Well-equipped and aimed squarely at beginners, Alun Lower finds out if the Taylor magic is finally accessible to all
It’s no secret that the days of barely-playable beginner guitars are pretty much long gone – these days there is a huge range of tidily-built and feature-rich budget options from just about every guitar maker under the sun; every one hoping to tempt younger and more inexperienced players into taking their first tentative musical steps with their own trademark on their gigbags.
However, Taylor’s approach has historically been a little different, with even its ‘entry-level’ 100 series instruments commanding serious prices, while its wonderful downsized Baby Taylor and GS Mini models arguably occupied a unique space all of their own. Now Taylor is introducing us to the Academy series – guitars that aim to provide top-drawer playability, build quality and tones to those players who are just starting their musical journeys. So do these models provide full-scale Taylor thrills at a new, lower price point?
As it happens, the new Academy series isn’t a full-size experience. All of the guitars feature a 610mm scale length, which sits right in between the 584mm of the GS Mini and the 635mm of a regular, full-size Taylor acoustic. This makes a noticeable difference to the overall feel and playability of these guitars, which Taylor hopes will make the guitars more accessible and easier to get to grips with for younger players and anyone else that struggles or gets frustrated with a full-size instrument. After all, those first few moments learning to play guitar really can be pretty tricky, and the hallowed halls of popular online auction sites are littered with the cast-offs of players who didn’t quite take to their new instruments.
Now, whether the best approach for you (or the learner that you’re looking to buy for) is to purchase a shorter scale instrument or start with a full-size guitar right off the bat is, of course, down to you. It’s worth trying both types before making the decision, but certainly in my experience I don’t think starting off with a smaller instrument would have any negative impact on playing habits for the future – the only issue would be that eventual need to upgrade. That said, how many guitarists play the one same guitar for the rest of their lives, anyway?
Returning to the guitars themselves, both the 10e and 12e share the same rather impressive feature set. It all starts with a solid Sitka spruce top and ‘layered’ Sapele back and sides, finished in a lovely natural varnish – a familiar starting point for most other entry-level Taylors. What’s unusual in this instance, though, is the inclusion of an arm bevel, a feature normally only seen on high-end acoustics. For younger players (or those that may struggle to wrap their arms around the hard lines of a larger-bodied instruments), it adds an almost electric-like feel that, in real terms, will mean that you can practice for longer and in much greater comfort. That’s a theme that runs through the entirety of the Academy series’ design – the guitars also come shipped with lighter gauge strings to match their slightly downsized proportions, which will reduce the strain on inexperienced fingers as they gradually harden to the same level as us calloused, unfeeling veterans.
A nicely slim and playable mahogany neck is topped with a sumptuously dark and smooth ebony fingerboard, fitted with 20 superbly fitted and finished frets. Much like the esteemed GS Mini, the playability here really is top-notch, as we’ve come to expect from Taylor. The slimmer neck dimensions, quality fretting and lighter gauge strings make for a fantastic playing experience that will delight any player, not just beginners.
Another big plus for these two is the addition of onboard electronics, which crucially include an excellent quality tuner into the bargain. As you might expect, it’s not the most feature-rich unit on the market, but the ES-B is well-regarded for good reason, and in this instance includes controls for tone and volume, which one could argue is more than enough for a learner to be getting on with anyway.
Elsewhere in the build, both guitars are as immaculately constructed as you could expect from any Taylor. From the tasteful wooden soundhole rosette, sturdy tuners and ebony bridge to the Nubone nut and the included gig-bag, everything screams ‘high quality’ and makes for an instrument that feels cared for even when it’s brand new. There simply isn’t a fault to be found, and everything has been considered with the utmost care and attention to detail.
For all that the guitars share in terms of construction and visual appearance, they differ greatly in terms of tone, which is exactly as it should be. Starting off with the 10e, the guitar retains every tonal characteristic that you’d expect from a dreadnought, even with its reduced proportions. The 10e is primarily a strummer, with chords ringing out with superb clarity, balance and resonance across the strings.
The high end in particular is very pleasing without being harsh or brittle, and for those that would like to stretch their vocal chords as much as the strings on their guitar, the 10e would make quite the partner. Individual notes don’t stand out with the same depth and presence, however, and this is where the 12e makes its mark. For fingerpicked passages and lead runs there’s a lot more low end to the notes, making them stand out nicely.
The voices of both guitars actually go together very well, with both models having their own distinct voice. The layered sapele and bowed back construction mean that both guitars benefit from remarkable projection for their size, and Taylor’s experiences with the Baby Taylor and GS Mini have clearly paid dividends in this regard.
Plugged in, both guitars offer up an admirable performance, carrying over much of the character of their acoustic tones, lending themselves more than capably to live performance. The level of tone control on the guitars themselves isn’t the greatest, though, with the lack of a bass control leaving your options somewhat limited at times. It isn’t a deal-breaker, though, and could be easily accounted for with the tone controls on a dedicated amplifier, PA or EQ pedal.
It’s really easy to love this new Academy series. For beginners, the smart feature set means you can practice more comfortably and for longer periods of time, while experienced players will see these as pretty much the best short-scale guitars they’ve ever played. Indeed, I can also imagine that players with hand or muscular conditions that struggle to play full-size instruments could well find their perfect musical partner here, so the appeal definitely goes beyond the beginner tag that will inevitably be applied. The construction of both instruments is near enough faultless, and the tones are perfectly positioned for both strummers (10e) and fingerpickers or lead players (12e).
If I must find fault, it would only be that the RRP of these guitars may well make them inaccessible for the average beginner. At this price there are some exceptional full-size instruments that can offer superior plugged-in performance or even all-solid construction, so the real point of difference is the fact that these two guitars are being positioned towards those players with different needs from their first (or next) instrument.
This makes them a little harder to recommend over a full-sized acoustic if you’re an experienced player, but if the advantages of Taylor’s design decisions appeal to you or you’re new to the acoustic guitar, then you really won’t find a better guitar for your requirements.
NEED TO KNOW
Academy 10e Dreadnought
& 12e Grand Concert
Manufacturer: Taylor Guitars
Model: Academy 10e Dreadnought & 12e Grand Concert
RRP: Both £719
Body Size: Dreadnought: 508mm long,
Grand Concert: 483mm long
Made In: Tecate, Mexico
Top: Sitka spruce
Back and Sides: Layered sapele, varnished
Max Rim Depth: 10e: 117mm, 12e: 111mm
Max Body Width: 10e: 406mm, 12e: 381mm
Nut Width: 25.4mm
Scale Length: 610mm
Electronics: Taylor ES-B
Tuners: Chrome (100/200)
Left Hand Option: Yes
Gig Bag/Case Included: Taylor Gig Bag
10e Acoustic test results
Pros: Superb playability, balanced dreadnought tones and useful electro features
Cons: Reduced dimensions not for everyone. Expensive for a ‘beginner’ guitar
Overall: A very high quality guitar with balanced strumming tones and features that make playing a breeze for beginners and pros alike
12e Acoustic test results
Pros: Superb playability, fuller bass response than the 10e and useful electro features
Cons: Reduced dimensions not for everyone. Expensive
Overall: A very high quality guitar with surprisingly rich fingerpicking tones and features that make playing a breeze for beginners and pros alike