Few guitar brands have reached the apex of craftsmanship the way Taylor has. Beginning their journey to acoustic supremacy in the mid-70s with Bob Taylor and Kurt Listug tinkering away together, Taylor has since made its way to the forefront of the guitar world by building consistently excellent instruments.
Taylor has so much to offer, it’s easy to feel like you’ve been spun in circles a few times when browsing their catalog. The differences between their model lines and body types are subtle. They prefer precision craftsmanship focused on sonic purity over catchy design aesthetics. And yes, most do cost a pretty penny. But there’s a method to the Taylor madness — and it’s actually genius.
The Taylor System of Classification
It isn’t totally necessary for you to understand how Taylor divvies up its guitars for you to buy one, but it is quite helpful. If you just want to pick something you like off the wall and check the price, that’s a damn fine way to do it. But if you’re looking for some particular woods, specs, or appointments, read on.
The first numeral in Taylor’s model numbers indicates the series it belongs to. The series span from the 100 Series to the 900 Series, with the 100 and 200 being made in Mexico, and the remaining numbered series made in America. Generally, each is a step up in quality and price.
So when you see this – 414ce, it’s a 400 Series.
When you see this – 856ce, it’s an 800 Series.
There’s also the Travel, GS Mini, Koa, and Presentation Series, which operate outside of the numbered system, but which are somewhat evident from their names.
Each series encompasses certain materials and appointments specific to that series. We’ll get into the details of each further on.
The second numeral in the model number indicates the top wood used for the soundboard and also whether the guitar is a 6-string or a 12-string.
The overwhelming majority of Taylor guitars have a soft top wood—often Sitka spruce. This is indicated by the number “1”. Thus, many Taylors have “1” in the middle i.e. the 314 or the 716ce. “1” can also indicate cedar, another soft wood used by Taylor. The less common, but still used, “2” indicates a hard top wood, like mahogany or koa.
When the guitar is a 12-string, you’ll see “5” in place of “1” to indicate the soft top woods and a “6” in place of “2” to indicate hard top woods.
Thus, a 414ce is a standard 6-string guitar with a Sitka spruce top, while an 856ce is a 12-string with a Sitka spruce top. Accordingly, a 566ce is a 12-string with a mahogany top.
The final number in the sequence indicates the body shape. The different body shapes and corresponding numbers are explained herein.
0 = Dreadnought: The classic shape sporting strong high and low end presence, with a scooped mid-range and powerful output. It’s great for strummers and bluegrass players.
2 = Grand Concert: The smallest body, having less overtones and a shorter scale. This also encompasses the 12-fret models. It’s excellent for fingerpicking.
4 = Grand Auditorium: The Swiss Army knife of shapes, with a great balance of lows, mids, and highs. Suitable for all playing styles and player types.
6 = Grand Symphony: Big bold strummer with a more powerful low-end and a larger output than the Grand Auditorium.
7 = Grand Pacific: The newest of the Taylor body shapes, the Grand Pacific is a fresh take on the classic dreadnought.
8 = Grand Orchestra: The biggest and deepest body with a mixture of scallop and parabolic bracing, which is great for medium strummers and finger style players alike.
And those letters are…?
“c” is for cutaway. Either Venetian or Florentine.
“e” is for electronics. At this point, almost all American made Taylors boast their Expression System II electronics system. The heart of the Expression System 2 is Taylor’s proprietary behind-the-saddle pickup, which features three uniquely positioned and individually calibrated piezo-crystal based sensors.
“N” is for nylon-string. There are a few nylon-string guitars throughout the 200-800 series.
“R” is for rosewood. Occasionally, Taylor denotes model versions with rosewood bodies.
Worthy of note, Taylor recently developed a new system of bracing an acoustic guitar’s body. Traditionally, acoustic guitar bracing was laid out in an “X” configuration beneath the soundboard. This system creates a mutually exclusive trade-off between volume and sustain. As you increase the stiffness of the wood on the soundboard, you gain sustain, but lose volume. If the wood is looser, you’ll gain volume and lose sustain.
