The Taylor 856ce 12-String Guitar: Reviewed
Many guitars pass through the hands of a guitar player over the years. Most are 're-homed' after a while. The Taylor 856ce is a definite "Keeper." This is the highest compliment a guitarist can pay to an instrument.
- This One Is A Keeper!
- About Taylor 12-String Guitars
- The Flagship Model 856ce
- Sound and Playability
- Different in A Wonderful Way!
- An Important Note About Guitar Pricing
- In Summary
This One Is A Keeper!
Having owned and played many 12-string guitars in my life, I must say that the Taylor 856ce is a truly extraordinary instrument in a line of categorically excellent 12-string guitars. It is, quite literally, among the best of the best. For a lover of 12-string acoustic-electric guitars who can afford it, this 856ce is absolutely top-of-the-line in all imaginable ways.
About Taylor 12-String Guitars
Guitars a one of the most popular instruments sold in the world. This is for a lot of good reasons. Playing one in a basic way is not difficult to learn, they are generally light and portable and they are available in the range of prices including ones that are quite inexpensive when it comes to professionally manufactured musical instruments.
The most popular guitars, at any price point, are those with 6 strings. 12 string guitars, though less commonplace, have many avid fans both as listeners as well as players. In the pantheon of available 12 string acoustic-electric guitars, the company founded and still run by Bob Taylor in California that bears his name, manufactures some of the best in the world.
The Flagship Model 856ce
Each model, from the most basic to the most elegant, is carefully designed and assembled by hand and each individual instrument is worth having and playing. This review discusses some of the detail of Taylor's flag ship 12 string acoustic-electric guitar, the 856ce. This long-sought ideal melding of the luthier’s craft and the 12-string guitar player’s high-end desires and needs are perfectly met in this flagship model 856ce.
Design, Construction and Appearance
The 856ce is in a size developed by Taylor called the Grand Symphony. It is a bit smaller and easier to hold than a full size Jumbo model with a significantly narrower ‘waist’ – the narrowed area in the mid-body of the guitar. The “ce” designation tells us that the body is shaped in the Venetian Cutaway design that allows for easier access to the highest frets (those closest to the body of the guitar.)
The materials used in the construction of this guitar are all top quality. The top is Sitka Spruce, the sides and back solid Indian Rosewood, the neck Tropical Mahogany and the fingerboard is ebony with beautiful mother-of-pearl inlays. The binding, commonly some variety of white or black plastic on less impressive instruments, is Curly Maple.
When it comes to the finish, Taylor has come up with a gloss top, back, and sides that provides maximum durability and resistance to cold-checking. This ultraviolet-cured finish is also more environmentally friendly than traditional lacquer finishes. Notably, this finish does nothing to impair or impede the sound of the guitar as high-gloss finishes can sometimes do.
Every detail is superb from the gold closed tuners and mother-of-pearl topped bridge pins to the richly adorned abalone rosette. It is simply a beautiful guitar and is available with the natural tone Sitka Spruce top or, by special order, with the top in either Western Red Cedar or Engelmann Spruce and alternative top finishes in either tobacco or sunburst tones.
Sound and Playability
Sheer beauty and artful construction notwithstanding, the most important functional attributes of any guitar are its sound and actual playability.
The sound generated with either flat or finger picking, with or without amplification, is simply incredible. It is rich and robust with near-perfect response from all three (bass, mid-range and treble) sound ranges. Unlike many 12-string guitars, it manages to lose the ‘jingle-jangle-‘sound of many of them. Instead, each and every string generates sound with a piano-like clarity and definition.
The tonality, clarity and sustain (the quality of the sounds to hang in the air and be heard for an extended period, until the string vibration fades itself or is stopped manually) are all in the truly outstanding range.
The built-in proprietary Taylor Expression (ES) amplification system sounds more like playing in front of a high-quality set of performance microphones than it does like other, more traditional, on-board acoustic pick-ups and pre-amps. This all-magnetic system produces an amplified rendition that maintains the wonderful warmth of the acoustic instrument. Played without plugging it in, the 856ce is perhaps the finest acoustic 12-string guitars mass produced (but built entirely by hand in El Cajon, CA) available.
It is interesting and important to emphasize that this 856ce sounds every bit as good unamplified and played purely acoustically as it does plugged into even the most modest “bedroom” acoustic amplifier. Connected with a high-power stage amplifier, the 856ce can hold its own with any performance 12-string on the market.
Different in A Wonderful Way!
All Taylor 12-strings, including the most basic 355 are easy to play. Although, on the 856ce, the width of the neck at the nut (the narrowest part of the neck, closest to the headstock and tuners) is 1- 7/8” wide it is imminently playable without uncomfortable effort. The neck diameter is narrow and easy to get your hand around, the neck is clear and straight, the frets clean and smooth, the sound/finger board smoothly finished ebony and the strings as close as possible to the fret board.
Any 12-string guitar is going to feel different, of course, from a 6-string. Twice as many strings require a wider neck but Taylor’s overall design reduces the difficulty that the additional neck width might be expected to create for a player with average size hands.
But, like all the things that are different about this guitar, the neck, too, is different in a wonderful way.
An Important Note About Guitar Pricing
Like most consumer products, guitars do not really have any specific ‘intrinsic’ value. They are ‘worth’ whatever a buyer is willing to pay for it.
The pricing of guitars is a bit like cars. There are three prices. 1) The guitar equivalent of an automobile’s MSRP, 2) the advertised “Best Price” and 3) the price for which it actually is sold. The dealer generally takes the price from #1 to #2. As is the case with most cars, the actual selling price (#3) is arrived at through a process of negotiation.
The Taylor 856ce has a Factory List Price (which no informed guitar buyer EVER pays and no dealer who is serious about selling the instrument EVER charges) of $4,258. Then, the manufacturer controls what is referred to as the MAP (Minimum Advertised Price.) This is the lowest amount any authorized retailer is permitted to publicly display as the “Lowest” or “Best” price. In the case of this 856ce, that is currently $3,149. Finally, and most importantly, there is the price that the buyer actually negotiates with the dealer.
In my case, with a few phone calls to various dealers giving each successive one the opportunity to best the lowest price I had been quoted (privately, over the phone) by the one before it, I wound up paying $2,600. With UPS shipping and custom hard case included. This is about 61% of the Factory List Price and $549. less than the MAP. Assertively shopping for the best possible price for a guitar is standard smart-buying practice.
The Taylor 856ce is an exceptional instrument and one with a hefty price tag. None-the-less, an hour spend making a few phone calls can save a great deal of money – even on the best.
Those interested in a hugely less expensive but certainly adequate 12-string (non-electric) acoustic guitar, I would recommend taking a look at either the Taylor 355 mentioned and linked earlier or the Seagull Coastline S12.
The Taylor 856ce is an example of the highest form of major-production American-made 12-string acoustic-electric guitars available today. This is a relatively expensive instrument, but well worth it to a serious 12-stringer who is ready (and able, of course) to move up to the best. It is a treasure to see, play and listen to.
Guitar players regard an instrument like the Taylor 856ce as a “keeper.” This is, perhaps, the highest compliment that a guitarist can pay to any instrument that has come through their hands.