The Holiday Gear Guide with The Apache Relay

Taylor 814ce Grand Auditorium
LIST PRICE: $4,050

Bob Taylor designed the Grand Auditorium to give players the depth of a dreadnaught and the higher end of a smaller body, yet remaining evenly balanced between a solid bass, present midrange and a sparkling treble. Bob says, “I was looking for a good, clear tone that had volume when you played finger-style … but then when you strummed didn’t have too much bass.” The Grand Auditorium became Taylor’s most popular body styles, and the 814, one of Taylor’s finest models.

Taylor spares no expense on the 814ce. The hand laid maple binding, though incredibly labor intensive, gives the guitar a natural elegance. The pearl neck inlay and abalone sound-hole rosette are opulent yet tasteful.  Combine these elements with beautiful tone woods, gold tuners and a flawless finish and you have a show piece.

But it’s not all show no go, ultimately the 814 is about tone. Taylor’s UV finishing process makes for an ultra-thin finish which will allow the wood to breathe and eventually open up with age and playing without weather checking.  Though I love the checking on some of my old guitars, a guitar is going to last longer without checking.

The 814 plays like a dream with a very comfortable body size, easy action and ample string space. Taylors tend to have a chimey presence that sits well in a mix while also sounding full yet shimmery while playing solo. The cutaway gives access to all those notes I never use, but for those who want to go above the 7th fret,  it’s all yours.

Taylor put a ton of research and time into their proprietary Expression System, which they designed in conjunction with audio guru Rupert Neve. The ES utilizing an onboard preamp and three magnetic sensor pickups to reproduce, in their words “the true tone of the guitar.” The ES also gives you 40 to 50 hours of service from a single  9-volt and the three controls are easily accessible yet covertly hidden on the upper bout. The ES is not for everyone. It does not sound like an under-saddle system. I’ve heard some players sound fantastic on this system but I’ve never felt completely comfortable with the tone while using it in concerts. Bear in mind that it’s hard to be objective when you’re on stage and that one’s  perspective on live tone comes down to personal taste.

Taylor builds exceptional guitars, and the 814ce represents the best of their best. The 814 is the quintessential Taylor that will give you something different from the Gibson/Martin brands; that chimey, shimmery, ringing tone. -JOHN BOHLINGER

This article expands on the review of the Taylor 814ce in the November/December issue.

Fender Blues Junior III
List Price: $699.99

While plenty of gigging guitarists go straight to the time-tested Twin Reverb amp, Fender’s 15-watt Blues Junior is a close second for great tone and dependability. Guitar players seem to flip these things like pancakes on Craigslist; which is usually the sign of a pro guitarist-approved workhorse amp.

About a year ago, Fender upgraded their popular Hot Rod series of amps, which include the DeVille and Blues Junior lines. In a world of add-ons, simplicity is a beautiful thing, and that’s what the Blues Junior III is all about.

The amp comes with EL-84 power tubes and 12AX7 preamp tubes — both legends in tubeville — and one 12 inch speaker, made by Eminence, based on a “Fender Special Design.” The Junior has one input, a volume control (for preamp gain), treble/bass/mid knobs, and a master knob to control the amp’s overall volume. Oh, and there’s real spring reverb and a “fat” boost that you can plug a footswitch into. Do you really need anything else? You can plug in an extension cab if you need more volume; but, for most small club gigs or studio recording, this puppy already cranks up pretty loud.

The Blues Junior is exactly what you expect from an iconic Fender amp. The reverb is rich and full, and the amp plays pretty clean and crisp throughout, adding a bit of crunch with the “fat” boost at the highest volumes. Now, that’s keeping it simple. – DAVIS INMAN

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