Topnotch Taylor tone and quality in an affordable, forward-thinking guitar
By Jon Chappell
Senior Editor, Harmony Central
Taylor ranks among the best makers of American-made guitars, producing the finest instruments money can buy. As a result, many people think that when they really want to splurge—say, for that once-in-a-decade purchase where money is no object—they will buy a Taylor. But Taylor brings their design ingenuity, premium craftsmanship, and beauty to all models in their product line, not just the premium ones. More and more, Taylor offers plenty of choices that are affordable and can keep pace in the tone as well as aesthetics departments of their well-established top-of-the-line models.
The 416ce, a 400 series cutaway electric, was introduced in 2011 and is the newest model in Taylor’s standard product line. It is a stellar example of one of the new breed of Taylor acoustic-electrics that cannily fuses traditional guitarmaking with modern-world forward thinking. First, the body shape of the 416ce is the GS (Grand Symphony), a relatively new addition to the line, created in 2006 by Bob Taylor as a slightly larger alternative to the GA (Grand Auditorium)—at the time Taylor’s largest in the “traditional guitar” body styles (the ones not shaped like a dreadnought or a jumbo). The GS brings with it the bright, sparkly qualities of the traditional narrow-waisted, wide-bouted models, but its larger size creates more “boom,” enabling it to slug it out onstage with dreadnoughts and jumbos. If you like to play folk-style and bluegrass rhythm with thundering, piano-like bass notes, yet still want that midrange chime for fingerpicking and leads, the GS is the ticket.
A longtime tonewood favorite, and part of Taylor’s 400 series, is ovangkol body wood. Ovangkol is a tonewood indigenous to West Africa whose tonal properties closely resemble rosewood. Ovangkol is somewhat “livelier” though, with a slightly fuller midrange, but a top end that’s not quite as bright as maple.
Besides the solid ovangkol back and sides, the 416ce sports a solid Sitka spruce top, a mahogany neck topped with an ebony fretboard, and an attractive headstock cap of East Indian rosewood. The guitar is finished with a gloss top and a satin finish for the back, sides, and neck. This approach represents another of Taylor’s canny decisions, as it’s the perfect combination of aesthetics and value. The most visible part of the guitar—the top—is finished with a gloss treatment, while the less-visible back and sides have a satin finish. The mahogany neck is also satin-finished, which happens to be my personal preference; it just feels smoother against the palm of my left hand, especially in humid conditions or when my hand is even the slightest bit sweaty. Large pearl dots are used for the fingerboard inlays with an ebony bridge, ebony bridge pins (nice!), and a TUSQ nut and saddle.
The acoustic-electric connection
The 416ce comes with the built-in ES, or Expression System®. It’s an ingenious system of magnetic sensors that emulate the response of a microphone’s air-driven diaphragm. A sensor under the soundboard captures the vibrating top, while a dynamic string sensor contributes string and neck vibrations. An onboard preamp cleanly boosts the signal, which is brought to the endpin jack. You can either plug in a normal guitar cord (mono 1/4") or a balanced TRS-to-XLR cable for longer runs, or to connect to a PA or audio interface.
You control the ES using three low-profile, easy-to-reach knobs (volume, bass, treble) on the guitar’s shoulder. A switch on the circuit board (located just inside the soundhole), allows you to selectively turn off the body sensor, leaving just the dynamic string sensor pickup. All three controls have a center detent that allows them to easily snap into their center, neutral position as you turn them. Moving the two tone knobs left cuts frequencies, while moving them right boosts them. The volume knob detent is exactly the halfway point between minimum and maximum volume, ensuring a predictable balance or square-one, default position to begin your sound checks.
The 416ce plays incredibly smooth, considering this is not a small guitar. I enjoyed hours on end of stress-free playing without feeling any of that “big guitar fatigue” that is so common in other similarly large-bodied acoustics. Part of the reason is the 416ce’s neck: Even strung with Elixir mediums (I might opt for light-gauge Elixirs to facilitate more fleet-fingered lead playing), my left-hand fretwork stayed clean, fast, and effortless for long sessions. The guitar was set up to perfection with dead-on intonation at the 12th fret and easy playability well into the 16th position—greatly accommodated by the Venetian cutaway (that’s the smoother-pointed one) and the low-profile heel joint. Through lead flatpicking, fingerstyle work, and percussive acoustic-rock rhythm, the 416ce was clear, articulate, balanced, and loud. Harmonics—both natural and artificial (with the occasional pinch harmonic I created when digging in with rock-based aggression) fairly sprang from the guitar. It’s a good sign when the top is vibrating with maximum movement and is bringing forth all the subtlety in your playing. The guitar also records quite well. I captured a full-bodied sound with plenty of sparkle.
The GS is one of Taylor’s most popular body styles. That, coupled with the versatile combination of ovangkol and Sitka spruce tonewoods found in the 416ce, gives you a guitar with a big, bold sound that’s substantial enough for stage work, but with the sparkle and balance for studio work. It’s a versatile guitar, and one that is appropriate as a primary axe in a top-tier professional setting as well as a good working axe. Beyond such obvious utility, the 416ce is one sleek, beautiful instrument—affordable enough to be a grab-and-go working guitar, yet quality enough to be a top-shelf studio pick or go-to favorite when at home.