Gear Review: Taylor GT 811e Acoustic-Electric Guitar

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a serious soft spot for guitars that the industry is now calling ‘compact’: They are easy to transport and store; they have typically had a ‘light’ or honky quality, making them great choices for certain songs and styles; and they are certainly fun to play. So, some or all of that was what I was expecting from Taylor’s new GT 811e when the promotional material said “compact.” What came out of the case, though, was quite different.  

To be fair, Taylor’s promotion of the GT 811e also said that along with its diminutive body size, the guitar has a big sonic personality. That is something we hear a lot, but once in our hands, the output of smaller guitars turns out to be mostly ‘personality’ and not so much ‘big.’ Amazingly, the GT 811e really does deliver on both fronts. Yes, it’s compact, but it’s not a travel guitar, with a body looking a bit like a scaled-down version of Taylor’s Grand Orchestra (their largest body style) but shorter and with less depth. As it turns out, along with making it a smaller guitar, its short design provides some interesting benefits for players. 

Taylor master builder, Andy Powers, employs the GT line’s unique neck proportions to good—and unexpected—advantage. The 24-1/8-inch scale length in his design results in a lighter string tension at concert pitch. It feels a bit like you tuned a guitar with a more typical scale length down a half step. Along with a bit of a ‘slinky’ feel, the closer fret spacing also makes it easy to play. That alone is interesting enough to make you want to look more closely at this acoustic-electric, but I found that the GT 811e also has a remarkable sound. 

Right out of the case, it was obvious that this guitar doesn’t have a typical compact guitar ‘personality.’ In fact, after playing it for a few hours, it became obvious that it really has a sound of its own. It offers players a surprisingly resonant bass response through a very clean midrange, and brilliant highs. The unique design of the GT 811e answers some of the questions about how a compact guitar can offer this kind of guitar-phile sound. First, it features all solid-wood construction with East Indian rosewood back and sides with a solid Sitka spruce top. But equally important is Taylor’s C-Class technology with a purposeful asymmetrical design that accentuates the instrument’s lower frequencies.  

Something I suspect, but can’t really prove, is that the science in Taylor’s manufacturing process helps all their designs. This seems to be evident in the GT series guitars. My point is that a good finish, applied consistently and sparingly, both protects the guitar and allows it to resonate as fully as possible. This can make a huge difference in the tonal response of the instrument. I’ve read that in the mid-’90s, Taylor moved away from using a traditional nitrocellulose lacquer finish to their own polyester finish formula. While the polyester finish would certainly be more durable and forgiving of dramatic temperature swings, less of the finish is needed. That’s important, not just to save on manufacturing costs, but because when thinner coats can be applied, the wood is allowed to resonate more freely and so offer more rich tones, especially deep ones. So the 4.5-mil gloss-finish that Taylor touts doesn’t just add to the instrument’s glossy good looks, but it benefits the guitar’s sound, as well. 

For its size, the sounds that come from the GT 811e are pretty amazing for recording even before you get to using the Taylor’s Expression System 2 (ES2) pickup and road-proven electronics. A recent innovation to the pickup system saw Taylor’s design team relocating the pickup elements from under the saddle to behind it, where the elements tend to respond more naturally, even with more aggressive playing styles. The three pickup elements are installed through the bridge with Allen screws that can precisely calibrate the position of the sensors in relation to the Micarta saddle. For control, the ES2 system features conveniently located volume and tone control knobs with a custom designed preamp that offers professional sound quality at very responsible output levels.  

While I’ve been most impressed with the sound and playability of the GT 811e, I should also mention that it offers quiet good looks with definitive maple body binding, mother of pearl fretboard and headstock inlays and smoked nickel mini tuning machines. Where some guitars fall short of their promotional images, this one looks even better in person. The GT 811e addresses so many wants for guitarists (professionals to just-for-fun players) and has such a great, unique sound, it’s definitely worth taking it for a spin. Try it out and you might just fall in love with it. 

The GT 811e ships with Elixir Phosphor Bronze Light strings and comes with a high-quality soft case that offers outstanding protection and provides convenient handles, back straps, and spacious front pouch. 

Street price: $2,999. 

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