Review: Taylor 322ce
Taylor’s Grand Concert model first hit the scene in 1984 and met with widespread enthusiasm from guitarists who had long desired a clear, modern sound from a smaller, more comfortable body. This shape has been a stalwart of the Taylor range ever since and has straddled every level of build from the humblest wood combinations to the most exotic presentation-grade wonders.
The 300 series is now the first step on the ‘Taylor journey’ to feature all-solid woods and, while a more established combination of sapele and spruce is also available on the 312, this review instrument comes with back and sides of Tasmanian blackwood and a tropical mahogany soundboard replete with Taylor’s V-Class bracing system.
While a mahogany soundboard has been a familiar sight on steel-string guitars since the early 1900s, this is the first example this reviewer has encountered where the back and sides were not also made of the same wood. That said, some players will find reassurance in the fact that this is genuine South American mahogany.
Tasmanian blackwood belongs to the Acacia family, and has garnered a reputation in the bespoke luthiery community as a characterful, lower-cost alternative to another member of that genus, the legendarily beautiful Hawaiian koa. In the case of this 322ce, there is almost none of the figure that the Acacia family is known for and to the casual observer, this looks like an all-mahogany guitar. In all likelihood, this was a calculated move to keep the instrument within a price point.
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The headstock’s striking stripe of orange and black ebony
There is no denying the 322ce is an aesthetically pleasing guitar. We’ve always had a soft spot for the curves of a Grand Concert and here, the combination of this classic shape, Taylor’s elegant take on a Venetian cutaway and the shaded sunburst finish makes for a broodingly elegant instrument that draws your eye towards the headstock, capped as it is, with a beautiful stripe of orange and black ebony. Very tasteful.
The 322ce’s West African ebony fingerboard with Italian acrylic inlaysIt’s easy to imagine that the template for this Taylor’s slightly V-shaped neck profile was taken directly from a thumb-over-the-top G chord. It’s an immediately comfortable carve for open and barre chords up and down the neck and feels inviting and familiar. While the 1.75-inch/44.45mm nut width should provide most players with plenty of room for the fretting hand, dedicated fingerstylists might prefer a touch more ‘meat’ in the first position.
The Grand Concert body fits snugly against the player and the satin finish not only feels comfortable, but also keeps body rubs and extraneous noise to a minimum – a real bonus for the sensitively mic’d recording guitarist.
With the 322ce in standard tuning, we open up its tonal possibilities with some exploratory fingerstyle and are greeted by a warm, friendly voice, albeit one that’s slightly subdued. A smaller soundboard often translates into an immediate sense of presence due to the speed of movement. However, in this case, the playing experience is a lot mellower with a gentle sound and balanced timbral spectrum that leans towards the mids while smoothing off the trebles and upper-partial overtones.
The unfussy three-ring rosette stands out against the satin finishThe bass register is focused and underpins fingerstyle work effectively, but we are left with the impression that the soundboard might be a little over-built for fingers. Taylor confirms that the spruce and mahogany tops at this end of the range are thicknessed and braced to the same measurements regardless of which wood is used, which feels like something of a missed opportunity.
Things improve dramatically with the application of a plectrum. The soundboard springs into life, revealing a very different character. Mahogany-topped guitars have often found favour in the hands of blues players and while this guitar can certainly snarl and grunt with the best of them, there’s more to it than that.
Wide-voice open-string textures and close-harmony jazz chords come through clearly, with an encouraging degree of sustain along the entirety of the fretboard and even past the body join. There’s a compressed quality to the strummed attack as you dig in more forcefully and the ‘sweet spot’ scale length keeps things clear and tight with impressive note separation throughout.
The 322ce sports an ebony bridgeAs you might expect, the 322ce really does shine when plugged in. The ES2 pickup system (Taylor’s in-house design) proves more than up to the task of providing an expressive amplified voice, with very little tweaking needed. The guitar also proves admirably resistant to feedback, something we ascribe to its smaller size as much as to the V-Class bracing.
It’s always tempting to wonder about the thought process behind a particular model. And given that much of the more conventional range of the sonic spectrum will be covered by its spruce and sapele sibling, it’s just as tempting to believe that Andy Powers’ end goal for the 322ce was to create smooth-voiced instrument that growls when you hit it. If, as we suspect, that is the case, then it’s mission accomplished once again!
PRICE £2,428 (inc. hard case)
DESCRIPTION All solid wood steel-string acoustic guitar. Made in the USA
BUILD Tropical mahogany top with V-Class bracing, Tasmanian blackwood back and sides, ebony bridge, tropical mahogany neck, West African ebony fingerboard with Italian acrylic inlays, ebony binding, white plastic purfling, satin black sealed tuners, black graphite nut, West African ebony headstock overlay with Italian acrylic inlay, Micarta saddle, ES2 pickup system
SCALE LENGTH 631.825mm/24.875”
NECK WIDTH 44.45mm at nut, 57.15mm at 12th fret
NECK DEPTH 20.7mm at first fret, 25.4mm at 7th fret
STRING SPACING 38mm at nut, 56mm at bridge
ELECTRICS Taylor Expression System 2 pickup system
LEFT HANDERS Yes (no upcharge)
FINISH Satin Blackwood Stain back/sides, Medium Brown Stain top/neck, Shaded Edge Burst top
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