What Guitar Does James Taylor Play?

What Guitar Does James Taylor Use

Note: Professional musicians use many different guitars and frequently change them. Though this is by no means an exhaustive list of every guitar they’ve ever played, we’ll try our best to keep this list updated with their most notable guitars.

If you’re a James Taylor fan, you likely know him from some of his hit songs, including “Something in the Way She Moves” and “Fire and Rain.” So, whether you’re simply interested in learning more about what guitars James Taylor prefers or you want to own a guitar that Taylor loves, you first need to know which guitars he plays with.

James Taylor plays with multiple kinds of guitars, including the Gibson J-50, Whitebook, Yamaha, and Takamine. However, due to its consistency and feel, his favorite would have to be the Olson guitar. Taylor also enjoys various electric guitars, including the Fender Duo-Sonic and Seymour Duncan.

The rest of this article will cover James Taylor’s favorite guitars, including a breakdown of each guitar’s specs. I’ll also go over some background information on James Taylor himself to show his journey with each guitar, specifically his all-time favorite guitars.

James Taylor Guitar: Some Background Information

James Taylor was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1948 to a wealthy family. He and his siblings all pursued careers in music, but Taylor started out his love of music by taking cello lessons as a child. However, by 1960, he was learning to play guitar.

While James Taylor never attended a college to pursue music, he started his official music career in 1964 when he joined a band called The Corsayers (also later known as the Fabulous Corsairs)— a band that his brother Alex happened to form. In this rock band, he played the electric guitar; the Fender Duo-Sonic, to be exact (which I’ll get into more detail about later in the article).

However, despite playing in a rock band early in his career, James Taylor ventured into various musical genres, including soft rock, folk-pop, and folk rock.

Throughout Taylor’s career, he’s signed with many record labels:

  • Apple Records
  • Warner Records Inc
  • Columbia Records
  • Sony BMG Music Entertainment
  • Hallmark Cards, Inc.
  • Hear Music
  • Concord Music Group
  • Fantasy Records
  • Sony Music Entertainment (SME)
  • Concord Records
  • Legacy Recordings

He has also made various accomplishments throughout his life:

  • He’s been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
  • He has sold more than 100 million albums.
  • He has earned gold, platinum, and multi-platinum awards.
  • He’s won multiple GRAMMY awards.
  • He’s been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
  • He has been honored as a MusiCares Person of the Year by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
  • He was awarded the National Medal of Arts by Barack Obama in 2011.
  • The French Government awarded him the Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters.
  • He was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.
  • He received the Kennedy Center Honor in 2016.

Taylor’s first guitar is known today as the “Blue Guitar.” While this guitar wasn’t overly significant during Taylor’s musical career, it’s the first guitar Taylor ever owned and the guitar he learned to play on. His parents gifted him this guitar for Christmas in 1960 when he was only 14 years old, and he describes it as a nylon string guitar.

The reason it’s called the “Blue Guitar” is because Taylor’s brother spray-painted it blue and turned it into a slide guitar. Despite this, the guitar was in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for a long time before Taylor asked them to return it.

There are multiple guitars that James Taylor has used throughout his career — many that he still uses to this day and some that he only used for a short while. However, each guitar he has used has made an impact on both him and his overall career. So, let’s get into all of Taylor’s favorite guitars.

List of Guitars That James Taylor Plays

James Taylor has played many different guitars since his musical career started. While his first instrument was a cello and not a guitar, his love of music began with playing the cello.

However, he learned the guitar fairly quickly after moving on from cello lessons as a child. If you’re interested in learning more about how long it takes to learn guitar, you can check out my article on the subject here.

Now, let’s dive into the many guitars James Taylor has played. It’s important to note that this list likely doesn’t showcase every guitar James Taylor has played, but it does mention all of the important ones.

Olson SJ

The James A. Olson guitars are some of Taylor’s favorites. Currently, he owns several of these guitars, mostly Olson SJs. However, Taylor also owns one made specifically to fit his specifications — the James Taylor (JT) Signature Model.

Taylor has been faithful to the Olson guitar for many reasons, but mostly because it stays consistent and has a smaller body, which is perfect for Taylor’s unique fingerpicking style. The sound of this guitar also amplifies very well, which is an essential aspect for James Taylor.

He began playing this guitar around 1989 when Jim Olson sent him one to his hotel room in Minneapolis. Since then, Olson has crafted six guitars for Taylor.

The Olson James Taylor Signature guitar models were created in 2005 when James Taylor and Jim Olson collaborated to make them. There were only 100 of these guitars crafted, so they were a limited edition series, and while you can still find them for sale online, they’ll cost you a pretty penny.

As mentioned, James Taylor owns at least two Olson SJ (small jumbo) guitars, so this model is his style of choice for the Olson guitars. He’s always raved over the unusually wide neck of the guitar, which he finds more comfortable to play.