However, Taylor’s V-class bracing system solved this conundrum. Developed by Taylor Masterbuilder Andy Powers, this new bracing creates louder notes with longer sustain, that are more in-tune with one another. This feature is now present on many of Taylor’s best models and will be denoted in the guitar’s name or specs.
With an understanding of the Taylor classification system, you can decipher a lot. But it’s not as useful if you don’t know the differences between the build of each series. So here’s a rundown of the major differences between the Taylor series.
Travel Series (Baby Taylor, Big Baby Taylor): Solid spruce or mahogany top, sapele layered back/sides.
GS Mini: Layered Sapele or layered rosewood back/sides, Sitka spruce (layered sapele, layered rosewood) or mahogany top (layered sapele).
100 Series: Solid spruce top, layered sapele back/sides.
200 Series: Rosewood, koa, or sapele laminate back/sides with Solid spruce top.
200 Deluxe Series: The 200 Series with the addition of ES2 electronics, small diamond fretboard inlays, and hard shell case.
300 Series: Sapele or Tasmanian blackwood back/sides, Sitka spruce (Sapele back/sides) or mahogany top (Tasmanian blackwood back/sides).
400 Series: Ovangkol back/sides, Sitka spruce top.
400 Series Rosewood: Rosewood back/sides, Sitka spruce top.
500 Series: Mahogany back/sides, western red cedar (Grand Concert, Grand Auditorium), Lutz spruce (Grand Symphony, Dreadnought) or mahogany top (Grand Concert, Grand Auditorium, Grand Symphony, Dreadnought).
600 Series: Maple back and sides with torrified Sitka spruce top, protein glues, 3.5 mil finish and Ebony binding, back strap and pickguard.
700 Series: Indian rosewood back/sides, Lutz spruce top.
800 Series: Indian rosewood back and sides, protein glues, 3.5 mil finish, smoked ebony fretboards, rosewood pickguard and nickel hardware.
800 Deluxe Series: 800 Series appointments upgraded with an armrest, Adirondack spruce bracing, and Gotoh 510 tuners with 21:1 gear ratio.
900 Series: AA Indian rosewood back and sides trimmed in koa purfling, AA Sitka spruce top, West African ebony binding, match binding backstrap, and beveled armrest.
Builder’s Edition: The director’s cut of guitars. These special models are a step above their counterparts and feature some specific and excellent upgrades individual to each one.
Taylor Electric Guitars
Taylor is primarily an acoustic guitar maker. While the vast majority of their models are indeed full acoustic, they have a few semi-hollow and hollow electric models which are engineered to have beautiful sound and vibes.
Taylor T5: Available in Classic (mahogany top), Standard (spruce top), Pro (maple top) and Custom (Hawaiian koa top) models, the hollow-body T5 is the best of both the acoustic and electric worlds. With two humbucker pickups and an acoustic body sensor, The T5 lets you A/B your sound to shift between acoustic and electric amps, or blend them and create new sounds suited to your style.
Taylor T5z: The T5z has a body size that is more compact than the original T5, with a fretboard more suited to electric guitarists. It sports jumbo frets and a 12” neck radius. Like all models in the T5 series, the T5z is fully electric with a full-range acoustic setting, utilizing a five-way toggle switch and on-board tone controls that unleash endless tonal possibilities.
Taylor T3: Equipped with a unique coil-splitting application, the T3 lets players switch between killer humbucker and single-coil sounds with one guitar. You can opt for a stop tailpiece or a Bigsby with a specially designed roller bridge to eliminate the pitch issues usually found with vibrato systems.
Guitars Taylor-ed Perfectly to Your Style
With the amount of top-quality models Taylor produces, it’s hard to imagine anyone not finding the right one for them. Boasting the most beautiful woods, delicately crafted into one of a few excellent body shapes and finished with gorgeous appointments, owning a Taylor is about as good as it gets.