Taylor GS6-12 Review
Although Taylor Guitars is well known for its acoustic-electrics, and turned heads by building solid-body electric guitars, the company has never forsaken its purely acoustic roots. Taylor's relatively new Grand Symphony (GS) series is a bold reflection of this commitment. All GS guitars are minimally adorned, noncutaway instruments (unless special ordered otherwise) and include electronics only as an option—focusing instead on pure acoustic tone.
Given Taylor's long history as a builder of exceptional 12-strings (see "The Magnificent Seven," November 2008), it comes as little surprise that the company would add a 12-string version to the GS line (see New Gear review, June 2006). Taylor sent a maple and spruce GS6-12 for this review.
More Than Skin-Deep
The GS6-12 is an attractive and uniquely curvaceous guitar with a Sitka spruce top and beautifully figured, big leaf maple back, sides, and neck. Overall, the instrument's styling is elegant and subdued, featuring unobtrusive appointments including an Indian rosewood headstock overlay, simple abalone rosette, and small, abalone dot inlay markers on the ebony fretboard. The ebony bridge holds a compensated Tusq saddle, and the exceptionally smooth gold Taylor miniature tuning keys are complemented by a gold endpin and heel-mounted strap button. As is typical of a Taylor, construction of the guitar is flawless inside and out.
Easy on the Digits
The GS6-12's top-shelf fit and finish translates into excellent playability, which has always been one of Taylor's strong suits—and it's doubly important with the added tension of a 12-string guitar. The GS6-12 required only a little more hand strength than a six-string, a fact that's due, at least in part, to the exceptionally low action, which on our review guitar measured 5/64 inches at the 12th fret for the low E, and only 3/64 inches for the high E strings.
Guitarists who are used to six-strings may be understandably nervous about the prospect of tuning a 12-string guitar. But with the GS6-12 those fears are unfounded. Intonation is spot-on over the entire neck, and the guitar remained stable even when tuning down to a low C, which may be attributable in part to the stiff maple neck.
Twelve-strings are perfect for anyone seeking projection and a bigger sound, and the GS6-12 is more than up to the task. Strummed or fingerpicked, the guitar creates a stunning wall of sound. It would take a powerful singer to be heard over a GS6-12 strummed with a flatpick. And in spite of the low action and light-gauge strings, even fairly aggressive strumming produced little noticeable buzzing—just a rich and robust serving of 12-string tone. The GS6-12 is about much more than volume or ceiling, though. It also responds well to light fingerpicking, producing distinct, sustaining highs that are nicely balanced by a solid and defined low end and midrange warmth. The maple seems to lend an additional degree of clarity and separation to the notes and produces a bottom end that is tight and solid, but never boomy.
The GS6-12 is a surprisingly versatile instrument, and I found myself returning to it over and over as it sparked new ideas and revealed new colors in existing material. Played lightly, the GS6-12 brought a delicate harp-like flavor to a Celtic O'Carolan melody. With a heavier attack, a driving funky tune I've had under wraps for a long time suddenly had the power it had been missing. Resurrecting some half-forgotten Leo Kottke tunes, I found that I wasn't quite able to achieve his throaty low-end growl with the GS6-12's light-gauge strings tuned to standard pitch (Kottke uses heavy strings and tunes his guitar to C#), but the results were rewarding enough.
The GS6-12's clean and clear sound makes it an excellent recording guitar, too. In the studio, I was able to capture an accurate, full-spectrum tone very quickly, yielding a sound that was full and huge, without overwhelming the mics. The additional color that the GS6-12 provides enabled me to create a rich accompaniment behind a melody played on a six-string. But I was equally intrigued by the sound of flatpicked mandolin-like lines, using the GS6-12 as a lead instrument.
With an elegant body shape, understated but classy appointments, unbeatable playability, and a tone that is clear, punchy, and full of richness and warmth, the GS6-12 is an impressive addition to Taylor's 12-string line. Over the course of this review, I played at least a dozen other 12-strings, and while many were excellent in their own right, the GS6-12's smooth feel, big clean sound, and good looks set it apart. Players who need to play amplified may want to consider Taylor's 656ce (basically a GS6-12 with a cutaway and pickup system), but in a natural acoustic setting, the GS6-12 is an exceptional instrument.
Review courtesy of Acoustic Guitar Magazine