No Substitute For Character
Updated: Sep 1, 2019
Last year I bought a new Taylor T5z Classic Deluxe. Most of my guitars I've bought used - I rarely buy new instruments. But I'm always looking for the holy grail of versatility in an instrument. Wouldn't it be great to play a brunch-time singer/songwriter acoustic gig, a jazz/blues thing in the afternoon and then a classic rock/R&B dance gig that night - and use the SAME GUITAR for all 3 gigs? And be happy with the sound of that guitar on every gig? Shlepping 2 or 3 guitars around all day is a pain in the ass.
Yes, I've played 3 gigs in one day many times.
That's what I was hoping for with this Taylor guitar. It could be done, but it makes me less happy. So, alas, no.
First of all, it's a fine guitar - maybe even a great guitar. I'm waiting for a situation that I can't put my finger on for which this guitar would be perfect. The guitar is too good for there to not be one.
The intonation is perfect, and I mean perfect. That's the thing that drew me to it. Intonation is a tricky thing and this guitar has it! Jumbo frets - I like those too. So much so that when I obtained my '72 Tele I had all the frets replaced with Jumbos. The sustain is superior. The fretboard radius is comfortable for me - and on and on. It's a very well-built instrument - I like a LOT of things about this guitar.
So why does it make me less happy?
It's complicated, but it can all be boiled down to sound. Here are some of the details:
The guitar came with electric strings on it. The first couple of gigs I used it on were acoustic gigs on which I would normally play my Martin MC28. It quickly became apparent that the strings weren't heavy enough. I'm not a laid-back finger-picker type player. I use a hybrid pick-plus-fingers technique and when playing acoustic I sometimes walk a bass line pretty aggressively with a pick. The bass strings were fretting out - I had to back way off with the pick - and consequently lost the feel. When walking a bass line, I try to sound like an upright bass player. To get that feel, you gotta whack the string pretty hard.
I used the guitar on several electric variety gigs. Everything from R&B, Classic Rock, Country and even some Jazz standards thrown into the mix. This is where it worked the best. I could use the acoustic settings where appropriate and, in this context, they were more believable than in a singer/songwriter exclusively-acoustic-type situation. Caveat: it didn't sound good with distortion.
To deal with the problems when walking bass lines in an acoustic context I tried heavier strings. That helped, but messed up the sound of the electric settings - they sounded best with lighter electric strings.
With my beloved Martin in the shop for a couple of weeks and a string of acoustic gigs booked I decided to prioritize getting it to function as an acoustic. I ordered a 2nd saddle from Taylor, one designed for a wound G-string (otherwise the intonation would be off), and put a set of acoustic strings on it. This made the issues with the electric settings even worse, but improved the sound of the acoustic settings and I was able to get through the gigs with no one noticing anything - except me. BTW - Thanks to Tom Hedberg at Guitar Dock for his help and expertise with this process...and for putting up with my OCD about this kind of stuff!
At the present time it still has the acoustic strings on it but I am considering going back to the electric setup. The acoustic-type sounds work better in an electric band context than the electric sounds when strung with acoustic strings. As far as I'm concerned, that eliminates it from a strictly acoustic context. Plus, when soloing with the acoustic strings on it, the tone/volume isn't consistent from string-to-string. That would be a pick-up issue I'm thinking.
But here's the crux of the matter, no matter how it's set up: sound is everything; if I'm not happy with the sound, I'm not happy. To be fair, I'm probably looking for more than any one single instrument can deliver.
On the electric settings it sounds good - but not as good as my '72 Tele on pop/R&B songs, and not as good as my Gibson 175 or my hollow-body PRS on Jazz tunes. So I've wound up going back to those guitars for those gigs.
On the acoustic settings it sounds good - but not as good as my Martin MC28. So I've wound up going back to my old beat-up Martin workhorse that sounds great.
Speaking of which, look at the mileage on this baby; thousands of finish checks, a couple of cracks that have been repaired, places where the finish is worn off by skin oil and sweat, pick scrapes all around the sound hole, Jaegermeister and whiskey stains, etc. You can't manufacture this kind of character.
But character is only character if it sounds good -
otherwise it's just an old, beat-up, crappy-sounding guitar.
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