El Cajon-based Taylor Guitars hit new highs and lows during pandemic

Guitar sales soar, and sorrow struck team to it's core
taylor guitars
Posted at 4:47 PM, Jun 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-14 19:50:33-04

EL CAJON, Calif. (KGTV) — In January of 2020, ABC 10News paid a visit to music powerhouse Taylor Guitars. As one of the leading global builders of premium acoustic guitars, the El Cajon-based company was hitting all the right notes.

They were pumping out 700 guitars a day from their San Diego and Tecate production plants and adding to the list of music superstars playing their custom strings.

”Taylor Swift, George Strait, Alan Jackson, Dave Mathews, Prince, the list goes on ... tons of artists play our guitars," said Chris Wellons.

Wellons, the vice president of manufacturing, showed ABC 10News anchor Kimberly Hunt what goes into making each guitar, from cutting, sanding, stringing, and assembling. The tight knit group here could never imagine the roller coaster ahead, as the pandemic brought all operations to a halt for a time.

"Both of our facilities in Mexico and El Cajon came to a screeching halt," said Wellons.

The company had to pivot.

Keeping non-essential people home and staggering the shifts of others on a 24/7 rotation. But what happened next was almost as stunning. Orders came pouring in and Taylor Guitars hit an all-time record: more than 900 guitars a day.

"I believe that people staying home were saving their cash, and wanted a fine instrument. They spent it on something they could keep forever ... it's a family heirloom," Wellons said.

Guitars are back-ordered into next year and the walls are bare.

"As you see we have hooks on the walls, but no guitars on the wall. Every guitar we produce is shipping out the door," said Wellons.

Now all the staff is back in and they've hired almost 150 people.

Also, in a rare move in early 2021, the three owners of Taylor Guitars transferred 100% ownership of the company to its employees. Things were flying high until COVID-19 struck a gut punch.

Father, grandfather, and fellow co-worker Gregory Denny died of the virus.

"It was a very tough for all of us actually ... everyone knew him, he traveled to both factories, he worked both shifts ... so everyone knew him," said Wellons.

Wellons said the already close group became closer and helped each other cope with the loss.

"We're all still reeling from that, and we all still talk about him, and hold his spirit here ... and he was a wonderful wonderful person," Wellons said.

The sorrow is clear, but Wellons and the others find peace and purpose in helping others find joy thru music. He received a letter from a father fostering five children. After getting two Taylor Guitars, the letter described a journey of bonding and love that led to all five children being adopted.

"You hear these stories and it just turns it into something much more personal and passionate. And it's not just the guitar anymore. You're touching lives and people and you're changing things," said Wellons.

Disabled veterans have shared stories of healing and finally feeling whole again.

"It's a counseling session. It's something that allows them to just be with themselves, find themselves again ... that person they've lost," said Wellons.

So while the business survived and even thrived during the pandemic, the people here are forever changed. There’s a closeness forged from grief, a mindset altered by a pandemic, and a new mission to bring hope and healing.

"We're all proud to say, this is our home, this is where we work, this is where we live ... building lots of guitars here," said Wellons.