It may feature the word ‘Taylor’ a few too many times, but that won’t stop Alun Lower from spending some quality time with this gem of a travel guitar.
There’s no getting around it – you’re either a Taylor Swift fan, or you’re not. But don’t despair if you fall into the latter camp – apart from the rosette, this is essentially just a regular Baby Taylor. And if you’re in the market for a travel guitar (which you may well be after reading Acoustic’s special buyer’s guide on page 84), either guitar is a very tempting prospect indeed.
Inspired by Swift’s memories of writing tunes on her own Baby Taylor, the main concept of this guitar seems to really be a version that will appeal to young girls and fans of the word ‘love’, which is featured no less than three times in the design. It might not immediately appeal to the average guitar player, but if the design manages to inspire more female players to pick up the guitar early on, then who am I to argue?
As far as travel guitars go, the Baby Taylor really is very well put together, partnering laminated Sapele back and sides with a solid Sitka spruce top. The back of the guitar is curved, which negates the need for any bracing on the back of the guitar, in theory aiding sound projection. While certainly a compact body, it’s not the smallest we’ve ever come across, and actually sits quite nicely on your lap for a travel guitar. The whole package is finished in a lovely varnish that lets you feel the wood grain under your hands. I’m a big fan of this approach on more affordable guitars, as personally I find it much more pleasant than the tacky feeling gloss and satin finishes that can plague other guitars in this price range. The benefits are especially noticeable on the neck, making for a very tactile and natural playing experience.
Continuing with the Sapele neck, if you look closely at the photos you should be able to see that the neck is actually a bolt-on, fixed to the body by two large screws that can be seen on the 16th fret. It looks a bit ominous at first, but in play the screws are completely unnoticeable, and the benefit of this system is that there is virtually no heel to speak of; giving great upper fret access without employing a tone-sucking cutaway to the body. The carve itself is slim at 1 11/16 inches, which is ideal for younger players but also comfortable for larger hands. Intricate fingerstyle might not be on the cards, but for chords, leads runs and the occasional spot of finger picking there’s plenty of room to move about.
The neck is topped by a gorgeous ebony fingerboard, imparting a distinctly premium feel, and is also adorned with 19 perfectly fitted and polished frets. For an affordable travel guitar, the Baby Taylor feels remarkably close to a pretty expensive Taylor, a clear indication of how seriously Taylor regards its reputation and the attention to detail that it puts into all facets of its business.
The other obvious talking point of the TSBT is the distinctive rosette, which features an elegant vine motif incorporating the word ‘love’ three times and topped off with Swift’s signature just above the bridge. There’s no denying that this will limit the guitar’s appeal somewhat, but it’s important to remember that this guitar is otherwise identical to Taylor’s regular Baby model. So if you’re not a fan of the design, try to keep the guitar’s otherwise exemplary build in mind and remember that a more neutral version is also available. The rosette itself may only be printed on but it has been done so very cleanly, which we can’t always say about some of the gaudy fake abalone we see plastered across so many guitars in this price range.
I’ve always been hugely impressed by the Taylor GS Mini, which genuinely surprised me with a remarkably full and clear tone, especially for a guitar of its size. So while I knew that Taylor most definitely had the design know-how to get a big sound out of a small body, I was still a bit sceptical about how the TSBT would sound. A good first test with travel guitars is a set of big, brash open chords played at volume and, to its credit, Taylor has managed to surprise me again.
The Baby Taylor isn’t on the same level as the GS Mini, of course, but for almost £200 off the price tag it’s actually much closer than I thought it would be. The small body naturally produces a bright, punchy tone with plenty of top-end sparkle, and plenty of projection thanks to that clever curved back. That’s to be expected, but the pleasant surprise is that the low-end doesn’t completely turn to mush when you play with a heavier attack. You don’t get the boom and depth of a larger body, but you do get impressive clarity and definition that keeps notes crisp and distinct, very much like a scaled back parlour guitar.
Strumming out chords is very much where this guitar (and most travel guitars, for that matter) is happiest, but fingerstyle isn’t completely out of the question, and the Baby Taylor’s string-to-string balance makes it sound absolutely delightful. The depth of tone means that you can have great fun playing with your attack, creating a much wider canvas of sounds and textures than you might think. Volume suffers a little here, but that’s very much the case with all most travel guitars, so it’s not exactly fair criticism.
For a type of guitar that is often overlooked for a lack of tone and construction quality, the Baby Taylor manages to impress on almost every level. There are few guitars in this category that can boast this level of construction quality, and for the most part the tone is a cut above, as well. This coupled with one of the best gig bags you’ll find with a travel guitar makes the TSBT a very compelling instrument, whether you approve of the design or not.
Very few guitars are perfect though, and the one thing we wish Taylor had included was the option of electronics. It’s a frustrating limitation when so many competing products offer it as standard, but the trade off is that you get top-notch construction, a snazzy ebony fingerboard and the aforementioned gig bag. But if your needs include a preamp then there’s simply no way around the issue, short of some expensive modifications.
Regardless, the Baby Taylor remains an exceptional guitar for the money that will make a lot of guitarists very happy indeed. For fans of Taylor Swift the TBST is elegant, well-made and undeniably good looking, and thankfully for those of us that prefer a more grown-up aesthetic, the regular Baby Taylor is every bit as good.
Pros: Fantastic build and surprisingly capable tones
Cons: No electronics, no lefty option
Overall: If you’re after a trusty travel companion and aren’t fussed about on-board electronics, consider this a must-try.
Build Quality: 4.5
Sound Quality: 4.5
Model: Taylor Swift Baby Taylor
Retail Price: £268
Made In: USA
Body Size: ¾ size dreadnought
Top: Sitka Spruce
Back and Sides: Sapele
Tuners: Enclosed die-cast chrome
Nut Width: 43mm
Scale Length: 584mm
Onboard Electronics: No
Strings Fitted: Elixir
Left Handers: No
Gig Bag / Case: Yes, padded bag.