Taylor Builder’s Edition 814ce: the future of acoustic guitars?

by Madonna

Should you revamp a company’s flagship product – and if so, how? These are questions that face any captain of industry from time to time, and Taylor Guitars’ Andy Powers is no exception. Since he began his tenure at the company, Powers has introduced sweeping reforms that have helped to consolidate the brand’s position as thought leaders in modern acoustic guitar making.

While many of Taylor’s innovations have been introduced at a more grassroots level – when it comes to the company’s higher end offerings Powers employs the Builder’s Edition guitar range as a sandbox to explore ideas that involve new materials and methodologies. The latest guitar to be given the treatment is the venerable Grand Auditorium 814ce – for many years the jewel in Taylor’s crown, and a few moments with the new Builder’s Edition immediately reveals a markedly different guitar across the gamut of aesthetics, ergonomics and sonics.


In stark contrast with some of the more muted, matte textures that Taylor has been serving of late, this 814ce is deliciously shiny with a gloss finish over the whole body of the guitar – a lustrous sheen that brings out the very best of the brooding Indian rosewood back and sides as well as the beautiful dark winter growth lines of the four-piece Adirondack spruce top.


That’s right, this is a four piece soundboard – underpinned with Powers game-changing V-Class bracing.


The reasons for this exploration of alternative construction methods are sound – in more more ways than one. Arguably few companies in any sector have done more than Taylor Guitars when it comes to responsible stewardship of the materials they use, and if Adirondack spruce in two piece sets is becoming too scarce for them to offer – in the large numbers of guitars Taylor manufactures – then a four piece soundboard makes sense. The precision of Taylor’s construction being what it is, the join lines are all but invisible even up close. This is Taylor and Powers doing what they do best – challenging preconceptions of what you can and can’t do with an acoustic guitar and where better to start than at the very top of the range?

In terms of ergonomics this guitar features a Kevin Ryan-style arm bevel and a bevelled cutaway in the style of luthiers such as Bill Tippin, Sheldon Schwartz and others. This sort of thing requires quite a bit of inner architecture to support it and through the sound hole we see a fairly hefty chunk of reinforcing wood in the cutaway. When we spoke to Powers about this guitar earlier this month, he described this cutaway’s creation as, “almost like building a unibody car or something, where the entire design has to get built around this complex shape.” Doubtless a similar approach will have gone into the arm bevel.

Aside from this we have several reminders that this is a high-spec instrument – the subtle inlay and purfling work, beautifully figured Crelicam ebony fretboard, contrasting matte finish on the neck, green abalone rosette and dusty bronze Gotoh 510 tuners all put the point across gently but firmly.

In Use

The first thing we notice upon picking up this guitar is the heft. This is not some float-off-your-lap 1920s dustbowl box. If anything it feels like a modern luthier-made double-sided instrument – reassuringly beefy and robust.

It is still an extremely comfortable guitar though – the arm bevel definitely helps – allowing the player to pivot the picking hand into different positions with maximum comfort. The cutaway bevel however, will make approximately zero difference to most players, but it does bring a pleasing aesthetic balance to the lines of the instrument. And that’s cool too.

Players looking for an acoustic guitar at this price point may already be aware that talking in terms of wood species or genus alone is an exercise in futility – however we are reasonably confident we can expect a crisp and fast response from an Adirondack spruce and Indian rosewood Taylor guitar and and this instrument does not disappoint.

Our opening exploratory cowboy chords are full and shimmering across the upper mids and treble registers. There is a real sense of headroom waiting to be explored, together with a pleasing percussive clarity to the initial transient, this a convincing strummer which fills the room with very little effort.

Moving up the neck we explore some ideas incorporating open and fretted string arpeggios. We find this to be a weak spot with many new V-Class guitars and once again there is a difference in note length and smoothness of the envelope that can be distracting, especially under the close scrutiny of a pair of high quality microphones.

While the treble response is present throughout, the same can not be said about the bass end, with some notes dying sooner than we’d like within a chord. We suspect that this is a result of the arm bevel closing up the bass side of the top to some extent. This is pretty common in production guitars that incorporate this feature and it may even smooth over once this collection of disparate wooden pieces comes to terms with the fact that it is now a high-functioning musical instrument bearing a weight of expectations. That said, we would never recommend buying a guitar in the hopes that it will change – that way lies madness. Better to make your peace with it and enjoy the guitar for what it is, rather than what you hope it might one day be.

Dropping into DADGAD the sonic clouds part and suddenly the guitar starts to vibrate as a whole – the extra sympathetic resonance of this modal tuning can really bring out the best in a new instrument and we now have a very responsive, musical and singing guitar on our hands. It’s still bright and shimmering, but the bass is a lot more convincing – even inspiring. In fact, we unexpectedly find ourselves writing a new part to an old piece – always a good sign.

We have been fortunate to play literally hundreds of Adirondack Spruce and Indian rosewood instruments. The fact that some have been sublime whereas others have left us disappointed proves that it is the chef as much the ingredients where the magic lies. And this guitar, though brand new, is very tasty indeed.


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