Breakdown of the Olson SJ Guitar

While the Olson guitars are typically crafted the same, Jim offers modifications to better suit the guitar to your needs — something James Taylor has taken him up on. Nevertheless, here are the specs of the Olson SJ guitar without modifications:

  • Waist: 9.250” (23.5cm)
  • Body length: 19.5” (49.53cm)
  • Lower bout: 15.125” (38.42cm)
  • Upper bout: 11.125” (28.26cm)
  • Depth at tail block: 4.750” (12.07cm)
  • Depth at heel: 3.750” (9.53cm)

This guitar was used in various live performances, considering it’s one of Taylor’s all-time favorites. Here’s a clip of him performing the song “Sweet Baby James” with his Olson guitar:

Gibson J-50

Before the Olson guitars came into James Taylor’s life, he played the Gibson J-50. The Gibson J-50 was Taylor’s go-to guitar for around 10 years, and it was the first guitar he ever bought (but not the first guitar he owned).

The Gibson J-50 was first introduced in 1942. However, the guitar didn’t become an official product for the company until around 1947.

Taylor bought the Gibson J-50 at a music store in North Carolina, and he wrote many of his first songs on it, including:

  • “Fire and Rain”
  • “Something in the Way She Moves”
  • “Carolina in My Mind”

He played this guitar up until the recording of “One Man Dog.”

Breakdown of the Gibson J-50

The Gibson J-50 can have varying specs depending on the guitar, as it’s easy to modify. However, here are some of the usual specs for the Gibson J-50:

  • Scale length: 24.75” (62.87cm)
  • Overall length: 41” (104.14cm)
  • Lower bout: 16” (40.64cm)
  • Depth at side: 4.81” (12.22cm)
  • Nut width: 1.69” (4.29cm)

Since Taylor played this guitar for over 10 years, various live shows showcase it. Here’s a recording of him playing his song “Something in the Way She Moves” with the Gibson J-50:


The Whitebook guitar was another important guitar in Taylor’s career. Mark Whitebook made a couple of these guitars for Taylor, and he had several other clients that requested his guitars, including:

  • Carly Simon
  • Clarence White
  • Phil Keaggy

James Taylor was mainly influenced by John McLaughlin, who wrote the song “Someone” with this guitar. McLaughlin had a cedar-topped Whitebook, which Taylor also requested from Whitebook.

Taylor started playing this guitar in the 1970s, and he wrote and recorded his album “Walking Man” with it. He describes his Whitebook guitar that Mark Whitebook made him as a “Martin-style” guitar. He often paired this guitar with Takamine pickups due to the excellent sound combination.

Breakdown of the Whitebook

Here are some of the specs of a Whitebook guitar:

  • Lower bout: 14” (35.56cm)
  • Upper bout: 10.5” (26.67cm)
  • Length: 19.5” (49.53cm)
  • Depth: 4.3” (10.92cm)
  • Nut width: 1.7” (4.32cm)
  • Scale length: 25.5” (64.77cm)

Check out this video of James Taylor playing a Whitebook guitar in 1977:


The Takamine is a Japanese guitar that James Taylor bought because he wanted a guitar that could be amplified on stage. While this guitar wasn’t specially designed for Taylor and was a name-brand, mass-produced guitar, it worked well for what Taylor needed because it came with a pickup already built into it.

This guitar is excellent for amplification because it has volume and tone controls. While James Taylor never recorded with this guitar, he played it live for a few years. However, the overall construction of the guitar wasn’t his favorite.

Breakdown of the Takamine

Below, I’ll go over some of the specs of the Takamine guitar. However, it’s important to note that different models of the Takamine guitar have other specs. And, since there isn’t a lot of information on the Takamine Taylor played, the specs are limited:

  • Body type: Dreadnought
  • Pickup: Yes
  • Configuration: Undersaddle pickup
  • Tuner: Yes
  • Neck shape: Asymmetrical
  • Nut width: 1.77” (4.5cm)
  • Number of frets: 20

Because James Tayor only played this guitar for a couple of years, there’s little footage of him playing it live. However, he’s an excellent video of him explaining the guitar:


After playing the Takamine guitar for a few years, James Taylor discovered the Yamaha guitar around the mid-80s. Taylor describes this guitar as “bright-sounding” because it amplified really well due to the built-in pickup, and he says it’s an excellent “everyman’s guitar.”

Yamaha also made Taylor a custom Yamaha guitar with his name on it.

