Hands-On Review:Taylor's T5 Guitar
Taylor's foray into the electric world yields stunning results.
By Walter Skerrit
Long revered for their inimitable acoustic guitars, Taylor has now created a fully hollow, thinline guitar which sports both magnetic pickups and the Taylor Body Sensor. The result is an astoundingly musical and playable instrument that performs admirably in both the electric and acoustic camps while shining brilliantly in a new tonal universe of its own.
The first thing that struck me about this instrument was the phenomenal precision of manufacture. In 30 years of playing and collecting, I have never seen a guitar made so perfectly. Every joint, every bit of binding, every square centimeter of finish, every inlay—literally everything about this guitar is perfect.
This made sense after I talked with Bob Taylor himself. Here is a guy who gets just as excited about manufacturing processes as he does about guitars. "This place looks more like a lab than a guitar factory," he said, pointing out a laser that cuts shims to adjust Taylor necks by increments of four hundredths of one degree. "The way we do it is almost cheating, but I don't care. The object is to create as perfect an instrument as we can. Our acoustic guitar buyers have been enjoying this kind of precision for many years. Now it's time for electric guitarists to get in on the game."
The three-dimensionality of the heavily flamed, bookmatched maple top is expertly enhanced by an enchanting transparent blue gloss finish. "This finish is seven mils thick," Taylor says, "compared to most electric guitars at 20 to 30 mils thick. You can't have that heavy finish on a soundboard that needs to behave acoustically."
The back and sides are routed out of solid high-grade sapele. "We tested all different kinds of woods for tone, workability, and ability to hold a finish. Sapele kept coming up the winner," Taylor said. The back is very uniform and thin, evidenced by the instrument's amazingly light weight and acoustic resonance.
The fretboard and bridge are made from monolithic chunks of ebony with sweet satin finishes. The peghead overlay is a gorgeously variegated ebony polished to a high sheen and flawlessly bound. The T5 is also available with a spruce top for those seeking a warmer tone.
The original body shape of this guitar is aesthetically arresting, similar to a traditional small-body acoustic with a Venetian cutaway, two and a third inches deep. The top is set off by a couple of unique pointed bound f holes.
"The body shape itself is full of subtle curves," Taylor said. "It's thicker at the tail than at the heel block, the back is slightly arched, the edges are rounded, the heel is trimmed on the treble side. Even our wave compensation bone saddle is precision machined in 3-D on a computerized mill. All these subtle touches require every bit as much luthiery as an acoustic."
Like Taylor's acoustics, the T5 features a bolt-on neck. But it's not like any bolt neck you've ever seen. Its unique puzzle-lock joinery is so tight there's barely room for air to escape when they push it together. And when the single bolt tightens it down, the "interference fit" forces the neck forward and down into the body. The resulting lock is as solid and tight as most set neck joints, but it's removable for angle adjustments.
The bold visual impression this guitar made was overshadowed as soon as I played the first chord. Even unplugged, it's a true delight to the ears. Its acoustic tone is surprisingly full-bodied for a thinline guitar, rich in the complex overtones that give a hollowbody its special magic.
"The solid back and sides and the magnetic pickups follow the archtop school of thought," Taylor said, "but the top is more like a flattop acoustic, with a thin piece of wood braced into a slight compound-radius arch. It provides a lot more sustain than a traditional archtop."
That natural openness and sustain creates a unique and amazing tone in the electronic realm. The guitar is equipped with two custom stacked humbucking magnetic pickups and a Taylor Body Sensor. One humbucker is placed near the bridge, protruding through a cool bound port in the top. The other is invisible and is placed inside the end of the fretboard.
Three low-profile rounded rubberized knobs on the upper bout control active treble boost and cut, active bass boost and cut, and volume. A five-position pickup selector on the side of the upper bout lets you choose the neck pickup and the body sensor, the neck pickup alone, the bridge pickup alone, or both magnetic pickups in series or parallel.
While the T5 sounded great with my classic tube amp—and exhibited a huge range of possible tones—it sounded even better when I ran through an A/B/both box into my classic tube amp on one side and a clean acoustic-guitar amp on the other. This dual setup enabled me to get great distorted lead tones with a ton of high-end sparkle as well as airy and articulated acoustic guitar tones. I played both tones together to create a kind of live double tracking that totally killed.
While it nails both ends of the spectrum, I fell in love with the T5's unique tones that define a whole new realm between electric and acoustic. In this unexplored zone the true tonal integrity of the guitar really rings out. It combines archtop-style fullness with acoustic brilliance and single-coil bite to create a whole new set of possibilities—something totally new that's also really cool. You don't run into that every day.
Taylor has a sure winner with the T5. It's all that and a whole lot more!
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