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Taylor 117e Review

Taylor 117e Review

Smooth-as-satin playability and exacting construction make this accessibly priced slope-shouldered dread an understated star.

Super excellent playability and neck feel. Tip-top quality for the price. Beautiful Grand Pacific shape. Excellent value.

Harder strumming can overemphasize midrange.

$899

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Though I’ve never owned a Taylor from the affordable end of their price spectrum, they have brought me a lot of joy and inspiration over the years. My encounters with GS Minis and 100-series dreads whilst lounging on friend’s porches and tour host’s living rooms have inspired little riffs that became more elaborate things over time—all born from a casual hang with a flattop that was fun to hold, easy to play, and sounded sweet enough that I didn’t want to ditch the conversation.


The new 117e is a little extra special to me though. That’s because I love Taylor’s Grand Pacific body style. I adore its curves, its dimensions, its feel, and the way it plays with classic round-shouldered dreadnought shapes while arriving at something distinctive. The 117e is the first Grand Pacific to join the 100-series family. And its responsiveness and playability are quite likely to make it a favorite sibling. It’s a beautiful guitar that delivers a lot for $899.

Fine Tailoring

The designers and builders at Taylor are masters of delivering quality and consistency at an attainable price. That’s no mean feat. You can go through a lot of guitars while shopping for an inexpensive one and deal with a lot of compromises. Taylor’s batting average is impressive though, and the 117e is well-built even by Taylor’s high standards.

Though the back and sides are layered sapele you don’t really give the idea of “laminate” much thought when you look it over, touch it, and play the guitar. The torrefied spruce top is very pretty, with just a little figuring in the otherwise straight grain that adds visual interest. Though the 100-series appointments are simple, no-frills stuff, I’d venture the guitar is better for it. The black binding and black-and-white rosette enhance the Grand Pacific’s beautiful lines and complement the ebony fretboard and bridge. I wouldn’t mind having a look at this model with a tortoise pickguard—the black one falls a little flat to my eye. Then again, it contributes to the visual balance here, and anything that detracted from the Grand Pacific silhouette would be a bummer.

The 117e is built with Taylor’s C-bracing, an asymmetric, cantilevered pattern that was originally conceived to contribute low end and sustain to the company’s smaller GT-class guitars. Though, instinctively, it seems like an odd choice for an instrument with a top as expansive as this one, it succeeds in adding low-end resonance to an instrument that has a natural midrange emphasis. Plus, it’s just plain cool to see Taylor toying with design evolutions that mix up staid, if proven, acoustic construction formulas.

No Bum Notes

There’s no way you can’t be struck by the 117e’s playability, particularly given the price. My partner, who is a pretty ace fingerstylist, likened the neck to playing on silk sheets just seconds into playing it, and I’ve seen her get pretty ruthless with guitars she doesn’t bond with. She’s right, too. Though Taylor calls the neck profile “slender,” there is a just-right heft and thickness to the shape that lends a touch of vintage feel without seeming needlessly fat. The action feels fast and low and almost like a really nice electric guitar—especially between frets 1 and 7. Yet it is totally free of fret buzz, even when you strum with vigor, and the strings ring and sustain with the unmistakable feel of a guitar set up to near perfection. Intonation is also spot on and the tuning stability is excellent.

“The action feels fast and low and almost like a really nice electric guitar.”

The 117e’s tone profile is the one area where it pays to really play the guitar and weigh it against your preferences. Both the Grand Pacific body shape and C-bracing are meant to add resonance and low-end heft, and I’d venture that they lend much in that regard in this instrument. But, perhaps because of the layered sapele back and sides, there is an unmistakable midrange focus. The good thing is that it really only verges on strident when you take to the guitar like Townshend. In more nuanced fingerstyle situations or even strumming where you use a lighter touch, the 117e comes off as balanced, sensitive to picking dynamics, full of range and volume, and ringing with attractive and sometimes enveloping overtones. Those ringing, sustaining qualities also make it a great vehicle for acoustic leads. The Expression System 2 electronics, by the way, are reliably solid and sound lively if a touch midrangey at times. But I would also rate the system as especially well-suited for the detailed kind of playing the 117e invites.

The Verdict

Sure, $899 is not the kind of scratch most of us dig up by peeking under the sofa cushions. But in the contemporary scheme of things, it certainly falls within the accessible category, which makes the 117e a great deal and, in many respects, an overachiever. Another observation from my partner: “This is the kind of guitar you buy because it’s inexpensive. Then it becomes indispensable.” Again, I concur. This sweet player is genuinely hard to put down, and it will be hard to send this one home to the Taylor gang in Southern California. But when I do, it may be with a little request: How about a 117 12-string? I can already see that headstock mated to the lovely Grand Pacific body and hear it chiming away as we all jangle our way toward summer. Given the way this guitar is likely to sell, it doesn’t seem like too much to ask.


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