Pros: playability, small size, liquidity, balanced tone, solid bass
Cons: probably not for bluegrass flatpickers
Several months ago, I gave a rave review to the Taylor 614CE, a "grand auditorium" style guitar with maple back and sides and a spruce top. The maple imparted a mellow and liquid sound to the 614CE, making it one of my favorite Taylors.
I recently had a chance to play two Taylor 612CEs at Guitar Solo, an elite guitar store in San Francisco. The 612CE shares the 614CE's maple back and sides, maple neck, and solid spruce top, but it is a smaller guitar, made in what Taylor calls the "Grand Concert" style. Like the 614CE, the 612CE has an attractive cutaway, giving access to several extra frets on the treble strings. Also like the 614CE, the 612CE has a three-piece back, rather than the two piece back that is typical of high quality solid wood guitars.
But the 612CE is smaller, and oh that feel! There is something about the way a small guitar (like my precious Larrivee LS-05) sits in your lap that is difficult to describe. It makes playing so comfortable, and the experience so intimate.
I notice that the picture on Epinions shows a guitar with a dark top. The regular 612CE does not have a dark top. The sides are an attractive dark honey in color, and the top is a light spruce.
So how did the 612CE play and sound?
It was really wonderful, especially on finger-picking tunes in alternative tunings. The overall sound was balanced, but with incredible delicacy. Treble overtones were beautifully presented. The sound was not "bright," as with some Taylors, but it was light and lively. The bass was tight, and could be felt through the body of the guitar as I played, but it was not loud. Compared to my Santa Cruz OM, the bass was tighter, but not nearly as full. Compared to my Larrivee LS-05, the bass was comparable in tightness, but louder and more authoritative.
The tune that sealed my impression of this guitar was "Long Steel Rail," a fairly fast fingerpicking tune by Martin Simpson. Martin Simpson uses CGDGCD tuning. I use FGDGCD. My friend Ken (himself an awesome finger-picker) was listening as I detuned and played. His attention was captured by the tune, and when I was done, he said it was the best he'd ever heard me sound on "Long Steel Rail," including with my own Santa Cruz and Larrivee guitars. I had to agree: I'd never had more fun playing the tune. The little Taylor was a pleasure to play, I could execute fast runs, hammers, and pulls with little effort, and the treble notes really did ring out nicely. Sustain and liquidity were also very impressive.
In standard tuning, the 612CE also sounded good (well-integrated; good intonation), but it is NOT a big, woody sounding guitar. If you are looking for something for bluegrass jams, this probably isn't the guitar for you. The 614CE might work, but the 612CE would probably get lost in the mix.
What else can I say? This was one of those guitars that has a really high "smile factor." When you start playing it, you want to play more. Interestingly, when my friend Ken played it, I was awe-struck by the delicacy, but I thought the 612CE sounded a bit too light and delicate on some tunes (he plays mostly in drop-D tuning). I occasionally missed the deeper bass slightly more aggressive presentation of my Santa Cruz D in his hands (the two are comparable in overall liquidity).
I guess the the lesson is that no guitar is the BEST in all tunings or on all tunes. Ken agreed with me about the playability of the Taylor 612CE. He said it was one of the easiest playing guitars he'd experienced.
The hype on Taylor's website reads:
"This maple Grand Concert is popular with studio engineers and producers because its compressed, balanced tone records so easily. Plus, the 612ce comes standard with the Taylor Expression System, enabling you to sound your very best in front of an audience."
I hadn't thought of its acoustic tone as "compressed" (because the guitar is so responsive), but now that I think of it, the sound is both smooth and somewhat limited in ultimate dynamic range. I guess that equates with "compressed." My Larrivee LS-05, also a smaller guitar with limited ultimate dynamic range, volume, and bass, records wonderfully, and I think the 612CE would as well. The electronics on the latest 612CEs sound great. Playing through an amplifier is as much fun as playing straight acoustic.
Other details: The 612CE's tuners are gold plated. The fingerboard inlays are a bit fancier than the small dots of the 712CE. The rosette surrounding the soundhole contains an attractive ring of abalone inlay, and the binding is a light plastic. The finish is high quality gloss. Neck width is 1 3/4 wide at the nut. Basically, this guitar looks and plays like a smaller Taylor 614CE.
In conclusion, the 612CE is one of my favorite guitars for fingerpicking. Its sound is light and lively, but not bright. Sustain and liquidity are outstanding. On some tunes, it sounds even better than my Larrivee LS-05, and that's really high praise.
If you want a bigger-sounding guitar with a similar character, check out the 614CE.
The retail price of the Taylor 612CE is in the $3000 range, But you should be able to find one for about $2350. Fairly expensive, but worth it.
As always, I recommend you play the PARTICULAR guitar you're interested in before buying; although Taylor's quality control is good, not all 612CEs or 614CEs sound the same.