UNLIKE MANUFACTURERS who seek to titillate the marketplace with radical new designs and cosmetic doo-dads each year, Taylor has historically sought to produce flawlessly made models that differ from each other primarily in those details that serious players love to obsess over: tonewoods, scale length, etc. So it's not surprising that when I first beheld the new Taylor Fall Limited Series 414e-LTD, I was unable to discern how it differed from a stock 414. Unable, that is, until I turned it over and was momentarily stunned by the sight of a gorgeous two-piece claro walnut back adorned with an equally lovely maple center strip.
The back and sides of Taylor's standard mid-priced grand auditorium-sized 414 are made of ovangkol, a nice, serviceable wood that produces a nice, serviceable tone. With its balanced sound, unadorned mid-sized body and premier Expression System electronics, the 414 has acquired a reputation as a great working musician's guitar. Now Taylor has clad this blue-collar guitar in some fancy walnut (not to mention maple), with magnificent results.
The 414e-LTD's combination of walnut back and sides produced a clear, singing tone, with a slight upper-midrange bump that made for sweet and clear strummed open chords, distinct and gritty flatpicked bass runs, and a smooth fingerpicked sound in which each individual note is clearly defined. And with its low, smooth-as-silk action, this guitar is as easy on the fingers as it is on the ears.
Taylor is universally recognized for its uncompromisingly high standards of quality control, and has over the years introduced numerous manufacturing innovations to ensure zero variance in the construction of its guitars. I therefore expected the Taylor 414e-LTD to be flawless, and I was not disappointed; the tonewoods and materials (ebony fretboard and bridge, Tusq nut and saddle, mahogany neck) are all firstrate. The neck is 1 3/4 inches at the nut but never feels wide, not even to my hands, which are more accustomed to a somewhat narrower neck.
After putting the 414e-LTD through its acoustic paces, I plugged it into an AER Compact 60 acoustic guitar amp. More good news: the clarity and accuracy of Taylor's Expression System electronics are superlative. After making a slight onboard EQ adjustment, I was gratified to find my basement filled with clean (and loud) amplified acoustic tones, which sounded particularly natural on full, open-string chords. And while the lower midrange peak characteristic of the Expression System can lend a "magnetic" tinge to some individual notes, it also seems to imbue fingerpicked and strummed chords with a gratifyingly fat, full sound. Another advantage of the Expression System is that spinning either of its two tone controls (treble and bass) really affects the tone, resulting in a wide range of tonal possibilities without having to resort to using external EQs or preamps.
Playing this 414e- LTD made me want to check out some of Taylor's other autumn offerings (the 810ce-LTD has Madagascar rosewood back and sides and figured maple binding, while the alluring 914ce-LTD's back and sides are made of exotic cocobolo). The Fall Limited Series offers further proof that Taylor's people love wood, in all its luscious, mellifluous varieties.