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This article was originally published in issue #28
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The T5z is an update to Taylor’s innovative T5 hybrid acoustic/electric guitar, aimed at giving players a combination of true acoustic and electric tones, with acoustic aesthetics and electric playability. The original T5 was very successful in this task but may have been a little large for those used to electric body sizes, so for the T5z, Taylor has chosen to reduce the overall body size, add a 12” neck radius and jumbo frets, making the T5z even more familiar to electric players.
Taylor provided us with their top of the line T5z Custom model for review, which features a sapele back and sides and a beautiful Hawaiian koa top with white binding around the entire guitar. The neck is also constructed from sapele, accompanied by an ebony fretboard, bridge and headstock overlay. As per usual, Taylor has selected superb quality wood with stunning grain and texture throughout that gives the T5 range a boutique quality, especially with that koa top!
Except for the changes outlined earlier, the T5z is almost identical to its larger brother with the same F-hole design, electronics and pickup combinations, chosen in order to aid the hybrid nature of the instrument. This means that the guitar is constructed using a hollow body design and an active soundboard for a natural acoustic tone, but with two stacked humbuckers for authentic electric tones in the bridge and neck positions.
To keep the acoustic aesthetics as pure as possible, Taylor has very cleverly buried the neck humbucker into the bridge joint, producing a more natural look to the guitar. The bridge humbucker looks very much like a vintage lipstick pickup but is actually a stacked humbucker with a compact design to match the acoustic look of the instrument. The third pickup is an acoustic body sensor, giving authentic acoustic sounds similar to Taylor’s expression system on their range of acoustic guitars. This is also hidden under the top, giving a very clean look to the design and really showing off the impressive koa top. The only other features on the front of the guitar are the Volume control and active pre-amp Treble and Bass controls which are universal for all three pickups and their combinations. On the top of the upper side is a 5-way pickup selector switch giving four electric tones and one body sensor tone in combination with the neck humbucker. The lack of a pure acoustic tone may confuse some but the neck humbucker goes a long way to add thickness to what could potentially be a thin acoustic tone from such a small body design, whilst retaining the acoustic attack and character.
As you’d imagine from Taylor, the T5z is built to the most exacting standards with flawless construction and finishing from top to tail, including on the supplied hard case. Wood quality is spot on for a guitar in this price range, matched by beautiful levels of detail in the design, such as the fretboard flare at the neck joint and the modern looking F-holes.
All Taylor guitars feel exceptionally solid and well made and the T5z is no exception with a reassuring weight and solidness that really feel like quality. The fretwork on our sample was also exceptional with beautifully polished frets and rounded ends that really complement the larger jumbo frets well. Only the front mounted controls let the design down a bit, slightly cheapening the overall appearance, however, their rubbery feel makes them very practical on stage or in the studio where more aesthetically pleasing wooden knobs might become slippery in hot conditions.
The new body shape of the T5z is extremely comfortable and paired with the flatter radius and larger frets makes for a very familiar and easy experience for both acoustic and electric players. The neck profile is very user friendly for chordal and lead work allowing even the most technical players to get the most out of their playing. Taylor often makes some of the most comfortable acoustic necks on the market and the T5z is no exception.
One of the most attractive prospects with the T5z is its ability to pair equally well with acoustic and electric amplifiers. Plugged initially into our studio PA, the body sensor and neck humbucker combination yields a surprisingly realistic acoustic tone full of warmth and body, but with the high snap and dynamic response in the tone that you’d expect from a fully fledged acoustic. The tone is certainly different and unique when compared to a normal Taylor acoustic, but it has the definite character and feel with a certain something all of its own. As hybrid compromises go, the T5z is very impressive in its ability to sound and feel like a real acoustic. The other four positions all yield very impressive electric tones, although they need to be run through an electric amp in order to be appreciated. Position four is particularly impressive, giving the two humbuckers in parallel for authentic single coil like tones that you wouldn’t expect from this kind of design. Running with clean tones or overdriven tones the pickups are impressively dynamic and responsive with all the feel of a solid body electric but with perhaps an added ‘airy’ quality in the high end that comes from the hollow body construction. Again, it adds a unique element to the T5z’s tonal palette that is authentic enough given the hybrid nature of its design.
The T5z is certainly a very impressive guitar from Taylor. The design is now even more friendly to the ‘electric’ player and will really appeal to those looking for a ‘do it all’ guitar without having to rely on thin sounding Piezo style pickups in their solid body electric for acoustic tones. Whilst the T5z will never replace a great individual acoustic or electric guitar, the design should appeal to a much wider audience now and the quality of construction and tones on offer here more than justifies the high price tag. Definitely worth checking out if you need a guitar that does great acoustic and electric tones in one package!