Review: Taylor 362CE and 552CE Grand Concert V-Class 12-Strings

If you’ve been waiting to pull the trigger on a 12, don’t hesitate. You can’t go wrong with either of these new V-Class Taylors.
Author:
Publish date:
Taylor 362ce

Taylor 362ce

V-Class bracing is now a 12-string thing at Taylor. Lead designer Andy Powers has applied his lauded V-Class bracing system to four 12-fret 12-string Grand Concert cutaway acoustic/electrics: the 352ce, 362ce, 552ce and 562ce. On review here are the blackwood-and-mahogany 362ce and the mahogany-and-cedar 552ce.

While playing a 12-string can literally be twice as awesome as a six-string, the flip side is that 12-string instruments come with a few minor annoyances, including endless tuning and string-breakage issues, and often have large bodies, which make playing less comfortable. 

Taylor has addressed those issues by applying V-Class bracing to its smallest body size, the Grand Concert, as well as employing other innovations, such as a double-mounted string-anchoring system. Having one bridge pin anchor each pair of strings is so practical and easy to manage that you have to wonder why someone didn’t think of it sooner.

In a nutshell, it’s an evolution away from traditional X bracing on the top, with a seismic shift toward what senior editor Art Thompson described as “two longitudinal braces in a V formation that add stiffness length-wise in the direction of the strings and facilitate controlled flexibility across both sides, adding volume and sustain, and fundamentally improving how in-tune notes sound all over the fretboard.”

Simply applying the V-Class system to a 12-string addresses its most problematic issue right off the bat, as these Taylor 12s are indeed amazingly “tuned in.” It starts with spot-on pitch accuracy: You don’t have to fiddle about much when tuning the octaves together on the lower four string pairs or the unison pairs on the two higher-pitched sets. 

It follows with harmonic agreement. We’ve all come to accept the tuning idiosyncrasies inherent to the traditional 12-string, such as the tuning compromise between the intervals of a third and a fifth: If either one was spot on, the other would be off, requiring a compromise to get both acceptable simultaneously. However, V-Class bracing facilitates a previously unheard kind of harmonic agreement that is particularly obvious on a 12-string design. 

Not only is that the case with open-position cowboy chords that ring out like church bells, but it also holds true in closed positions. The holistic harmonic nature of these 12-strings is in play all the way up into the 15th position, courtesy of a generous Venetian cutaway.

That leads us to the overriding topic of playability. Some old-school 12-strings can be beastly to manage on the fretboard. No such problems here. The 362 and 562’s necks are as easy to navigate as most six-string necks, and more manageable than many. 

These 12-frets-to-the-body necks are only slightly wider than normal at the nut. They do more than make playing chords across 12 strings a breeze. Linear licks flow freely as well, once again, way up into the short rows. The 552 responds exquisitely to a lighter fingerstyle touch, whereas the 362’s natural punchiness lends itself to more powerful plectrum playing.

These are two of the most comfortable 12-strings imaginable, due largely to the compact body size. The Grand Concert body style is one size smaller than Taylor’s bread-and-butter Grand Auditorium shape. It comes at the cost of slightly less low end, but unless you’re going for that detuned Leo Kottke jumbo rumble, a lot of the 12-string’s glory lies in the middle and high ranges anyway. 

These babies have chime in spades, making them excellent options for layering textural tracks in the studio. The sweet midrange on the 552 sounded particularly dazzling when I used it to complement a six-string part.

My high school math teacher liked to drive home the difference between accuracy - how close you can come to a specific target - and precision, which is the ability to do it repeatedly. Taylor’s precision craftsmanship is clearly evident in these two guitars from different series. Both appear to be flawless, and I could hardly cite a difference in playability. The bodies, necks and factory setups are essentially identical.

Taylor 552ce

Taylor 552ce

The differences lie in tone and appearance. Both are extremely vivacious, surprisingly loud, have a wonderfully open resonance and sustain like crazy, but the 552 has a richer, mellower tone than the chimier, very responsive 362. The former is meatier, with a bit more sauce in the bottom of the bowl, while the latter has a more crisp presence across the board, with plenty of sunshine up top. 

With respect to the 552, the clarity of mahogany back and sides coupled with the warmth of a western red cedar top is particularly welcome on a Taylor, as the company’s trademark high-definition tone is practically always in play regardless of the exact woods on a particular model. 

Most of the company’s models feature spruce tops, so it’s interesting that neither of these do. To make a wine comparison, the 362ce’s pairing of blackwood with a mahogany top has more of a dry sonic finish that’s also represented visually with a satin finish. 

A shaded edge burst on its beautifully grained mahogany top, surrounded by a thin white binding, makes it more visually interesting than most acoustics - cool and classy - whereas the glossy finish on the 552ce brings out the natural glory of its red cedar top and the richness of its mahogany back and sides.

Amplifying the 12-string has traditionally been a challenge as well, but both of these models feature Taylor’s proprietary Expression System 2. I tested them thoroughly with a Fishman Loudbox Mini Charge and an L.R. Baggs Synapse Personal P.A. 

I was taken aback by how powerful the 362 became and how its bottom seemed to fill a bit, whereas the 552’s electrified sound more closely mirrored its warm and welcoming acoustic sound. I switched the batteries in the guitars and got the same results. The 362ce takes on new power with more volume.

If you’ve been waiting to pull the trigger on a 12, don’t hesitate. You can’t go wrong with either of these new V-Class Taylors, and both deserve Editors’ Pick Awards. The one you choose may simply be a matter of your preference in taste and appearance, plus the significant difference of about $600 more for the 552ce. 

For online shoppers, the aesthetic difference might be bit confusing. Remember, the darker-looking 362ce actually sounds brighter and punchier than the lighter-colored and warmer-sounding 552ce.

SPECIFICATIONS

362ce Grand Concert 12-String
CONTACT
taylorguitars.com
PRICE $2,299 street

NUT WIDTH 1.875", Tusq
NECK Tropical mahogany
FRETBOARD West African ebony, 24.875" scale
FRETS 18
TUNERS Taylor Satin black
BODY Tasmanian blackwood back and sides, tropical mahogany top
BRIDGE Ebony, micarta saddle
ELECTRONICS Taylor Expression System 2
CONTROLS Volume, bass, treble
FACTORY STRINGS Elixir Phosphor Bronze Light .010–.047 and .010–.027 (unison/octaves)
WEIGHT 4.4 lbs
BUILT USA

KUDOS Amazingly in tune! Clear, crisp, punchy tone. Easy to play
CONCERNS A bit lacking in the low end acoustically. More boom materializes when amplified

552ce Grand Concert 12-String
CONTACT
taylorguitars.com
PRICE $2,899 street

NUT WIDTH 1.875", Tusq
NECK Tropical mahogany
FRETBOARD West African ebony, 24.875" scale
FRETS 18
TUNERS Taylor nickel
BODY Tropical mahogany back and sides, western red cedar top
BRIDGE Ebony, micarta saddle
ELECTRONICS Taylor Expression System 2
CONTROLS Volume, bass, treble
FACTORY STRINGS Elixir Phosphor Bronze Light .010–.047 & .010–.027 (unison/octaves)
WEIGHT 4.4 lbs
BUILT USA

KUDOS Amazingly in tune as well! Lively yet warm tone, and exquisite response to fingerstyle touch
CONCERNS The amplified volume is mellow compared to the 362ce

RELATED