The re-voiced flagship of Taylor’s maple-backed line delivers dazzling versatility and big bass tones.
Taylor is one of the biggest guitar companies in the world, but also one of the most individual. Tradition-minded players and midcentury/antique acoustic purists may not be fans of Taylor’s approach to tone or construction, but the company’s never-say-retro, North American-made instruments tend to feel, play, and sound like, well, Taylors. In an age when reverse engineering, CNC, and improved overseas production have narrowed the quality and individuality gaps, few brands can manage that feat.
The Taylor 618e—the biggest and baddest instrument in the maple-and-spruce-based 600 line re-imagined by Taylor design maestro Andy Powers—has that unmistakable Taylor feel. It’s super-playable, with strong midrange and a lively, immediate response—all Taylor hallmarks. Yet it’s also an unusual-sounding guitar for its size, with a unique tone palette and a dynamic range that fingerstylists in particular will find ripe for exploration.
Built To Blast
The 618e is a pretty big guitar. At 16 3/4", the Grand Orchestra-style body is just 1/4" narrower than a Gibson J-200, while the 5" depth is a quarter-inch greater than on the Gibson. Still, the Taylor feels smartly proportioned, balanced, and even a bit smaller than it really is. That said, smaller players should spend time with the guitar before buying to determine whether its depth is likely to cause fatigue. (If so, consider the smaller maple-and-spruce 612e, among other models.)
As with most Taylors—especially in this price range—it’s nearly impossible to find fault with the build quality. From the kerfing and bracing to the binding, neck joint, and headstock overlay, every seam and cut is flawless. Upmarket touches like the stylized, ivoroid “wing” inlays seem a bit flash, at odds with the 618e’s otherwise organic, old-world personality. Others are tasteful, even exquisite, especially the gorgeous ebony pickguard and backstrap, which lend a bespoke touch.
Taylor made maple backs and sides the foundation of the 600 series in part because of the company’s laudable focus on sustainability—it’s a relatively plentiful tonewood from carefully managed North American forests. It’s also a widely underestimated tonewood, at least relative to mahogany and rosewood. For the new 600s, designer Powers experimented extensively with back thicknesses and bracing shapes and patterns to discover what worked best with maple’s bright, responsive tones. As we’ll see, his efforts yielded captivating—and often surprising—sonic dividends.
The maple back and sides make the 618e look simultaneously striking and traditional. Powers opted for an ultra-thin polyester finish over a hand-rubbed stain called “Brown Sugar.” While the molasses-hued finish makes the stripey maple grain pop a little less than it might have under a less opaque treatment, it gives the 618e an almost antique elegance that invites comparisons to cellos, violins, and old Gibson archtops. The brown sugar stain also complements the toasty-looking Sitka spruce top, which is quite literally toasted though the process of torrefaction.
Most fingerstylists like the balance and dynamics of smaller bodies like 00s and OMs. But the big 618e excels as a fingerstyle instrument, especially with open tunings in the C and D range. Bass notes in open C sound absolutely huge, ringing almost endlessly with piano-like sustain.
Yet as big as the 618e can sound, it reacts beautifully to a light touch. The combination of maple and spruce lends treble notes a bell-like brightness that contrasts beautifully with the deeply resonant bass notes. The guitar is incredibly responsive to fingerpicking dynamics. Between its wide-ranging dynamics and elastic playability in C and D tunings, the 618e is crazily expressive—a perfect vehicle for everything from complex chord melodies to ringing sitar-like bends over bassy drones.
The 618e’s string-to-string balance works beautifully for flatpicked leads. Strumming with a flatpick summons a more contemporary sound, though this is the least flattering application of the guitar voice. Heavily strummed eighth-note rhythms can emphasize maple’s propensity for fast note decay in the mid and upper-mid ranges. As a consequence, midrange can sound boxy and compressed relative to the more resonant bass. (Strumming with a thinner pick and lighter touch creates a more harmonically complex sound picture.) Syncopated, stabbing rhythm parts—especially ones voiced well up the neck—benefit from the fast decay and midrange punch. Ever wondered why Pete Townshend loves maple-backed Gibson Jumbos? Have a bash at “Pinball Wizard” on the 618e and you’ll get it.
Jumbo-sized flattops aren’t generally praised for their versatility—they’re usually favored by songwriters, rockers, and strumming country singers. But the 618e shatters that notion. It’s an exceptionally expressive and dynamic fingerstyle instrument that sounds richly detailed when played with a delicate touch. The Expression 2 electronics are a great match for the resonant bass tones and bright maple voice. The 618e’s extreme playability makes it feel like less of an armful than it otherwise might. At around $2,800, it’s a big-ticket item, but this virtually flawless guitar seems likely to last about as long as an acoustic instrument can.
The 618e isn’t without limitations. It’s a less-than ideal strumming guitar for heavy-handed rhythm players. But the tradeoffs are numerous and surprising, resulting in a flattop with a truly unique voice.
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