A re-imagined, re-braced Taylor classic delivers super balance and power
Don’t worry—you haven’t accidentally picked up an old issue. This Taylor cutaway grand auditorium model looks awfully familiar because it is. The Taylor 814 has become a modern classic, its origin dating back to the dawn of the company, when Bob Taylor’s hands crafted each instrument.
A Classic Reconsidered
While a cursory glance may lead you to believe that the latest 814ce is more of the same old, same old, this 2014 model shares only its Grand Auditorium body (16" lower bout) and spruce/rosewood construction with its predecessor. Bob Taylor and his anointed master designer, Andy Powers, have fashioned a completely new instrument, tweaking bracing patterns, finish thickness, electronics, and even the glue. The result is a big, lush-sounding guitar and a feast for the eyes.
The familiar body shape is fashioned from sumptuous wood: narrow-grain Sitka spruce on top and dark chocolate Indian rosewood for the back and sides. New appointments give this traditional tonewood combo a refreshing woody elegance, with a rosewood pickguard that matches the back and sides, figure-free maple binding, rosewood top-edge trim, and an abalone rosette circled by rosewood rings. A marbled ebony fingerboard caps the mahogany neck, in keeping with Taylor’s commitment to harvest ebony trees that produce wood along the entire black–brown spectrum. The fingerboard has figuration all its own and boasts attractive mother-of-pearl “Element” inlays.
So much for the outward differences—there are more innovations inside. The bracing has been re-voiced, with a hybrid scalloped/parabolic top design developed by Powers, along with intriguingly angled-back bracing. The intent, according to Taylor, is to change the way the top and back move together, maximizing tonal response. Wood thicknesses have also been recalibrated to match the revised bracing, and the gloss finish thickness has been reduced from 6 to 3.5 mils, allowing the top to move more freely.
The result is a stunning-sounding guitar. Its bass frequencies are loud and fat, but not overwhelming—more like those of a string bass than say, a vintage dreadnought. The midrange is rich and smooth no matter where you are on the neck. The low-end response (which reminds me of the bass sound of a recently acquired late-’40s J-45) is felt by the player’s body as much as it’s heard by the listener. I felt that any minor modifications to my attack needed to keep the bass under control were more than worth it.
How Low Can You Go?
To make sure its low end would work in other tunings, I played a few songs in dropped-D: bluesy country songs, a fiddle tune, a fingerpicked Celtic ballad. The bass remained easy to control, but when I dropped the A string down to G and starting strumming in open G6 tuning, the resonance of the low G was a bit much. If you spend a lot of time playing with a flatpick in open G, this is probably not the guitar for you, but fingerpickers should be able to control the bass, especially those who prefer a muted Travis-style bass punch.
Since I was in a tuner-twisting mood, I tried a favorite oddball tuning: DAC#F#BE. It suited the guitar well—the tuning’s lush resonance had a piano-like consistency with heaps of sustain. Finally, I tried another favorite: CFCFCF. This tuning, with the two lowest strings tuned down two whole steps and the highest pair tuned up a half step, usually requires special string gauges, and has been known to defeat even the hardiest of axes. The 814ce was unfazed. The bass wasn’t as powerful as it might be, but Taylor ships the 814 with a special set of Elixir strings that includes a .053 low string. Expecting a light-gauge string to shine on a low C note is asking a lot.
Impressed by the midrange’s consistency, I ventured further up the neck, comparing tones in different registers. There was remarkable consistency from string to string within a range of seven or so frets. The A on the second fret of the G string and the A on the seventh fret of the D string were indistinguishable, as were the E’s on the second fret of the D string and the seventh fret of the A string. This led me to try closed-position three- and four-note jazz chords, venturing as high as the 20th fret with the aid of the Venetian cutaway. I followed that with single-note lines in similar positions. It’s easy to imagine a jazz guitarist—or anyone who likes to take advantage of a six-string’s full range—becoming entranced by the fluidity and consistency of this guitar in the highest registers.
The 814ce includes a newly redesigned version of the Taylor ES electronics, in which the piezo crystals have been moved from their traditional spot under the saddle to just behind the saddle—note the tiny adjustment screws between the fifth and sixth, third and fourth, and first and second strings. Plugging the 814ce into an AER Compact 60 amp with a high-quality Asterope cable and all controls set flat, I was astonished by how well the system duplicated the guitar’s acoustic characteristics, including the string-to-string and bottom-to-top balance. With the bass control on the guitar set at the middle detent, the guitar lost the sumptuous bottom I’d loved when I first picked it up, but turning the knob from 12 o’clock to 2 restored the luscious low end, but with a more controlled feel. It was just as fat, but I no longer felt I had to worry about it overpowering whatever else I was doing.
With a street price of over three grand, the 814ce comes with high expectations—and surpasses them. This is a serious guitar for serious players. But considering how well suited this Taylor is for so many musical settings, you’ll rarely wish you had another guitar instead.
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