What is it?
The tide is turning on ecologically sound tonewoods. There may have been some resistance from players who want the tried and tested, but acoustic guitar building has had to adapt to a new environmental reality.
Supplies of go-to tonewoods are harder to come by, placing pressure on delicate eco-systems. The CITES restrictions on rosewood et al were the warning shot, but in the effort to comply with a new trading reality, acoustic guitar manufacturers have found promise in the alternatives.
Bob Taylor has long been an advocate for sustainable tone woods, with Taylor’s Ebony Project in West Africa ensuring a steady supply of ebony that is used extensively across Taylor's builds, and sold to other builders.
The next step was looking to the city's trees as a resource. In California alone, there is an estimated 173 million trees in the urban canopy, so when these trees are damaged, or cut down through disease, why not try these woods out and see if they'll work on a guitar?
Today's review acoustic, Builder's Edition 324ce is build in a this eco-conscious mindset; the tonewood of choice, homegrown Urban Ash – Taylor's trademarked name for Shamel or evergreen ash, which chief designer Andy Power says is remarkably similar to Honduran mahogany.
Finished in a Tobacco stain that is all but opaque, the body shows some grain as you hold it to the light, with a pattern that sits somewhere between what you'd see on an ash Strat with a trans finish and a little cross-patterning a la spruce. The mahogany top has a more transparent finish and looks incredible, with a simple Italian acrylic rosette the only decorative feature.
The Builder's Edition 324ce leans towards the austere end of Taylor's builds, minimalist, clean, immaculate, with subtle little appointments like the upper-bout armrest (almost always a good idea) and while there is no binding there is a chamfered edge and ivoroid purfling to apply the glacé cherry on top.
Inside you've got Taylor's innovative V-class bracing pattern – which is style a novelty in a world dominated by the criss-cross X bracing patterns an variations on the theme. On the headstock you'll find antique gold Gotoh 510 tuners. The bridge is West African ebony with a compensated mircata saddle.
As for electrics, there's a Taylor Expression System 2, with the volume, bass and treble controls mounted inline on the shoulder. The preamp battery compartment is secreted underneath the endpin/jack socket.
Perfomance and verdict
With Taylor's discipline when it comes to never over-dressing their instruments, a lot of the focus is pulled towards the guitar's performance. This is, after all, why we are here. The first impression when you pick it up to play is how well put together it is.
The scarf joint below the headstock is disappeared under the meticulous tobacco stain. The neck is of Taylor's 'Standard' profile, with a 15" fingerboard radius and the wide-open space of a 1.75" nut width, and – good gracious – it feels nice. The fret finish is of course flawless.
Strumming a few chords, you'll be taken by how articulate the voice is. Note definition is not always a given in the midrange, but here it is spot on, ringing out true and clear, and the bass and treble are agreeably musical without ever dominating the mix. It's balanced, distinguished, grown-up, exactly what you'd demand from a guitar at this price.
• Martin SC-13E
The maverick offset electro-acoustic from Martin might be radical and all that, but once you acclimatise to the design you'll find a supremely playable tone machine that offers excellent value for the money.
• Taylor Builder's Edition V-Class K14CE
The K14ce is our choice for crossing styles and genres especially using more complex harmonies – the subtly muted highs we hear actually make it our preference for more standard rhythm beds too. This is Taylor upping the ante.
Now, Andy Power mentioned Urban Ash's potential as mahogany-esque tonewood. To our mind, that pegs the Builders Edition 324ce as an all mahogany acoustic, and while you can hear that in its voice there's definitely something different about it, and it is remarkably persuasive.
We like the Expression System 2. It doesn't get in the way. There's no stepping on the guitar's tone and that's just how it should be. The EQ is there on hand to fix things in the mix live, but amplified we found no good reason to tweak anything.
All in, this Urban Ash business could catch on. It would be potty to have an abundance of usable tonewoods on our doorstep and not use it, and you can make an even more persuasive case for such wood choices when they are put in Taylor's hands. We shouldn't get blasé about these builds, about the quality of fit and finish.
As ever for Andy Powers and the team, this is a remarkable feat of guitar building. It is expensive, of course, and maybe that gives you a decision to make as to whether a novel tonewood will hold its value. That's up to the market to decide. But it sure can hold a tune, and that's the most important thing.
MusicRadar verdict: A triumph for Taylor's ingenuity and eco-friendly ethos, the Builder's Edition 324ce makes a strong case for Urban Ash as the tonewood of the future. It's pricey, but the planet and your ears will thank you.
The web says
"Whether you strum hard or pick softly, it tends to stay within that middle register, and its euphonious voice is so detailed that I sometimes found myself leaning over the soundhole to listen from different angles because I couldn’t believe an acoustic could sound so three-dimensional and smoothly balanced."
"Harmonies seem to really shine: widely voiced chords are easy to accurately fret all along the fretboard and open voicings get extra support as the low end really opens up. Single-note runs are easy to execute, but the clarity of strummed as well as fingerpicked chords allows this guitar to sustain and resonate to the best of its ability and lead with its many strengths."
"The bass of a GA is never going to blow a dreadnought away, but here it is present and supportive. Like any mahogany-topped guitar, it’s a touch fuzzy when pushed with the thumb and the fundamental voice means while the upper partial harmonic content when fingerpicked will never overpower, it’s an engaging and very musical sound in which you can easily lose yourself."
- ORIGIN: USA
- TYPE: 14-fret Grand Auditorium electro cutaway
- TOP: Mahogany
- BACK/SIDES: Urban Ash
- MAX RIM DEPTH: 117.4mm
- MAX BODY WIDTH: 406.4mm
- NECK: Mahogany
- SCALE LENGTH: 648mm (25.5”)
- TUNERS: Gotoh 510 Antique Gold
- NUT/WIDTH: Black Tusq /44.8mm
- FINGERBOARD: West African Ebony, Italian acrylic compass inlays
- FRETS: 20, medium
- BRIDGE/SPACING: West African Ebony w/ compensated Micarta saddle/56mm
- ELECTRICS: Taylor Expression System 2 w/ volume, bass and treble controls
- WEIGHT (kg/lb): 2.1/4.62
- OPTIONS: None
- RANGE OPTIONS: The Taylor Builder’s Edition instruments range from the 324ce reviewed here through to the 517 (£2,999) and 517e (£3,179), the 652ce (£4,319) and extends to the 912ce (£6,479)
- LEFT-HANDERS: No
- FINISH: Tobacco Kona Burst Silent Satin
- CONTACT: Taylor Guitars