The Taylor Guitars Find Your Fit event rolled into my town recently and I was excited to go again. This event is less of a showcase of various models, and more focused on the player. Not just the player though, YOU the player specifically. This is your opportunity to sit down with a qualified rep who came all the way from El Cajon, CA and talk with them, play a bit, and begin to whittle down the multitude of options that Taylor offers until you find that magic guitar that is just right for you.
If you've been reading the Fifth Fret for a while, you'll know that last year I attended this event in Georgia, and found my Taylor soul-mate, the 616CE. Since then I did a review of the 616CE when Taylor was nice enough to loan me a review model (with which I tried very hard to come up with continuous excuses to keep it for just a little longer), and now it's been over a year since I've had that beautiful guitar in my hands. Since then I've been exposed to more of Taylor's offerings and have been dipping into different playing styles, and have basically been questioning whether or not the 616 is still right for me.
Long story short, it is. Very much so. But if you read my coverage of last year's FYF event, you'll know that the stock 616CE didn't thrill me visually, and I figured that since it played and sounded SO incredibly well, it should look just as suited for me and I've been saving up for a Built to Order Taylor from their custom shop since. Some things have changed here or there, but this recent event added a few major alterations, which we'll go into in a bit.
This FYF event took place at Alamo Music Center, Texas' oldest music store and the third oldest in the US. It's been passed down from generation to generation and maintains the family atmosphere. The music store is an entire building in downtown San Antonio and offers not just musical retail services, but a recital hall (where the FYF event took place specifically), rehearsal rooms, instruction rooms, and the headquarters of the Musician's Society of San Antonio. The retail section is divided into three basic spaces: a large piano room with the occasional stringed orchestra instruments, the guitars and assorted similar instruments including banjos, ukes, a banjo uke (how crazy is that?) and Mariachi instruments (which was awesome to see as they're pretty unique in most guitar stores), and the last room is dedicated to electric guitars and basses, with offerings from multiple brands in guitars, basses, and amplifiers. Tucked into a corner room are the store's Taylor offerings where humidity and temperature is more easily controlled.
The staff of Alamo Music Center were very pleasant and fun to talk to and come from varied backgrounds. The salesman I spent the most time with, Michael Brown, is mainly a saxophone instructor, but was very interested in learning more about guitars - particularly Taylors - so he can better sell them. Seems like a good idea to me.
Mr. Brown had nothing but good things to say about his employer and actually stated that most of the instrument offerings they have come from customer feedback to Zach Marr, the General Manager, who likes to roam the sales floor helping people. When they ask if the store has X, and they happen to not have it, Mr. Marr is more than happy to order it and see what the fuss is about. Perhaps this is how you end up with a banjo uke.
The recital hall was filled with mainly pianos, but over the time of setup, Taylor Guitars easily took center stage in the large room. Pianos flanked Taylor's offerings, but couldn't compete with the great looks from California. The Taylor rep, JR Robinson, brought with him a slew of offerings to help narrow down what a potential customer is looking for and also some crazy custom models with options that you normally wouldn't see on any store racks.
He set up guitar after guitar, stock acoustics, custom acoustics, Taylor's recent electric offerings, and their T5 series, and let me take pictures as he did so until I had run out of things to take pictures of for the moment and the event hadn't yet opened up to the public. We sat down and talked for a bit and he insisted I grab a guitar - something I'm always more than happy to do. He said that he's the sales rep for this region and that it was his boss that I had talked to the year previous in Georgia. Turnouts for this event are generally slow in the mornings because everyone is at work, but will pick up quite a bit as the day goes on and people get off from work, or duck out early to beat the inevitable crowds.
One gentleman came in and said with a little trepidation that he had only been playing for about a week and a half and wanted to know more about what kind of guitar he should get. I think this made the day, really. When most guitar players come in, they come in with a preconception (I know I did when I attended last year) and are sometimes resistant to other options, but when you come in cold - especially with limited experience - I think it would be easier to determine what kind of guitar you like more, what kind of tone you're after, and those preconceptions (whatever they are) are more easily chiseled away to what would actually make you happy.
This gentleman and JR sat down and talked through this, and since the gentleman was new to everything guitar-wise, JR went through the whole gamut, talking about body shapes, sizes, attributes directly associated with Taylor, and how they compare to other brands. Nothing ill was spoken of the other brands though, which I thought was really great.
JR showed him the 814CE, the most popular-selling guitar over $1,000.00, and then began to narrow down specific likes and dislikes of the gentleman with this as a base. The gentleman would play an E minor chord and few times, then hand it to JR who would play the exact same chord so he could hear how the guitar sounds in front of the player as well as behind. JR helped put words to the gentleman's descriptions and we all talked about scales, low and high end frequencies, etc.
