Courtesy of Dave’s Chord Stamps: Fine Guitar Chord Stamps for Musicians that Care
I have played guitar for over 30 years and have owned as many acoustic guitars. Believe me, I’m not boasting. At my age it’s more of an embarrassment than anything. I only mention it for context. Starting with Lyle and working up through Yamaha, Ovation, Takamine and Alvarez, I eventually grew into Martins, Gibsons, Breedloves and Taylors.
My first exposure to the concept of solid wood guitars was with Taylor. Until that point, I had owned all laminate guitars without a clue.
But in 1992 my eyes were opened when I found a Taylor 610 for sale through the paper. I went to try it and could not believe the sound. It was then that I learned about solid wood acoustics, and a passion was ignited that would consume me for decades.
So when I launched my new website and thought about blogging, I was quite torn as to where to start. And then I stumbled upon the new 2015 Taylor guitar 600 series and it was so clear. I would start with the very manufacturer and series that sparked my love of solid wood acoustic guitars over 20 years ago.
Why? Not simply because this was the launching point for me with quality instruments but because the 2015 Taylor 600 series marks a rare but true mile-stone in acoustic guitar manufacturing. Every year, virtually every manufacturer strives for such a claim and yes, every year amazing instruments are introduced. But what makes the Taylor 600 series so unique this year is that the claim is truly justified.
As many know, the Taylor 600 series is Taylor’s line of guitars with maple backs and sides. I’ve always liked the rich, clear bell-like sound associated with maple guitars but tended to only like them on jumbo bodies to maintain the low-end bass I wanted. While such iconic guitars as the Gibson J200 have had great success (and deservedly so), the 2015 Taylor maple puts this guitar in a whole new generation and concept of maple acoustic.
Master builder Andy Powers of Taylor realized that the problem with maple guitars is that they’ve typically been built around guitars designed for rosewood or mahogany. In other words, folks would design a guitar for rosewood or mahogany and then use the same specs, bracing and voicing for a maple version.
But maple is such a completely different type of wood. Bracing and designs that work well for rosewood and mahogany, don’t lend themselves to maple. So the reputation that maple has developed as having too bright of a sound for many is because it really has not been treated fairly.
The reason for this is rooted in one of maple’s greatest strengths, which is that it’s completely linear; there is no one thing that is does better than anything else. So if you design a guitar to accentuate the high notes (like you might for rosewood which is inherently darker sounding), and simply replace the rosewood with maple, you get an overly bright sounding guitar. But it’s not because of the wood but rather because of the design. On the other hand, if you design a bassy guitar in maple, then you’ll get an overly bassy sounding guitar. More than any other wood, maple delivers what the builder has designed it to deliver.
So for 2015, Taylor redesigned the bracing and voicing of their 600 series to be specific to maple. For example, in all but the Grand Orchestra, the back braces do not extend to the rim of the instrument – a unique concept that makes a lot of sense.
Another unique feature to the Taylor 600 series is that they use a torrefied top. What that means is that they bake their spruce tops until they begin to resemble wood that has been played for several years. They also use advanced performance bracing on the tops with a relief route.
A similar process is also used for the backs as well, but at a much lower temperature to simulate what they might have done a hundred years ago. Additionally, they apply a special hand-rubbed stain they’ve worked out. It’s actually an old technology to get what’s known as a deep brown sugar finish. This is something akin to what you’d find on a fine violin or viola, and was chosen in part to evoke that old-world fine-quality instrument feel.
They then apply an ultra, ultra 3.5 mil finish to the entire guitar that was first developed for the 2014 800 series. This is the thinnest finish in the industry and used to limit the amount of dampening and allow the woods to resonate as much as possible. They’re even using protein glue to contribute to the same added benefit.
All of this combines to create a much warmer, much richer sound with a longer sustain than folks typically associate with a maple guitar. More so than any other wood, maple is very player reflective. So all of these improvements deliver an instrument most able to capture and reflect your style as an artist.
The aesthetics are further enhanced through ivoroid fingerboard inlays, an ebony pick guard, and ebony binding on the headstock, neck and body. The quality is further seen on the back of the guitar with a gorgeous ebony back strap and elegant ivoroid inlay. Ebony and ivoroid also beautifully outline the abalone inlay around the sound hole. You also get an ebony bridge, tusk saddle, and ebony finder board.
While all of this is very interesting and compelling, there is actually another significant aspect to the 2015 Taylor 600 series story, which is why Taylor wanted to spend so much time and effort revisiting maple guitars. The reason was sustainability. As they looked forward to the ever-decreasing availability of our guitar hardwoods, maple does not have this same challenge. It is readily available and will remain a sustainable resource in in North America and Europe for decades.
So these guitars are built with maple and Sitka spruce from the U.S., and ebony from their own sustainably harvested ebony mill.
All of this combines to provide a uniquely rich experience for players while appealing to those more environmentally conscious. As Tony Polecastro from Acoustic Villa (and contributor to their Acoustic Newsletter) has noted, the 2015 Taylor 618 has transformed his opinion of maple – the 600 series has flipped his option of maple right on its head. So throw your perceptions of maple guitars out the window and try one today.
Whether this will fundamentally change the perception folks have regarding maple guitars or not is yet to be seen. Certainly many will maintain a preference for the Gibson J-200 or others but Taylor must be acknowledged for their unique design contributions. It will be fun to see how the maple guitar story evolves from here.