It’s not that playing a classical guitar with nylon strings is impossible for those of us who learned how to play on steel-string acoustic or electric guitars. It’s not that we don’t like the sound of nylon strings-far from it, their tone is enchanting, exotic even. It’s simply that we feel uncomfortable wrapping our hands around the classical guitar’s extra-wide neck. Also, many of us have looked through those classical guitar instruction books-the ones that say you must hold your thumb here, put your right foot here, your left elbow there-that make guitar playing a bit more formal than we think it should be. God bless the classical guitarists, for they are a tolerant and patient lot.
In the 1970s, luthier Bob Taylor created a line of steel-string acoustic guitars with necks that electric guitar players would find cozier than say, that of a Martin, whose necks were generally beefier and not as “fast.” It isn’t surprising, then, that Taylor would be the one who created the hybrid instrument that finally gives nonclassical players the benefits of nylon strings without the hassle of the classical guitar neck: the Taylor Nylon String series, introduced at Winter NAMM in 2002.
Knowing from the start that he wanted to please steel-string and not classical players with this line of axes, Taylor developed his nylon series using his own acoustic-guitar designs as general blueprints. Each looks similar to a Taylor guitar you’ve seen before, but each bears qualities reminiscent of classical-guitar design, like slotted headstocks and bridges, which reach far across the lower bout. For tonal reasons, the guitars’ necks have only 12 frets to the body, but the gently sloping cutaway lets you get in at the higher-octave frets, no problem. The best feature is of course the 1 7/8-inch neck width, maybe a smidgen wider than what you’re used to, but still far narrower than a traditional classical guitar neck.
The NS72-CE and NS52-CE guitars were sent to me from the Taylor factory in El Cajon, Calif. They are instruments of like dimensions (15 inches wide, 4 5/8 inches deep and 39 inches long) and differing wood types, which accounts for the difference in tone between the two. Both guitars sound great, but the 72 rings clearer than the 52, likely a function of the quality of woods used in the former’s construction: back and sides of Indian rosewood, a Western red-cedar top and a tropical American mahogany neck. The 72 offers a lot of pop and snap in its sound; its attack is fast and focused. This is the one to choose if you’re concerned primarily with playing pristine leads. The 52-with back and sides of mahogany, a cedar top and an ebony fretboard-has a softer attack and doesn’t cut quite as well. Still, it has a charming, smooth and mellow tone that fits the Brazilian-jazz mode well. Replicating the sounds of the 1960s bossa-nova jazz craze is where most jazz guitarists would begin to find use for the nylon Taylors.
Projection has always been a major drawback of nylon-string guitars, but Taylor kept NS guitars quiet, knowing that most folk will use an amplifier to cut through the din of a band or a lively nightspot. The Fishman Prefix ProBlend preamp system integrated into each of these guitars allows for plenty of tonal control, with EQ and a notch filter on board, plus a slider switch that lets you mix the guitar’s piezo pickup output with that of an inner microphone pickup. The piercing piezo sound can be reduced to great effect without losing much at all in the way of attack. The Fishman system nearly makes the difference in tone between the 72 and 52 negligible when playing amplified, as you can nip and tuck with the controls to sharpen the 52’s sound or make the 72 sound rounder.
Aside from their wonderful tone and thoughtful craftsmanship, it’s the necks on these guitars that make them instruments of note. Nonclassical players can finally have classical tone at their disposal without undergoing the chore of adjusting their hands to gargantuan neck widths.
These nylon-string Taylors fill a void in guitardom that has existed for too long.