By James Volpe Rotondi
When it comes to buying a guitar, we want to dream first, then make peace with our budget, not the other way around. But accepting our limitations can be hard. Take Taylor’s flagship 517 and 717 Grand Pacific Builder’s Edition acoustics. With their V-class bracing and torrefied Sitka spruce tops, they’re guitars to dream on, but you’re talking anywhere from $2,800 to $3,300 just to walk in the door—as much as $6,400 for a limited edition Grand Pacific model like the gorgeous GPe-LTDEb with blackheart sassafras back and sides.
So what’s a working dreamer to do?
Dream a Little American Dream
It’s no accident that Taylor calls its recent line of more affordable guitars—including the AD17, AD22, and AD27, as well as their electric counterparts—the American Dream series. Now, this is partly owing to the line’s American provenance; all of the instruments are built at Taylor’s Southern California factory. But it’s also a statement of intent. With prices ranging from roughly $1,500 to $2,200, the series hopes to be the budget bridge that allows Taylor aspirants to grab the brass ring without falling into the abyss of debt.
This is where the new Taylor AD27e Flametop comes in. With a street price of around $2,200, it’s not fathoms cheaper than a Grand Pacific, but it’s a worthy difference when you consider the ways in which it approaches the quality of its higher-end cohorts, and, it must said, how gorgeous it looks and sounds, especially with a solid understanding of where its sweet spots live.
Up in Woodsmoke
The list of pleasing attributes on the AD27e Flametop includes, of course, its gorgeous figured maple top (you read that correctly), back, and sides, in a satin Woodsmoke finish. It certainly speaks to the Flametop’s debt to the deeper, darker finishes of the mighty Gibson J-45, the slope-shouldered classic that it pays homage to in shape and sonics. The satin-finished, 15-inch radius maple neck, with its smooth eucalyptus fingerboard, is a delight to play—the generous 1.75-inch nut width helps. And the guitar’s stock nickel bronze strings, rather than phosphor bronze, make it play noticeably closer to an electric feel than most guitars its size.
While mellower than, say, a ’90s-era Taylor, the Flametop’s high-end and midrange response, perhaps owing in part to Taylor’s V-Class bracing, not to mention the big-leaf maple top, boasts a pleasing balance of clarity and punch. The Taylor Expression System 2 (ES2) electronics package, with nicely understated volume and tone pots mounted on the top shoulder, more than holds its own against similar undersaddle units from Fishman and L.R. Baggs. In fact, the ES2 translates the Flametop’s low end far better than one might have imagined from playing the guitar acoustically, which is really my only complaint about the guitar. Perhaps heavier strings might address this, but unless you’re playing quite deliberately directly over and slightly forward of the soundhole, the Flametop does not readily produce the kind of low-end balance that one would expect from a full-sized acoustic. But the restrained low end may prove a boon in louder live settings, where hyped bass resonance can lead to those woofy feedback moments.
In aesthetic terms, Taylor’s AD27e Flametop is one of the more eye-popping mid-priced acoustics I’ve seen all year. It exudes a relaxed class, and certainly succeeds in evoking the Laurel Canyon scene of the mid-to-late ’60s that Taylor claims was its inspiration. The Flametop makes a very impressive guitar for songwriters in live performance, especially with the terrific ES2 system, which even pulls frequencies from the guitar that you may miss when playing it strictly acoustically.
BODY Grand Pacific slope-shouldered body; figured maple top, back, and sides; V-Class bracing; chamfered edges; eucalyptus bridge with Tusq saddle; satin Woodsmoke finish
NECK Hard rock maple neck with eucalyptus fretboard; 20 frets; 25.5″ scale length; 1.75″ Tusq nut; 15″ radius; dot fretboard inlays; Taylor nickel tuning machines
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OTHER Taylor ES2 electronics; Elixir nickel bronze strings (.012–.053); Taylor AeroCase; left-handed available
MADE IN USA
PRICE $2,199 street