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This article was originally published in issue #10
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There's something very traditional - almost plain - about Taylor's new-for-2012 700 series. But don't be fooled by the modest looks of the 710CE. This is a killer guitar, as Michael Casswell found out.
Bob Taylor's company makes a bewildering range of acoustic and electric guitar these days but they all seem to have one thing in common. I have played quite a few and now take it for granted that they are all exceptional. I have never come across an average, or just OK one.
Having got that out of the way, they are often very different, so when I was asked to look at one of the recently introduced 700 Series (a 701CE) I had no idea what to expect when I opened the deluxe hardshell case. Visually, it made an immediate impact, because it sported a very nice, deep vintage looking sunburst, which, when it catches the light, glows a very attractive deep dark red. It's really quite old school, which was, apparently, what Taylor was trying to achieve with these dreadnought sized models. You get used to seeing so many Sitka spruce plain tops, it's always good to see something a bit more - dare I say it? - 'old Gibson' looking and the Engelmann spruce certainly helps there. If you want, you can choose cedar as an alternative and if you did you would get, Taylor suggests, a warmer, slightly darker sound, more suited to the needs of fingerstyle players. My advice would be to find a good Taylor stockist and try both, side by side.
The handsome, not to say restrained and traditional looks of the 710CE, come despite the use of a poly finish. Taylor stopped using nitro finishes in the late '90s, saying it's better for the environment to use a poly finish, which, anyway, protect the guitar better and makes spot repairs easier to carry out. This may be true, but for me, you can't beat what 20 or 30 years of playing does to a nitro cellulose finish. This guitar will look exactly the same as the years go by, because a poly finish is much more resistant to scratching and temperature variation, which is obviously good in many many ways, but my heart often rules my head when it comes to guitars, and I prefer the more labour intensive nitro cellulose path to guitar perfection. Taylor do apply their finishes expertly and very thinly, so the guitar is in no way compromised in resonance and tone. I suppose what I'm saying is this guitar will look pristine for longer and for many (most?) that will be a good thing.
Talking of temperature variation, Taylor guitars have the most stable necks in the business, as far as I'm concerned. Often you have to be very careful where and how you store your guitar, and an acoustic guitar neck can be very susceptible to temperature change, which can be a problem for a touring musician, but Bob Taylor has developed something called an 'NT' neck. This is basically a way of completely supporting and installing the neck to the body in such a way as to retain complete stability and playing perfection, and still make it easy to adjust. This is a brilliant innovation because even the most expensive, best-made acoustic guitars can be easily compromised by humidity and temperature fluctuation. No neck is completely impervious to the problems of travel, but there's a reason why Taylors are so popular among touring professionals, over and above the sound quality and renowned playability.
As for that playability, this neck is very comfortable and the set-up on our sample was perfect, making it easy to use for most acoustic styles. The fretboard is ebony with 'Heritage Diamond' dot markers and the bridge pins are also ebony, which is a nice touch. The back of the mahogany neck has a satin finish and is joined to the body using a scarf joint. The back and sides of the dreadnought body are Indian rosewood, which you can also find as a headstock overlay and truss-rod cover. The body has a 'Venetian' cutaway making access to the upper frets easy and the ivoroid binding is another little touch of class that endows this guitar with a traditional feel.
The whole thing exudes a rather restrained class and quality and, let's be frank, it doesn't come cheap. Pricewise, you are looking at a serious outlay, but this is a serious, US-made guitar, made from high quality tonewoods and a great pickup/pre-amp system. A guitar like this will stay with you, and the price is competitive compared to similar high-end guitars of this quality.
When it comes to sound, Taylor uses various styles of bracing, which allows each series of guitar to be fine-tuned to have its own particular voice and resonance. The 710ce has bracing that is forward shifted to allow maximum resonance, as well as something called a 'relief rout', which is a groove carved along the inside edges of the top to give extra flexibility without sacrificing structural strength. This neat innovation gives extra bass and volume, but with a real balanced tone. Which is exactly how the 710ce sounds acoustically. I would almost have to use the phrase 'just right'. If you strum hard, the sound it big, balanced and very detailed. If you play softer, you still get that clarity but with a lovely sweetness to each note. It also sounds fantastic when plugged in. Taylor's on-board 'Expression System' needs little comment. It's revered for natural, rich sounds which just how you want an amplified acoustic tone to sound. I particularly liked the simple volume, bottom, top, controls to fine-tune it. Nice and easy and very hard to go wrong with. We plugged it into the desk, added a little plate reverb, and instantly the sound was glorious.
What can I say about this fabulous guitar, other than that I liked it very much? At this level, you really do need to audition instruments to make sure you are buying the right one, so if this is the sort of money you are thinking of spending, get yourself to a Taylor dealer and don't be fooled by the 710CE's restrained looks. Despite the dreadnought size, it isn't a big, boomy strummer's guitar (though it can make a powerful enough sound!) because it's also capable of responding to more thoughtful playing, just as well. It may seem a bit over the top to give guitars costing this sort of money that 'extra half' making them four and half star reviews, but we're in a different league here, where a guitar this good, for the person who can afford it, is actually good value for money, as well as a joy to play and listen to.