August 2008

Taylor SolidBody Custom Guitar

Bob Taylor’s guitar factory crafts acoustic guitars with such focus and dedication to quality that I always figured “unplugged” was Bob’s sole bag. I was wrong. In 2005, Taylor put one foot into electric-land by unveiling the T5 hybrid acoustic/electric. My eyebrows were raised, as were my expectations for an eventual, full-on electric Taylor guitar. And now here it is.

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Taylor SolidBody Custom Guitar
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Taylor SolidBody Custom Guitar

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According to the man himself, it was the pickup that sold Taylor on pursuing an electric guitar design. After sending one of his men to the lab to research pickup design, Taylor eventually ended up with the humbuckers in the Taylor SolidBody electric guitar. To me it’s the pickups that define so much of what this guitar is—and isn’t.

So let me start there, with the tone. At its best the SolidBody has the clarity of crystal chimes ringing sharply. That word keeps coming to mind: sharp. I don’t mean harsh. I mean clean and accurate: it’s a beautiful tone, a unique tone. Stacked up against a G&L Strat, a humbucking Les Paul and a P-90-equipped SG, the Taylor clearly stakes its own ground in terms of sound. That’s to be expected from an instrument loaded with fresh ideas and new takes on electric guitar design.

The two pickups are tethered by a five-way, Strat-style switch that can couple coils from each pickup in combinations that yield interesting results. In addition to the two positions that access each pickup separately, three of the switch positions combine the pickups in ways that yield sounds from full and smooth to cracklin’ and funky to searing and raucous to flat-out twang-tastic. The single-knob tone control is one of the few I’ve found useful. Midrange seems to sweeten as the knob dials down, and in turn this can add a tasty flavor to the tone, depending on the pickup position you’re in. Does the Taylor SolidBody find the middle ground between Strat and Les Paul? Eh, you might say that. It can sing like a Les Paul and sounds hugely open like a Strat can—but, really, the SolidBody is its own animal.

The SolidBody doesn’t even feel much like any other guitar. The neck on the Custom model sent for review is a superslim piece of Australian blackwood capped with an ebony fretboard. It’s straight as an arrow, and fits into the body oh-so-snugly via Taylor’s trademarked, single-bolt T-Lock system. It’s a comfortable if modern-feeling neck: easy to grip and very, very fast. The guitar body is thin (a bit thicker than an SG), lightweight and comfy. This particular review model features a stunning koa top inset in the body, giving the guitar an organic element that offsets the sleek modernity of the hardware. It’s nice.

The SolidBody is just a fun guitar to play. It drives a Fender Hot Rod DeVille to extra pretty, shimmering tone with the bridge pickup engaged, and I found a great “lonesome West” sound with the neck pickup at full throttle and a touch of reverb. While I wouldn’t recommend the SolidBody for straightahead, very traditional jazz work, it’s a fine contender for jazz-rock, jazz-pop and really any kind of jazz playing that doesn’t absolutely call for the tone only an archtop can supply. But forget about that if you are looking for a versatile ax to play in a variety of styles, because this might as well be it if you have the $3,098 to pay (that’s list price for a Custom model; street prices and other model prices vary).

One complaint: The guitar’s name is a bit of a misnomer. It has a chambered (and thus semi-hollow) body. But let’s forgive Taylor on that point, because it’s probably the chambers that open up the sound and allow for such wonderful articulation of subtle expressions in your playing. And while I thought the lightness of the chambered body would negatively affect sustain, this thing rings forever and ever, begging that you play the drippy, weepy blues and bend notes all night long.

Taylor has a reputation for innovation and doing things differently. This guitar oozes unique personality from the moment you pick it up and play. It practically sticks its tongue out at values that electric-guitar makers and players have sworn by for years. Whether you warm up to it or not is a question of taste. What’s not worth asking is whether or not the Taylor SolidBody is a high-quality instrument. It certainly is, and it’s well worth giving a shot.

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