Ratings

Pros:
Warmly attractive tones. Superb build. Killer looks. Genuinely unique voice.

Cons:
The V-Class sound may not suit everyone. Try before you buy.

Street:
$2,899

Taylor Grand Pacific 717
taylorguitars.com



Tones:


Ease of Use:


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Value:
 

A few gross oversimplifications before we get into nuances: Taylor’s new Grand Pacific series marks a dramatic departure from what most think of as “the Taylor tone.” While many Taylors sound bright, shimmery, and modern, the Grand Pacifics sound warm, dusty, and lived-in. Some might say they’re Taylors for guitarists who don’t dig Taylors.

Like I said, these statements are simplistic, so don’t stop reading here. I’m just underscoring the fact that Taylor’s new line represents a fresh sonic avenue for the company, and that players previously unmoved by the signature Taylor zing may be in for a big surprise.

And that’s far from the only fascinating thing about these new models.

All the Squares Go Home
The Builder's Edition 717 comes in four flavors: the natural finish version reviewed here, a similar instrument with a golden-brown “honey burst” finish, and the same two models with electronics. These are Taylor’s first round-shouldered dreadnoughts.

The terms “square shouldered” and “round shouldered” are often just euphemisms for Martin and Gibson, respectively. On Martin dreadnoughts, the shoulders extend from the neck joint at nearly a 90 degree angle before curving sharply. On a Gibson J-45, it’s a more relaxed curve that commences right at the joint. And yeah, the 717 sounds more like a vintage Gibson than other Taylors.

Built for Comfort
While the 717 definitely has Gibson DNA, it features important design innovations that are entirely Taylor’s own. Like other Builder’s Edition models, the joints where the top meets the back and sides are chamfered—that is, gently rounded, with no sharp edges to poke at you while you play. The neck has a subtle compound shape. It’s a subtle V at the nut, but gradually transitions to a rounded C-shape at the heel, fatter on the bass side and slimmer on the treble. It’s equally comfortable whether you clasp the neck with your thumb, or use your thumb tip as a pressure point, classical guitar style. Like the body, the fingerboard’s edges are also rounded. Between those smooth edges, the welcoming neck profile, and immaculate fret dressing, you’d be hard pressed to find a smoother neck feel.

Something Missing?
The 717 also employs Taylor’s recently introduced V-Class bracing, a dramatic departure from traditional X-bracing. Here, two long braces frame the soundhole, converging to a point near the endpin. I first encountered this design last year when I reviewed Taylor’s K14ce, and my impressions are identical: It definitely sounds different. According to Taylor, the design minimizes overtone clashes that occur with X-bracing, generating purer tones with greater sustain.

You’d never mistake the 717 for, say, a 000-sized instrument. There’s far more low-end content. But it’s remarkably lean and focused for a dreadnought.

It’s all true. The 717’s sustain is almost surreal. Tones are consistently sweet and sonorous. And there’s something missing: much of the phase cancellation our ears expect from acoustic guitars. In a way, it’s a simpler and thicker sound, minus some of the usual spectral nooks and crannies.

Guitarists’ reactions to this new color are likely to differ. I initially found the sound odd but compelling. But the more I played, the more I warmed to it. It records nicely and sounds lovely to me on playback. But that’s purely subjective. Even more than usual, this is an instrument you should play critically before you commit.

A Studio Dreadnought?
I know I’m not the only recording guitarist who avoids dreadnoughts like the plague. Sure, they sound full and powerful in a room or on the street. But in the studio, their low-end muscle can be a major pain. You often have to roll off the entire low end, or at least carve out notches between 150 and 250 Hz.

Not so here. You’d never mistake the 717 for, say, a 000-sized instrument. There’s far more low-end content. But it’s remarkably lean and focused for a dreadnought. You still need to be careful while recording. (You’ll hear a few unwanted bass-induced pops if you listen closely to the demo clip.) But the bass response is far more manicured that you’d expect from such a big-bodied guitar.

Hello, Beautiful
I saved the looks for last. Unlike the luxurious, bling-intensive models that inaugurated the Builder’s Edition series and V-Class bracing, the look here is understated elegance. The visual centerpiece is the pretty torrefied Sitka spruce top. It’s framed by subtle wood inlays and clad in Taylor’s “silent satin” finish, which truly does reduce the noise of your skin and shirt rubbing against the body while playing. The Indian rosewood back and sides boast beautiful figuration, as does the mahogany neck.

And man, the included case! It’s garbed in an elaborate Western floral design with the look of tooled leather. It’s so pretty you might be tempted to transport the guitar in another case for fear of scratching this one.

The Verdict
The Taylor Grand Pacific Builder’s Edition 717 is something new under the sun. It’s probably the warmest, most retro-sounding instrument in Taylor’s line—to an extent. For all its aged-bourbon smoothness, the newfangled V-Class bracing provides phenomenal sustain and a disarmingly even harmonic spectrum. This guitar is gorgeous, supremely comfy, and more adept and flexible in the studio than most dreadnoughts. And while $2,899 is a serious investment, the price is more than fair for such a masterfully made guitar with so many unique and innovative features. Players who have previously shunned the shiny Taylor sound owe it to themselves to investigate this warm and welcoming alternative.

Watch the First Look: