By Andy Ellis
In the 1850s, the Spanish luthier Antonio de Torres created the template for today’s 6-string classical guitar. Since then, generations of luthiers have refined his brilliant design in an effort to enhance a concert guitar’s volume, projection, and timbral shadings. José Ramierz I, II, and III, Manual Ramierz, Herman Hauser I, II, and III, Robert Bouchet, Masaru Kohno, Ignacio Fleta, Robert Ruck, Greg Smallman, and Tom Humphrey are among those who have successfully reinterpreted the Torres guitar by exploring different woods, bracing patterns, neck joints, and construction methods.
But certain aspects of classical guitar design have remained essentially unchanged for 150 years: Fretboards are flat and wide (measuring as much as 21/8" at the nut), E-to-E string spacing is generous (often 13/4" at the nut), scale lengths are long (ranging from 253/4" to over 26"), and a classical’s chunky neck can be an inch deep at the 8th fret. Though classical guitarists demand such burly specs, steel-string players often find them cumbersome. Simply put: A classical guitar’s liberal dimensions discourage thousands of pickers from exploring the dulcet tones and extraordinary responsiveness of nylon strings.
To address this issue, Bob Taylor has created a line of hybrid 6-strings. Called the NS Series, these instruments have a classical guitar’s most obvious features—its nylon strings, 12-fret neck, slotted headstock, and pinless, tie-block bridge. Yet the neck profile, fretboard width, scale length, and string spacing have been reduced to feel more familiar to steel-string players. Other tweaks include a cutaway, a compensated saddle, an adjustable trussrod, and a mechanically attached, tilt-adjustable neck. But most significant, these NS guitars have been designed from the ground up around Fishman electronics, so they kick ass when plugged in.
I tested two NS Taylors—the NS62ce ($2,798 retail/street price N/A) and NS72ce ($3,198 retail/street price N/A). Sold with superb hardshell cases, both solid-wood guitars have Taylor’s Grand Concert bodies (15" wide and 41/2" deep), and boast identical construction and hardware. The difference between the models lies in their woods: The 62ce has an Englemann spruce top, maple back and sides, and a cocobolo bridge, whereas the 72ce has a red cedar top, Indian rosewood back and sides, and an ebony bridge.
Each guitar has a satin-finished mahogany neck, an ebony fretboard (the graceful cutaway allows access to all 18 frets), gold Ping classical tuners with ivoroid buttons, a Tusq nut and compensated saddle, a cypress rosette with laser-cut ornamentation, rosewood binding, and a flawless gloss finish. With a 251/2" scale, a 17/8" neck width at the nut, and a 20" fretboard radius, the NS instruments feel more like steel-strings than classical guitars.
Both models sport Fishman Prefix ProBlend systems, which feature a saddle pickup and a soundboard transducer. The flexible, yet easy-to-use onboard preamp provides a volume knob, a pickup blend slider, treble and bass sliders (these affect only the saddle pickup), a phase switch, a notch filter, and a dual-control sweepable EQ. A tiny LED glows when it’s time to change the 9V battery. Thankfully, that’s not a chore—just flip the preamp over in its housing ring and make the swap.
Construction is pristine on both instruments. There are no visible glue beads or splinters inside, the nut nestles snugly against the fretboard and headstock, and the tuners are aligned perfectly to the headstock sides. At the point where the cutaway sweeps into the neck pocket, however, both guitars have tiny chips in the finish that expose the wood. These dings are likely related to neck installation.
The guitars’ frets are beautifully trimmed, crowned, and polished, though surprisingly, the 72 arrived with protruding fret edges. Taylor attributes this to humidity differences between the factory and my studio, and points out that sharp fret tangs can be tamed with a quick visit to a luthier’s bench.
Both guitars are a gas to play, providing comfortably low action, yet full, ringing notes along the entire, gently radiused fretboard. And thanks to their compensated saddles, they have the best intonation of any classical guitars I’ve ever plucked. The 62’s spruce/ maple blend emphasizes midrange punch, while the 72’s cedar/rosewood mix yields a slightly bigger bottom and a looser, more open sound. Bass-string sustain is exceptional on both instruments, and they both offer above-average timbral variation in response to changes in picking-hand position.
In my opinion, the break angle of the strings at the saddle should be sharper. Due to the relative height of the tie block to the saddle surface, there’s barely enough angle to hold the three plain strings securely in place. A vigorous rest stroke or thumb stroke can cause them to roll laterally over the saddle, which can create a clicking sound. (I discovered that instead of tying the strings to the bridge in the traditional way, using “folk” nylon strings with ball ends dramatically increases the break angle and resolves the sliding string issue.)
While these guitars hold their own acoustically against other production classicals, they really shine when plugged in. I was astounded at how well they record when connected directly to a mixer. The soundboard transducer sounds especially sweet, although it’s much quieter than the saddle pickup, which brings muscle and definition to the party. To my ears, a ratio of 90 percent soundboard to 10 percent saddle produces an ideal blend of warmth and edge. Add an external condenser mic to the equation, and you’ll revel in a stunning amalgam of acoustic and direct tone. If you record these signals on separate tracks and pan them slightly apart, you’ll be rewarded with a huge, vibrant sound. Best of all, these studio-friendly Taylors encourage timbral experimentation. Have you heard nylon strings through a Leslie simulator? Whoa—try that on your next rhythm track.
When it comes to amps, the NS guitars are quite accommodating. For example, the 72 sounded groovy cranked through a Vox AC15: Some wicked trem and spring reverb added a Twin Peaks vibe to Jobim-inspired chords, while the notch filter and sweepable EQ proved useful in reducing feedback.
If you’re aching to explore classical guitar, you’ll want a more traditional instrument than either of these Taylors—one that has a wider fretboard and string spacing, and is more delicately crafted to generate the widest possible spectrum of acoustic timbres. If, however, you want to play contemporary music on nylon strings—jazz, bossa nova, or any shade of pop—you won’t find a better option than the Taylor NS62ce or NS72ce. Their expressive sound, tight construction, inviting fretboard, and potent electronics make these guitars ideal for anyone crossing over from the steel-string world.