Taylor 322ce & 510e Acoustic Guitars Review

Taylors with slotted headstocks and open-gear tuners? Whatever next? Huw Price assesses a contrasting pair in our reviews of the Taylor 322ce & 510e…

Things have definitely been changing at Taylor guitars. Just a few years ago, the idea of a production-model Taylor with a slotted headstock would have seemed implausible. And yet here we are with two slot-headed Taylors, and they look the part. In fact, they look rather good.

Both have Taylor’s Expression System 2 fitted and some wonderful open-gear tuners with ivoroid buttons. The nuts are Tusq and the saddles Micarta, and both have ebony boards and bridges. The similarities end there.

322ce 12-Fret

Taylor 322ce
You’re looking at a satin-finished all-solid body with a mahogany top, Tasmanian blackwood back and sides and a mahogany neck. We can see why a cutaway makes sense with a 12th-fret neck join, but it can go against the grain – so to speak. It does work here, though, because the body shape and the proportions are harmonious.

This is a guitar that confounds expectations. We certainly hadn’t anticipated such a deep and vibrant bass response from the relatively small body – especially with the loss of real estate from the cutaway. Even so, the bass sounds full, solid and punchy with just a hint of boom. With a thumb pick, the low end has considerable power, which makes it easy to set up and maintain rhythmic drive with alternating thumb patterns.

The downside is that the bass end can overpower the treble. It’s not noticeable when you’re palm muting, but when the low strings are allowed to ring open it can be a struggle to hear the higher notes of chord voicings, unless your nails are long.

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Things are considerably more balanced without a thumb pick, even if you dig in with your thumbnail, but the plain strings don’t quite ring true and despite being new, the B string on the review guitar has a slightly muted quality that we suspect might be a minor saddle issue.

Despite the parlor guitar features, the 322ce sounds nothing like a parlor guitar. There’s no boxy midrange honk or lack of depth. Instead, it has the fullness of a bigger-bodied guitar, but in a smaller package.

When the 322ce is strummed, everything gels together nicely. It’s almost as if fingerpicking alone cannot get sufficient energy into the plain strings to drive the top, but a plectrum certainly can. It coaxes out hitherto-unheard treble sheen that floats over the bass and mids.

There’s a touch of natural compression that only enhances the 322ce’s abilities as a rhythm guitar par excellence. Everything points to this being a fantastic fingerpicker, but while it’s enjoyable in a quiet and mellow sort of way, that’s not what it does best. A strummer’s delight.

Alternatives – Taylor 322ce 12-Fret

Martin’s 000-15SM £1,634 has a slotted headstock and 12 frets to the solid-mahogany body, but no pickup system or cutaway. The all-mahogany Martin OMC-15ME £1,599 has a cutaway and a 14th-fret join and Matrix VT Enhance pickups. The Faith Neptune Mahogany Gloss £719 is a more contemporary option with a cutaway and a Shadow Performer tuner preamp/Nanoflex II pickup.

510e

Taylor 510e
Lutz spruce is a new one for us – a naturally occurring sitka and white spruce hybrid. The tropical mahogany back and sides are more familiar and a flawless gloss finish enhances all this gorgeous tone timber. The mahogany neck is described as having a V profile, but it’s so subtle we were oblivious until reading the specs. It feels even better than usual, and the shorter 24 7/8-inch scale length further enhances the playability.

The term ‘smiley face’ could be used to describe both this guitar’s frequency response and the effect it has on you. There’s loads of treble, combined with a powerful and deep bass. This is the default ‘curve’ for many dreadnoughts, but while the midrange is recessed, the bass and treble here are evenly matched.

The low-frequency response is particularly impressive because Taylor has managed to make it so strong without introducing any of the boominess that so often accompanies bassy dreadnoughts. The 510e possesses very crisp definition, a solid thump and rich harmonic overtones.

This time, the plain strings aren’t overpowered, so all the voicings and suspensions you might add on the B and E strings cut straight through. Single-note runs across the strings highlight the slightly lower energy of the D and G strings, but the 510e is balanced enough and, although bright, the plain strings sound full and strong.

