Magazine article American Forests

The Sweet Sound of Liberty

Magazine article American Forests

The Sweet Sound of Liberty

Article excerpt

If you were given a raw chunk of America's past, a piece so rare its likes will never be seen again, and you wanted to create a lasting memorial, one that paid homage to the nation's past in a way that was beautiful and reverent, what would your memorial look like?

The answer came to Washington in early May in a simple guitar case. The guitar inside represented the final resting place of the nation's last remaining Liberty Tree, a towering tulip-poplar in Annapolis, Maryland, that served as a gathering place for Revolutionary War-era patriots.

Each of the 13 original colonies had a Liberty Tree that served as a rallying place on the path to freedom; Maryland's, on the grounds of St. John's College, was the last still standing. The tree, which was about 400 years old, had withstood everything from a gunpowder prank by college students to harmful bugs but finally succumbed in 1999 to damage wrought by Hurricane Floyd.

A portion of the wood from the Liberty Tree was purchased by Taylor Guitars cofounder Bob Taylor and used to make a limited run of guitars that pay homage to the symbols of our past and the tenets of our future.

The "chocolate and vanilla-colored" tulip-poplar wood makes up the back and sides of the guitars. The front, of Sitka spruce edged with abalone, is adorned with 13 stars, representing the original colonies, and inlays of a scrolled Declaration of Independence, an early battle pennant from Revolutionary War days, and the first post-Revolution flag.

The effect is striking. But perhaps the best way to appreciate this particularly American memorial is to just close your eyes and listen.

Recording artist and Taylor clinician Doyle Dykes is playing his own "patriotic melody" during a reception at the Veterans of Foreign Wars building in Washington, DC. As he finger-picks through "My Country 'Tis of Thee" and "America the Beautiful," ending up in a bouncing ragtime version of "Battle Hymn of the Republic," you're struck by the soft, mellow tone. For those who know guitar sounds, it's the difference between a guitar made with tulip-poplar and one made with mahogany or walnut.

For the rest of us, it's just a sweeter sound to the strings.

The idea of a signature guitar is not a new one for Bob Taylor, who has built a respected company that sells to novices and music stars alike. But for him there's something more personal about this particular venture.

"This is a real project of the heart," he says.

Taylor, who is a self-described patriot and history buff, had coveted the wood ever since Emory Knode, owner of the Appalachian Bluegrass Shoppe in Baltimore, faxed him a newspaper article about the tree's likely demise. Taylor says he immediately focused on the idea of making guitars from the tree, even dreaming about how the guitar would look, until finally "common sense" took over. A guy from the West Coast would be too far away to have a chance at the wood, he decided.

Then came a call from Annapolis landscaper Mark Mehnert, who had acquired some of the wood and was offering to sell it.

"I was blown away," Taylor says now. "I had the feeling the tree was coming to me."

In describing the Liberty Tree guitar, an article in Taylor Guitars' magazine Wood&Steel says its "materials alone make it the most significant instrument we've ever created. In the 27-plus years of our company's existence, through tens of thousands of instruments made from some of the most incredible tonewoods nature has produced, we've never made a guitar from wood that inspired actual reverence."

In designing the guitar, "less subtle things" like various Revolutionary War themes and a depiction of the 13 original colonies were considered before settling on the more "everlasting symbols," of our nation's history, Taylor explained recently.

Many thought the tree itself would be an "everlasting" symbol of our history. …

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