Innovative design. Superb and unique tones. Extraordinary sustain, dynamics response, and consistency.
Expensive. Bling-intensive. Some won’t dig the departures from 20th-century acoustic tone.
Taylor Builder’s Edition K14ce
Ease of Use:
The acoustic guitar community tends to be fairly low-key, but the buzz surrounding Taylor’s recent innovations is deafening. It’s as if head designer Andy Powers whapped a wasp nest with one of his startling new “V-Class” guitars.
V for Victory
Mind you, this is super-premium stuff. Taylor’s four initial V-Class models range in price from $4,449 to $8,999. Our review model is the $4,999 Builder’s Edition K14ce, a Grand Auditorium-sized model with koa back and sides and a roasted Sitka spruce top. Like its siblings, it boasts a number of innovative features. Most notable is an unprecedented bracing design, so let’s start there.
The V-Class instruments eschew the X-style bracing that has long dominated acoustic guitar design. Instead, the top bracing includes two long braces configured in a V shape with its point at the endpin. According to Taylor, this makes the top more in tune with the vibrating strings—improving volume, sustain, and intonation. According to my ears and microphones, it performs as promised. And the differences aren’t subtle.
Yes, the sustain is phenomenal—and not just in terms of how long notes keep ringing after they’ve been played. You perceive the increased sustain within a second or so of striking a string. The decay curve is much shallower, and the initial peak volume diminishes much less quickly than we’re accustomed to. The back-end sustain is equally remarkable. It’s almost as if you were playing through a compressor set to a slow-ish attack—except there’s nothing compressed about the guitar’s dynamic range.
In fact, the K14ce offers excellent dynamic response whether played with picks or fingers. (You hear both in the demo clip.) Plucked chords are beautifully balanced. Counterpoint speaks clearly. Flatpicked single-note lines are consistently punchy. Aggressive strumming doesn’t get as thin and squashed as on many low-action guitars. It’s relatively easy to make notes and chords pop with a bit of extra pressure. It’s an expressive playing experience, and you hear it all through the mic. (I used an old stereo AKG C262B for the demo clips.)
The Thick of Things|
Another departure concerns the overtone structure of notes and chords. They seem denser, with piano-like weight and consistency. I don’t mean “dense” in a muddy/thuddy sense. The frequency range is plenty wide, from the large body’s stout fundamentals to Taylor’s signature treble sizzle. There’s just more … stuff there. It’s as if the resonant peaks and phase cancellation we expect to hear have been surgically removed. Some players will revel in this extra harmonic density. Others may be alienated because it departs from the acoustic guitar’s expected harmonic spectrum. (Put me in the “revel” camp.)
Taylor says the new bracing improves intonation, and it’s true, though not in the way you might initially think. There’s no sort of string-length compensation: It’s just your standard 25.5"-scale fretboard, with a conventional nut and the frets in the usual places. But there seems to be less harmonic clash between the vibration of the string and the vibration of the top. Or, at least, there’s a strong sense of evenness, stability, and weight.
The K14ce also feels unlike anything I’ve played. We reviewers whip out the word “smooth” for any instrument that plays comfortably with minimal friction. But, as in other areas, this guitar goes to new extremes. The body has an electric-guitar-style picking-arm bevel. There’s another bevel in the cutaway, providing extra knuckle room. Additionally, all the body’s edges are chamfered, so the top and sides meet a gentle angle rather than the usual 90 degrees. Likewise, the beautiful Art Deco-style Gotoh 510 tuners feature curves rather than edges.
Meanwhile, the instrument features Taylor’s new “silent satin” finish, which, as claimed, noticeably reduces noise from skin and fabric rubbing against the instrument. Between the low-friction matte feel and lack of sharp angles, it feels a bit like holding a wet seal in your lap. In a nice way.
Factor in superbly installed medium-jumbo frets, a sleek neck, and low, buzz-free action, and the K14ce has the potential to be the comfiest acoustic you’ve ever played. But I say “potential,” because I needed hours of practice before attempting to record the demo clips, and not just because the nut width is 1 3/4" rather than my customary 1 11/16". This isn’t a criticism—it’s no surprise that an instrument that feels so different to the ears, fingers, and body demands acclimation. This guitar’s feel and dynamic response are just … different.
Dressed to Impress
The K14ce is a visual showpiece. The body woods are beautiful. Ornate inlays ring the body and soundhole, with a large, elaborate grapevine inlay spanning most of the fretboard. Inlaid wooden pinstripes border both fretboard and headstock. There’s more colorful purfling around the perimeter of the 2-piece back. It’s all a bit blingy for my blood, but there’s no denying the exquisite craftsmanship.
The guitar incudes Taylor’s Expression System 2 pickup system, featuring three under-the-saddle sensors, a custom-design preamp, an endpin output jack, and volume/treble/bass controls on the upper bout near the neck. No, it doesn’t sound as good as using a mic. But it’s one of the best-sounding onboard systems you’ll hear, with none of the strident quacking many of us associate with under-the-saddle transducers. (ES2's transducers are mounted just aft of the saddle). You could definitely amble into the gig, plug straight into the PA, and feel proud of your tone.
Taylor’s V-Class introduces several truly newsworthy innovations: most notably a new bracing system with instantly perceptible sonic consequences. Some guitarists might not relate to the guitar’s unusually dense and even harmonic spectrum, though I suspect far more players will dig it, especially accompanied by such extraordinary sustain and consistency. There’s not much to say about the material and workmanship beyond the fact that they’re pretty much perfect. Granted, relatively few musicians can swing the $5K entry fee. That’s why, as compelling as the K14ce is, the real excitement lies in anticipating how its design innovations might trickle down to guitars with working-stiff price tags. I know I won’t be alone in following these developments with fascination.
Watch the Review Demo: