Taylor’s T5 wasn’t the first guitar to offer electric and acoustic tones in the same package, but, as one of the earliest production models to do so in a convincing way, it was a revelation. To many ears, the T5 sounded just as authoritative when played through an overdriven tube combo as it did when fingerpicked and plugged into a dedicated acoustic amp.
The T5 has maintained its basic design over time, but has seen tweaks that fine-tune its performance as a hybrid instrument. The latest incarnation is the T5z, is much like the standard T5 but with specific features—a narrower body, jumbo frets, and a 12" fretboard radius—that make the instrument feel more like an electric than an acoustic. The T5z is available in four different versions: the Classic, the Standard, the Pro, and the Custom. We took the top-of-the-line Custom, with its figured koa soundboard, for a spin.
Behind the Zed
At the heart of the T5z is the clever electronics system found on all T5 guitars. Poking through the top is what appears to be a single-coil lipstick-tube pickup, but is actually a stacked humbucker. A second humbucker is hidden beneath the top in the neck position, and the guitar is also outfitted with an acoustic body sensor mounted to the soundboard underneath the traditional acoustic bridge.
The pickups are selected via a 5-way switch tucked away on the upper bass bout. The settings are neck humbucker plus body sensor, neck only, bridge only, neck and bridge in parallel, and neck and bridge in series. There’s also one volume and two tone controls, and a 1/4" output jack is mounted on the lower treble side.
Like its predecessors, the T5z is built from back and sides made from routed sapele. Sapele is also used for the neck, which is affixed to the body using Taylor’s T-Lock neck joint, a single-bolt system that combines the stability of a set-neck with the adjustability of a bolt-on design.
Quite the Looker
The T5z is the handsomest and most lavishly ornamented guitar in its series. The body is wrapped in five-ply black-and-white binding, while the segmented soundholes, pickup cavity, fretboard, and headstock have white binding. Gold hardware, including the tuners, pickup cover, and strap buttons, lend elegance to the guitar. (A thoughtful detail: Two strap buttons on the bottom allow the guitar to be balanced when propped up on end.) But visually speaking, the most enticing feature of this particular model is its figured koa top, which is finished in a lovely autumnal burst.
The same solid craftsmanship associated with Taylor’s acoustic guitars is evident on the T5z. The company’s UV-cured polyester finish is buffed to a perfect gloss, the 21 frets are meticulously crowned and polished, and the nut and saddle are notched just right. Even the soundholes, areas susceptible to imperfection on the finest guitars, are flawlessly articulated.
Smorgasbord of Sound
Having a preference for traditional guitars, I approached the T5z with a bit of skepticism. But this faded away as soon as I took the guitar out of its included hardshell case. With its thin, 14"-wide body and Venetian cutaway, it feels closest to a Les Paul—an impossibly light one, at about 5 pounds, 7 ounces.
The guitar’s 24 7/8" scale is slightly longer than a Gibson electric but shorter than a standard Martin, and its large fretwire provides a markedly electric feel. Thanks to a perfect factory setup, I found it easy to zip around the neck for single-note lines and grip barre chords for extended stretches. And though the guitar ships with medium-gauge electric strings (Elixir Nanoweb .011-.049), it’s not difficult to play bends of a whole-step or even greater.
It’s great fun to play the T5z unplugged, as its impressive punch and resonance recalls an acoustic archtop. Plugged into a Fender Blues Junior with the neck pickup engaged and tone knob rolled back, the guitar delivers traditional jazz timbres. Through the same amp, the bridge pickup delivers more Tele-like tones. In series, the neck and bridge pickups take on the assertive character associated with a humbucker-equipped solidbody. In parallel they offer glassy Strat-like sounds. All of these sounds, though, have a hint of sweet woodiness, thanks to the hollowbody design and koa soundboard. And this quality really sets the Taylor apart.
But the real draw for an electric player may be how the T5z handles acoustic sounds. Running the neck pickup and body sensor in tandem doesn’t transform the guitar into, say, the finest prewar dreadnought or OM. But through a Fender Acoustasonic amp, this setting does provide a range of excellent tones, from a robust voice that stands up to heavy-handed strumming to a darker and more subdued timbre—almost a hybrid of flattop and archtop sound that seems ideal for chord-melody arrangements.
Edging up the amp’s volume reveals that the T5z is fairly resistant to feedback, though not altogether immune to it. That said, the guitar will definitely fare well in high-volume situations.
With its broad tonal palette, Taylor’s T5z is a boon for the electric guitarist wanting to access acoustic tones, or vice versa. The guitar’s top-shelf build and perfect factory setup make it a pleasure to play, and its versatility mean that the T5z just might be the only guitar many players will need to take to a gig.