When Taylor Guitars introduced the Baby Taylor, a 3/4-size dreadnought, in 1996, it proved that scaled-down guitars designed for travelers or kids could be well-built, attractive, and highly playable—and more importantly, they could sound good. More than a decade later, cofounder Bob Taylor decided to revisit the basic idea, challenging himself to design a guitar that packed a lot more sound into a similarly compact size. After experimenting with variations on the Baby’s bracing, top thickness, and other specs, Taylor and product developer David Judd refocused their attention on the company’s grand symphony (GS) body shape, hoping to capture its solid bass and rich tone in a diminutive instrument.
Introduced in July, the GS Mini, a smaller variation of the GS body shape and built with simple woods, is the result of Taylor and Judd’s experiments. With a street price of around $500, the guitar doesn’t so much straddle the line between a portable instrument and a player’s go-to guitar as it erases it. The company also introduced some accessories: the ES-Go (an easy-to-install, GS Mini–specific soundhole pickup) and Taylor V-Cable (a 1/4-inch cable with built-in volume control). We recently had a chance to try the GS Mini and ES-Go pickup in action: on the couch, outdoors, and at a music festival.
Scaled-Down but Not Skimped On
I was a little surprised as I first opened our review guitar’s hard gig bag to see that the GS Mini doesn’t look at all like a “travel guitar.” Though the plain woods—caramel-colored sapele for the back and sides and solid Sitka spruce for the top—and satin finish give it a simple appearance, the three-ring rosette and three-layer purfling lend it the credibility of a higher-priced instrument. And the construction is flawless.
I sat on my couch, put the GS Mini in my lap, and experienced the strangest feeling: total comfort. The guitar falls somewhere between the Baby and Big Baby in overall size, with a 23.5-inch scale length (a full two inches shorter than the GS or full-size long-scale length) that puts open chords within easy reach. At 14-3/8 inches wide, the body is small enough that it’s comfortable to play even when sitting down yet substantial enough that I didn’t hunch over it. The 4-7/16-inch body depth, just a 1/4-inch shallower than the GS’s depth but nearly an inch deeper than the Baby’s, makes the GS Mini feel more like a full-size guitar in my lap. The GS Mini passed the car-travel test with flying colors, fitting easily into the trunk of my VW Golf along with all my other festival necessities: tent, air mattress, sleeping bag, duffel bag, and mandolin.
Big Sound Comes in Small Packages
The GS Mini’s deep body not only makes it feel like a full-size guitar; it also makes it sound like a full-size guitar. However lightly or hard I strummed the guitar, it matched my effort with equal volume. Strummed softly or with a medium attack, the Mini produces a warm, clear tone that slightly favors the midrange but with bright trebles and a rich bass. Our review guitar came with low, factory-set action, which made it easy to play, but more aggressive players might want to raise the action. With an aggressive attack, the sound begins to break up, especially in the bass, making it a better fit for playing solo or in a small group than single-handedly supporting a bluegrass jam, for example. I used the GS Mini to back myself up at a vocal workshop, and the unamplified tone fully supported my singing and carried across ten yards of grass to the attendees.
As I flatpicked fiddle tunes, the notes were crisp and clear, articulating the melody on all six strings. This snappy tone helps bass runs rise above ringing chords and also suits less busy melodies, such as bluesy single-line riffs. Fast runs pop off the string, but long notes held for as long as I wanted them to, though occasionally I had to use palm muting to get a cleaner sound. The sustain fills in the chords on cross-picked tunes, and on “Norwegian Wood” it’s easy to get the strong drone above changing bass notes.
The prominent midrange brings a punch to jazz chords, which, with the guitar’s comfortable factory setup and neck, are easy to play up and down the fingerboard. I fingerpick with a light touch, but I was able to effortlessly get a balanced, even tone, and I really appreciated the full-sounding bass. Whatever I threw at the GS Mini, it handled with aplomb.
ES-Go: Install, Plug In, and Play
Taylor sent our review guitar with the ES-Go, a magnetic, stacked-humbucking soundhole pickup based on the company’s Expression System technology but designed specifically for the GS Mini (and sold separately for $98). According to Taylor, “all you need is a screwdriver and a few minutes” to install the ES-Go. Designed to be visually unobtrusive, the black pickup clips into a bracket inside the guitar under the fingerboard and then floats in the soundhole, rather than clamping onto the sides like most soundhole pickups. Even for a novice like me, it took a quick and painless 12 minutes to loosen and remove the strings, swap out the endpin, get the pickup in the guitar, and tune the instrument back up.
I plugged the guitar into a Fender Blues Junior amp, and with the bass, mid, and treble controls straight up, I could barely hear the bass notes through the amp. The pickup itself has no controls, so I cranked the bass on the amp all the way up, dialed the treble down to about ten o’clock, and turned the volume up two more notches to match the plugged-in voice to the balanced acoustic voice. The resonant frequencies of the GS Mini that gave it such a satisfying sustain acoustically were amplified by the Blues Junior, but palm muting and other minor technique adjustments helped me get a clean sound. When I tried it with an AER Compact 60 amp, those resonant frequencies disappeared, but the sustain remained. I turned the bass up to about three o’clock to even out the tone, which was more pleasing than that of many undersaddle pickups I’ve heard.
The couch-, car-, and airplane-friendly compact size of the GS Mini makes it a great go-anywhere guitar for frequent travelers, outdoor types, and even living-room pickers. With its wide dynamic range, clear tone, long sustain, and affordable price, it’s a satisfying and fun guitar to strum, fingerpick, or flatpick and would be a great second—or even first—guitar for any player who needs to have a quality instrument always within reach.
GS Mini body size. Solid Sitka spruce top. Laminate sapele back and sides. Sapele neck. Ebony fingerboard and bridge. X-braced top, braceless arched back. NuBone nut and saddle. 23.5-inch scale. 111/16-inch nut width. 21/4-inch string spacing at the saddle. Satin finish. Chrome tuners. Elixir medium-gauge Nanoweb strings. Made in Mexico.
PRICE: $678 list/$499 street.