Guitar Tasting with the Pros

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We invited some discerning players to test-drive our new 500 Series guitars. Here’s what they had to say.

In July, members of our artist relations team spent the day with an array of talented Los Angeles-based musicians, setting up shop at Republic Studios (a division of Universal Music Group) in a series of individual sessions to get each artist’s discerning first impressions of the new ironbark guitars.

We wanted each person’s honest reactions without “leading the witness,” so we didn’t reveal anything about the guitars beforehand other than their body styles. All of the artists are Taylor players we currently work with, so, to be fair, we should note that that they do already have an affinity for our guitars. That said, we asked what stood out to them about these particular models — good, bad or otherwise. We had both the 512ce and 514ce on hand, and encouraged them to play both, starting with whichever model they wanted.

Aesthetically, nearly everyone loved the look of the subtle edgeburst treatment, especially in tandem with the slightly darker color of the roasted spruce top, and several artists called out the faux tortoise shell binding. Musically, the group was fairly evenly split on their model preference.

Here are some highlights of their reactions.

Matt Beckley

Guitarist, songwriter, producer, engineer

[Plays the 512ce first.] That’s awesome. [Then the 514ce.] This one wants you to hit it harder. So what’s going on here? Why’s this so good? They’re really articulate but balanced…. This has a really good bass response and good resonance. It feels like it’s not a new guitar in the best way. It doesn’t feel like it needs to be broken in. It’s got that playability of an old mahogany, where it feels, again, old in a good way.

[Plays the 512ce first.] That’s awesome. [Then the 514ce.] This one wants you to hit it harder. So what’s going on here? Why’s this so good? They’re really articulate but balanced…. This has a really good bass response and good resonance. It feels like it’s not a new guitar in the best way. It doesn’t feel like it needs to be broken in. It’s got that playability of an old mahogany, where it feels, again, old in a good way.

I do a lot of recording, and sometimes, especially when you get an acoustic guitar, you have to do a lot to it, and it sounds like it had been pre-EQ’d, like in a really good way, and this kind of reminds me of that. It’s really balanced right out of the jump. It’s not scooped.

This feels like this could be your one guitar, because it feels like it would record good, but it also feels inspiring to write on. Like sometimes when you get an old slope-shoulder or something like that, they sound good in the living room, but they take a lot of work in the studio, or they don’t have the right thing on stage. This is inspiring to play, so it’s also good to write on… In the room, it feels like a good recording guitar too. So I would say, there’s not a lot I wouldn’t use it for. The other thing is that you can hit it, but it’s still satisfying to fingerpick. This one’s so fun.

With the 512ce, it’s so loud for a small-bodied guitar. And I’m really heavy-handed. It’s got compression without crapping out, because a lot of the smaller-body guitars I have I can’t hit that hard, which is not a bad thing; it adjusts how I play…. There’s so much low end coming out, in a really controlled way, not in a muddy way.

Taylors manage to have good low end and good projection, but it doesn’t muddy up the mix; as a producer and someone who plays live primarily, what I’m looking for is a guitar that will support that….

[After learning about the woods on the guitars] This [guitar] is fantastic. I can’t believe it’s not mahogany. It sounds like a mahogany guitar. That’s really special, and as somebody who likes the planet, I’m glad you guys are finding a way to keep that around…. You guys really nailed it.

Dory Lobel

Musician, songwriter, composer, producer, member of the house band on The Voice for 10 years

[Checking out the 514ce.] Feels beautiful, great neck. [Strums a chord.] Wow. OK, first of all, it’s really, really good; it’s very surprising. Super sweet and balanced. Almost no harshness that almost every acoustic has. A lot of time with acoustic guitars, they’re built for volume and projection, so sometimes the individual notes are lacking character; they don’t speak. Every note has a lot of tone, but it’s very round.

The word that keeps coming to mind is balanced. It’s super, super balanced. And I have a love/hate relationship with acoustic guitars. Not a lot of people talk about it, but I think they’re really designed first of all for volume, and I always compare to things like mandolins and banjos, which have a lot more personality and midrange there. But that’s what I’m looking for in an acoustic, to have a sound that’s interesting enough that you can play a little note and it’s enough, and you can let it hang. The intonation [on this] is crazy too.

It’s interesting because it has the hi-fi, full-frequency range, but not at the cost of a lot of sweetness. A lot of things I like, like Elliott Smith, very beautiful, emotional acoustic music, but with a kind of Tony Rice, hi-fi, bluegrass thing. The way it rings, and the intonation makes it, everything really blooms great. I knew it would be great — I’ve been playing 500 Series guitars for 20 years — but it’s really amazing.

On The Voice, I use this [Grand Auditorium] shape a ton; it’s one of my favorites. This one, I think everyone would agree, is the workhorse. I know some people say some shapes are more for picking or for strumming. This, I know for a fact, can do anything. I’ve played these with Alison Krauss and Vince Gill, Ryan Adams… there’s nothing you can’t do with this, and you can record with it as well. Some guitars you use more for live because they’re reliable, and you would use something else in the studio. This would definitely do both. It’s gorgeous… the best indication is that I don’t want to stop playing it.

