If I hadn’t had their spec sheets in front of me, I might not have known that a pair of new Taylor guitars were affordable instruments. The new Taylor Academy 10e dreadnought and 12e Grand Concert each sell for well under a grand with a deluxe padded gig bag. Both guitars have a high-quality feel and play effortlessly. They sound great, too—clear, balanced, and responsive. It strikes me that these guitars are vastly superior to the first entry-level steel-string I bought in the late-1980s—and they’re actually less expensive.
The 10e and 12e are members of Taylor’s new Academy series, made at the company’s secondary factory in Tecate, Mexico. In designing these instruments, Taylor’s luthier, Andy Powers, stripped the guitars of their nonessentials to arrive at designs that are not only rugged and cost-effective, but handsome in their simplicity.
As such, neither guitar has binding or any other ornamental detail, save for a simple wooden rosette and black heel cap. Each sports a solid Sitka spruce soundboards with an ergonomic armrest—a detail, normally found on high-end guitars, that lends playing comfort. The back and sides of each instrument are made from layered sapele, another cost-effective option that adds durability, while the fretboard and bridge are ebony. Each instrument is completed with a smooth matte-varnish finish.
Taylor is, of course, well known for its consistently fine craftsmanship, and in building the Academy line, the company has held itself to the same standards as on its more expensive offerings. Both the 10e and 12e are cleanly built, inside and outside. On each guitar, the 20 medium frets are tidily dressed, without a hint of sharpness at their ends—the NuBone nut and Micarta saddle are set up just right. Under the hood, the top bracing (there’s no back bracing) looks cleanly shaped and glued, as do the sides’ linings.
A Nice-Sounding Duo
In terms of playability, the 10e and the 12e feel much alike. The neck on each has Taylor’s trademark sleek profile, which, in concert with a relatively short-scale fretboard (24-7/8-inch) and narrow nut (1-11/16-inch), will be inviting to a beginning guitarist and comfortable to a player who’s further along. If you’re an electric guitarist and an Academy is your first acoustic, you’ll find it a breeze to play.
Overall, each guitar has a good balance between registers, and from string to string. At the same time, their voices are nicely contrasting. The 10e is a dreadnought, and it likes to be strummed and flat-picked. A few G runs and boom-chuck strums demonstrate that the guitar has a decent amount of projection and volume, if not quite as much low-end oomph as you get from the finest dread. Single-note runs fare well, too, with good definition and crisp trebles.
The 12e is based on Taylor’s popular Grand Concert size—a small body with a big sound. It responds a little better to fingerpicking—and to a light touch in general—than its dreadnought companion. When played in standard as well as open-G and D A D G A D tunings, the 12e has a warm, round tone, suitable for everything from folk to fingerstyle jazz. The guitar also shines when strummed with moderate picking-hand force.
Each model is rounded out with Taylor’s ES-B electronics—a combination pickup, preamp, and tuner that’s straightforward to use, having just a tone and volume control. This system isn’t as sophisticated as the Expression 2 System that Taylor uses on its more expensive guitars, but it’s good. Plugged into a Fender Acoustasonic amp, the guitars sound warm and realistic.
Historically speaking, student and budget guitars have hardly been known for their sound and playability. Taylor addresses this problem brilliantly in the Academy series. The 10e and the 12e are great-playing right out of the box, and their fine sounds should make it inspiring to learn any style on the instruments. At the same time, these smart guitars would be appropriate for a gigging or recording player on a tight budget.
At a Glance: Taylor Academy 10e & 12e
BODY Dreadnought size (10e) and Grand Concert size (12e); solid Sitka spruce top; layered sapele back and sides; ebony bridge with Micarta saddle; armrest; varnish finish
NECK Mahogany neck; ebony fretboard; 24-7/8-inch scale length; 1-11/16-inch NuBone nut; chrome tuners; matte-varnish finish
EXTRAS Elixir Phosphor Bronze Light strings (.012–.053); ES-B electronics; gig bag
PRICE 10e: $798 list/ $599 street; 12e: $798 list/$499 street
Made in Mexico, taylorguitars.com
This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.