The GS’s satin-finished mahogany neck features Taylor’s bolt-on NT neck design. It’s straight and true on this new factory example—as you’d expect—but, more to the point, is also designed to be easily adjusted by a qualified technician should it shift with time or a change in climate. For minor adjustments, there’s easy access to the trussrod nut beneath a rosewood cover at the headstock end. Taylor even supplies a combination tool to do the job. This is a wide neck, measuring 1 3/4" at the nut, and a pretty thin one, too, wearing a shallow “C” profile that promotes fast flatpicked lead work, or swift fingerstyle playing with a little support from a thumb at the back of the neck.
Our review model—the cedar/mahogany combo—includes Taylor’s Expression System pickup and onboard preamp—the latter designed in conjunction with studio electronics legend Rupert Neve. Rather than a single under-saddle piezo strip, or a combination of piezo and internal microphone, the Expression System receives the signals from two proprietary magnetic-diaphragm pickups placed beneath the guitar top, and blends them with the signal from a magnetic string sensor mounted under the end portion of the fretboard. Taylor used complex laser analysis to determine the vibrational patterns of an acoustic guitar in action, and put a lot of science into the pickup placement for the Expression System—all with the intention of making it easy for the player to amplify the way a guitar really sounds.
Despite the advancement this system represents, it also results in a guitar with a very minimal electronics presence. The pickups aren’t visible at all, and the preamp is a simple and understated affair, with 2-band active EQ and a Volume control. Trim little rubber-coated knobs allow you to tweak sounds easily on the fly, and the center detents help you find the flat settings without looking. The endpin output jack is enclosed within a unit that also houses a twist-out battery tube, which carries a pair of AA cells rather than the usual 9-Volt battery.
As Taylor says about the GS: “If you think you know the Taylor sound, you’re in for a big surprise.” To that end, the guitar rings full and true, with a deep, rich, well-rounded tone that is instantly pleasing. It has the bottom and low-mid punch of a dreadnought, but without the typical boominess exhibited by many of the breed. Rather, the GS couches an airy midrange between its low-end oomph and high-end shimmer that together frame a very appealing, musical voice.
Overall, the GS reminds me of a very good dreadnought, but with a certain mellow sizzle behind each note that adds dimension, while also smoothing out the tones. Bass runs explode with a ballsy, round pop, and there’s a tight, quick response that keeps up with speedy picking. This guitar also doesn‘t yield easily to compression when you whack it hard. An ever-so-slight rattle from the endpin region was noticeable—although it vanished amid full chords or less intense picking. [Taylor says that AA batteries can varey in size, and smaller ones can cause this rattle. Wrapping the batteries in a small piece of paper can fix the problem, however, the 2007 ES-equipped models will feature a modified battery compartment that will make battery size a non issue.] The GS makes a great flatpicker’s alternative to a dreadnought, and if you’re concerned—as I was—that the soundboard would suffer pick gouges with no pickguard to protect it, rest assured. You can order a GS with a pickguard installed, or have one put on an existing GS by the factory for a minimal charge.
Plugged in, the GS sounds equally impressive. The Expression System is one of the most natural-sounding acoustic pickup/ onboard preamp combos I have ever tested, while also being among the simplest to use. With the Bass, Treble, and Volume set flat, you start at square one with a very accurate amplified representation of the guitar’s acoustic tone—albeit with a hair more percussive plonk in the pick attack. Tweak the powerful, active tone controls out of their detent positions, and you can sculpt a broad range of sounds. There’s no mid contour or anti-feedback controls, yet the Expression System outperforms a great many onboard preamps equipped with five or six controls, and is more accurate and linear to any systems I can recall. Even at considerable volume, the GS remained impressively feedback resistant, and really only teetered toward any howl when I cranked up the controls, and stood foolishly close to the amp or P.A.
The Expression System is a tonally superior unit that will likely please the vast majority of players.In practical terms, the lack of an onboard tuner could be a drawback for some—especially considering that the preamp is designed to be plugged straight into the board or the XLR input of an acoustic amp with the TRS-to-XLR cable supplied (although you can also use a standard guitar cord). A solution for patching a pedal tuner inline would be to use Taylor’s Balanced Breakout muting footswitch ($110), or you could use any of a range of guitar-mounted vibration-sensing acoustic tuners.
So what of Taylor’s assertion that those who think they know Taylor sound are in for a big surprise? Well, given Taylor’s track record of excellence, I’m not sure the GS’s playability and tone will be that much of a shocker. But if the idea of a guitar that takes the muscular dreadnought sound in a warmer, smoother direction appeals to you, the GS may be just the new Taylor you’ve been looking for.