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This article was originally published in issue #39
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With the world’s exotic wood stockpiles growing scarcer and more protected by the year, the use of maple is looking increasingly attractive as an alternative. And why not? After all, maple has long been the wood used the finest archtop and bowed instruments, so it's hardly without precedent. As we saw last year, Taylor’s 600 series represents the company’s attempt to use maple in place of more traditional steel strung acoustic guitar tonewoods, using 'Torrefied' spruce tops, but using maple for the backs and sides. Torrefication, by the way, is a process in which the spruce is artificially aged by roasting the wood, producing a fundamental molecular change that gives better energy transfer from the strings for a more responsive top that takes on a lovely dark finish compared to normal spruce. You could probably regard it as an accelerated ageing process designed to make a guitar sound played-in from new.
From its 600 range Taylor sent us the newly updated 2015 version of their 610e Dreadnought model as our second sample of the 600 series. It's worth pointing out here that Taylor models seem to follow an almost generational process - there was a 2014 610e but the 2015 version is an updated guitar - worth noting if you are shopping for one (though you are unlikely to find many 2014 samples for sale judging from our online search). So what's it like?
The 2105 610e is a stunning looking instrument from the moment you remove it from its deluxe hardshell case, thanks to the gorgeous flame maple back and sides and torrefied sitka spruce top. The back, sides and hard rock maple neck are all finished in a lovely, hand rubbed ‘Brown Sugar’ stain that looks very similar to the traditional stain applied to vintage violins and really picks out the flame in the wood for a jaw-dropping appearance. Every detail on this guitar exudes quality, from the dark ebony fretboard, grained ivoroid wing inlays, gorgeous abalone, ebony and grained ivoroid rosette and an ebony headstock overlay and striped ebony pick guard. Grained ivoroid is also used for the headstock logo and inlay and the whole body is bound in ebony with grained ivoroid purfling for a ridiculously handsome guitar that is never gaudy or over the top.
Taylor has complemented the lovely look of this guitar with quality hardware utilising superb Taylor nickel tuners, an Expression System 2 electronics and a Tusq nut and Micarta saddle. The whole design is set up to optimise the tonal possibilities of the maple back and sides, with the use of custom back bracing specific to maple. On the 610e the bracing doesn’t extend all the way to the edges of the back, producing more volume and low end, while the use of protein glues and ultra-thin finishes minimises any dampening effects that occur with thicker alternatives.
In terms of construction and finish then, the 610e is really as good as it gets, being truly flawless in every sense. Of course, at this price point you’d expect this level of quality but regardless, the 610e is a true pleasure to look at and to hold, oozing quality workmanship and artistry from every pore. This level of work follows through into the playability of the guitar, producing an instrument that almost plays itself thanks to a beautiful set-up and perfect level of tension across the neck. The neck profile is very comfortable and inviting, akin more to a great electric guitar neck in terms of playability than a ‘makes you work for it’ acoustic neck. This level of playability almost feels like cheating and this instrument will really allow you to play at your best.
The really important aspect at play here though is how the maple performs tonally and in this respect the 610e is a massive success, thanks to Taylor’s design choices optimising the maple’s tonal potential. The first thing that hits you is the massive low end and projection from this guitar. Maple is generally known for its brightness and quick attack in acoustic guitars and you get that here, but it is matched with a warmth and thump that you just wouldn’t expect, producing a much more balanced tone that is a real pleasure to play. The dynamic range is also incredible across the entire range of the guitar making you play with much more consideration for how hard you hit the string since the range of tones available simply from your right hand attack are so much wider with the 610e than with many guitars. This beautiful tone is translated fantastically well through the acclaimed Expression System 2, giving some of the most naturally acoustic sounding amplified tones on the market. In many cases this system can rival many external mic set-ups for tonal quality and is very easy to operate with its Volume, Treble and Bass controls.
The 610e is a beautiful both aesthetically and tonally as an instrument and is the kind of guitar that will make you really question whether you can survive on nothing but baked beans for the next year in order to afford it. Yes it’s expensive but boy is it worth every penny for those lucky enough to be able to buy one! We have no hesitation in awarding it a very rare five stars!