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This article was originally published in issue #37
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The Taylor 900 series represents some of the most luxurious guitars that the renowned US specialist offers and the original Grand Symphony 916ce was no exception with its stunning binding, inlays, hardware and woods. It received a well-deserved rave review from us back in issue 15, so why are we looking at it again? Well, for 2015 Taylor has released an updated version of the 916 so we thought it was high time we checked out this very special instrument again.
The core components of the original guitar have been retained, with gorgeous Indian rosewood back and sides matched to a Sitka spruce top and a tropical mahogany neck with an ebony fretboard. Of course, being a 900 series this guitar is endowed with all manner of inlays and binding but the design has been pared back a touch from the previous iteration, with more classic looking ‘Ascension’ fretboard inlays and highly impressive ebony binding, paua and koa edge trim, koa purfling and a mixture of abalone and mother of pearl around the whole guitar. The most obvious change however, is the beautifully contoured arm rest at the top of the body adding a modern twist to the design that is both pleasing to the eye and very practical for the player. The Grand Symphony shape is as lovely as ever and is complemented beautifully by the ‘Venetian’ cutaway. Each of these components comes together to produce one of the most aesthetically stunning guitars you are likely to see, with a beautiful balance between all-out artistic detail and more classic, subtle design elements without ever being over the top or ‘too much’.
This being the 900 series, Taylor has included hardware to match the high end look, including Gotoh tuners, an Expression 2 pickup/pre-amp system, ebony bridge and Tusq nut. The construction and build quality are second to none with the highest level of finish and workmanship you are likely to find. All of the inlay work and binding is flawlessly executed and little details such as the thin koa strip running down either side of the fretboard are almost beyond belief in their accuracy. The body, sides and headstock are finished in a high gloss coating that emphasises the highly figured wood grain but the neck and top feature a satin finish for a smooth and luxurious feel.
The 916ce is not just a pleasure for the eyes however, as this is a supremely playable guitar with a very comfortable neck that, unlike some other high end acoustics, always feels approachable, even for electric players thanks to a modern, C-shape profile and thickness that should suit almost any hand shapes. The Grand Symphony body shape is also very comfortable with a big body design that is in no way daunting for the smaller player thanks to that lovely arm rest and curved cutaway, offering very easy access to all 20 frets.
So the big question is, can the 916ce sound as good as it looks? The overwhelming answer is that yes, it certainly can. Those high end tone woods give the 916 a very wide frequency response with all the thick, crunchy low end and very crisp highs that you’d expect from a great rosewood guitar. We criticised the previous iteration slightly for having slightly too much low end, but this 916 was very balanced both acoustically and through the highly impressive Expression 2 system that gives an extremely accurate amplified acoustic tone with Treble, Bass and Volume controls. Equally impressive is the consistency across the guitar’s range with each note sounding round and full, even in the upper register where many acoustics suffer from a plastic quality to the tone. The sustain is outrageous on each of the open strings and fretted notes don’t suffer from any loss of sustain by comparison, with chords and single notes ringing out for days after they’ve been struck. All in all this is a highly impressive guitar tonally that really deserves the aesthetic treatment adorned upon it.
As usual, Taylor include a high quality, deluxe hard case to protect your investment - and invest you must as the 900 series are some of the most expensive guitars that Taylor makes.
The thing you have to decide with the 900 series is whether you need all of the luxurious appointments that adorn the instrument or whether one of the 3-600 series guitars would fulfil your needs at a more (slightly) affordable price point. The 900 series represent some of the best acoustic guitars on the market from both visual, playability and aural point of view so if you can afford to part with the required cash, you can be very confident that the guitar you buy will be as good as it gets. For the rest of us the 916ce will likely remain a pipe dream, but this reviewer would love to own one - that’s for sure.