Jaco Caraco

Session/stage guitarist, member of the house band on The Kelly Clarkson Show

[Plays the 512ce first.] Sounds beautiful. Wow. Initial reaction is that the sustain is still going. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before. Feels amazing, sounds great. It’s nice and woody, which I love in an acoustic guitar. Perfectly in tune. Wow, I love it.

The midrange is really nice to me. It’s not harsh. It sounds awesome fingerpicked, and then if you’re just strumming something, it sounds amazing.

[Plays the 514ce.] Obviously this is a bigger body, so it has more bass to it, almost more like a J-200. So for me, now that I’ve heard them both and can feel them, this would be more the strummer for me probably. It gets that nice jangle. Really impressive.

This is an incredible guitar. It’s really well balanced. And the bass resonates through your body, which feels really cool.

For me, the classic guitar I would record with would be an old Gibson. And I would happily record this one, and I bet that nobody would be able to tell the difference — except for the sustain and the intonation.

Horace Bray

Session/touring guitarist, singer, producer

[Playing the 512ce] First reaction: It sounds great. The first thing that stuck out is it’s really even across the neck, which, as much as I love guitars, I really love it when guitars kind of feel like pianos, where it’s balanced all over the instrument. And that’s the first thing that really sticks out. It definitely has a different thing going on in the midrange than what I’ve played with my spruce top, mahogany back and sides. It almost feels like it has a natural compression to it, which is probably attributing to the evenness all over the guitar. It’s not squishy. The quiets still really speak, and that’s the thing I’m kind of lingering on…. The attack’s more immediate with this one.

[Playing the 514ce] Wow. This one feels a little bit more percussive. I feel like it reacts to the pick attacks a bit more. It makes me want to do more strummy stuff…I think I like how the pick attacks more, but the more natural compression I get with the other one kind of makes me gravitate more toward single-line stuff. Probably a little more bluegrass with that one, a bit more strummy stuff and letting the notes ring out on this one.

I think the pairing of these two would complement each other really well in a studio environment… I think the difference in how the attacks feel would make them layer really well together.

Taylor Gamble

(Ari Lennox) Session/touring guitarist (Gospel-rock, R&B, acoustic/classical)

[Playing the 512ce] This feels really good string-tension-wise. I can really get the vibrato in there…. The action is perfect. It definitely has the warmth of rosewood; I like rosewood because of how well-rounded it is, going from playing genre to genre.

[The sound is] very lush…I would love to hear this plugged in and miked at the same time because it’s very robust. When I play soft, I can really hear the overall tone… It sustains very well. The notes hold their value; I don’t feel like I’m losing anything as they [ring out]. Strumming-wise, the attack, it snaps like I need it to….

I could do an entire acoustic set on this guitar alone, from strumming to fingerpicking. I’ve paired certain pedals with my acoustic guitars because I feel like it’s beautiful when you marry the electric and the acoustic perfectly, even if you’re just strumming chords. That extra layer you get coming from an acoustic instrument can actually be the icing on the cake in a lot of situations. I would definitely use this in an acoustic setting; I would definitely use this during a live show, like if I’m performing with an artist, I would definitely whip this bad boy out and I’d be like, just mike it; you don’t even have to plug it in, it’s gonna sound good. I would also record with this. And honestly, this is the kind of guitar that I would actually record this and my vocal at the same time.

This guitar does a good job of letting me hear everything I need to hear when I play acoustic. I hear the lows real well, and still hear the highs, and the midrange, this one gives me more midrange, but the way I play, I play a lot of chords with a lot of feel, so I need that bottom. The chords have to be lush, they have to ring out, they have to sustain. I’m that kind of player. I’m very into tone.

Janet Robin

Singer-songwriter, guitarist, member of The String Revolution

[Plays the 514ce] The neck feels great as usual. Action’s great. I’m more of a percussive player… pretty good response, especially since it’s not a dreadnought. This takes my beating. I think it has a nice, even tone. It’s very balanced. [Softer strumming.] Beautiful sustain. My other Taylor is a spruce and rosewood [dreadnought Dan Crary Signature Model]. I’m not really getting that tone. It’s very velvety; very even between bass and treble and mids. I’d say it leans more towards the mids a bit more — of course, that also depends on the kinds of strings you use.

I think it’s the kind of guitar that could be used in all ways — percussive use, like I’m doing, maybe fingerstyle [fingerpicks], beautiful. Again, that sort of velvety, nice sustain. Definitely great for fingerstyle, strumming stuff, a great singer-songwriter guitar. Even if you’re a solo guitarist…I really think it lends itself to a solo performer, or because it has that bit leaning toward midrange, I think it would cut through a band…[more playing] Beautiful dynamics.