A Surprising Business Book: Guitar Lessons

“The sound that you’re listening to is from my guitar that’s named Lucille. I’m very crazy about Lucille. Lucille took me from the plantation. Or, you might say, brought me fame. I don’t think I could talk enough about Lucille.” — “Lucille,” B.B. King

Guitar LessonsThough the above lyric is about B.B King’s legendary Gibson electric guitar, the term “love affair” could just as easily describe the early years of Bob Taylor, founder of Taylor Guitars. At 14, Taylor  built a guitar and begun a love affair with the instrument “not to be a rock star or impress a girl.” Taylor has come a long way from his first childhood effort, which resulted in some, er, interesting results (he cut the neck of a guitar to match up to a body to another he built; he never completed his homemade guitar).

Fast forward to today.  Taylor Guitars is famous in its industry, with a devoted following.  The roster of recording artists who play Taylor guitars reads like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:  Jewel, Dave Matthews, Prince, Babyface, Aerosmith, Neil Diamond, Taylor Swift and many more.

Now Taylor offers a different work, a compelling story for business owners dreaming big or even in the midst of positioning a firm for growth. Guitar Lessons: A Life’s Journey Turning Passion Into Business tells how Taylor and co-founder (and current CEO) Kurt Listug grew the business despite the up and downs of the guitar industry.

Lessons for Entrepreneurs

Guitar Lessons is an appealing narrative of overcoming business pitfalls by a highly successful entrepreneur. You follow Taylor’s discovery of his business acumen. You will identify with challenges such as working with a large client — in this case, with Rothchild, which sells the guitars.  You also get insights into the decision-making processes necessary to  manufacturing and selling a product.

Taylor is refreshingly forthright.  He does not skip details like the financial and personal choices he made along the way — choosing to marry while still struggling with company earnings and his take-home pay. Taylor retains the right balance between displaying knowledge of his industry and catering to the layperson’s understanding.

Success and Failure Factors

Most memorable is Taylor’s recounting of how disco music increased the demand for electric guitars, while — because folk music fell out of style — acoustic guitar demand plummeted. While well-established guitar producers like Martin — 131 years old when Taylor Guitars started — increased electric guitar production, Taylor Guitars continued to build acoustic guitars.

Taylor raises the topic of maintaining a healthy perspective on success while undertaking bold risks:

“I’m not saying that success is because disco music shrank the competition’s business, but what was happening in the industry is absolutely part of the story. It’s important to acknowledge the parts of a success story that are not of your own doing. When people fail, they love to talk about all the things they had no control over to account for their failure, so the successful person is obligated to do the same.”

Taylor Guitars serves as a brilliant example of making the most of your niche.

Another example, of how to differentiate your business, reminds the reader how effective a simple ad tagline can be.

Taylor’s humility and awareness of what’s important in staying the course comes through as he explains the importance of managing expectations honestly.

“There is no way around being honest and open about the state of the company when your business is struggling to make its way. Whether consciously or unconsciously, you are making a mistake that you’ll have to correct in later years when you withhold information from your workers. The mistake is in thinking you are actually in it together in a way that translates into equal opportunity. Later on in the life of business, ownership creates opportunities for owners that are not available to non-owners or employees.”

A nice short chapter on embracing tech wonderfully highlights how a small business with an offline product can inject just enough technology to enhance strategy and tactics.  Manufacturers will naturally enjoy reading about Taylor’s tooling decisions.  Others will enjoy the lesson of how innovative ideas may come from outside of an industry.

Business Insights and Personal Inspiration

We learn a lot from books and videos on specific skills, research and theories, but we also gain tremendous insights from other people’s experiences. Just look in your local bookstore and it seems every other book is a personal journey, be it Keith Richards, who wrote about his days with the Rolling Stones, or the ladies of the book Jewels (see review) offering their perspectives on leadership and post civil-rights struggles.

With Guitar Lessons, Bob Taylor’s personal journey strikes the right chord between personal and business.  His story can help small business owners re-envision their business while pursuing their passion and remaining true to themselves.


Pierre DeBois Pierre Debois is Associate Book Editor for Small Business Trends. He is the Founder of Zimana, a consultancy providing strategic analysis to small and medium sized businesses that rely on web analytics data. A Gary, Indiana native, Pierre is currently based in Brooklyn. He blogs about marketing, finance, social media, and analytics at Zimana blog.

11 Reactions
  1. Nice blog posting, learning biz from music, the gift that keeps on giving, :).

  2. Bravo, Pierre. This is an inspiring review. I enjoyed it. I found the quotes you shared uplifting and refreshing. I started a software company years back and was always honest with my team about where we were, financially, market-wise with customers, and it created a steadfast loyalty and lifelong friendships, even after the business ran out of cash and had to close its doors (casualty of the dotcom era — and to be fair, some decisions we made). Great review.

  3. Pierre,

    Nice review! You’ve got me excited to pick up the book. Combining my two loves, guitars and business—I’m bound to enjoy it.

    His best line is right here:

    “When people fail, they love to talk about all the things they had no control over to account for their failure, so the successful person is obligated to do the same.”

    SO true. A little humility (and thoughtfulness) when things are going well is a great thing.

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention!



  4. I was especially impressed with the Taylor Guitars response to United Breaks Guitars. I didn’t realize he had a business book out as well. That seems fitting. I’ll have to check it out. thanks for the review. I’m a new visitor to your blog – found it via the AdAge power list.

  5. Thanks Lisa, Kelly, Matt and TJ. I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did. I really liked the two quotes a lot, and he really has a great balance of personal narrative and business lessons. A lot of business gurus could learn a lot from him.

  6. Very good review, will check and see if Amazon has it. I’ve played guitar for almost forty years now, and I enjoy reading about someone else’s absolute love of the instrument!