He went all the way down to the GS Mini, trying out his chords, but didn't like the size of it. He moved up to the 1 series, which he liked, but it was the 2 series that really got him. There's an audible difference between the two, with the 2 series have a more balanced tone between the lows and highs where the 1 favored the highs. I prefer the more balanced tone because when I hybrid pick, I don't want the bass easting the treble or vice versa. I need the highs to cut through, but the bass to be present (which is why I like maple back and sides, but favor the bigger 16 size to get the bass more involved). He was nervous about how great of a guitar the one he was holding was and expressed a serious concern of damaging it with his pick or getting it dinged other ways. I gave him one of my Jazz IIIs and told him they're a bit better because it's impossible to have so much pick sticking out that you risk damaging the guitar - at least on an acoustic.
After calling the wife to make sure everything was OK, he left with his 2 series guitar and a smile, and I think that's what the FYF event is all about. Not the sale, per se, but the individual attention you get as a potential customer and education on the brand. JR wasn't there to sell guitars, but to educate the masses one by one so they would find the one they wanted - the one they REALLY wanted - and why. It's tough to get buyer's remorse when you went through an entire brand's large amount of offerings with a guide, talking about reducing this, or adding this, or what about this and then ending up with the one that seems like it was made for you. This gentleman with the new 2 series, he may buy another Taylor - or any other guitar - down the road, but I doubt he'll ever get rid of that 2 because it was made for him and he really liked the way it sounded.
Everyone who comes to these FYF events will be treated similarly, again with education emphasized, not sales. Pressure just isn't needed when you find The One. When I found the 616CE, I knew that I would eventually own one, so I started saving that day. How could I not? It sounded like my brain and everything good in my soul.
Now let's talk about the offerings and my lessons learned!
I've been curious about the short scale offered by Taylor and how it plays. While JR did not have an acoustic offering, their electrics are short scale and I had a field day playing them. The neck was meaty enough to grab for chords, but thin enough, and with a flat-enough back for any shredder to go crazy on. The scale itself was very comfortable for me. I like short scales in general - it's easier to bend notes, tricky chords are more of a breeze and the tone is generally more chord-as-a-whole and less string-by-string.
I asked about the impact of a short scale neck on a 616CE and JR said that besides the added playing comfort, there will probably be a bit more of a warmer tone. Not much, but slightly different.
I was sold.
Next up was the armrest. I found out last year about armrests and honestly couldn't see the point. Yes, the 90 degree angles of acoustics could potentially be a pain, but it's an acoustic. They're not known for incredibly comfortable bodies - they're known for great tone and if you want to talk about comfort, you're usually directed to the neck. But then I played a 12-fret acoustic with one and the added comfort was crazy. It looked a lot better than I would expect, too. That's not to say I expected it to look bad or anything, but the contour seemed natural - like it belonged there the whole time and only now are we starting to realize this potential. The craftsmanship from the Taylor folks is in great supply.
I knew that I would be asking about an armrest in my custom 616CE, as it's not currently on the BTO sheet. I don't know how much that option is, but I definitely want it.
The scale issue was what I came to the event concerned about, and the armrest was a (very) welcome bonus, but what really knocked my socks off was the Taylor T5.
I've stayed away from this guitar on purpose. It looks like a hollowbody - similar to my prized Gretsch 6118, I didn't want to compare the two. Ever. It might lead to ugly results. But given run of the place before the public was allowed admittance, I couldn't resist. And I promptly fell in love. Regarding the comparison to Gretsch, it's not the same at all. The T5 features a thinner, more hollow body, and it's considerably lighter. They sound completely different too. The T5 features a system similar to the Expression System, with a hidden neck pickup, body sensor, and stacked humbucker (that looks a lot like a lipstick pickup). You can send the signal to a splitter and be in stereo heaven, but even through one amp, it sounded great and you can decide whether you want to get into acoustic sounds or electric. When I was playing the electric side of it, it was super easy to get a Tele-ish tone with the treble up if you really pop the strings, but it was the jazz tones with the treble at about noon and the bass up a bit that really knocked me out. Twisting these two knobs and the amp settings could get me 90% to just about anything I wanted, with the exception being a Les Paul. The body was also INCREDIBLY resonant, vibrating against my chest and feeling ALIVE in my hands.
The one I played was Ovangkol and it was sweet. Super sweet. If I were on a deserted island and was only allowed one acoustic and one electric, the electric would be this T5 because of the versatility, resonance, and animate feeling of the guitar.
It's also not that expensive when compared to other models and other brands. It does come in more attractive packages, but I found myself sticking with the Ovangkol one more.
I also tried the two-humbucker model, but was more impressed with the lighter, more acoustic-focused T5.
I bought some strings, said goodbye to the crew of Alamo Music Center and JR and walked to my car happy. I got to play fantastic guitars, learned some important lessons regarding my future custom model, and fell in love with another electric guitar.
How could that not be a good day?