A Taylor Guitar Buyer's Guide
Oct 15, 2001 (Updated Oct 4, 2002)
Popular Products in Musical InstrumentsThe Bottom Line I personally believe that it's hard to go wrong with a Taylor Guitar.
Taylor Guitars are considered by many, to be the pinnacle high-end production guitar. I believe that Taylor Guitars represent a good value in terms of quality, resale value, appearance, and most importantly, sound quality. But where do you begin to find the Taylor guitar that's right for you? They have a slew of models in all shapes, sizes, and colors. How do I choose? I hope that this guide helps you along.
Taylor guitars are divided up into four body styles:
x12 Grand Concert
x14 Grand Auditorium
x55 Jumbo 12-string
x54 Grand Auditorium 12-string
The Dreadnought is the classic body shape that's instantly recognizable. It produces a deep bass, and good volume. This body style suits many different types of music and playing styles. It's really good for strumming and flatpicking, however, I personally find it too bass-heavy for fingerstyle guitar playing. The Dreadnought is a favorite among bluegrass players, especially.
The Grand Auditorium has the body depth of a Dreadnought, but a narrower waist. This makes it somewhat easier to hold and play for most players. It's also a very visually appealing body style. The body style and bracing pattern give this guitar extra top-end sparkle, while retaining much of the bass-end of the Dreadnought. This guitar is a very good "swiss army knife" guitar, and is favored by many players and many styles, including fingerstyle players. The x14 is Taylor's most popular body style.
The Grand Concert is a smaller-body, more intimate guitar. It is shallower and narrower than the x14, and has modified bracing. This guitar is excellent for fingerstyle players. This guitar also excellent for recording, because of it's tight and controlled sound. It lacks the "boominess" found in the other body styles - This boominess makes condenser mics go crazy, and is the bane of recording engineers. The x12 has a very even volume across the strings.
The Jumbo is the biggest body Taylor. It's loud like the Dreadnought, but it more difficult to "overdrive" because of the increased top surface area. This means you can hit it really hard and it will keep on singing - it won't "flab" out. If you're an aggressive strummer, this is the guitar for you. If you're a fingerstyle player, look at the x12 and x14.
Taylor's regular-line guitars (excludes the Baby Taylor and Big Baby) begin with the 300 through the 900 series, and also include the Signature Series, the W-Series, the K-series, and the Presentation models. They also make an AB series, which is an acoustic 4-string bass guitar, co-designed by famous luthier Steve Klein.
Taylor's model numbers are a combination of the series and body style - for example, a 314 is a 300-series Grand Auditorium. If there is a C after the model number, it means it has a cutaway. If there is an E, it means that it has electronics. Thus, you can have a 410C which is a Dreadnought with a Cutaway and no electronics, or a 410CE with the cutaway and electronics.
All Taylor 6-string guitars have a 1 3/4" neck width at the nut (the place where the strings exit the fretboard and enter the headstock area to attach to the tuners). You can special order a 1 11/16" or a 1 7/8" neck on the 6-string, as an option. The 12-string guitars have a 1 7/8" neck width.
All of Taylor's regular-line guitars include a Deluxe Taylor Hardshell "luggage-type" case, which offers good protection for your instrument.
Guitar Tops (Wood):
The guitar's soundboard or "top" is where most of the sound of the guitar is produced. Taylor only uses SOLID wood tops for their guitars, which produce the best tone. Cheaper brands use laminate tops (plywood), which is several layers of wood glued together. This substantially diminishes the tone of the guitar. If you don't buy a Taylor, be sure to buy another brand with a SOLID wood top! No laminates! Solid tops will "loosen up" or "mellow out" with time and use, and the guitar's tone will improve.
Taylor guitars are offered in three different top woods. Cedar is warm, yet has a bright top-end. Engelmann is tighter sounding and generally pretty bright. Sitka isn't as bright as Engelmann and has a warmer bass sound. Cosmetically, Cedar is brown/reddish, Engelmann is like a bleached tan color and is usually very light, Sitka is somewhat darker than Engelmann and has more pronounced grain in the wood. Taylor claims different tonal properties for these woods than I do. These are opinions based on my own experience. I own guitars with each of these top woods, but tone is a very subjective thing. Your own ears are the best judge for tone.
New for 2002, Taylor introduces the Nylon String series. This series is designed to provide the traditional steel string player with a comfortable, easy to play, nylon string guitar. This guitar is available in four models. The NS-32CE (Sapele), the NS-42CE(Ovangkol), the NS-62CE(Maple), and the NS-72CE (Rosewood). Currently all models include a cutaway and electronics standard, but can be ordered sans electronics if you wish.. The 32 and 42 includes a sitka spruce top, while the 62 uses engelmann spruce and the 72 uses western red cedar. The 62 is the least traditional of the bunch, using a maple body instead of more traditional "warm" tonewoods. The 62 is also the most visually unique instrument of the bunch, using rosewood binding which contrasts with the light engelmann top and the natural finished figured maple back and sides.
