Taylor SolidBody Classic, Standard, and Custom

January 28, 2008

Well, when Taylor first went into business, no one was asking for an acoustic guitar with a bolt-on neck. But invention was the mother of necessity, and people have been clamoring for those guitars ever since. Then, they introduced their T-5—a new spin on the acoustic/ electric. And what do you know? That worked out pretty well, too. So it stands to reason that this company that knows a thing or two about calculated risks is going to thoroughly think any such decision through, and that’s what they’ve done with the Taylor SolidBody Classic, Standard, and Custom.

Just about every part of these guitars was rethought and redesigned in house—right down to the knobs. By his own admission, Bob Taylor wasn’t terribly interested in getting into the electric guitar game. But when his design team came up with a unique pickup design for the T-5 that incorporated neodymium magnets for “classic tone with modern output,” he decided it was time. That decision led to the three electrics you see here. To check these new Taylors out, I plugged them into a Fender Super Reverb, Fender Deluxe Reverb, a Savage Rohr 15, and a Hughes & Kettner zenTera.

Taylor has tried to cater to a variety of tastes with the three models, even as they maintain a consistent look and feature set. The single-cutaway body looks like an old friend, with the Classic and Standard sporting sharp Florentine cutaways, and the Custom featuring a rounded Venetian cutaway. All three models have great-feeling necks that play fast and smooth, but are substantial enough to feel absolutely rock solid—no surprise, as Taylor has always been famous for necks. The Classic’s swamp ash body is solid, as opposed to the chambered sapele (African mahogany) bodies on the other two models. Other appointments common to all three include the sleek and sexy ebony headstock overlay. The thing that gets the award for cosmetics and functionality, however, is the awesome aluminum bridge. It sort of looks like a Rolex watchband, and it combines maximum adjustability with rock solid coupling so as not to lose any sustain. Taylor sets the saddle heights at the factory to perfectly match the fretboard radius, but if you want to change your action, you can remove the back plate and adjust the large Allen screw on either the bass or the treble side. If you want to adjust your intonation, you loosen the tensioning screw under the appropriate saddle, and then move the saddle up or back with the Allen screw. It might take a little getting used to, but it adds up to great function, as well as righteous form.

The SolidBody has all the earmarks of a top-notch guitar that was made with great attention to detail. The acoustic ring and sustain is not only impressive, but actually pretty remarkable. Obviously, there are a lot of factors that go into that, but chief among them has to be Taylor’s bitchin’ single-bolt T-Lock neck joint that we first saw on the T-5. This brilliant design not only provides an airtight neck pocket—which contributes to the sustain—but it makes for damn-near instantaneous neck removal for action adjustments (by putting thicker or thinner spacers in the pocket), or even stashing the SolidBody in a crowded overhead compartment on a plane.

Taylor has provided a lot more tones than you would typically expect from a two-humbucker instrument. Starting from the neck pickup (which they call position 1), you then get the inside coils of the neck and bridge pickups in parallel with position 2. This produces a skinny, notched tone that’s noticeably lower in output than the neck pickup (more on that in a moment).

Position 3 combines the full neck pickup with the inside coil of the bridge pickup for a tone that’s similar to position 2, but thicker and louder. Position 4 gives you the inside coil of the two pickups in series—as opposed to in parallel—for what Taylor describes as a “super-wide humbucker.” It’s a great alternative to the bridge pickup by itself. Dialing in any amp a little on the bright side, I could get country-approved bridge-pickup twang on position 5 (bridge position by itself), and then switch to position 4 for a great Gretsch-meets-Brian-May tone with a little more throat and low end. It’s really cool and musical, and I found myself returning to this sound over and over. The best way to hear the different subtleties of the various pickup combinations was with a cranked Deluxe. With an amp teetering on the brink of breakup, the five positions gave me not just some hip tones, but instant dynamics as well. Because of the differing output levels, it was easy to take the amp from clean on position 2 to dirty on positions 1, 4, or 5.

The tonal varieties don’t end there. The SolidBody also sports a sweet Volume control that doesn’t get murky in the least when you turn down. The Tone knob is super cool in its own right. From wide open down to, say, 2, it rolls off highs in a smooth, linear fashion. Crank it all the way off, however, and it goes to an awesome, half-cocked wah sound. To my ears, this more than doubles the amount of available tones you get in this guitar, and, being a big Michael Schenker guy, it also allows me to instantly channel my inner UFO—which rules.

Because all three models are wired similarly, their sonics are not drastically different from one to the next. Each guitar does, however, have its own personality.

The Classic is the most straight-ahead model, and it should appeal to those who want an old-school vibe with modern construction and tonal options. The Standard, with its full-sized, uncovered humbuckers and maple top, was the brightest of the three, and it drove each of the test amps the hardest. Rockers who want to clobber an old Marshall will probably dig it the most. My favorite was the Custom. The combination of the chambered mahogany body, walnut top (who knew?), and 3/4-sized pickups delivered a punchy but warm tone with a blooming, open quality that I didn’t hear in the others. It certainly appears that Taylor has done it again with these fine instruments. Taylor owners and non-owners alike will undoubtedly welcome the latest members of the family.

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