REVIEW: Taylor SolidBody Standard
Recently, Taylor Guitars and Australian distributor Audio Products Group offered me an incredible opportunity: to design my own guitar via the Solidbody Confgigurator at taylorguitars.com then have the guitar built, then use it for reviews and videos on I Heart Guitar. After thinking about it for about a millisecond I of course said yes and started designing. I’ve been in love with the Taylor Solidbody since the first time I reviewed the SolidBody Custom a few years ago, and if you dig around on YouTube you can even find a Share My Guitar video from NAMM 2010 which has about five seconds of me jamming with some random dudes in the background. So I was familiar with the general layout and qualities of the various Solidbody models, and I took this into account in designing my guitar.
My first choice was to decide between the SolidBody Classic (swamp ash body with satin-finish maple neck and Indian rosewood fretboard) or Standard (chambered mahogany body, quilted maple top, gloss-finish mahogany neck, ebony fretboard). I decided on the Standard. The next choice was cutaway: single or double? I selected the double cutaway version just because it feels more ‘me.’ The guitar’s scale length is 24 7/8″.
The Configurator gives you the option of tremolo or fixed bridge versions. I selected the tremolo version – it’s a non-locking unit with a low fulcrum point which gives it extra smooth operation, and the intonation setup work is done through the back of the guitar, keeping the playing surface smooth and screw-free. I decided to go for a pickguard rather than direct mount pickups, so I could later take advantage of Taylor’s interchangeable solderless pickguards. I selected three of Taylor’s mini humbuckers, which I fell in love with when I reviewed that first SolidBody back in the day. To my ears, these pickups are voiced somewhere between a P90 and a Gretsch FilterTron, with maybe a bit of overwound Strat thrown in. But they’re very low noise and are uniquely Taylor in construction and tone. Taylor’s tone knob is specially voiced to produce a wah-like midrange kick when it’s turned all the way down, and their guitars feature a fuse to protect you from unwanted zaps onstage.
Finally it was time to select colours. My-5-year old and I sat down at the computer and went through a few options before I settled on Doheny Green with a black pickguard. My choice was inspired by Brian May’s green backup of his Red Special guitar. I never really listened to that much Queen but I always thought that ‘Green Special’ was cool.
Here’s the result:
Then the build began, and Taylor sent me a few photos of the build process. It was exciting to see my guitar begin to take shape. But what was even more exciting was to go to the Taylor factory in El Cajon, California a few weeks ago when I was in the USA for the NAMM show, and to pick up my SolidBody at the very factory where it was built. I even got to wander around the factory and watch other SolidBodys being built. And I had the amazing opportunity of getting to show my brand new Taylor to Bob Taylor himself, in the very factory where it was built.
So what’s the guitar actually like? Well, the build quality is incredible. The neck joint offers a very snug fit for maximum string vibration transfer, and when combined with the chambered body the result is a satisfying ‘bloom’ to each note, whether plugged in or not. The fretwork is spectacular, and the neck shape is comfortable – a little rounded but not so bulky as to be restrictive. Since the neck of the SolidBody is a standard, uncustomisable feature, you can’t select fret size, neck profile, fretboard radius (it’s 12″) or width (it’s 1-11/16″), the SolidBody must present a neck that’s as comfortable to as many players as possible. And it does this very well. The string spacing may be a little tight if you’re used to modern shred axes but not to an impeding degree.
Plugged in, the SolidBody sounds almost like a heavy-duty Stratocaster with maybe a little more treble and more fullness. The bridge pickup has plenty of bite and jangle, and it offers muscular, punchy cleans with just enough twang. At gently overdriven levels it sounds vintage-like, with plenty of chime and ‘string sound.’ And when you really crank the distortion there’s still plenty of cut and definition thanks to the extra high-end grunt. The neck pickup has a similarly clear high end but with more perceived power (thanks to the greater string vibration at that portion of the string) and more touch sensitivity. Dig in with the pick and it does that great vowel-like sound of a Stratocaster in full blues-rock mode. Play softer and you’ll get more delicate chordal sound for R&B or jazz. And the middle pickup combines the fullness of the neck unit with the clarity of the bridge one for a great all-round sound which will really work for those who play combined rhythm-lead styles in the great Jimi/SRV tradition. The in-between sounds are great too, with a muscular approach to the traditional out-of-phase Strat sound. And the rolled-back tone knob trick is a really useful feature that adds lots of character and warmth to single note lines.
The vibrato bridge can be floated for up-and-down movement, and its smooth profile is especially well-suited to those Jeff Beck or Steve Lukather ‘push the bridge with the side of your hand’ techniques. It can even be coaxed into a Vai-like flutter. In fact, the smooth aspect of the bridge against the hand while palm-muting is one of several little design touches that I really enjoy. Others include the binding around the top – which is actually set into rather than on top of the body, and which almost gives the guitar a secondary outline in addition to the actual one; the comfortable feel of the neck joint; the way the SolidBody balances in perfect playing position when on a strap; and the extremely reflective side inlay dots, which will be an especially handy asset onstage.
All told, it’s surreal to look over and see and hold in person an instrument that began life as pixels on a screen while my son and I tried out different colour combinations. I can’t wait to start using the guitar in reviews and videos, and it’s already inspired quite a few song ideas. In fact, the particular tonality of the mini humbuckers when played through an overdriven amp with light reverb has inspired a whole batch of songs with a sort of 70s-meets-90s-meets-Mastodon feel that I’m sure I would not have otherwise written. And this same character, combined with a harder pick attack, is a brilliant blues-rock sound. It’s like the voice of the guitar has already begun to dictate the kind of riffs and solos it wants to play. Actually, there’s also an almost Queens Of The Stone Age kind of dry crunch lurking in this guitar if you set the amp just so. And it’s wonderful for country, country rock and other clean-leaning styles as well. Taylor may not be the first brand that comes to mind when you think of electric guitars, but this is a very high quality, distinctive instrument which bares all the craftsmanship and design originality that makes Taylor acoustics so revered.