Completely re-voiced with a fair few subtle design changes, does the 2014 version of the flagship 814ce still sound like a Taylor? Review by Rick Batey
Description: Grand Auditorium-sized cutaway electro-acoustic. Made in the USA
Price:£3023 inc. hard case
Contact: Taylor Guitars – 31 (0) 20 667 6033 – www.taylorguitars.com
It’s a time of change for Taylor guitars. Bob Taylor, without doubt one of the most innovative guitar company leaders of the past few decades, has announced that he’ll soon be stepping down – but in 2012 he nominated Andy Powell as the new master luthier to stand in his stead. This is a bold move, for Powell is no long-term Taylor man but a very individual luthier who has already shown his own ideas on how the company can move forward.
The first fruits of Powell’s work were visible in the 700 series guitars of 2012, and even more so with the Grand Orchestra models of last year, with new bracing, new glue technology, and thinner finishes. Now, for 2014, he’s turned his attention to the 800 series guitars, a line long hailed by Bob as the flagship of the range. This promises to be no easy-option cosmetic re-tweak, but a real reworking and revoicing. If we want to know the direction Taylor is heading, well… the chances are that we’re holding the answer in our hands.
Right out of the case the new 814ce feels noticeably lighter than we expected. The Grand Auditorium body shape is a mainstay of the Taylor line and one we’ve always liked very much: just under 16″ wide and just under 4.5″ deep, it’s a great do-anything size, being strummable, fingerpickable and all points inbetween, while the cutaway allows you to zoom up to the top 20th fret (where, as the old-timers are fond of saying, there is no money… but what the heck, we mostly all go there anyway).
The body finish is gloss all over and around 40 per cent thinner than before, but it’s still an immaculate job, faultlessly flat but with a tiny hint of grain texture showing through on the top. It’s impeccable.
As usual for the 800 series, the top is sitka spruce, the back and sides Indian rosewood; the former is even-grained and generously covered in medullary rays, generally a sign of spruce being cut bang on the quarter, though in this case a subtle strip of maple around the inside of the soundhole covers the tell-tale lines.
Outside that lies a band of maple, rosewood and abalone – the rosewood addition is new – and while maple is still the choice for the body binding, it’s intentionally plain rather than figured, giving a cleaner look. As well as that, the inner plies have also been changed with a thin strip of rosewood just inside the maple. It’s a tiny offset detail which sets the whole guitar off.
Inside lies a more striking example of something being offset: the back struts are arrayed not
at right-angles to the centre-line but at a diagonal, a move intended to free up the response of the back. The top bracing has also been changed from scalloped to ‘parabolically’ tapered. Also, vertical wood strips now provide extra reinforcement for the sides, the theory being that stiffer sides provide a more rigid, drumshell-like support for the back and the top – which, incidentally, have both been re-thicknessed for this year – in order that they can resonate more freely than before.
There’s another structural alteration going on inside, but this time it’s invisible: the back and top bracing for the 2014 models has been stuck on with a super-strong fish-derived protein glue. It’s a small thing, but it’s something Andy Powell believes makes a noticeable difference: according to Taylor, ‘the braces provide an energy transmission network for the top and back of the guitar, and the fish glue optimises the tonal transfer’. However, traditional hot hide glue has been used for the bridge/belly interface.
Visually, the easiest way to tell this year’s 800 series guitars from last year’s is the scratchplate – not tortie as before, but a piece of matte-finished Indian rosewood with the grain arrayed diagonally. It’s a look that only a few makers have used since the ’70s or early ’80s – the good old Washburn Prairie Song comes to mind – but it makes a nice change.
The ebony bridge looks essentially the same with its winged shape, abalone-trimmed ebony buttons and Micarta saddle with its swept B string compensation, but three miniscule black Allen keys in circular surrounds sitting behind the saddle alert us to the fact that this guitar comes with the recent Expression System 2.
There are no body or under-fingerboard sensors here: the ES2 has all its three piezo elements in the bridge, but placed not beneath the saddle – where, Taylor says, the strings’ downward pressure mean that the piezo-electric crystals ‘often respond with a sound often characterised as thin, brittle or synthetic’ – but right behind it.
