About 25 years ago, most guitarists considered the 12-fret acoustic guitar design an antiquated relic that was characteristic of guitars made before the early Thirties, when most of the big names in acoustic guitar manufacturing shifted to the 14-fret neck.
However, in recent years a growing number of fingerstyle players discovered how well balanced, powerful and sweet a 12-fret guitar can sound. That caused prices of pre-war vintage Gibson L-00, Martin 00-28 and similar guitars to soar and inspired an increasing number of independent luthiers to offer their own small-body 12-fret models.
Taylor is one of a handful of major acoustic guitar manufacturers to embrace the 12-fret design today, and they produced their first 12-fret guitar back in 2009.
This year Taylor revealed their dedication to 12-fret instruments by introducing a wide variety of models that span their entire line from the 300 Series through 900 Series and even include several innovative 12-string models. Taylor introduced the 712e model in 2014, but this year it got a redesign along with the rest of Taylor’s 700 Series models. Upgrades include various tonal enhancements and refined neo-vintage aesthetic details, including the new optional Western Sunburst finish.
The Taylor 712e 12-Fret model with the Western Sunburst finish makes an alluring first impression with the warm amber glow of its finish and its attractively curved Grand Concert body shape, which should inspire most vintage 12-string fans to immediately reach for their wallets. With its non-cutaway body, slotted headstock, pin belly bridge, large sound hole and 24 7/8-inch scale length, the overall design and dimensions will certainly please vintage purists. However, the 712e 12-Fret offers plenty to tempt more modern-minded guitarists as well, including the incredibly fine quality of its Lutz spruce top (a hybrid of Sitka and White spruce), straight-grained Indian rosewood back and sides, tropical mahogany neck, jet black ebony fingerboard and bridge, Hawaiian koa body binding, and Douglas Fir herringbone-style purfling and rosette.
One major upgrade made to Taylor’s entire 700 Series is their new proprietary performance bracing scheme. The braces are strategically carved, angled and scalloped to provide dynamic, responsive, powerful and balanced tone with plenty of attractive personality and character. The bridge plate incorporates a two-piece spruce and maple design, and the bridge plate and braces are held in place with protein glue that also enhances tone.
Of course, the ultimate modern upgrade is the built-in Taylor Expression System 2 pickup and preamp system. Like on previous Taylor models, the only visible sign of the system is the three small soft-touch knobs on the side of the upper bass bout, which control volume, treble and bass. A phase switch for reducing low-frequency feedback is located on the circuit board mounted inside the guitar. The three behind-the-saddle pickups feature adjustment screws for fine-tuning saddle pressure with an Allen wrench, should you need to make adjustments after changing the saddle or when experimenting with different string gauges.
When it comes to tone and playing comfort, the Taylor 712e 12-Fret is in a class of its own. Whereas many vintage 12-fret acoustics have relatively light construction that requires the use of light-gauge strings and a somewhat restrained and delicate touch, the 712e 12-Fret feels solid and robust. When you play it gently it still sounds sweet, with vividly complex midrange harmonic overtones, yet as you dig in the sound becomes bigger, bolder and impressively louder. Like most 12-fret guitars, it is most ideally suited for fingerstyle playing when you want every note to count across the guitar’s entire frequency range, and the Expression System 2 perfectly captures that range along with every nuance when the 712e 12-Fret is plugged in.
The neck has a slim round profile and comfortable refinement that makes playing effortless, and the 1 3/4–inch nut width is amply wide for fingerstyle players who prefer a little extra space in between each string. I particularly liked how the heel is angled so it never comes into contact with the fretting hand while playing around the 12th fret. With its compact body size and light overall weight, the Taylor 712e 12-Fret is a guitar that you can play all day without fatigue, especially since its stellar tone makes it hard to put down.
LIST PRICE: $4,098
MANUFACTURER: Taylor Guitars, taylorguitars.com
• The warm amber glow of the Western Sunburst finish gives the guitar a vintage vibe while at the same time offering something a little different.
• The Lutz spruce top provides power and projection similar to Adirondack spruce along with the resonance and dynamic response of Sitka spruce.
• The slotted headstock, soundhole and bridge placement, and pin bridge all contribute to the well-balanced tone, full, robust midrange, and impressive volume projection.
• The Expression System 2 preamp and pickup system deliver natural-sounding acoustic tone and dynamic nuances when the guitar is amplified.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The Taylor 712e 12-Fret Western Sunburst combines everything that fingerstyle guitarists love about vintage 12-fret acoustics with the refinement, incredibly comfortable playability, and advanced electronics of a modern high-end acoustic.