By Richard Bienstock | Photo by Massimo Gammacurta
Back in the Seventies, Bob Taylor’s very first designated model under the company that bears his surname was a dreadnought he named the 810. Over the years, as Taylor Guitars rose to become a major player in the acoustic world, the 800 Series became the flagship line of the ever-expanding Taylor empire.
Today, in addition to the Dreadnought 810, the series includes a Grand Concert (812), a Grand Auditorium (814), a Grand Symphony (816), a Grand Symphony 12-string (856), and a Grand Orchestra (818). In particular, the 814ce (the ce indicates the inclusion of a cutaway and electronics) today stands as not only Taylor’s most popular model but also ranks as one of the best-selling high-end acoustics across the market.
In short, Bob Taylor has a very good thing going with the 800 Series. But contrary to the old adage, he has decided to mess with it. In celebration of Taylor’s 40th anniversary, he and company master builder Andy Powers have overseen an upgrade of the entire 800 line, enacting a comprehensive package of impressive—and in some cases radical—tonal and aesthetic refinements, with truly stunning results.
At their core, these new 800s are still the 800 Series guitars that players know and love. The crucial tonewood blend—Sitka spruce for the tops and Indian rosewood for the backs and sides—remains untouched. But from there, things get interesting. The tops and backs are thinned on some models, and bracings have been reimagined on all of them, with custom carvings and placements that are, Taylor says, “radically different” than what was used before. In the case of the midsize 812 and 814, Powers devised a schematic whereby the standard horizontal back braces are rotated to a slanted position, thus altering the internal tension of the guitar’s back and helping to boost the mids, which traditionally sound scooped on rosewood guitars.
Then there is the gloss finish, which on a standard high-end acoustic traditionally measures in the range of six mils in thickness. For the new 800s, Powers had an ambitious and practically unheard of goal to bring that number down by half, “something that’s almost impossible to do,” Taylor admits. In the end, he says, “we got it down to 3.5 mils, about the thickness of a Post-it note. And nobody’s really even doing five mils.” The result is that the new 800s still boast a gorgeous high-gloss sheen but without the tone-dampening effects that are often a consequence of thicker finishes. In yet another sonic improvement, bracings and bridges are attached to the guitar bodies with fish protein and heated hide glues, which allow for greater sound transference than synthetic adhesives.
The electronics have been upgraded as well with the Expression System 2, devised by Taylor pickup specialist David Hosler. The primary difference between the new preamp/pickup design and its immensely popular predecessor is that the ES2’s piezo-electric transducer was relocated from its traditional spot under the guitar’s saddle to just behind it. “When David did that, he reduced the amount of pressure bearing down on the piezo crystals from 60 pounds to about three,” Taylor says. “It’s the difference between hearing the sound of your natural voice versus the sound of your voice with a steamroller sitting on top of your head.”
But the new 800s don’t only play and sound great—aesthetic touches on all models are top notch and incredibly thoughtful. The guitars are bound in vacuum-kiln-dried Eastern hard rock maple that is nonfigured and brilliantly white and set against dark rosewood purfling. Brilliant green abalone rings the soundholes, again framed by rosewood, and specially designed mother-of-pearl “Element” inlays mark the fingerboards.
Pickguards, meanwhile, are upgraded from traditional faux-tortoiseshell to Indian rosewood that is matched with the wood used in each instrument’s back and sides. The fretboards sport beautiful and unusually marbled ebony. “That’s my bully pulpit as far as sustainability,” Taylor says of the figured fingerboards. “It’s one of my very first steps in changing the view that only the purest, blackest ebony can be used to make a good—and good-looking—guitar.”
While the new 800s are being unveiled in conjunction with the company’s 40th anniversary, Taylor is quick to note that these models are not limited editions. Rather, the package of updates will now become the standard. “These new guitars are now the 800 Series—until we can figure out how to make them better again,” he says. “And we truly believe that we are making them better.”
For more about the new 800 Series, visit taylorguitars.com