Bob Taylor’s effort s to advance the use of sustainable tone woods is well known throughout the guitar community, as he has been a leader in working with and/or establishing operations around the world that are committed to responsible harvesting operations. Taylor sources the large amount of wood it uses from suppliers who have stringent standards by which they obtain mahogany and rosewood, and in the case of ebony, the company even purchased a sawmill in Cameroon, West Africa, to ensure that sustainable and legal supplies of this valuable wood will be available for decades to come.
One of Taylor’s most recent endeavors is right here in the U.S., however, and has involved the use of highly sustainable big-leaf maple for guitar production. Maple has been used in guitars for decades, of course, but Taylor recently put a huge amount of R&D in to developing a line of instruments that don’t sound or look like your average blonde maple flat-top.
Setting aside for the moment the fact that classic archtop guitars of the ’40s and ’50s typically had maple bodies and necks—and were known for their warm, burnished tones—the popular notion when it comes to maple-bodied acoustic guitars is that they sound overly bright. Taylor tackled this straight on by having chief builder Andy Powers revamp the design of the 600 Series guitars (614ce, 616ce, 618e, and 656ce) to achieve a richer and more complex sound.
Using maple that is harvested exclusively by Pacific Rim Tonewoods in Washington state, Powers went on to refine the design by customizing the bracing schemes and wood thicknesses for each body shape in order to get greater warmth, balance, and sustain, while also using a new maple-specific bracing pattern for the backs to enhance responsiveness. Protein glues are invoked for the bracing and bridge to optimize the coupling of those elements, while the Sitka top is subjected to a roasting process called torrefaction, which effectively ages it to yield greater resonance and responsiveness. The heating process also alters the color of the wood to where it looks a little more like cedar than spruce. To further enhance volume and resonance, a thin, 3.5mm gloss finish is applied, and the back and sides also receive a hand-rubbed color treatment to create a sumptuous looking “Brown Sugar” finish that really showcases the tiger-stripe figuring in the maple.
The 614ce on review here features a Venetian cutaway, sweet looking grained ivoroid “wings” inlays on the striped ebony fretboard, an abalone rosette with ebony and grained ivoroid rings, a striped ebony pickguard, and peghead facings of ebony—the rear one with another “wings” inlay. The bindings on the body and neck are flawless, and the entire guitar radiates a classy elegance that is highly appealing.
Playing this guitar is a joy too, as the neck shape feels awesome and the superb fretwork and setup provide low, buzz-free action, and tuneful intonation in all positions. Light and nimble, the 614ce is a guitar that invites people to pick it up and play it—something I have witnessed continuously since the guitar arrived at the GP office. The sound is captivating too, as the 614ce is unlike a traditional maple guitar in the sonic department. Its girthy low-end is instantly inspiring, and the rich and complex midrange provides that sense of notes blossoming when you finger-pick or play arpeggiated chords. Musical sounding and with superb balance across the frequency spectrum, this guitar never sounds overly bright, yet it punches through with a stringy attack when you drive the strings with a flatpick. The 614ce’s warm, encompassing response gives the sense of intimacy that singer-songwriters crave, yet the guitar has plenty of motive power for playing bluegrass or supporting the rhythm groove in a loud country band. The Elixir custom-gauge HD Lights that were developed especially for Taylor’s Grand Auditorium and Grand Concert models optimize the response at both ends of the frequency curve, helping to make the 614ce a guitar that leaves little to be desired when playing it in an acoustic setting.
Plugged in, the 614ce delivers a nicely detailed amplified sound, and this is due in large part to the Expression System 2, a patented design in which the piezo transducer is located behind the saddle and mechanically coupled to it, instead of being sandwiched beneath the saddle as in a traditional piezo configuration. The benefit of Taylor’s approach is that it allows the piezo element to move freely as the saddle is vibrated forward and backward by the strings and the top. The result is a truer representation of the sound of the guitar, and without any of the harsh artifacts that piezos are prone to when crushed by downward pressure of the bridge saddle. (For more on ES2 technology, check out our interview with the inventor, David Hosler, in the May 2014 issue of GP.)
Played though guitar amplifiers, Electro-Voice ETX-10P powered speakers, and Focal Alpha 65 monitors, the 614ce sounded open and natural, without any of the synthetic weirdness that often accompanies the electro-acoustic experience. Listening closely through quality headphones (Alessandro Music Series) I could detect a bit of twanginess in the upper midrange that wasn’t noticeable when playing the guitar acoustically, but that was it, as everything else sounded remarkably consistent when auditioning between ’phones and the guitar’s acoustic sound. The Bass and Treble controls have plenty of range, and the 3-knob interface is a welcome thing for those who like to keep things simple—and can live without an onboard tuner, phase switch, etc. Battery changes are easy too, as the holder for the 9-volt cell is incorporated into the strap jack unit at the tail end of the body.
In all regards, the new 614ce is an impressive guitar that pushes the boundaries both in its creative use of sustainable woods and its revolutionary pickup system. Taylor’s Maple Series instruments should go a long way toward changing the mindset of people who think that maple is too bright sounding, and that great tones can only be attained using endangered tonewoods. It’s a fait accompli that woods like mahogany and rosewood are going to become very scarce in the future, and in that light we can only celebrate the current efforts that Taylor and their partner Pacific Rim Tonewoods are making toward using one of the most sustainable tonewoods available to build pro-quality guitars that look as great as they sound.
Maple Series 614ce
MODEL 614ce Grand Auditorium
PRICE $2,599 street
NUT WIDTH 1.75"
NECK Hard rock maple
FRETBOARD Ebony, 25.5" scale
TUNERS Taylor nickel
BODY Big leaf maple back and sides, Sitka spruce top
BRIDGE Ebony with compensated saddle
PICKUPS Taylor Expression System 2
CONTROLS Volume, Treble, Bass
FACTORY STRINGS Elixir Phosphor Bronze HD Light
WEIGHT 6 lbs 5 oz.
KUDOS Excellent tone. Expression System 2 electronics. Advanced maple construction.