Posted by Teja Gerken
Strum an open G on the latest edition of Taylor’s 814ce and you’ll feel the back vibrate against your chest. The instrument—which comes in the familiar grand-auditorium body shape—has a low-end depth and looseness that makes it sound like a larger guitar. What’s more, with its super-low action and relatively shallow, half-rounded neck, it’s virtually effortless to play. Once you hit the strings, it’s immediately evident that you’re handling a very “alive” guitar.
AG got an exclusive look at the 814ce, which not only features new construction ideas, but also introduces a brand-new Taylor pickup that’s been designed from the ground up.
First introduced to celebrate Taylor’s 20th anniversary in 1994, the grand auditorium has become the company’s most popular guitar style. Although it’s available at almost every level within Taylor’s model hierarchy, the acoustic-electric, rosewood-and-spruce 814ce in particular has become a runaway success. Taylor’s 800-series has received the occasional facelift over the years, and the company constantly refines its construction techniques. But two decades after the grand auditorium’s introduction, Bob Taylor and his company’s master luthier, Andy Powers, decided to completely revamp the line, introducing an updated version of Taylor’s patented Expression Pickup System.
New Pickup System
The 814ce’s pickup system is big news for Taylor, as it uses an entirely different approach from the company’s previous Expression System, and it eventually will be installed on other steel-string models in the Taylor line. (The company will continue to offer its original ES by special order).
Developed by long-time Taylor engineer David Hosler, the Expression System 2 leaves behind the previous combination of a magnetic pickup and a soundboard transducer, relying instead on an original approach to placing piezo crystals in the bridge. The basic concept is as simple as it is clever: Instead of placing the pickup under the saddle, the Expression System 2 uses three piezo sensors that are embedded in the bridge behind the saddle, touching it between each of the three pairs of strings. This fundamentally changes the information the pickup reads, as it senses the back-and-forth rocking motion of the saddle, rather than its up-and-down movement. The pickup’s elements are mounted in inserts that are adjustable from the top of the bridge with a small hex-key, and which extend through the bridge to the inside of the guitar.
The Expression System 2 uses the same three-knob control unit (bass, treble, and volume) in the upper bout as its predecessor and the same combination endpin-jack/battery access panel in the endblock, though the preamp has been redesigned. “This system is more dynamic, and its ability to accurately translate what is happening with the guitar is definitely better,” Hosler says.
All New, but Familiar
In terms of construction, the latest 814ce successfully fuses the old with the new. The guitar has the familiar 16-inches-wide body of the older versions, with Indian rosewood back and sides, a Sitka spruce top, a tropical mahogany NT neck, and ebony fingerboard and bridge. The high-quality rosewood shows deep, three-dimensional grain patterns and a rich chocolate color, and the spruce top is super-tightly grained. To promote a more ecological use of ebony resources, Bob Taylor has begun using ebony with non-black color characteristics, so the new 814ce’s fingerboard has several light-brown areas, details that bring a beautiful and individual quality to the guitar.
What’s different about the latest incarnation?
Besides some cosmetic touches, including maple binding, new shapes for the mother-of-pearl fingerboard inlay, and a rosewood pickguard, there are also some interesting things going on inside the instrument. A peek inside the soundhole reveals that the 814ce’s four back braces are glued at an angle instead of being perpendicular to the guitar’s centerline, and this leads to a significantly slanted appearance. “By angling the bracing, I’m changing the stiffness of the back, and how it interacts with the top,” Powers says.
The top bracing follows a standard X-configuration, with two tone bars, but it’s parabolically tapered, rather than scalloped, as on earlier Taylor grand auditoriums. “The top bracing is a bit lighter than before, but it’s just as strong,” Powers adds.
Taylor is also using hide glue and fish glue in areas where they make a tonal difference. What’s more, the company has applied the finish at about half the thickness of its standard, which should result in less dampening of the vibrating surfaces.
A Versatile Player
Saying a guitar has great versatility can mean that it’s good at a lot of things but doesn’t excel at anything in particular. Not so with the 814ce. This instrument is just as suitable to strumming chords as it is to playing jazz voicings in standard tuning or fingerpicking in alternate tunings. There’s a reason why the Taylor 814ce has been a popular choice for players who want one guitar to do everything, and this latest version just raises the bar.
The fretwork is perfect, and I appreciate that Taylor chose non-flamed maple for the fingerboard binding, as highly figured wood binding often makes the position markers hard to see. The only thing I would criticize for my personal playing style is that the rough surface of the rosewood pickguard caused some unwanted sounds as I rested my pinky while flatpicking.
Plugged into an AER Compact 60 amp, the new Expression System 2 offers the immediacy and presence of a typical saddle pickup, but it has a warmer attack than most, and a complex tone, overall. The feedback threshold is high—I was able to get the AER up to ear-splitting volumes while directly facing the speaker—and the system is able to sense sound from the entire guitar body. I’m not crazy about the location of the phase-reversal switch—it requires reaching through the soundhole to a small switch mounted to the preamp’s circuit board—but I find it effective in dialing in an optimal sound.
There’s no question the 814ce is a modern classic. And while updates to anything familiar sometimes leave you longing for the previous version, it’s hard to imagine that players would argue that Taylor’s latest changes haven’t made a great guitar even better.
BODY Grand auditorium body with 14-fret neck. Solid Sitka spruce top.
Solid Indian rosewood back and sides. X-bracing. Gloss finish.
NECK Bolt-on NT mahogany neck. Ebony fingerboard and bridge. 25.5-inch scale.
1 3/4-inch nut width. 2 3/16-inch string spacing at saddle. Enclosed nickel tuners.
electronicS Expression System 2 uses 3 piezo sensors embedded in the saddle
STRINGS Elixir HD Light phosphor bronze strings (gauged .013, .017, .025, .032, .042, .053).
price $4,378 list street. Made in USA.