Alun Lower gets to grips with a relatively entry level Taylor – and one with bags of high-end appeal and the new Expression System 2 pickup
Taylor’s 200 series has long represented an affordable gateway into the company’s extensive and ever-desirable range of instruments. But while these guitars have always boasted wonderful tones and playability, their looks alone have always edged more towards the simpler, less glamorous end of the spectrum. So Taylor has naturally taken the logical step and given the 200 series a bit of shake in order to up their visual desirability. The sticking point, however, is balancing the visual embellishments with the guitar’s overall value. At £1,242, that’s a tricky thing to do, and the natural question to arise is just how much can you charge for a guitar that technically features laminate wood back and sides?
One thing’s for sure, that laminate wood – or layered – construction is just about the only contentious point to be found anywhere in the construction of the 214ce DLX. A relatively “entry-level” guitar this may be, but it’s the archetypal Taylor in so many ways and as a guitar geek I can’t help but feel an awful lot of fondness for it straight away. Much like the regular 214ce, you’ve got a classic combination of solid Sitka spruce and layered rosewood, partnered with a sapele neck topped with an ebony fingerboard and a rosewood veneer on the face of the headstock. This DLX model also sports a slightly flatter, Venetian-style cutaway – a neat little difference on the higher end models that looks pretty smart and modern.
It’s not long before the rest of the DLX’s premier appointments begin to make themselves known. For starters, there’s the finishing. Where the regular 214 features a satin coat across the neck, back and sides of the body, the DLX features an upgraded gloss finish across the entire body and a more open, porous satin finish on the neck for a nicely tactile, natural feel. It sounds frivolous on paper, but in the hand, the guitar really does feel like a step up and the neck undoubtedly benefits from a greater playing experience. Other cosmetic touches include the upgrade to small diamond inlays, and a rosewood truss rod cover. The back has also been upgraded from a single-piece laminate wood to a two-piece, upping the visual appeal in line with the 300 series. The tuners have also received a slight upgrade from die-cast chrome to 100/200 chrome.
Overall construction quality is as good as it’s ever been with Taylor. For a guitar with laminate wood, I’d have a hard time figuring that out without looking at the spec sheets, and it plays as well as any guitar costing in the region of £1,000 that you’re ever likely to try with solid back and sides. Intonation and tuning stability are exceptional even at this relatively low price point too. There really isn’t anything to complain about – and the laminate or layered wood construction of the back and sides really makes no difference to the ear.
The biggest change to the guitar arguably comes in the form of the electronics, which have received an upgrade to the Expression System 2. This is actually a pretty big upgrade, being the system that appears on a large number of Taylor’s higher end instruments as opposed to the ES-T, which appears on Taylor’s lower end instruments such as the GS-Mini and 100 Series. It’s this feature that marks the DLX a massive upgrade over the standard version.
Acoustically, the DLX really does sound excellent. The tone sits squarely in between the full depth and dynamics of a dreadnaught and the tighter, more pronounced punch you get from smaller bodied instruments. It’s balance personified – and exactly why after years of reviewing guitars it’s fast become my favourite body shape for an all-rounder. The low-end is satisfyingly plummy when fingerpicked or as crisp as a cool autumn evening when flat-picked. Highs are bright and well-defined but lack perhaps a touch of harmonic complexity when put under the microscope – though all but the most experienced of ears will struggle to pick this out. On the flipside, the laminate wood construction aids projection well and results in a guitar that sounds great from the off but that will probably not mature in quite the same way as some of its rivals.
Really, this is the only place that the 214ce starts to struggle ever so slightly. The truth is that there are some fantastic guitars out there for £1,000 and under including the likes of Larrivée, Yamaha, Martin, and Faith (among others). Most of these rivals feature solid-construction too, adding the possibility of your tone improving and maturing over time as the wood ages and settles. This is an advantage that no layered wood guitar will ever truly trump in terms of outright acoustic performance, but the DLX does come very close indeed.
Plugged-in performance is where the Taylor picks up some of the slack – the tone is dependable and solid, offering a decent amount of adjustment and clarity. It’s an excellent reproduction of the guitar’s natural tone that proves this is a guitar that will see you through any gig and adapt itself to a million different applications. The ES2 is a revolutionary pickup design that reflects Taylor’s perennial innovation in acoustic guitar amplification. The soul of the ES2 is Taylor’s patented behind-the-saddle pickup, which features three uniquely positioned and individually calibrated pickup sensors. According to Taylor, the location of the sensors enables a more dynamic range of acoustic sound to be captured than ever before. Together with Taylor’s custom-designed “professional audio”-grade preamp, this system produces exceptional amplified tone and responsiveness – team this with the trusted construction, hard case, and the price tag, and you’ve quickly got a real bargain on your hands.
The 214ce DLX is a truly great guitar. In terms of sheer build quality, sound quality, functionality, style and reliability, the guitar is up there with the best. And in terms of price, realistically you’re going to see this guitar listed for a bit less than the RRP would suggest, just like any other guitar.
What’s likely to be the deciding factor in a purchase decision here is you. If you came into this review thinking, “I want to buy a Taylor, is this one the right choice for me?” then the answer is an emphatic yes. It’s a guitar loaded with high-end appeal, if you’ll excuse the layered wood back and sides (which I do). I love it and wouldn’t hesitate to buy one for a second. Rest assured, the DLX sits firmly at the top of Taylor’s 200 Series as the perfect introduction to one of the greatest guitar companies out there.
Taylor 214ce DLX
Model: 214ce DLX
Retail Price: £1,242
Body Size: Grand Auditorium
Made In: Mexico
Top: Solid Sitka spruce
Back and Sides: Layered rosewood
Nut Width: 1-11/16”
Scale Length: 25.5”
Onboard Electronics: Taylor Expression System 2
Strings Fitted: Elixir Phosphor Bronze Light
Gig Bag/Case Included: Deluxe hardshell
Acoustic test results
Pros: The awesome Expression System 2 means this guitar is ready to go for the live performer
Cons: Layered wood back and sides might mean people seek an alternative in the same price range
Overall: Great guitar with bags of high-end appear and it’s one of Taylor’s most versatile body shapes. Oh, did we mention the price and the hard case?
Value for Money:
5 Stars: Superb, almost faultless.
4 Stars: Excellent, hard to beat.
3 Stars: Good, covers all bases well.
2 or 1 Stars: Below average, poor.