When I was 12, my 16-year-old guitar teacher breathlessly told me about his new Guild 12-string. “It’s amazing,” he said. “It sounds like an organ!”
That description stayed with me. Like experiencing a great church organ—the loudest of classical instruments and the one with the widest range—playing a 12-string can be all about tonal power and glory. It’s easy to understand why most 12-string guitars have large bodies: That low-end mass is sonic ballast for those shimmering treble strings (especially when you’re tuned down a half- or whole-step). Playing a 12-string can be a real power trip, like commanding the wheel on a battleship bridge.
Unfortunately, 12-strings tend to have about as much turn-on-a-dime maneuverability as battleships. The large bodies can be unwieldy. It’s hard to get the action right—it’s a fine line between feeble buzzing and barbed wire agony. Strumming chords is manageable enough, but fleet single-note lines are a challenge. Fingerpicking can involve cuticle-shredding metal picks and lots of swearing. Bare-fingered 12-string pickers like Ralph Towner and post-’80s Leo Kottke are exceptions that prove the rule: Fingerstyle 12-string is a chore.
But Taylor’s gorgeous new 562ce may change that.
Build for Comfort and Speed
The 562ce gushes gloriously rich tones, yet it’s the most easy-playing 12-string I’ve encountered. Partly it’s the size. The body has a lap-friendly Grand Concert profile in lieu of the usual dreadnought or jumbo shape. But it’s also a matter of wood choice. The warm-toned mahogany’s natural compression tends to flatter fingerstylists. Then there’s the relatively short 24 7/8" scale length, and the way the neck meets the body at the 12th fret.
And, of course, much of the credit goes to the guitar’s flawless workmanship and factory setup. The action is low and fast, yet entirely buzz-free. The string tension is mellow, even tuned up to standard pitch. The neck is devoid of dead or buzzy spots. No string pairs predominate. Superb fretwork provides a uniformly buttery feel everywhere on the ebony fretboard. (Believe it or not, I sometimes felt like I was playing a low-action, ebony-fretboard Les Paul Custom.) There’s no neck-dive whatsoever, despite all that headstock hardware.
The 562ce is a looker. The mahogany neck, back, and sides have pretty figuration beneath a mirror-perfect finish. Faux-tortoise binding provides subtle counterpoint to the lovely wood. An elegant Venetian cutaway affords easy access to all 18 frets despite the 12th-fret body joint. Other refined touches include the fretboard markers (each with a different design) and graceful white body trim and rosette. But these are understated adornments. The guitar’s beauty flows from the quality of its core materials, not gratuitous bling.
The 562ce records like a dream—assuming you dream about fruitful recording sessions. Yes, there’s less cannon-like projection and low-end mass than from some traditional 12-strings, but as most engineers who’ve recorded such beasts can attest, a little less of these things can be a big plus.
Lows are manicured, but not deficient, and that restraint helps the octave strings sing, as does the hyper-accurate intonation. Mahogany is often praised for its natural compression, but the 562ce takes this to extremes. When you dig in hard, it literally sounds as if you’re plugged into a good compressor. The sustain borders on the ridiculous. I kept trying to illustrate this in the demo audio clips by letting the final chords ring, but I’d always get bored and damp the strings before the sound ran dry. For the final chord of the final excerpt, my hands stayed on the strings until all sound stopped. It took nearly 20 seconds.
New System For Expression
Taylor’s Expression System 2 sounds terrific and is built around the company's proprietary piezo system. No, recording direct doesn’t sound exactly like tracking with a mic—it’s more percussive, resonant, and midrange-forward. No, recording direct doesn’t sound exactly like tracking with a mic—it’s more percussive, resonant, and midrange-forward. Yet it’s an attractive and usable sound that should more than suffice for gigs where a mic isn’t practical. Also, the direct and miked signals blend nicely, with the mag pickup adding punch and solidity to airy miked tones. (The demo clips feature the same performance miked, direct, and blended, with the two sources panned slightly for a subtle stereo effect.)
It’s easy to get fat-sounding tones while playing pickstyle, especially when incorporating picking-hand palm-damping. Fingerstyle playing is an utter delight, however. I’m not saying fingerstyle players new to 12-string will have no adjustment period. It always takes time before you can pluck string pairs with consistency. But the 562ce makes the adjustment as easy as possible.
While Taylor’s 562ce sounds grand on big, strummy cowboy chords, it’s probably not a great choice for subway buskers seeking maximum volume. It’s an instrument of refined delicacy, and guitarists who play with refined delicacy are likeliest to love it. It’s rare that a double-course instrument is so simpatico with complex harmonies and nuanced picking-hand techniques. Such phenomenal playability is something new under the 12-string sun.
Watch the Review Demo: