When Taylor revamped its 500 series last year, it temporarily reduced the line to just two models: a grand concert 512ce and a grand auditorium 514ce (click on the links to see our demos). Introducing urban ironbark wood for the guitars’ back and sides (in place of the mahogany that had previously been used for 500s), the new models were a major step forward for Taylor’s Urban Wood Initiative (check out our exclusive interview with Taylor’s Andy Powers to learn more about the company’s use of urban woods). Now, the company is expanding the 500 series with a trio of new models; a pair of grand concerts (one six-string one 12-string), and a Grand Pacific. I had a chance to check out all three guitars, and in this video, I demo the six-string 512ce 12-Fret and the 12-string 552ce. We’ll feature the new 517e in a separate demo soon.
The 512ce 12-Fret and the 552ce are familiar models that had been available in the previous 500 series. Both use Taylor’s small grand-concert body with a 12-fret neck joint, and with their identical woods and appointments, they’re essentially a matched pair. While 12-fret versions of six-string grand concerts have been available for a long time, using the platform of a grand-concert body with a 12-fret neck for a 12-string is a relatively recent development.
Like the previously released urban ironbark 500’s, the new models have torrefied Sitka spruce tops, an edgeburst finish, tortoise-style binding, and “Aerial” fingerboard inlay. On both guitars, the woods were of very high quality. The grain on the 512ce 12-Fret’s top was quite wide (but very straight), while the 552ce had a tight-grained top. Like other Taylor 12-fret models, the 512ce 12-Fret has a slotted peghead with open-geared tuners. The 552ce has a set of miniature versions of Taylor’s standard enclosed tuning machines. Both guitars include Taylor’s own ES2 electronics.
With their identical body sizes and similar vibe, the guitars were fun to play as a pair. The 512ce 12-Fret was a fabulous fingerstyle guitar—incredibly responsive, with an assertive midrange that gave it great presence, and excellent tonal balance. As with other Taylor 12-frets I’ve played, this version of the 512ce had a warmer and fuller bass than the 14-fret version.
There are a lot of things to like about the 552ce, but the most distinctive is its effortless playability. Players who have felt in the past that a 12-string is too hard to play owe it to themselves to try one of the Taylor grand concerts, as the combination of the small body, short scale, and excellent setup results in an instrument that is easier to play than many six-strings. Barre chords up the neck? Not a problem. Electric guitar–style lead lines? Easily done. I’m used to playing an older Taylor 355 12-string (which also plays very nicely), but the 552ce should win an award for how friendly on the fingers it is. The guitar sounded great when strummed, and single-note lines were well defined. Players who have struggled playing fingerstyle on a 12-string will also find the 552ce to be a revelation, as once again, it’s so effortless to play. Tonally, the guitar had a lovely overall balance and rich character, though I did find that the small body gave it a somewhat compromised dynamic range when I was playing the guitar hard or dropped into lowered tunings. However, in settings where tonal precision—whether due to the guitar’s excellent intonation or just its ability to facilitate clean playing—is more important than raw acoustic power, it’s hard to imagine a player not falling in love with the guitar.
Kudos to Taylor for expanding its use of sustainable woods with these new 500-series models. Whether you’re in the market for a great fingerstyle guitar or want the easiest-playing 12-string in town, one of these new urban ironbark Taylor’s just may be the ticket!
SPECS 512ce 12-Fret: Six-string guitar. Cutaway grand-concert body with 12-fret neck joint. Torrefied Sitka spruce with V-Class bracing. Urban ironbark back and sides. Non-tropical mahogany neck. West African crelicam ebony fingerboard and bridge. 24⅞-inch scale. 1¾-inch nut width. Slotted peghead with open-geared tuning machines. Expression System 2 electronics. Made in USA. $3,299 street.
SPECS 552ce: 12-string guitar. Cutaway grand-concert body with 12-fret neck joint. Torrefied Sitka spruce with V-Class bracing. Urban ironbark back and sides. Non-tropical mahogany neck. West African crelicam ebony fingerboard and bridge. 24⅞-inch scale. 1⅞-inch nut width. Nickel enclosed miniature tuning machines. Expression System 2 electronics. Made in USA. $3,299 street. Taylorguitars.com
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