Taylor 514ce Urban Ironbark: What is it?
It is part of the Taylor MO that the high-end acoustic guitar brand places eco-consciousness front and centre of its designs, and so when it announces the release of a new model there’s almost the expectation that we might be witnessing a hitherto unheard-of tonewood make its debut.
Its search for sustainable alternatives to the old favourites have given us Urban Ash, trees harvested from city trees across Southern California that were getting felled anyway, and a tonewood that compares favourably with mahogany.
And this new 514CE Grand Auditorium is one of two new models to continue this urban initiative with a cutaway body comprising a back and sides of solid Urban Ironbark.
It sounds kind of heavy metal but is anything but, with Taylor suggesting that Urban Ironbark use a sustainable rosewood substitute, sitting somewhere between that and mahogany, and ergo an acoustic guitar that the fingerstylists should sit up and take notice of.
You might also recognise Urban Ironbark as red ironbark, the sweet-smelling eucalyptus sideroxylon that is much favoured by pollinators and can be found across eastern Australia – and across the parks and green spaces of Santa Barbara.
Anyway, it scrubs up beautifully on a Taylor guitar, complementing the torrefied solid Sitka spruce top with a deep and rich, attractive grain. The craft here is off the charts. This is Taylor doing Taylor things, applying a none-more-tactile satin finish to the neck and a thin skin of gloss to the back and sides.
The top has been stained but ever so subtly with a tobacco burst. It’s a finish that doesn’t call attention to itself and gives what is a box-fresh new build a sense of history.
This 514CE belongs to Taylor’s V-Class models, with Andy Powers’ innovative bracing pattern promising an acoustic that is louder and sustains longer, and perhaps that belies the size of the instrument, which is smaller than a dread’, bigger than the Grand Concert models.
Introduced in 1994 as its “signature shape”, it is Taylor’s best-selling body shape and looks to split the difference between the boom and power of the flatpicker’s dread and the Grand Concerts and 000 models that fingerstylists favoured.
Perhaps it is on models such as this where the V-Class bracing comes into its own, making the most of the dimensions, and getting every bit of volume out of it.
Elsewhere, we have Taylor’s industry-standard Expression System 2 pickup and preamp – its reputation for excellence preceding it – a West African ebony fingerboard inlaid with Italian pearloid and bound with ebony sitting atop a South American mahogany neck. The frets are medium-fine. The tuners come from Schaller but are Taylor-branded.
Taylor 514ce Urban Ironbark: Performance and verdict
Guitar playing has its specialisms and thus has its specialist designs to cater for such styles, but perhaps the Grand Auditorium has been so successful for the brand precisely because it can excel in different styles. This 514CE is just so amenable to players of all persuasions.
Strum a chord and it has a lot of raw power – much of that punch and volume surely courtesy of the V-Class bracing – but there’s a honeyed quality to the upper mids and treble that gives it superb balance. It’s dynamic. Set your pick aside and it has all the delicacy you need to make a folk tune sing.
This might be introducing a new tonewood to the general public but you will find references in the sounds that you can tease out of the instrument, hints of classic dreadnoughts of yore, and all in all a guitar that is so dialled-in EQ-wise. The balance is not just across the frequency spectrum, but from string to string too. Taylor’s Expression System 2 continues to impress with its behind-the-saddle configuration ensuring that your tone isn’t plasticised when amplified.
As you would expect from Taylor, the attention to detail is second to none, and it is a hugely tactile instrument, with a neck profile that is ostensibly a C shape with a little V, and it is familiar, comfortable, and perfect for a guitar that only strengthens Taylor’s reputation for buttery playability.
• Taylor 724ce Hawaiian Koa
Hawaiian koa lends Taylor’s handsome Grand Auditorium cutaway a unique look and a voice replete with sweet, warm tones – it is an exotic twist on the US brand’s high-end guitar making, a stunning alternative to spruce et al.
• Taylor Builder's Edition 324ce
Taylor's invention and planet-friendly design philosophy makes the Builder's Edition 324ce a big success, with Urban Ash proving its worth in this tonally balanced, pro-quality electro-acoustic.
• Taylor American Dream AD27 & AD17 Blacktop
The AD27 and AD17 are not cheap but for a US-built Taylor they represent excellent value, and have a quasi-vintage vibe, tone and charm.
This is a very slinky acoustic, with the soft Venetian cutaway an invitation to wander up the ‘board for solos. Again, the 514CE’s balance is bang on; those notes in the upper register ring. The neck is solid, too, with the headstock attached to the body via a scarf joint.
Guitarists, by definition, are all tree-huggers, and thus it is difficult to understate the importance of finding new alternatives to our favourite tonewoods, reducing the pressure on vulnerable ecosystems, and building a future for guitar-making. But this is not just about finding new tonewoods but the ability to integrate them into a design that sells them as a concept to players.
Taylor has done that with Urban Ash and has done so again with Urban Ironbark, proving that stately, highly desirable materials can be found right under our noses, and when manipulated with such craft they make for instruments that compare favourably to anything else on the market. And if they are sounding this good now, what will they be like in three decades’ time?
Some players might be put off by that. The 514CE is not cheap. But the craft, the tones and the feel are so persuasive that an acoustic that sounds like this now – albeit with some artificial ageing in the tone department courtesy of that torrefied spruce top – will only appreciate over time, and once these become sought-after on the vintage market you’ll be wishing you had got in at the ground floor. As aspirational acoustic guitars go, it doesn’t get much better than this.
MusicRadar verdict: New tonewood, same great craft, this is another highly playable and super-versatile electro-acoustic from Taylor that showcases how eco-consciousness materials can be used to design the future of high-end guitar-making.
Taylor 514ce Urban Ironbark: The web says
"Taylor says that sonically the guitar “delivers a sweet, muscular sound that combines rosewood’s high-fidelity voice with mahogany’s warm and punchy midrange and spectrum-wide sonic balance”. And one has to say, that’s pretty much bang on. With a rosewood-bodied Martin D-28 and a mahogany Gibson Hummingbird as comparators, the Taylor holds its own proudly.
"Where the big Martin has an overall thicker and more punchy tone than the sweeter-sounding Gibson, the 514ce includes both of these traits in its DNA. Taylor says it’s equally at home plucking delicate pieces as it is bashing out songs all night. Indeed it is, whereas our Martin is a fantastic picker and the Gibson definitely more of a strummer."
Taylor 514ce Urban Ironbark: Hands-on demos
Taylor 514ce Urban Ironbark: Specifications
- ORIGIN: USA
- TYPE: Cutaway Grand Auditorium electro-acoustic
- TOP: Torrefied Sitka spruce
- BACK/SIDES: Solid urban ironbark (red ironbark)
- MAX RIM DEPTH: 111.125mm
- MAX BODY DEPTH: 381mm
- NECK: Neo-tropical, South American mahogany
- SCALE LENGTH: 648mm (25.5”)
- TUNER: Taylor branded Schaller
- NUT/WIDTH: Black Tusq/ 44.45mm
- FINGERBOARD: Crelicam ebony with Italian pearloid inlays and ebony binding
- FRETS: 20, medium-fine
- BRIDGE/SPACING: Crelicam ebony with white micarta saddle 55.5mm
- ELECTRICS: Taylor Expression System 2 (ES2)
- WEIGHT (kg/lb): 2.12/4.6
- OPTIONS: N/A
- RANGE OPTIONS: Taylor 512ce Grand Concert (£3,049)
- LEFT-HANDERS: Yes
- FINISH: Gloss tobacco stain edge burst top, natural satin neck – thin skin gloss back and sides
- CONTACT: Taylor Guitars