First Look: Taylor 417e-R
The newest gem in the Grand Pacific line opens up the tone possibilities of a round shouldered dreadnought.
The 417e-R Is a Grand Pacific acoustic-electric crated with solid Indian rosewood back and sides, a solid Sitka spruce top and V-Class bracing. The round-shoulder dreadnought design pairs beautifully with the classic rosewood/spruce tonewood configuration, yielding a vintage-inspired, blended sound with clear low-end power and notes that overlap into a seamless whole. A warm bass range and crisp trebles resonate around a slightly scooped midrange, while the innovative bracing design coaxes out more power, longer sustain and near-perfect harmony across the fretboard. Like its siblings, the 417e-R is detailed white binding, black and white top purfling, a single-ring agoya shell rosette, Finial fretboard inlays in Italian acrylic, a gloss-finish body with a Tobacco Sunburst top, nickel tuners and a faux tortoiseshell pickguard. It includes ES2 electronics for warm and dynamic amplified sound and a deluxe hardshell case for storage and protection.
Resonance, Response, and Your Due Diligence
While there is no such thing as a "wrong" guitar, just consider what the right guitar could do for your playing.
When buying a new guitar, trying to differentiate between what you need and what you want can be a tough gig. What many do know, however, is that they aren't looking to just buy another random guitar. They are looking for an instrument that will help them achieve a new level of musicianship or address a particular music style. I've been around quality instruments since 1975, so my personal preference for tone and feel in relationship to application has become very clear. It's a process, but it's one worth spending the extra time to get right. We've discussed body size, scale lengths, and string tension in previous columns. This month, we're going to consider response and application—both incredibly important to consider when purchasing your next guitar.
First of all, resonance and response in relationship to any musical instrument are two sides of the same coin. It's the balance of these two that greatly defines an instrument. Resonance, which is mostly heard and felt in your body, is set primarily by the instrument's body geometry and flex. On the other hand, response is largely set by plate tension and material, both of which affect high end and attack. When these two are balanced correctly, that's when the magic happens.
With any one particular type of guitar—such as a dreadnought, for example—there is a level of feel and responsiveness that defines the instrument, but those same qualities will still vary from one guitar to another. This can be confusing at first to the average player, but the good news is that having a better idea of what you're looking for can quickly narrow the choices. Even better, it can significantly increase your chances of ending up with a guitar you'll really enjoy playing.
When I think about the flattop steel-string guitar market, I think about three primary categories: the fingerstyle guitar, the high-power guitar, and the jack-of-all-trades guitar. The fingerstyle guitar is an easy one to talk about because the requirements of a fingerstyle guitarist are unique and defined. They are primarily after quick response with even balance from string to string and note to note. Additionally, they are looking for an efficient sound that comes to volume quickly, so headroom and raw power are not on their radar. This means that while a fingerstyle guitar is incredibly fun to play and easy on the hands, it will hit its maximum volume quickly when driven hard.
This means that while a fingerstyle guitar is incredibly fun to play and easy on the hands, it will hit its maximum volume quickly when driven hard.
On the other hand, the guitar typically desired by bluegrass players is a high-power instrument that offers lots of headroom. What you gain in headroom, however, you lose in response and feel, so that power comes at a price. Plus, it takes a lot of conditioning to develop the hand energy to drive these tops and keep them moving.
Finally, there is what I think the majority of players want: a guitar that will cover a wide range of music styles and one that is relatively quick to the touch. It has a respectable low-to-mid range response and is commonly found in medium to larger body sizes. That said, picking this guitar out of the crowd can be a challenge.
Remember that low end is mostly generated through body geometry, so, in the beginning, compare guitars of the same general body size to keep the decision making to a minimum. Once you've narrowed the field down to three or four prime candidates, ask the store owner or dealer to put new strings on all of them. This will serve as an effective way to compare the high-end and high-midrange response between the guitars. And once your desired response has been identified, you can start comparing different body size options by going through the same process. By switching back and forth between, say, a dreadnought and an OM, you will find the low end you prefer to match your preferred response. Personally, I'm drawn to larger guitars with higher-tension soundboards. They are quick to the touch and require low hand energy, which allows me to play for hours without getting worn out. That said, everyone has their own perception of what is best for them.
