Taylor’s new 150e might be the most playable 12-string guitar I’ve ever tried—and I’ve tried a lot of them. Whether strummed or fingerpicked, played in standard or alternate tunings, the instrument is a breeze to tool around on, with a sleek neck and low action that makes it as comfortable playing barre chords for extended stretches as running single-note lines up and down the fretboard.
That’s not always the case with a 12-string. Ideally, the instruments’ octave and unison strings should make beautiful, shimmering, choir-like sounds, but the reality is that many 12-string guitars are marred by problems with intonation and playability. Neither of those issues afflicts the 150e, Taylor’s latest addition to its popular—and affordable—100 series.
The sound of this guitar is immediately satisfying. Cowboy chords sparkle and jangle, just as they should, and the intonation is spot-on. More complex voicings, whether incorporating open strings or played with fully fretted grips, have excellent note-to-note definition, free of any murkiness. The guitar feels dynamic and responsive, handling the gentlest and heartiest strumming equally well. And when fingerpicked, the 150e sounds smooth and complex—it’s very responsive to the nuances of the picking fingers.
When I tune the guitar to open D, down a half step, to play Leo Kottke’s “Watermelon,” the instrument retains its lushness. In the slacker open-C tuning, the guitar sounds equally superb for the Robbie Basho piece “Mountain Man’s Farewell.” Thanks to the guitar’s smoothly operating tuners, it’s easy to get into (and out of) the alternate tunings.
The 150e boasts a solid Sitka-spruce top, thicker than a six-string soundboard. It also has heavy, non-scalloped bracing specially designed to support the added tension exerted by 12 strings. Still, at not much more than five pounds, the instrument is comparable in weight to a typical six-string.
Why is it so affordable?
For one thing, its back and sides are made from layered sapele, an African wood whose density and appearance are similar to mahogany. Layered is another word for laminated, which means the back and sides have inner and outer veneers of sapele sandwiching a core of poplar. The laminated construction—which Taylor also uses on other less expensive offerings, such as the GS Mini and the Baby Taylor—has the bonus of being less sensitive to fluctuating humidity levels than solid woods.
On the 150e, Taylor uses a varnish coating instead of its trademark glossy UV-cured polyester. But the matte finish hardly feels cheap—it’s smooth and comfortable all over. What’s more, Taylor applies the varnish on unfilled wood, which means the pores of the sapele are left open, lending an organic feel to the instrument.
Unlike the instruments in Taylor’s 800 and 900 series, the 150e is not a fancy guitar. But it is handsome. The amber soundboard has a lovely aged appearance, and the sapele on the back and sides is a warm and reddish brown. On the test model, the back is nicely bookmatched, with a neat character marking: a single birds-eye figuring on each side.
The ornamentation is sparse, with unobtrusive black binding on the body, matched by a black pickguard, truss-rod cover, heel cap, and bridge pins, which pair well with the inky dark ebony fretboard and bridge. Meanwhile, a rosewood headstock cap offers a nice contrast.
The craftsmanship on the 150e is every bit as good as it is on Taylor’s more expensive models. The fretwork is smoothly crowned and polished, without any jaggedness at the edges, and the Tusq nut and saddle slots are notched perfectly. Inside, the bracing and kerfing are smoothly sanded—there are no traces of excess glue or other artifacts of the manufacturing process.
The 150e would be a great guitar without electronics, so Taylor’s original Expression system only sweetens the deal. The same system you see on some of the company’s higher-end models, it includes a magnetic pickup mounted to the soundboard, coupled with an additional sensor under the fretboard. It also incorporates a preamp with three simple controls—volume, bass, and treble—mounted on the upper bass bout. The guitar is plugged in via a quarter-inch jack at the endpin, next to which is a compartment for the 9-volt battery required to power the system.
Taylor designed the Expression System to avoid the artificial, tubby sound associated with acoustic guitar pickups. Instead, the system simulates the warm and woody sound of a mic’ed acoustic guitar. Plugged into a Fender Acoustasonic amp, this 12-string sounds much like its unplugged self, shimmering as it should, and without the slightest hum of electronics. The Expression System’s treble and bass controls work well for fine-tuning the sound, and their rubber control knobs are easy to grip, and less aesthetically obtrusive than the hunks of plastic housing so many other onboard preamps.
With the 150e, Taylor seems to be courting the six-string player looking to occasionally transform his or her sound by using a 12-string. But given its robust sound, easy playability, and excellent craftsmanship, and the flexibility afforded by the Expression System electronics, this guitar would be an excellent choice for any 12-string specialist.
BODY: Dreadnought size; solid sitka-spruce top; 100 series 12-string bracing; laminated sapele back and sides; ebony bridge; varnish finish.
NECK: Sapele neck with scarf joint; ebony fretboard; 25.5-inch scale length; 1 7/8-inch nut width; die-cast chrome mini tuners.
OTHER: Taylor Expression System; Elixir 80/20 light strings (.012–.053); gig bag.
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PRICE: $699 street
MADE IN: Mexico