Some companies take a production-line box, paint it up, inlay some nice wildlife scene on it, make a thousand or so, and call it a limited edition. Other companies use the concept to experiment with new materials and show the guitar-buying public what may be around the bend for future production runs. Taylor's 914CE-LTD manages to mix both of these approaches in the best possible way: a limited-edition guitar that's a stunning visual statement, a study in new and unusual wood use and, just by the way, an outstanding musical instrument.
EVER SINCE BRAZILIAN rosewood became scarce in the late '60s, luthiers have been trying numerous alternatives for premium back-and-side tonewood. One of the prime contenders is cocobolo, a close relative of rosewood native to Central America and one of the woods used in the construction of the 914CE-LTD. Imagine rosewood's dramatic black grain, then shift its deep red highlights towards the orange side of the spectrum, and you have a sense of the striking beauty of cocobolo. Our review model displayed swirl aplenty along with a sliver of heartwood in one corner, dramatically lighter than the rest. Although it looks a bit asymmetric, knowledgeable lovers of the luthier's craft will associate this trademark with some of the greatest rosewood-backed instruments of the past. Cosmetically, the 914CE-LTD is a festival of light. The gloss finish complements the creamy Englemann spruce top as well as the sunset tones of the cocobolo, and the gentle satin of the flamed maple binding provides a warm contrast to the brilliant purples and greens of the abalone purfling. The neck inlay, also executed in abalone, is a pattern Taylor calls "Cindy" (see sidebar on pg. 78). It's a delicate floral motif, traditional in appearance yet unlike any other inlay pattern this reviewer has seen.
BOB TAYLOR HAS always been known for designing comfortable, "action-like-an-electric" necks, and the 914CE-LTD is no exception. Its mahogany neck comes with a matte finish that feels like silk against the palm, and the flat "C" contour and gently rounded shoulder invite comfortable, confident playing. Low yet buzz-free action and jewel-like frets complete a playing surface that practically begs for steady use.
ACOUSTICALLY THE GRAND Auditorium-sized 914CE-LTD comes close to a dreadnought in tone; on first strum, the bass is satisfyingly full and the treble glistens. But there's more midrange and delicate high-frequency "air" than you'll get from a typical dreadnought. Further playing reveals an instrument that shines for firm fingerpicking and soft to moderate strumming. The 1-3/4" neck width and the lack of a pickguard reinforce this perception, and indeed, hard strumming brings out a slightly percussive upper midrange and a shy bottom. Save the thrashing for your jumbo and grab the 914CE-LTD for everything else.
Plugged in, this guitar reaches a level of clarity that few amplified acoustics can match. The onboard Taylor Expression System uses magnetic sensors on the inside face of the guitar in conjunction with a magnetic pickup at the base of the neck to create a tone that's detailed and full, regardless of technique. The pickup voice brings out a slight compression and roundness of string attack, while the face sensors maintain dynamics and the elusive texture of wood grain. Go ahead and hold the 914CELTD right in front of your amplifier, as we did—feedback from either the body or the top is nonexistent, thanks to a phasing circuit between the face sensors. The "stealth" knobs of the Expression System (volume, bass, and treble) are visually demure, yet their center détente points make them a pleasure to operate. We found that the controls hardly needed adjusting through a full-frequency PA or stage amp such as the Roland SA-300 (reviewed on page 72), but proved quite useful at boosting the highs and taming the boomy bottom of a tube combo amp. (Although one wonders: Who's going to plug a $5,000 guitar into the wrong $300 amp?)
IS IT FOR YOU?
TAYLOR'S LATEST IS notable for a number of reasons: it is, fi rst and foremost, an exceptional instrument; it displays the company's craftsmanship to stunning effect; and it highlights the use of cocobolo, a beautiful and viable alternative to rosewood. Connoisseurs of fi ne lutherie and serious players will fi nd a treasure trove of visual and sonic delights in the 914CE-LTD.
MATTE-FINISH MAHOGANY neck with ebony fretboard Gloss-finish body of Engelmann spruce (top) and cocobolo (sides and back) Gold-plated Taylor tuners with ebony knobs Taylor Expression System electronics