This guitar is a bluegrass natural, and any basslines you pick out balance superbly with strummed chords. It’s also tremendous fun for banging out rockabilly rhythms and R&B grooves on the E and A strings.

Taylor Headstock

Both guitars sport classy open-gear tuners with ivoroid buttons

Also impressive is the 510e’s lightning-fast response and free-moving top. You can tap the bridge with your finger and feel a really strong kick-back. This means that very little energy is required to get this soundboard moving, making it a remarkably adept fingerpicker.
Because both guitars have the same Expression 2 pickup system, this review provides an excellent opportunity to gauge its ability to capture the acoustic nuances of a particular instrument. After all, these guitars sound different acoustically, so it follows they should sound different when amplified.

And indeed they do – to an extent. With the tone controls in the null positions, the Expression 2 system is a little full in the bass and shy in the treble, but it’s a fine starting point. Very little adjustment is needed to balance things out, and many of the acoustic qualities come through.

The system is very lively and has some of the characteristics of a microphone – albeit a slightly coloured one. The sensitivity is such that it brings back memories of taping a microphone to the top of my acoustic guitars before I got my first electric.

The Expression system doesn’t sound like an undersaddle piezo at all – largely because it isn’t. It does sound more acoustic than electric, but a decent preamp with parametric equalisation might help to compensate for some slight frequency anomalies. The output level is very strong, but background hum can be intrusive in quieter moments.

Taylor 510e

The 510e is our first encounter with Lutz spruce, and we like it

The 322ce has the darker and woodier tone, but it’s more of a niche product. Like many factory-fresh spruce guitars, the 510e sounds a bit callow and youthful, but we have no doubt that its voice will quickly break into something mellower and richer. Of the two, the 510e is the best all-rounder by some distance.

Alternatives – Taylor 510e

The Gibson J-45 Southern Jumbo Ltd £2,152 is a slope-shouldered spruce/mahogany dreadnought with a similar scale length and an LR Baggs Element Active VTC pickup system. For a longer scale length, check out the Larrivee D-40E £1,470 with spruce/mahogany body and a Shadow NFX VT pickup system

Key Features – Taylor 322ce 12-Fret
• PRICE £2,031
• DESCRIPTION All-solid electro-acoustic six-string guitar, made in the USA
• BUILD Mahogany top with Tasmanian blackwood back and sides, mahogany neck, ebony bridge and fingerboard, rosewood peghead overlay, 12th-fret neck join, open-gear tuners with ivoroid buttons, Tusq nut and Micarta saddle, white/black plastic bindings, ebony bridge pins with diamond markers
• ELECTRICS Taylor Expression 2 system
• LEFT-HANDERS No extra charge
• FINISH Satin body and neck
• SCALE LENGTH 631.52mm/24 7/8”
• NECK WIDTH 44mm at nut, 56mm at 12th fret
• NECK DEPTH 20mm at first fret, 22mm at seventh fret
• STRING SPACING 37mm at nut, 55.5mm at bridge
• WEIGHT 1.8kg/3.9lb
• CONTACT Big Fish Studios 01206 382224 www.taylorguitars.com

Key Features – Taylor 510e
• PRICE £2,401
• DESCRIPTION All-solid electro-acoustic six-string guitar, made in the USA
• BUILD Lutz spruce top with mahogany back and sides, mahogany neck, ebony bridge and fingerboard, ebony peghead overlay, 12th-fret neck join, open-gear tuners with ivoroid buttons, Tusq nut and Micarta saddle, tortoise/cream/black plastic bindings, ebony bridge pins with diamond markers, tortoise/ivoroid rosette
• ELECTRICS Taylor Expression 2 system
• LEFT-HANDERS No extra charge
• FINISH Gloss body with satin neck
• SCALE LENGTH 631.52 mm/24 7/8”
• NECK WIDTH 44mm at nut, 54mm at 12th fret
• NECK DEPTH 20mm at first fret, 21.5mm at ninth fret
• STRING SPACING 38mm at nut, 55mm at bridge
• WEIGHT 1.93kg/4.2lb
• CONTACT Big Fish Studios 01206 382224 www.taylorguitars.com

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