Featuring an exhilarating development on the eco-tonewood frontier, this remarkable guitar is recommended for those looking to buy a flexible acoustic-electric instrument
Strong, responsive tone
Exceptional versatility and playability
New wood combination might take some getting used to for traditional 514ce fans
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Taylor is making a huge move by introducing a new, sustainably sourced tonewood that the manufacturer has dubbed “Urban Ironbark,” which it’s offering on two re-imagined incarnations of its venerable 500 Series: the 512ce Grand Concert (opens in new tab) and, on review here, the 514ce Grand Auditorium (opens in new tab).
The 500 Series is a stalwart in the heart of Taylor’s acoustic guitar range, so they wouldn’t mess with it without good reason and high confidence.
“Where we get our wood matters,” explains Andy Powers, Taylor’s chief guitar designer, president and CEO.
The company sources red ironbark via its lauded urban wood initiative that gives old trees from city settings around Southern California a second life as guitars, hence the “urban” designation.
The interesting development here, it’s replacing mahogany and being paired with Sitka spruce, rather than the Western Red Cedar that has been the hallmark of the 500 Series for decades.
“I love the combination personally,” Powers explains, “but it was time to make a change in order to create a spot for another set of woods. We loved the bold sound we got by pairing a torrefied spruce top with Urban Ironbark, and felt that was a great combination for this wood’s introduction into our set list.
“Its unique sonic color shares some similarities with a harder, denser, rosewood-like material, and some of the warm woody qualities of mahogany. It isn’t a direct substitution for mahogany or rosewood.
“In wanting to create a wider variety of instruments, it made more sense to create this new guitar in a way that keeps our offerings fresh and unique.”
I’m a longtime 514ce player, so I was very curious about the new kid in town. It certainly looks like a 514ce. The back and sides appear very similar to the rich golden brown hue of mahogany, the primary difference being Ironbark’s lack of darker grain lines.
The glossy shaded edgeburst finish cast upon a roasted Sitka spruce top makes it appear quite similar to the reddish hue of cedar as well.
Appointments such as Aerial fretboard inlays made of Italian acrylic, a single ring abalone rosette, plus faux tortoise binding and pickguard round out a fine fresh take on the classic 514 aesthetic.
The Urban Ironbark captures the sonic spirit of a traditional 514ce as well, with its own particular distinctions. The first tonal consideration is the new wood combination, but it’s also worth noting that the 514ce was renovated with V-Class bracing in 2018, so the V-Class Urban Ironbark’s tone naturally has more in common with that incarnation than it does a vintage one.
Art Thompson reviewed the first V-Class 514ce in GP’s Holiday 2018 issue, so that’s long gone, but I had my 1998 514ce on hand for reference.
The vintage one isn’t as holistically intonated, nor does it have such a crisp, complex tone as the Urban Ironbark, which also has better sustain and easier playability.
I found the vintage 514ce to have a stronger, more clearly fundamental sound, best suited for handling an aggressive attack and not as well suited for subtlety.
That said, the Urban Ironbark sounds firm and full in the context of Taylor’s modern, more high-fidelity tone. It possesses a combination of sweetness, strength, detail and balance that’s right in line with the traditional hallmark of the 500 Series.
The 514’s tone is not as burly or complex as an 814, nor as delicate and nuanced as the new koa 724 reviewed in the November issue.
The 514ce Urban Ironbark is fundamentally like a fastball in the middle of the Taylor range.
It’s extremely versatile, both tonally and in terms of playability. Whether it ultimately veers right or left depends on your own delivery and your own spin.
The 514 Urban Ironbark accommodates all manners of plucking approaches in a slew of musical styles from rock to pop to country. Of course, the Grand Auditorium body shape with its Venetian cutaway and ES2 electronics has a lot to do with said versatility as well.
Its neck has a modern/classic Taylor profile, and the factory action is nice and easy, making it fabulous for fingerpicking or precision plectrum playing and a little less so for some of the heavy-handed, percussive stuff I like to do on the old dog.
I was able to dial that in a bit better with slight loosening of the truss rod, but this modern model is simply more refined and a bit less of a wild beast. The intonation and action are incredibly consistent all the way up to the top of the neck, so playing pretty much anything anywhere is fair game.
The 514ce comes equipped with Taylor’s proprietary Expression System 2 pickup and preamp system, which not only does a fine job of delivering the Urban Ironbark’s acoustic qualities through amplification, but also beefs it up a bit for a bold stage-worthy tone.
The 514ce Urban Ironbark is a nifty guitar that I’d recommend to pretty much any player looking for a flexible acoustic-electric instrument.
I probably wouldn’t trade my vintage 514ce, but that’s largely because I’m attached to using it for heavy-handed percussive playing onstage in a noisy rock band.
I may prefer the Urban Ironbark for playing more delicate stuff in a quieter environment.
I’d love to hear Urban Ironbark back and sides paired with western red cedar for a more apples-to-apples assessment.
Vintage to modern comparisons aside, this 514ce is a remarkable instrument featuring an exhilarating development on the eco-tonewood frontier, Urban Ironbark.
Kudos to Taylor for taking the initiative and for being bold with its initial application by re-imagining a modern classic in the 500 Series.
We eagerly await further developments with Urban Ironbark, truly a rising star on Taylor’s bright horizon.
- NUT WIDTH: 1.75”, black graphite
- NECK: Neo-tropical mahogany
- FRETBOARD: West African ebony, 25.5” scale
- FRETS: 20
- TUNERS: Taylor nickel-plated
- BODY: Solid Urban Ironbark back & sides, solid torrefied Sitka spruce top [V-Class bracing]
- BRIDGE: West African ebony with compensated Micarta saddle
- ELECTRONICS: Taylor ES2 with volume, bass, and treble controls
- FACTORY STRINGS: Phosphor Bronze Light
- WEIGHT: 4.7 lbs (as tested)
- BUILT: USA
Visit Taylor Guitars (opens in new tab) for more information.
Jimmy Leslie has been Frets editor since 2016. See many Guitar Player- and Frets-related videos on his YouTube channel (opens in new tab), and learn about his acoustic/electric rock group at spirithustler.com (opens in new tab).