Breakdown of the Yamaha

Because James Taylor had a custom-made Yamaha guitar, it’s hard to know the exact specifications of his Yamaha guitar. However, here are the specs of many of the Yamaha guitars:

  • Scale length: 25.25” (64.14cm)
  • Nut width: 1.7” (4.32cm)
  • Number of frets: 20
  • Tuner: Yes
  • Weight: 4.4 lbs (2kg)
  • Pickup: Yes

Additionally, here’s a video of James Taylor playing his Yamaha guitar in honor of Yamaha’s 125th birthday:

Fender Duo-Sonic

The Fender Duo-Sonic was the first electric guitar James Taylor started playing on. He played this guitar in both the Fabulous Corsayers and the Flying Machine, and he says he loved how easy the guitar was to play due to its small size.

Despite getting started playing electric guitar with the duo-sonic, James Taylor quickly moved onto the Fender Telecaster — specifically the Seymour Duncan signature edition. However, I’ll dive more into that guitar next.

Breakdown of the Fender Duo-Sonic

Here’s a breakdown of Fender’s Duo-Sonic guitar specs:

  • Scale length: 24” (60.96cm)
  • Pickup: Two duo-sonic single-coil
  • Number of frets: 22
  • Fret size: Medium jumbo
  • Nut width: 1.650” (4.19cm)
  • Fingerboard radius: 9.5” (24.13cm)

Check out this recording on YouTube of James Taylor and the Flying Machine playing the song “Night Owl.” You’ll likely hear the Duo-Sonic in the song:

Fender Telecaster — Seymour Duncan Signature Edition

Lastly, we have Seymour Duncan’s design for a Telecaster. This electric guitar is custom-made and one of James Taylor’s favorites. Like his favorite acoustic guitar Olson, the Seymour Duncan has a wider neck than most guitars — something which Taylor prefers and loves.

The guitar itself had the pickups customized. While it was initially an Esquire with a single pickup, Duncan added a lipstick pickup to it to turn the guitar into a Telecaster.

Additionally, Seymour Duncan customized the electronics on the guitar, making it even more unique to others.

Breakdown of the Fender Seymour Duncan

As mentioned, James Taylor has his Fender Telecaster modified to fit his playing style. However, here are some of the specs for many Fender Telecasters today:

  • Scale length: 25.5” (64.77cm)
  • Number of frets: 21
  • Fret size: Vintage tall
  • Nut width: 1.650” (4.19cm)
  • Fingerboard radius: 7.25” (18.42cm)

Here’s a video of James Taylor playing the song “Steamroller Blues” with his beloved Fender Telecaster:


What Guitar Strings Does James Taylor Use?

Due to the wide range of guitars Taylor plays with, he likely uses various guitar strings, too.

James Taylor uses steel guitar strings. Taylor has been known to use phosphor bronze John Pearse guitar strings. However, in the 1990s, James Taylor often used the Adamas guitar strings.

What Instruments Does James Taylor Play?

James Taylor plays guitar, piano, cello, and harmonica. Taylor is also known as an excellent vocal singer, and although he plays various instruments, he’s best known for his acoustic and electric guitar playing.

Taylor is considered an influential guitar player and one of the best ever. He’s known for his unique fingerstyle on the guitar, which has influenced many.

Does James Taylor Use a Pick?

James Taylor doesn’t use a pick. Taylor has a specific fingerstyle when it comes to guitar, where he uses a “pick-and-strum” approach. He uses his thumb to pick the bass note and the rest of his fingers to strum.

Whether you’re a long-time fan of James Taylor or you’re just discovering him, you’ll notice his unique picking style when watching his performances. The lack of a pick has never hindered Taylor — if anything, it makes his playing more unique and overall impressive.

Is James Taylor Considered a Good Guitar Player?

While many people enjoy James Taylor’s music, not everyone is an expert in determining skill. There are many aspects to consider when deciding if someone is “good” at an instrument, and James Taylor is no exception. So, is Taylor considered a good guitar player?

James Taylor is considered a good guitar player. Many people will claim Taylor is the best guitarist simply because of his unique approach to the instrument and how wonderful it sounds live. Despite this, while the “best” is subject to opinion, James Taylor is known to be a good guitar player.

Whether you like James Taylor or not, you can’t deny that he knows how to play the guitar well. With his experience playing various guitars (both acoustic and electric), he’s had the time to build up his skills and become the influential musician we know today.


James Taylor played a wide variety of guitars, both acoustic and electric. Two of Taylor’s favorite guitars include the Olson guitar (acoustic) and the Fender Telecaster (electric). These guitars are built similarly with a wide neck, which Taylor specifically enjoys.

Taylor also played the Gibson J-50 for over a decade, a Takamine, a Yamaha, and a Whitebook. All of these served him well throughout his career.

However, the famous “Blue Guitar” (Taylor’s first guitar) and the Fender Duo-Sonic (his first electric guitar) can’t be forgotten, as they’re responsible for curating Taylor’s love of guitar-playing.

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