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Technotes Online > Taylor T5 Thinline

The Taylor T5 Thinline

Issue #27
October 10, 2005

The acoustic and electric guitar worlds have now merged!

As most of you well know, anytime the words "acoustic" and "electric" were put together while discussing guitars, you knew there had to be some compromise involved, right? True, we've had acoustic guitars that could be plugged into a guitar amplifier all the way back in the early 1960s when Gibson first attached a single coil pickup to the top of one of their high end acoustics. That guitar, the J160E, was heard on many classic recordings by The Beatles throughout the decade (both John and George owned one).

On stage, however, acoustics played through guitar amps were prone to horrendous feedback. What's more, no standard guitar amp could reproduce the full frequency response of an acoustic, as most transducers typically cut off all the high end above 3kHz or so.

In the late 1960s, Ovation introduced a new kind of pickup, called the piezoelectric, which used special crystals that could sense - and amplify - the vibrations of both the strings and the body of an acoustic, all the way out to about 16kHz. Thus was born the "electroacoustic" guitar. But while it was a huge step forward, it was effectively just an acoustic that could be easily amplified.

Many manufacturers tinkered with that formula over the next three decades. Some electric solid body or hollow body guitars eventually appeared with piezos onboard. Still, it was always back to that original compromise; but in this case, these instruments were actually electrics that could deliver a reasonably credible acoustic flavor up on stage.

The first company to dabble in "modeled" acoustic sounds that could be produced by a true electric guitar was Roland, with their VG-8 in the mid-1990s and more recently in the VG-88. And by 2003, Line 6 shook things up by introducing a truly revolutionary technology that used digital modeling to produce the sound of both classic electric and acoustic guitars with their Variax series. I've written several columns on these instruments here in Tech Notes Online if you want to go back and have a look.

Taylor Guitars: A Short History

In 1974, Bob Taylor, along with his partner Kurt Listug, built the very first Taylor acoustic in Lemon Grove, California. Knowing they didn't have the deep historical roots of some other guitar builders, they went all out to try and craft some of the best sounding and easiest playing instruments. What's more, they realized that the look of a guitar was almost as important as the sound. That led the fledgling company to pursue interesting new designs that made use of premium tone woods, bold inlays and colorful stains that were considered pretty outrageous at the time.
By the 1990s, Taylor was turning out some truly gorgeous acoustics, many of which shipped with the company's Expression System, introduced in 1999, and created in partnership with renowned audio pioneer, Rupert Neve. This system utilizes patented Dynamic Sensors to capture top and string vibration and is seamlessly integrated into the design of the guitar from the ground up.

Introducing the T5 Thinline: A True Taylor Innovation

Now, when I first heard that Taylor was unveiling a new guitar that was equal parts electric and acoustic, my first thought was, "Well, we've heard that before." I saw photos in a few guitar magazines but aside from the fact that it was a Taylor, I can't say I really understood what the fuss was all about.

That was before a T5 Custom arrived on my doorstep!

I'm sure you've heard the old axiom about always making a good first impression about a million times. But the folks at Taylor certainly took that advice to heart, because immediately upon lifting the T5 case from the shipping container, I simply had to smile.

Some of you guitar-aholics may remember Mosrite guitars, which were hot items in the 1960s at the height of the instrumental guitar / surf music boom, mostly because they were played and endorsed by The Ventures. Those guitars shipped in a wonderful faux alligator hide case. Now, 40 years later, Taylor has revived that particular "fashion statement" - and to great effect! So even before I opened the case, I knew this was something special!

Still, great packaging or even the best presentation of a piece of equipment does not guarantee a superior product. But with the Taylor T5, it absolutely does. Because inside the case was an instrument that pretty much any guitar aficionado would find quite appealing! I carefully lifted it out of the plush black case and admired the beautiful figured maple top finished in what Taylor calls Tobacco Sunburst, but it sure looked more like a Honeyburst to me.

Yes, you might have seen examples of T5s on various web sites - including Taylor's own. But no picture I'd seen came close to pinning down the exact color and the 3-D-like depth of the finish. Check out the photos on this page and you'll understand why I was - and still am - so impressed. Beautiful, isn't it? Keep in mind these are highly compressed JPEGs, so they only hint at the true beauty of this instrument.

This particular guitar is the T5-C1, which means it has a figured maple top and gold hardware along with some really nice inlay work on the ebony fingerboard. The T5 Standard comes with a solid spruce top and dot inlays. By the way, T5 stands for "thinline" with a five-position pickup selector, which we'll discuss in the next section.

