The mold-breaking Builder’s Edition collection from Taylor master guitar designer Andy Powers gets four new models for 2020. Among the acoustic-electric guitars added to the line are the Builder’s Edition 816ce, Powers’ first V-Class Grand Symphony, and the 324ce, which introduces urban ash — a locally sourced wood used for the back and sides. Additionally, the Builder’s Edition 912ce and 652ce were crafted with the electric guitar player in mind.

When designing the models in the Builder’s Edition collection, Powers had the creative freedom to push past the standard framework of Taylor guitar design. In doing this, he created an ultra-premium class of instruments. The Builder's Edition now boasts nine models, each with their own musical personality. To get some more insight into what makes each new guitar in the Builder’s Edition unique and innovative, Musician’s Friend interviewed the mastermind behind it all — Andy Powers.

The HUB: How would you describe instruments in the Builder’s Edition collection? What sets them apart from other Taylor models?

Andy Powers: The Builder’s Edition collection represents our desire to continue furthering our craft of creating the most unique, distinct and inspiring instruments we're capable of making. They're meant to be a limitless expression of our guitar-making imagination. To that end, each has a unique musical personality that transcends even our own conventions of model classification. 

The HUB: The 816ce is described as the “acoustic guitar equivalent of an orchestra instrument.” What is it about how this model was built that gives it that musical personality, and what can players expect from the sound?

AP: This 816ce is particularly unique in the way it stirs the airspace immediately surrounding it due to the unique interaction between the partial cutaway and secondary soundport built upon our V-Class architecture. All the elements of this instrument and aspects of its design—from scale length to back flexibility, to top voicing—were built to create a lyrical response, as if the guitar had an opera singer's lung capacity to support every note on the fingerboard.  

The HUB: With the 912ce, how do you balance a compact style with a full-bodied acoustic sound?  

AP: A small body doesn't necessarily equate to a small voice, or diminutive response. The reality is, our Grand Concert body shape has a response that naturally wants to emphasize a different part of the guitar's register than a larger body size. I find that musicians and their styles are as unique as their own fingerprints, and different players will benefit from guitars that offer a variation in sound. The 912ce has an unbelievably vibrant and quick response with a tremendous balance over the whole register, which is particularly noticeable high on the fingerboard where many larger guitars tend to fall short. While the smaller body size has a totally different type of response than what you'd expect from a larger Grand Pacific guitar, many players looking for an immediate and articulate voice will find this guitar uniquely suited to their own style.  

The HUB: How does the reverse-strung configuration on the 652ce work? Also, with a 12-string on a compact body, how did you balance the structural and sonic qualities?

AP: The reverse-string arrangement, with the lowest string nearest the player, has been a style seen on electric 12-string guitars for years. That simple change tends to draw a different articulation and melodic style from the player as the fundamental note is typically struck with more force on the player's downstroke.

We developed the idea of a smaller body, 12-fret neck, 12-string a few years back with our 562ce model, now taken even further with the bevel cutaway, armrest and distinct sonic voicing of the 652. Conventionally, a 12-string was built upon a larger body size with the assumption that it would create a loud sound.  In most musical contexts that use a 12-string, however, the emphasis is typically on the clarity, the shimmer, the unique sonic layer textures found with the double course. It made sense to pair that functionality with a body size that would naturally want to emphasis this aspect of the guitar's voice.  

Andy discusses and demos the new Builder's Edition models at Winter NAMM 2020.

The HUB: What are the tonal characteristics of the urban (shamel) ash used on the 324ce, and what made you turn to this wood for this specific model?

AP: Living in the world of comparisons, this urban shamel ash is reminiscent of mahogany in terms of density, weight, resonance and a host of other physical characteristics, resulting in a strong, fundamental forward sonic response. While the physical attributes of this material happen to be exactly what I was looking for while designing the instrument, we were thrilled to introduce this forestry model into the conversation. Here we find a fantastic-sounding wood that is coming from a forest that surrounds us in our urban Southern California environment. As trees grow into old age and need to be removed for safety or to prevent damage, we have an opportunity to create an instrument of lasting value from trees that would have been lost.

The HUB: What makes the 324ce the most accessible model in the Builder’s Edition collection?

AP: One of our goals is to provide instruments that can inspire players and be used to create fresh music. When I originally conceived of what became the Builder's Edition guitar, I was thinking of it in terms of total functionality—a complete emphasis on how well a guitar could work in the hands of a musician. To do a great job, it needs to sound great, feel great and play great. We chose to put our guitar-making effort toward those qualities, and minimize the lavish trimmings. In a way, this was like building the high-performance acoustic machine. 

The HUB: What inspired you to create the Builder’s Edition collection?

AP: The Builder's Edition collection is inspired and fueled by our love of instruments, music and the musicians who create it. We want to offer our utmost for these players who chose an instrument to be, or accompany, their voice. As we look forward toward the future, we can imagine a world full of joyful creative music being made, and want to use our craft as guitars makers to help encourage it.

The HUB: Thanks, Andy!

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