From the January/February 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar | By Emile Menasché
Some players are diligent about caring for their instruments, dropping them right into their cases after every use and always storing them in temperature- and humidity-controlled environments. These guitarists refill their instrument humidifiers like clockwork, and they never, ever leave a guitar in the car after a gig.
Despite having good intentions, I am admittedly not among this cohort—and a few of my instruments have the cracks to prove it. That’s why I find the TaylorSense Guitar Health Monitoring System so intriguing. Combining an iOS/Android app with a Bluetooth-equipped smart battery compartment, the technology provides critical data on humidity, temperature, impact damage, and battery life—everything you need to know to keep your Taylor guitar in good health.
I got a chance to test the TaylorSense system preinstalled on one of the latest Taylor models, the GTe Urban Ash. (The GT stands for Grand Theater and the e for electronics.) Before digging into the tech, however, the guitar itself deserves some attention.
Familiar Curves, New Dimensions
Taylor calls the Grand Theater a new category in size, feel, and sound. I don’t know if I’d go that far—there’s been a trend towards smaller, player-friendly instruments over the last few years. But the GT does bring a new element to Taylor’s product line without straying from the company’s core design philosophy. The GT’s curves are based on Taylor’s largest body size, the Grand Orchestra, scaled down for comfort and portability.
At 18.5 inches long, 15 wide and 3.75 deep, the GTe is compact yet provides enough volume to produce a full sound with plenty of overtones. Taylor says its new C-class bracing plays an important role in the GT’s ability to punch above its weight sonically. Maybe it also helps with the GT’s impressive consistency across the frequency spectrum—more on that in a bit.
The review model sports a Sitka spruce top and urban ash back and sides cut from trees in need of removal from municipal areas in Southern California, reflecting Taylor’s commitment to sustainably and ethically sourcing tonewoods.
Inspiring Playability and Tone
Made from tropical mahogany, the guitar’s neck sits extremely comfortably in my hand. The matte finish provides a broken-in feel right out of the box. At 24.125 inches, the GT’s 20-fret eucalyptus fingerboard is significantly shorter than the standard 25.5-inch scale, yet it doesn’t play like a travel guitar or student model. Even with my long fingers, all the proportions feel just right.
As usual from Taylor, the action is low, the intonation true, and the frets well-dressed. A black Tusq nut and Micarta saddle provide a solid and resonant foundation for the strings. The tuning stability is exceptional, even when subjected to heavy bends. To me, playability isn’t just about fingering ease or comfort. It’s also about the ability to produce inspiring tone and project it to your audience. I’ll take an instrument that requires more effort if the resulting tone is better. Sometimes, however, you get both—the GT I tested definitely combines playing ease with effortless sound production.
As you might expect with a smaller body, the GT’s bass is tight, as opposed to deep. But it’s not thin, and the GT’s strumming sound would fit nicely in a rock/pop/country band mix. Meanwhile, the midrange and upper registers really jump off the instrument. The highs are crisp without being spikey; the mids are articulate and clear. As a result, the GT sounds balanced across its frequency range with a consistent blend from low to high. Six-note chords have a strong and articulate presence; the tones blend but didn’t blur.
If strumming is a strength, then fingerstyle and single notes are the GT’s superpower. Okay, maybe that’s overstating it. But the same qualities that give the chords so much presence really add to the pleasure of fingerpicking on the instrument. It’s easy to control the attack, tone, dynamics, and sustain across arpeggios, making something relatively mundane, like a figure based on an open C chord, seem full of possibilities. I also really appreciate the GT’s strong midrange and fast attack for lead playing. The shorter scale makes string bending easier, but the tension doesn’t feel too loose or indefinite.
The GTe is equipped with Taylor’s Expression System 2 (ES2), which uses a trio of undersaddle sensors, each calibrated to capture a pair of strings. Controls include bass, treble, and volume, with the knobs mounted unobtrusively on the guitar’s shoulder. A phase switch is housed on the preamp itself, which is accessible through the soundhole. The ES2 has been around for a while, so I won’t do a full review here, other than to say it works as expected and does quite a nice job of capturing the GTe’s core tone.
Fitting in the battery box at the base of the GTe, the TaylorSense system ($79.99 street) is even less intrusive than the controls for the electronics. (Note: Taylor guitars are not currently being sold with TaylorSense preinstalled.) The system can be retrofitted to any Taylor guitar with electronics powered by a 9-volt battery—those equipped with Taylor’s Expression System (ES1, ES2), ES-T, or ES-N pickups will work. (Taylors using AA batteries are not compatible).
If you already have an acoustic-electric Taylor but aren’t sure which pickup system it has, the company’s website offers illustrated instructions on how to check compatibility, order the right version, and install the electronics. Based on the online instructions, retrofitting the battery box on an existing guitar looks like a relatively easy DIY process requiring no specialized tools.
With a simple and intuitive interface, the TaylorSense app has four main features: A digital hygrometer, which monitors the humidity level of the guitar; a thermometer that reads the ambient temperature; impact sensors that alert you when your guitar takes a serious knock (like through a careless airline baggage handler); and a gauge that warns you when the battery power drops below 30 percent (and again when it dips below ten percent).
Setup was easy. First, I downloaded the app, then registered the guitar and app with Taylor. With the app installed, I followed the instructions to gently place my phone near the soundhole, open and close the battery compartment, and presto, the guitar started transmitting data to my phone. With unseasonably tropical early fall weather in New York, I immediately got a red alert: The app told me that humidity averaged 65 percent over a 72-hour period, a bit above the recommended range of 40–60 percent.
To tackle the problem, I clicked the Fix button right below the humidity display. Clearly written instructions explained how the guitar could be affected by high and low humidity. The app recommended putting the guitar in its case and using D’Addario’s Two-Way Humidification System to bring it back within range.
Affordable and apparently easy to install, the TaylorSense system is a no-brainer if you own a Taylor and are concerned about keeping it in a safe environment. To me, TaylorSense’s humidity monitor and alert system alone is worth the price of admission, especially because it will continue tracking the instrument’s condition when it’s put away in its case. And after getting four-figure repair estimates on cracked guitars, I can only wish I’d had those warnings coming to my phone over the years.
As a package, the GTe Urban Ash really impressed me. This is the second Taylor built from non-traditional tonewoods I’ve tested recently. (See this review of the AD27 from the November/December 2020 issue.) Both guitars have demonstrated that there’s plenty to be gained from exploring new materials, especially when those materials are mated to clever and well-executed designs.
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Even with its smaller dimensions, the GTe doesn’t feel like a travel guitar and plays and sounds like a front-line instrument. As for the idea of an acoustic guitar made from ash, Taylor does offer GT models built from more traditional woods, with fancier finishes—and higher price tags. But considering its sound, playability, cool factor, and price, the GTe Urban Ash is a total winner.
BODY 14-fret Grand Theater shape; Sitka spruce top with C-Class bracing; urban ash back and sides; ebony bridge with Micarta saddle; tortoise pickguard; Urban Sienna finish
NECK 24-1/8″-scale tropical mahogany neck; dual-action truss rod; eucalyptus fretboard; 20 frets; 1-23/32″ black Tusq nut; Taylor nickel mini tuners
OTHER Taylor Expression System 2 electronics; Elixir Phosphor Bronze Light strings (.012–.053); Taylor AeroCase; left-handed available
MADE IN United States
PRICE $1,599 street, plus $79.99 for TaylorSense (sold separately)