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Taylor 814CE Acoustic-Electric Guitar Review

Download Example 1 Fingerstyle - pickup, amp, mic Download Example 2 Strumming - pickup, amp, mic Download Example 3 Bassy Riffing - pickup, amp, mic SIGNAL CHAIN: Mic: sE3

Download Example 1
Fingerstyle - pickup, amp, mic
Download Example 2
Strumming - pickup, amp, mic
Download Example 3
Bassy Riffing - pickup, amp, mic

SIGNAL CHAIN: Mic: sE3 to Aphex 207D mic-pre Amp: L.R. Baggs Core 1, mic: Audix i5 to Aphex 207D mic-pre Direct: pickup to Aphex 230 mic-pre Interface: RME Fireface DAW: Samplitude V8

 All clips played by Pat Smith.

Taylor’s 814ce represents the result of a great and difficult balancing act. Or perhaps it’s more correct to say the result of several separate, interrelated balancing acts. The design and construction balances past and present, with a combination of new technology and old-fashioned craftsmanship. The Grand Auditorium body shape hearkens back to the early Taylor models, but the guitar also incorporates many elements that represent more recent advancements, such as Taylor’s patented New Technology (NT) neck and UV-cured finish.

With a single Venetian cutaway, satin neck finish and gorgeous tobacco sunburst gloss, the guitar’s realization of aesthetic balance is obvious, too. Taylor has taken advantage of a whole range of woods to create an instrument with a sumptuous look that nevertheless manages to steer clear of prodigal flashiness. The top is made of Sitka spruce, with Indian rosewood for the back, sides and peghead overlay, and the neck is mahogany. Under light, the tight-grained spruce shows a remarkable depth and luster, like thin ribbons beneath the pristinely clear gloss finish that ripple as you turn it. The fingerboard and bridge are made of ebony, and the hand-laid binding—front and back, neck, headstock and heel cap—is a wonderfully figured maple. Gold-plated Taylor tuners, abalone soundhole rosette and shimmering pearl fretboard inlay round out the design.

It is to Taylor’s credit that what could’ve been an embarrassment of riches, or even a gaudy mess in terms of materials and dress, has resulted instead in this guitar’s refined, elegant appearance. But even more notable is the way its aesthetics are balanced with the requirements of playability. The cutaway allows easy access to the upper frets, and the gently rounded neck is comfortable, straight and stiff (and fast, should the need arise). Taylor’s UV finishing process, in addition to being environmentally friendly and offering generous protection against checking, allows for a very thin finish that lets the wood breathe, and the top to “open up” with age and playing.

If the selection of wood achieves a great look, it also gives the guitar a perfectly even and wonderfully full voice. Right from the first strum, it captured me with its balance. The lows display a striking depth and clarity; the attack is clear, full and deep with no boominess or muddiness. The midrange is warm and round with no discernible scoop. The bright, crisp highs ring out without dominating. The overall effect is a full-bodied, resonant sustain with a clear, vibrant “zing” across its tonal range. With light strumming, the guitar produces plenty of harmonics, and it displays a nice, percussive ring with palm muting. Fingerpicking is a simple delight with this guitar.

While it’s not built for the most aggressive playing styles—overloading the top results in a loss of articulation and detail—the 814ce would be just the right instrument for holding down bass lines and chord work in an acoustic ensemble. Its fullness and dynamic capability would also make it ideal for solo fingerstyle work or strumming vocal accompaniment. It is perhaps not the loudest guitar Taylor makes, but it is easily loud enough to hold its own in a group of instruments, and it projects beautifully, producing room-filling bloom and articulation.

The 814ce also comes equipped with the Taylor Expression System (ES). Designed in 2003 in conjunction with audio pioneer Mr. Rupert Neve, the ES combines an onboard preamp and three magnetic sensor pickups (one under the fretboard and two under the soundboard) to capture and convert the vibrations of the strings and soundboard. The system promises to deliver the guitar’s true, natural tone, and I can report splendid results after playing the guitar through two excellent acoustic amps: a Genz Benz Shenandoah Compak 300 and an AAD Super Cub AG-300.

Simply put, when plugged in the guitar sounds like nothing other than itself, amplified. In any acoustic-electric guitar this is no easy task, but in an instrument built with such obvious care and concern for tonal balance and fullness, it is a real achievement.

On top of its natural fidelity, the ES also manages to be at once both dead simple and very flexible. Controls consist of three small, side-mounted knobs in a simple configuration: closest to the front of the guitar is the Volume, followed by Treble, and then Bass nearest the back. Each knob has a center detent, so you can easily “reset” the guitar for a flat EQ at half volume and adjust from there for the playing situation and the room. The preamp circuit board, which is easily accessed through the soundhole, also holds two switches that allow you to turn off one or both of the body sensors (the neck pickup is always on), for added control over the guitar’s amplified voicing. It takes almost no effort to get just the sound you’re looking for.

The ES will take a standard 1/4" instrument cable, but you can also plug directly into a balanced, line-level input using a TRS to XLR cable—helpful for pushing a lot of cable or going without a direct box. It’s powered by a single 9V battery, which Taylor says will provide 40–50 hours of use. Inserting a cable activates the onboard preamp, and removing the cable turns it off. For extra ease of use, there is an LED battery indicator on the preamp circuit board, easily visible from the soundhole, and the battery drawer is located on the strap button assembly at the tail of the guitar. One further electronic feature that will be appreciated by any player who’s been struck by the “blue spark” (and who’s had to suffer through part of a set sounding like Bill Cosby doing his “Dentist” routine afterward) is the ES’s fused string ground. If you do blow the fuse, the guitar will no longer be grounded, but the ES will continue to work. Nifty.

The Final Mojo
There is no guessing involved in understanding why the 814ce continues to be one of Taylor’s most popular models. The great design and build-quality of Taylor’s instruments is not much of a secret either. What I didn’t expect to become so obvious as I played and got to know this guitar was how much awareness and consideration had been put into creating a balanced whole. Every aspect of the 814ce is meant to exist in precise harmony with every other—from Taylor’s production method, which balances art and tradition with the science and innovation, to their choice of woods, construction and electronic features, and of course great looks and outstanding tone. For instruments in this class, it may often seem like a slight knock to be called “allaround” great, but in this case, it’s the highest compliment I can think to pay.
Buy if...
you're looking for a guitar that will shine in all sorts of settings, and will quickly become a companion.
Skip if...
you're all about the dreadnought, or you need an instrument that's built for one special application.

MSRP $4058 - Taylor Guitars -