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This article was originally published in issue #48
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Taylor’s ‘Academy’ models are designed to remove all the traditional barriers that affordable acoustics can place in front of the new guitarist, providing a Taylor quality guitar in an affordable package with great tone, playability and looks that should keep the fledgling guitarist interested and inspired during that difficult starter phase.
Real Taylor tone
Very appealing even to seasoned players
Superb ES-B pickup system
One of, if not the most comfortable acoustics on the market
Amazing value for money
We'd heard rumours that Taylor was about to unveil something very special at NAMM and the US company didn't let us down. But instead of offering high-end guitars for us to dream about, Taylor did the opposite, unveiling genuine Taylors at prices most will be able to afford. Too good to be true? Tom Quayle finds out.
Perhaps the biggest stumbling block for beginner and developing guitarists is finding the right guitar to begin their musical journey with. Buying the wrong instrument can make the difference between a painful and uninspiring experience, or the start of a lifelong love affair with the guitar. For the average beginner, the variety of guitars and brands on the market makes for a bewildering and daunting choice. How is he or she expected to be able to choose?
There are, of course, a growing number of quality instruments on the market, aimed at beginner and developing guitarists at very affordable prices. Things have improved a lot, too. In the past decade the chance of finding a guitar with an unplayable action or a bad tone have reduced considerably but it does still happen. Perhaps more to the point, you will still often have to work your way up the guitar ladder, changing brands and models as you go to get a pro sound. But what if you didn't? What if you could start with an instrument that was just about perfect? That's the question that must have been in Bob Taylor's and Andy Powers' minds when they started thinking about the new Academy series.
Taylor’s ‘Academy’ models are designed to remove all the traditional barriers that affordable acoustics can place in front of the new guitarist, providing a Taylor quality guitar in an affordable package with great tone, playability and looks that should keep the fledgling guitarist interested and inspired during that difficult starter phase. It sounds like an ambitious plan but Taylor has made a lot of clever choices that make it possible.
The guitars are made in Mexico, but to full Taylor standards. They use less expensive woods and the backs and sides are what the company calls 'layered'. It makes this distinction to avoid direct comparisons with the laminated backs and sides common on cheap guitars and Taylor does go to lengths to explain that there is a real difference between what they are using and cheap laminates. We're sure Taylor is right here but we don't think it's a major objection in any case. As we have often pointed out at GI, some of the best instruments made have used laminates in their construction (think Jazz guitars) and they offer advantages of consistency as well as price. What really matters in an acoustic is the guitar's top and in the case of the Academy models these all have solid Sitka spruce tops.
There are three guitars in the Academy series, the Academy 10 Dreadnought, Academy 12 Grand Concert and the Academy 12-N, a nylon string version of the 12. Both the 10 and 12 can be bought with or without a Taylor ES-B expression pickup system and feature some very clever and unique features at this price point. The 10 and 12 both have budget friendly layered sapele back and sides with a solid spruce top. This is matched to a supremely comfortable sapele neck with an ebony fretboard and the classic, almost electric-like Taylor neck profile.
Taylor necks are known for being some of the most comfortable and approachable in the acoustic world and the Academy series benefit greatly in terms of their playability for beginners as a result. A shorter 24-7/8-inch scale length has been selected to further enhance the playability and this is paired with light gauge strings, a narrow nut width and low action for a wonderful playing experience for beginners and pros alike.
The body shapes borrow from the ideas developed with the GS-Mini but are deeper for a bigger sound whilst retaining the feel and aesthetic of a smaller-bodied acoustic. This means that neither the Dreadnought nor Grand Concert shapes are daunting for beginners or smaller players but still sound full and warm enough for performances and record wonderfully when miked-up. To further enhance playability and comfort an arm rest is also included, which is a real surprise at this price point! Taylor has developed a very affordable way to integrate the arm rest, using a far less labour intensive process involving reclaimed mahogany from neck blanks. It’s a wonderful addition that will really make a difference to new players and could even sway more seasoned players to these incredibly comfortable guitars!
The Academy series certainly represents a no-frills approach for Taylor with no binding, simple acrylic inlays and a basic rope-style rosette, but if this keeps the costs down it can only be a good thing and both guitars are good looking enough to appeal to a wide range of players in a market where visual bells and whistles can often be used in an attempt to hide a poor playing and tonal experience. A simple varnish finish for the body and neck enhances the wood grain but leaves the neck still feeling smooth and sleek and is much cheaper to produce than the traditional gloss.
Both the Academy 10 and 12 are all business and sound incredible considering the price of ownership. Even a casual strum is enough to differentiate them from the vast majority of budget acoustics on the market. The Taylor signature acoustic sound is all present here in both the 10 and 12 with an amazingly detailed tone and response that leaves you with the impression you are playing a far more expensive guitar.
The Academy series is voiced to be as responsive as possible, making the playing experience more rewarding and pretty much everything you try on these guitars sings and sustains just like the big money models. Whether fingerpicking, strumming, picking single notes or plucking harmonics, both the 10 and 12 models sound exceptional with full low end and a detailed top end that is such a surprise on a guitar at this price. The onboard ES-B expression system also sounds wonderful with a rich and highly natural acoustic tone complete with a chromatic tuner.
Taylor has achieved something very impressive indeed here with an acoustic range that really does take the concept of starter guitars to another level. The Academy series really are unmatched at this price point for this combination of playability, tone and build quality. Features such as the arm-rest, scale length, incredible set-up and wonderful tone make these guitars a total no-brainer for the beginner who wants to spend a little more to get a proper instrument.
In fact the academy series models we have seen make it is easy to see these guitars appealing to a far wider audience too - players wanting to get in on the Taylor experience at a lower price point - and why not? These guitars are better than some guitars at twice the price and could easily function as working guitars for all sorts of play for fun, semi-pro and pro guitarists.
Considering that all the guitars in the Academy range even come with a sturdy and light weight gig bag it is hard to see what else Taylor could have done to make these guitars more appealing. Taylor's Academy series is going to take the market by storm. They are, quite simply, stunning instruments. Amazing value for money, and we have no alternative but to award them our highest rating!