as an arm of Taylor Guitars, “as we’re confident in the designs and our ability to make them.”
So far, several hundred of the instruments have been crafted, and each one has sold. In the coming year, Powers said he expects to continue at a very modest production rate, since the guitars are “very involved instruments to build.”
Currently, there is a backlog of guitars to build stretching into 2024.
“The response from musicians is certainly signaling that there is opportunity ahead, but we’re resolved to sell these instruments at a rate that organically matches our ability to make these well, and the demand generated as players discover them,” he said.
CEO: Andy Powers
HEADQUARTERS: El Cajon
BUSINESS: Musical instruments
EMPLOYEES: How many
SOCIAL IMPACT: Taylor Guitars is known for championing sustainable practices from forests as far away as Hawaii and Cameroon to its factories in El Cajon and Mexico
NOTABLE: Powers is also chief designer, president and CEO of Taylor Guitars