Taylor Guitars has built its empire on changing how guitars are made—from the way forests are managed to instrument construction to sales. As it has shown before with its bolt-on neck and CNC-made models, players will show up if the guitars play and sound great. With its new V-Class bracing (see “V Marks the Spot” on p. 16), the company is betting that players will embrace its latest innovation the way they have those that came before it. This moment has been a long time coming for Taylor, as the new bracing system points to a future where all of the company’s major guitar components will come from the minds of its own visionary luthiers, and not be reengineered or modified versions of something Martin did a century ago.
While its sounds may not be a huge departure from what you might expect from Taylor, the company’s new Builder’s Edition K14ce, on review here, is a stunning instrument with a refined sound full of surprise and opportunity for guitar players. I spent a few months with the K14ce to see if it lived up to the build-up and reveal. During this time, I spent many hours playing and listening to it from the driver’s seat. I also wanted to hear it from the listener’s perspective, so I slipped it into the unsuspecting hands of nearly every guitar player I met, from Piedmont blues specialists to gypsy jazz experts, from modern fingerpickers to electric guitarists who rarely touch acoustic instruments.
Nearly all of us noticed that this new Taylor was different from any guitar we had ever played. You could watch the slow realization as each player noticed that it seemed capable of sustaining notes in the middle of the fingerboard that are usually ho-hum, or how its dynamic responsiveness was unusually even and smooth as picked notes went from delicate to vigorous and back. However, for all of these good things you want in a guitar—sustain, volume, and evenness—if my time with the K14ce is any indication, the chief benefits of Taylor’s new V-Class-braced guitars are the things that you don’t get: choked notes, dead spots, muddy chords, and imprecise intonation. We guitarists have learned to live with these eccentricities of our instrument, but the new V-Class bracing is showing me that I don’t have to. Unless I want to.
What’s not surprising about the K14ce is that it sounds like a Taylor, with a bright, clear, very high-definition version of a guitar tone—like a refinement of Taylor’s principles of precision that sheds some old ideas for a new ideal. What does surprise me is the piano-like evenness among strummed chords, arpeggios, and multi-octave single-note lines. To my ear, all are exceptionally even and balanced, with no notes puttering out or dominating. They’re just there, present in your music.
Plugging the guitar into several different amps and PAs all created the same result: It was simply one of the best, most fully figured, and accurately reproduced sounds I’ve heard yet from an acoustic guitar with an onboard transducer-type pickup. Taylor’s Expression System 2 electronics always seemed like a pickup system that produced a reliably good tone, but this pickup/guitar combination seems to work as one. It sounded like this guitar, played by this person, and the effect really came across best when played through a high-fidelity PA.
And much like we’ve come expect from Taylor, the K14ce is comfortable and easy to play. At about 4.4 pounds, this guitar is light, and, with smoothed edges everywhere (beveled ebony binding, integral armrest, and Powers’ newly designed cutaway), it’s easy to bond with. Looks-wise, it’s mostly a stunner, from the extensive abalone inlays around the body to the vine fingerboard inlay to the tinting of the spruce top. I find koa’s natural golden-honey colors and variegated figure spellbinding, so I was a little disappointed in the darkness of my tester’s special new “Kona burst” finish, which masked much of the wood’s natural beauty and rippled figure.
The new Taylor Builder’s Edition K14ce Grand Auditorium is a genuine innovation in the history of acoustic guitars. It doesn’t make every other guitar obsolete, nor will it suit every player’s tastes, but even dedicated vintage-guitar fans will have to recognize that its sustain, volume, and responsiveness ignite curiosity and playfulness. It takes the guitar’s sound to a polished place that makes you want to explore and see what it—and its player—are capable of. Over a few minutes you’ll likely discover that it’s not only one of the best-sounding Taylors you’ve ever played, it may be one of the best sounding guitars you’ve ever played.
Taylor Builder’s Edition K14ce Grand Auditorium
Body Cutaway Grand Auditorium shape; torrefied Sitka spruce top with V-class bracing and relief rout; koa back and sides; West African ebony binding with fiber/koa/paua inlay, top, back, and rosette; West African ebony bridge with Micarta saddle and green abalone–tipped ebony bridge pins; “Silent satin” finish with “Kona burst” on the back and sides
Neck 25-1/2″-scale mahogany neck with 20-fret West African ebony fingerboard, with koa and ebony binding; spring vine inlay; 1-3/4″-wide black graphite nut; gold Gotoh SGL510Z tuners with 1:21 gear ratio
Electronics Taylor Expression System 2
Other Beveled cutaway; beveled armrest; strap buttons; Elixir Phosphor Bronze Light strings (.012–.053); Taylor deluxe hardshell case, brown
Price $4,999 (MAP)
Made in USA
This article originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.