Instead of sensing mostly downwards pressure, in fact, the ES2’s pickups are designed to read the ‘rocking’ motion of the saddle. The Allen keys are there to let you calibrate the pressures of the sensors against the saddle, which could be a good way of solving any balance problems.
The controls stay the same – Volume, Treble, Bass, all with centre-detents and situated on the upper shoulder near to the neck. The 9v PP3 battery drawer is situated by the endpin jack.
Not much has been altered when it comes to the neck. It’s a full 25.5″-scale item, with a plenty spacious width of 1.75″ at the nut allied to 55mm spacing at the bridge. The neck is made from mahogany which, as usual, Taylor has chosen not to stain to any great degree, so it looks fairly pale.
The neck finish is satin and the profile is as easy and comfortable as ever, a medium slim ‘C’ that feels slinkier than its measurements thanks to a lack of any meat in the shoulders that might slow you down. Taylor’s NT heel design is also present; essentially this extends the mahogany section up into the body area, minimising the tendency for the neck to begin to ‘hinge’ at the 14th fret by adding extra support for the fingerboard tongue.
In fact the only neck changes are in the details. The maple binding, as on the body, is now unfigured. The fingerboard is undyed ebony with a pleasingly natural, faintly streaked dark brown appearance. The inlays echo the old diamond-like shape of before but are simpler and curvier, almost like two interlocking fish; Taylor calls these the ‘Element’ inlays. The headstock facing is still gloss, but the wood is now ebony, not rosewood, and finally the tuners are chrome-plated, not gold. It all adds up to a more understated character.
So with all these new features – new bracing, diagonal back braces, re-thicknessed woods, side supports, new glue – is there a noticeable difference between this guitar and the 814s of old? To our ears, the answer is ‘yes’. From the first touch of the plectrum there’s more kick to the wound strings, a dollop of added bounce which comes allied to bigger lower mids than we expected. It really does vibrate the back of the guitar against your body.
We should mention at this point that this guitar comes strung with Elixir HD Lights with Taylor’s own gauges of .013-.053 plus a slightly heavier G, but not all this subtle extra depth can be down to that. Also, it’s not a global change, for this guitar does still sound like a Taylor – it’s crisp and shimmery and definitely on the bright and modern side, especially out in front.
But where previous rosewood 14’s were fairly light on the midrange with an almost new-age style ‘smile’ EQ curve, this one boots up the mids and lower mids to a fair degree, with a heavier impact spread across from the A to the G string. Mostly, the change is obvious in the first position; capo’ed up, the difference is not too overt.
The area in which this guitar perhaps best displays its altered character is when you use a flatpick to pick out fills and basslines between open-position chords. Those kind of moves now really muscle out and forwards in an almost bluegrassy manner, and in fact you almost have to be extra careful on the D string below the fifth fret because there’s quite an overt thump waiting there that reminds us in a way of a big-bodied Lowden. We wouldn’t go as far as to say that Taylor has over-cooked the sensitivity at these frequencies… but they’ve come close.
With no gig opportunities this week we have to judge the ES2 system through an AER combo under home conditions. There’s still a hard-to-reach mini-switch located inside on the preamp board, as before, but as there’s no magnetic body sensor to switch on or off, it’s now a phase reverse.
Our impression is of a plenty-loud system, with gentle and well-judged parameters for the Treble and Bass controls, with a residue of the attacky characteristics of a regular undersaddle system but allied to extra fatness with a hint of the bullet-proof controllability of one of the better examples of soundhole magnetics. Less precious and zingy than before, we’d say the warmth of the more conventional ES2 together with its high resistance to feedback is a major plus.
Over the past few decades the 814ce has had a big impact on the high end electro-acoustic market and we do think the 2014 model is a little more involving than before, particularly for those who favour a lighter touch. The neck is still super-sweet (as long as you like a wider nut), the fretwork and set up are exemplary, the intonation is as good as any and the fit and finish are top-notch; the changes, both acoustically and plugged-in, do make it a subtly more fulfilling experience
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