The takeaway: Top response is a key element for every acoustic instrument that you should be mindful of when choosing your next guitar. With the correct guitar in your hands, you might find yourself able to break barriers you've been struggling with for years. I've seen it happen time and time again—when a player finally gets matched with the correct instrument. And it's magic.
Has the Pandemic Sparked the 21st Century Folk Revival?
With off-the-charts numbers of folks playing guitar, and buying them as soon as they hit the shelves, these days have hints of yesteryear.
At first glance, the folk revival of the 1950s/early ’60s and the COVID-19 pandemic seem to have nothing in common. Last century’s folk revival was about hootenannies, folk festivals, and coffeehouse open-mikes. And obviously nothing like that is possible during the pandemic. Instead, the 2020 surge of interest in playing music is about Zoom lessons and home recording, or simply sitting on the bed in your pajamas since you can’t go anywhere. But if we look at the growth of homegrown music during these days of pandemic lockdown, and compare the resulting changes to what happened during the highly social folk revival, some similarities stand out, along with the extreme differences.
One of the more interesting similarities between the pandemic and the folk revival are that both caught the guitar industry flat-footed. With COVID-19, guitar factories both here and abroad had to shut down for several weeks this year, and it’s clear that many new guitar models are going to be in short supply.
In the early ’60s, when I was trying to buy my first Martin, that company’s factory in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, was so back-ordered there was a two-year wait for a new D-28. The list of folk-revival icons who played Martins ranged from highly commercial performers like Bob Shane (Kingston Trio) to purists like the New Lost City Ramblers. Martin’s big competitor, Guild—a newcomer barely 10 years old—was able to fill some of that gap. At the same time, Gibson responded to the increased demand with plastic bridges and other production shortcuts that even today leave die-hard Gibson fans shaking their heads in disbelief.
Thanks to modern guitar-manufacturing technology, and online guitar forums thirsty for news, there probably won’t be a repeat of the 1960s decline in quality as companies scramble to fill backorders. But there will be some long delays. Taylor, for example, has announced that in June and July alone, they received half the orders they had projected—pre-Covid—for the entire year.
Other guitar companies are reporting similar off-the-scale demand.
It’s clear the current demand for guitars is driven by people wanting to play them, but without folk festivals and hootenannies for inspiration, what’s driving their newfound interest? An abundance of free time to play, since folks are stuck at home, is the obvious answer, but new technology plays a role nobody could have imagined 60 years ago.
For many musicians, inspiration for a nightmare is imagining today’s pandemic restrictions without YouTube. In many ways, that vast catalog of recorded performances is the online equivalent of the folk festivals, hootenannies, and coffeehouse performances that powered the folk revival. And while all those Folkways Records back in the day opened countless doors to the music of other cultures and the earlier music of our own country, such explorations were not free and took considerable effort.
Aging boomers may long for the good ol’ days, but when comparing then and now when it comes to chasing musical inspiration, now wins by a huge margin. Even if you did have access to a gigantic library of recorded music during the folk revival, it’s a lot easier to swipe a screen or jiggle a mouse than it is to move the tonearm on a turntable. Whether it’s a song or a technique, endless versions and variations are just a click away, and you can cover more musical territory in an afternoon than attending a week-long folk festival. Best of all, the only cost for taking that musical odyssey is the fee for a decent internet connection. Maybe that’s why the recent explosion of growth in homegrown music has only taken months, while the folk revival simmered on the back burner for years before it lit up the airwaves in the ’60s.
COVID-19 is easily equal to the folk revival in terms of guitar playing and guitar buying. There is, however, another angle where the pandemic leaves just about every other social and musical movement in the dust. I’m talking about guitar modification. Here’s where the abundance of available time, an almost endless store of video rabbit holes to descend, and how-to resources and supplies have aligned to produce a new wave of guitar players who relate to their gear in ways they may not have imagined a year ago.
Of course, there have always been tinkerers, and the DIY movement has been gathering steam for years now, but the coronavirus has inspired a much higher percentage of guitar players moving beyond simply changing their strings. This certainly leads guitar players to a greater understanding of their instrument, but it also raises the bar for guitar manufacturers. The downside is that you might have to wait quite a while to get that guitar you’ve chosen after hours of online research.