The success of Taylor's smallest and by far its least expensive model, the three-quarter size Baby, introduced back in 1996, may have taken the company by surprise, but, unsurprisingly, Taylor responded with the introduction of another similar, but fuller-figured model.
Sticking generally to the same structural and visual template, a full 25.5 inch scale length now replaces the Baby's 22.75 inch scale. An increase in demensions has created a 15/16ths size dreadnought body, although it is, proportionally, slightly shallower than a regular dreadnought.
One of the original Baby's unique features was its neck joint. Its development helped pave the way for Taylor's 'new technology' necks. The Big Baby's neck is almost identical except for some internal modifications to the neck block.
A little bit like an electric bolt-on design except the cross-head screws are sunk in through the fingerboard - this virtually heel-less neck is mounted into a precisely machined socket, routed out of the soundboard and the underlying section of the extended L-shape neck-block. This might sound like a flimsy platform for an acoustic neck, but it's really an extremely rigid structure.
Apart from the advantages of being quickly and easily removable/re-settable, this also results in the mahogany neck extending all the way to the end of the ebony fingerboard, with no part of the latter joined to the soundboard. It is this basic principle - avoiding the distortion of the fingerboard due to soundboard movement - that is behind the NT neck, although that is a considerably more complex, intricately machined design.
The remaining construction details couldn't be simpler. Although the top gets a regular X-shape spread of scalloped braces, the Big Baby body doesn't used kerfed linings (apart from a couple of two-inch sections at either of the upper bout's main brace) and there's no bracing on the back.
Instead, the back is given a pronounced arch, for rigidity and improved projection, that looks similar to that of an f-hole jazz guitar, but is pressed rather than carved into this shape. It isn't possible to mould solid wood in this way, showing that Taylor has made creative use of these laminate panels with this design.
With no linings, the internal join between back and sides is, understandably, a little more gluey than we're used to with Taylor. With no purfling, binding or scratchplate, the soundboard is a Spartan affair, but the laser-etched rosette is a subtle yet phenomenally precise work of hi-tech art.
The two-piece neck features the new NT-style finger-jointed headstock, offering a neat, structurally reliable and resource saving alternative to the one-piece concept. Aside from the arguably unsightly crew heads (there for the sake of honesty, apparently) the fingerboard and frets are quite immaculate.
The headstock is veneered with Lexan (a trade name for a polycarbonate material) and houses a mechanically solid sextet of tuners. Though normally purveyors of Tusq nuts and saddles, Taylor has opted for a non-brand substitute here.
The choice is a commonly used, hard, durable phenolic plastic (Micarta is a well-known trade name for phenlic). As you'd expect, they are respectively seated and slotted with extreme accuracy, although they could both do with some smoothing of their sharp corners. It's reassuring to see that the solid ebony bridge is as finely buffed and bevel-edged as you'd expect on any Taylor.
There's a grainy, occasionally rough but natural look to this thin mat-satin finish, which adds to the puritanical, sparse look of the Big Baby, but there's nothing half-baked about the way this guitar has been assembled.
Taylor is famous for its supremely playable acoustic necks and this model is no exception; in fact, due to its virtually heel-less design, there's better access to the upper frets with any regular full-body acoustic.
A typical hybrid profile, giving a C-shape with a soft V influence, this bolt-on neck is desirably unbulky and shallow throughout its entire length while retaining enough width and string spacing to guarantee free range finger gymnastics. The sides of the fingerboard are not contoured into the neck profile, so they seem a bit square but, considering that it is unbound, the fret ends are consummately trim and the top edge is nice and smoothly bevelled for maximum comfort.
The playing surface has everything it needs: lustrously finished frets and a beautifully prepared stretch of flawless and even mottled ebony. Although this finish leaves a noticeably 'open grain' sensation, which some may find off-putting, it's actually butter-smooth to touch, and nowhere near as 'squeaky' as some matt finishes.
Needless to say, the setting of the neck is pot-on (and there's no excuse for it not to be), as are all other aspects of the set-up on this review model. But even if the set-up wasn't to you're taste, with the neck alignment correct, everything else can be much more accurately adjusted.
Long-life corrosion resistant light-gauge Elixir strings (the wound strings are coated with a very thing plastic film) come as standard, but they do have the habit of becoming furry as the coating wears off.
In short, however, this Baby plays like a dream, and when you feel this at home with a guitar you can play anything in any style. Obviously this guitar is not going to sound like a standard Taylor dreadnought; and in fact it's quite surprising to hear how unlike a dreadnought the Big Baby tone is.
Lighter, brighter and more articulate sounding, this model makes a surprisingly good medium for fingerpicking. Its minimalistic construction and finishing leads to a responsive instrument with excellent projection and clarity, requiring little effort to summon a fairly poky output.
While it might sound a bit thin on the highest top string notes and a tad lightweight in its bass registers, a satisfyingly growling mid-range combined with excitable top-end sparkle lends an almost Flamenco 'clunk' to the bottom strings, with notes shooting out in a highly kinetic fashion. Great fun.
Flat-picking predictably brings forth the edgier, harsher side of the Big Baby's tone, but if a brilliant sheen of sound is what you require then you're in luck. Get your fingernails on the job and you'll be rewarded with a sense that your mitts have been to elocution lessons.
With such incredibly mechanised, hi-tech production, it might seem surprising that the company hasn't already gone more budget-orientated, aiming to become the undisputed, world-dominating acoustic super-power. With the Baby already under its belt and now another excellent value, sure-fire seller on the production line, it must be tempting for Taylor to follow this lucrative path more aggressively.
It's obvious, however, that both the Big Baby and its predecessor are not merely relatively cheap guitars, but; more accurately, quality guitars designed and built with such cunning as to not cost so much. This approach is much more in keeping with Taylor's image and renowned high standards, and any other way would result in an unacceptable level of compromise; you just wouldn't get such a good guitar for your money. You could criticise this model for being plain, but, realistically, fancy trimmings are a luxury that a mid-price acoustic can ill afford.