Looks Aren't Everything

While the T5 is certainly a gorgeous guitar, the real magic is in how it performs once you start playing it. Even in "unplugged" mode, the T5 feels great. Grab the neck and you'd swear this was a premium electric from one of the top builders. Whether you're hitting single notes or grabbing big chunky chords, the action is almost effortless. And when you strum it, you get lots of silky, complex overtones! It's not as loud as your garden variety acoustic, but considering how shallow the body is and how small the decorative "f-holes" are, you can get some pretty decent volume from the T5. Once you plug this guitar into an appropriate amplifier, that's when things really get interesting. Oddly enough, there's no documentation that explains what the three knobs on the upper bout near the neck do, but the T5 ships with a DVD that takes you through all the specifics. Just in case you're curious, the three knobs control master volume, along with active bass and treble (both of these have a center detent that marks the "flat EQ" settings).

Let's get our T5 audition started using the five-position pickup selector switch in the first (farthest left) position. This is where you'll get the best acoustic sound, either plugged into a suitable combo amp with a full frequency range (for example a Roland AC-60 or a Fender Acoustasonic 30) or direct to your mixer. You could also use a device like a Line 6 PODxt or a Tech21 AcousticDI between the guitar and the mixer for additional tone shaping capabilities.

Audio Demos
T5 Acoustic
Position 1
T5 Bridge Humbucker
Position 3 (Clean)
T5 Humbucker
Position 3 (Dirty)
T5 Both Pickups
Position 5 (Clean)
This is the T5's body sensor combined with the neck humbucker with the pickup switch set to position 1. Played
directly into a PODxt using the factory "Piezoacoustic" program. I did roll off some lows as the bottom end was a little bit boomy.
This is the T5's bridge humbucker played through the PODxt "Funk 49" factory preset. I did boost the reverb a bit and added just a little more drive for a saturated tube tone. Here I used the "Line 6 Clean" preset on the PODxt, but added the modeled Tube Screamer stompbox. The setting on the T5 is again the bridge humbucker with just a little high end rolled off. This is the T5's neck and bridge
humbuckers together in the Series configuration, which is a bit fatter than Position 4, which is the two pickups in parallel. For fun, I just built a quick backup track using Garage Band, then did the solo over it using the PODxt's "Line 6 Clean" factory preset, but with a little extra drive added for that tube saturation effect.

In any case, position one is a combination of the T5's body sensor and a neck humbucker that's actually hidden right where the neck and body come together. The resultant sound is great for clean rhythm parts or even lead lines where you want a bit of extra top end. The onboard bass and treble controls allow you to add some brilliance or a bit of extra low end warmth. It's not dead-on acoustic, but I loved the sound of it - this alone sold me on the T5!

Position two delivers just the neck humbucker by itself. This offers up a nice chunky rhythm sound or you can send your amp into overdrive for classic "Cream-era" Clapton or with the treble rolled off, a nice smooth Santana-like tone with plenty of sustain

Position three is the bridge humbucker by itself. Of course, when you look at the pickup, its physical size would naturally have you thinking it's a single coil. However, the pickup is clean and quiet, even at concert hall volume. It's also got lots of "Tele twang" considering it's a humbucker.

Positions four and five are intriguing. In position four, the bridge and neck pickups are wired in parallel, so you get the kind of big, round dual pickup sound you might expect from a 1950s Gretsch. Meanwhile, in position five, you get both pickups wired in series for a slightly fatter, punchier tone (though the differences are most noticeable when playing the guitar clean, rather than with lots of overdrive or a fuzz box).

Spruce Top - Cherry Sunburst Spruce Top - Honey Sunburst Premium Maple Top - Red Edge Burst Premium Maple Top - Black Premium Koa Top - Natural Finish
View View View View View
Premium Maple Top - Honey Sunburst Spruce Top - Blue Edge Burst Spruce Top - Black Spruce Top - Cherry Sunburst  
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The Wrap-Up

By this point, you've looked at the photos and hopefully had a listen to the audio files. The photos definitely show off that gorgeous flame maple top. And the audio files? Well, they should be enough to convince anyone that this is an amazingly versatile guitar that's as at home playing blues as it is playing heavy metal or country or . . . well, just fill in the blank for your style of music.

Clearly, my time spent playing the Taylor T5 Custom was a pleasure. What's more, it's in that rarefied group of products that actually is so darn good, it makes me seriously consider just how much credit is available on my Sweetwater Card.

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Questions, comments, rants, suggestions, unwanted ‘62 Stratocasters and any other form of correspondence can be addressed to jim_miller@mindspring.com.

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