Starting with the 300 series, you have a good sounding basic guitar (very little cosmetic appointments) with a good pickup and preamp on board. However, even though this is the lowest-end guitar of Taylors regular lineup, it's a very professional guitar made from many of the same woods as the higher-end guitars, and built by the same people. The electronics package on the "E" models includes the Fishman Prefix Plus package, which includes a Fishman preamp, piezo pickup, and an array of controls. The 300 series has a satin-finished body and neck, with a gloss-finished top. The wood used for the body is Sapele, which is similar to Mahogany in tonal characteristics. The guitar also has a sitka spruce top. All Taylor guitars have an Ebony fretboard, and the 300 series has large pearl dot inlays for good visibility. These guitars have chrome-plated hardware and black binding.
The 400 series is very similar to the 300 series, but it has and Ovangkol body and white fiber binding. Ovangkol sounds very similar to rosewood, but is a bit more lively. You can play the guitar hard, and it projects nicely. The 410 is an especially powerful dreadnought.
The 500 series takes a larger step up in price, but sees much nicer appointments and wood. Starting with the 500 series, the entire guitar is finished in a clear gloss finish that is much more time consuming to produce in the factory, but is very beautiful. The guitars look like they've been dipped in glass! The 500+ series also gets gold hardware instead of chrome. Also, starting with the 500 series, you get to pick your top wood from Cedar, Sitka Spruce, or Engelmann Spruce. (Check with your dealer, as this is subject to change and certain stipulations.) All are tonally different.
The 500-series and up have the Fishman Stereo Blender package, which uses both a mic and piezo pickup to give different sounds, which you can blend to your liking. You can also use a Stereo cable to split the two signals.
The 700 series is the next step up from the 500 (Ironically, the 600 is a higher-end guitar like the 800.) The 700 is very similar to the 500 cosmetically, but has a rosewood body, which produces a tighter more pronounced bass sound. Rosewood is a more expensive wood and is generally preferred on upper-end guitars.
The 600 series is the next level. The 600 is the preference of many/most professional live acoustic players who play Taylor. The maple body is great for on-stage use, as it resists feedback better, and the maple neck is also somewhat more resistant to climate changes than the mahogany necks on all the other guitars. The 600's are unique because they use beautifully figured maple for the back and sides. The 600 is also unique because you can choose from a wide array of beautiful colors - Blue, Red, Green, Amber, Natural, Purple, Black, and three different sunburst finishes. Unlike the other Taylors (500 and up), you get a sitka spruce top instead of your choice, because of finishing issues. The 600 has a beautiful polished ebony headstock and also adds an abalone rosette around the soundhole and a 3pc leaf inlay in the neck. The 600 is a bright and lively sounding guitar, again, with the same electronics package as the 500+ series guitars. The maple/spruce combination produces a sound that is very "even" from one string to the next.
The 800 series is one of Taylor's most popular, probably because it's a very traditional design - Rosewood body and Sitka Spruce top. The 800 is a great guitar for Strummers and flat pickers. It has a thick deep pronounced bass tone, that projects well. It's not a very bright sounding guitar. The 800 series gets upgraded rosewood and split diamond-shaped inlays. It also has white binding that is very striking against the dark rosewood body.
The 900 series sees upgraded cosmetic appointments such as abalone-edged top and soundhole, and beautiful floral-pattern inlays. However, this guitar generally sounds similar to the 800 series. It has a Rosewood Body and Engelmann Spruce top, that are made from Taylor's highest-grade woods.
The K-series uses rare beautifully figured Koa for the body and even the top on some models. This guitar has a gorgeous sound that is favored by many guitarists. The tone is somewhere between maple and rosewood. It's bright-sounding, with a warm and rich bottom-end. The Koa topped guitars are lovely, but fall short in the tone area, in my opinion. Koa is a very hard and dense wood that isn't as flexible as spruce. Thus, the volume of a Koa top is somewhat diminished. The K-series get special fretboard inlays and other cosmetic appointments.
The W-series are similar to the K-series, but use flamed Claro Walnut, instead. The neck inlays are celtic-inspired.
The main Taylor Artist Signature models are the Leo Kottke and the Doyle Dykes models. However, Taylor has offered other Signature models from many artists from Dan Crary to Kenny Loggins to Jewel in the past, as regular models and limited editions. These guitars are designed to the artist's specs and normally appeal to those interested in the specific guitar design's sound, or are fans of the artist... Or maybe not?
Taylor guitars are very consistent one to the next. I personally believe that it's hard to go wrong with a Taylor Guitar. I believe that they represent a good value in terms of quality, resale value, appearance, and most importantly, sound quality. I highly recommend that you find a local dealer, play through several models, and pick the one that sound best to you - the one that "speaks" to you. I can't say that I totally recommend buying one mail order. Investing this much money in a guitar you're never played, is a gamble. However, if wish to special order a specific guitar, or cost is a very big factor for you, mail order might represent a better value. You'd save the sales tax and often can find better prices. But I highly recommend that you play through the guitars at your local dealer and find the one that speaks to you. Then buy it! Your local dealer can provide good service that a mail order shop simply can't, and you know what you're getting before you pay for it.
If you're interested in reading more about Taylor guitars or participating in discussions, please visit my website at www.taylorforum.com