After working on some research and music projects in and around California, I decided to spend a few days in San Diego, a city that I've always wanted to visit. Having been a long-term fan of Taylor guitars, I was excited to find out they offer a free guided tour of the factory each weekday at 1pm where you can see how Taylor guitars are made and also learn some history about the company.

The factory itself is based out in El Cajon and a simple journey on public transport from downtown San Diego takes you right to the front door. I was based in the Gaslamp Quarter, so walked to the Santa Fe depot station and took the Green Line Trolley to Gillespie Field Station. From there, the Taylor factory was a pleasant eight minute walk through a leafy industrial complex.

On arrival, it felt like what I imagined a typical day at a guitar factory in California might be like - beautiful sunshine, palm trees, and employees whizzing between buildings on electric golf buggies. After entering the building, I was asked to sign in at reception, given a headset (to ensure that I could hear the guide in the noisy sections of the factory) and directed to the nearby on-site store to wait for the tour guide. Those of us who were already waiting were encouraged to try out any of the guitars on display and given free use of the little rehearsal rooms which led to a few of us having a fun jam session before being called on to start the tour. 

After being briefed on what to expect and the health and safety protocols, our first stop was the outside storage area where Ryan, our guide, explained that the wood used for the guitars is delivered from several different countries with differing temperatures, and so is left to sit outside in a shed for 28 days in order acclimatize and lose any excess moisture. We then moved into the factory building through the specially designed door entry system which ensures the temperature in the factory remains stable at all times. This helps to stop the wood expanding and contracting during manufacture.

The first workstation inside the factory involves the wood from outside being brought in and cut into sections. After the wood is cut, each piece is assigned a number to identify which specific plank it came from. Throughout the manufacturing process, the assemblers try to ensure that all elements of each guitar are made from the same plank of wood. We were then guided through several departments including body design, the neck department, and the brace department. To achieve their unique tone, Taylor use a differently shaped brace in their guitars than other manufacturers. Because of this, there was a little bit of secrecy in this area and this was the only department where we were prohibited from taking any photos. After heading back downstairs, we were herded into a small room where three of the assemblers sat painstakingly applying the materials that made up the unique designs around the soundholes.

Moving on to the quality control department, we encountered 'Buffy' the buffing machine which is tasked with removing any scuffs or blemishes. Each guitar is finished and hand-checked by members of staff before being placed in one of the racks of stunning Taylor guitars that are waiting to be distributed to their lucky new owners.

For any music enthusiasts, the factory is definitely worth a visit. As well as a lovely journey out to El Cajon, it was great to watch the process of a raw block of wood being transformed into one of Taylor's beautiful instruments. It was also really interesting to hear about the origins of the Taylor brand and find out about their commitment to obtaining wood from sustainable sources. With ebony being used in every guitar that leaves the factory, Taylor have invested in a sawmill in Cameroon and have set up 'The Ebony Project', that works with local people and organisations to maintain a replanting program and create a more ethical and socially responsible way of processing West African ebony.

The tour lasts approximately one hour and 15 minutes and departs from the main building at 1980 Gillespie Way, El Cajon, California.

Read more about the Ebony Project here.