What is it?
There used to be some grumbling from players whenever an acoustic guitar was presented to them that deviated from the tried and tested tonewood ingredients, but the tide is turning.
Many of the go-to tonewoods of acoustic guitar production are harder to find these days, and eco-systems. CITES restrictions on rosewood et al fired the warning shot, and yet, while adapting to a new trading reality, manufacturers have found a number of promising alternatives.
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Bob Taylor has long championed sustainable tonewoods. Taylor’s Ebony Project in West Africa guarantees a steady supply of eco-friendly ebony that is used on Taylor's acoustics and sold to other makers.
But the next step for Taylor's sustainability drive was taken closer to home. With an estimated 173 million trees in the Californian urban canopy alone, Taylor turned to the damaged and diseased trees that had been cut down to see if they could work on a guitar.
That's how the Builder's Edition 324ce was put together. It uses Urban Ash – a Taylor trademark name for Shamel or evergreen ash – and chief designer Andy Power swears that it offers a similar tone profile to Honduran mahogany.
It is finished in an all-but-opaque Tobacco stain, with a noticeable grain once you hold it to the light. Its grain pattern is not unlike ash, but with a little of the cross-of spruce. The mahogany top has a more transparent finish. It looks the part, dressed simply with an Italian acrylic rosette.
The Builder's Edition 324ce eschews decoration. It channels Taylor's more austere builds – minimalist, clean, immaculate. It's the details that you really notice. The subtle things, like an upper-bout armrest for comfort, and chamfered body edges and ivoroid purfling.
Under the hood, you've got Taylor's V-class bracing pattern – which remains a novelty in a world dominated by X bracing patterns. The headstock is equipped with antique gold Gotoh 510 tuners, while we've got a West African ebony bridge with a compensated micarta saddle.
The electronics are Taylor's very impressive Expression System 2, with the control panel with volume, bass and treble mounted on the shoulder. Secreted underneath the endpin/jack socket, you'll find the battery compartment for the preamp.
Perfomance and verdict
Taylor's discipline when it comes to dressing their instruments placed much of our focus on performance, but at the same time, it allows the little flourishes to take centre stage. Like the acrylic faux pearl on the fingerboard. First impressions are that this is another impeccable Taylor build, and at this price, and with that name on the headstock, that is exactly what you would expect.
The Tobacco stain hides the scarf joint below the headstock. We've got a Standard' profile neck with a 15" fingerboard radius and a generous 1.75" nut width. It feels very nice indeed. The frets are dressed to perfection.
The voice is immediate and articulate the voice. The midrange is where frequencies can get a little muddy, but not here. It is spot on, losing none of its complexity. Likewise, the bass and treble are agreeably musical; they never dominate the mix.
This is a sophisticated and grown-up instrument.
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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.
We mentioned earlier that Andy Power described Urban Ash's as mahogany-esque. There are definite similarities, but the 324ce has a distinct accent in its voice... It's hard to pinpoint exactly what it is, but it is remarkably persuasive, especially when it gives fingerstyle chord work detail and grace.
The Expression System 2 is always a favourite of ours, principally because it does not get in the way. The guitar tone is delivered faithfully, and that is just how it should be. Of course, the EQ is on hand to fix things in a live mix, but when we set it flat it sounded exceptional.
Urban Ash, it could well be the future. There's enough of it about, and it would be remiss if we were to have such an abundance of usable tonewoods in our neighbourhoods and not use them. That said, it is easier to build a case for a tonewood when it has been put in Taylor's hands. The quality of fit and finish once they leave the bench is faultless.
This is something of a triumph for acoustic guitar building. Yes, it is expensive and some of us will not want to jump on the new tonewood wagon just yet, not least before waiting to see how these hold their value. It can hold a tune, though, and that's all that matters here.
MusicRadar verdict: 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.
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."
Thomann's Guitars & Basses
- 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