The New Grand Concerts (From Wood and Steel, Spring 2006)
The Grand concert shape started out on a napkin, at a lunch, where Bob Taylor and Tim Luranc and I began our discussion of ideas for a fingerstyle player’s dream instrument.
For some time I had been frustrated with the lack of appropriate choices in the market place for instrumental fingerstyle players. I had begun to imagine a smaller-bodied guitar that spoke with clarity and balance between bass and treble, that offered a cutaway and wider neck options, which stayed stable during multiple re-tunings, and that “played like a Taylor.”
In 1983 and 1984, when I first approached Bob and Kurt with my dream guitar, Taylor was ensconced in its Lemon Grove facility, building 6 and 12-strings at the prodigious rate of 2-4 per day. These guitars were almost all dreadnaughts and jumbos, with relatively narrow necks and of course, the large bodies that are the essence of those two shapes. They spoke with the larger, bassier voices that one would expect from such bodies. They were very nice guitars, and they played like Taylors, of course, but they were not suited for instrumental fingerstyle playing, for folks who might not have long bodies or arms to wrap around them, or for playing in a seated position.
What emerged was the very first grand concert, (which I still have). It had a Koa body, a Sitka spruce top a wide (1 7/8″ neck) and a Florentine cutaway. It plays and sounds great, and it can be seen in the Taylor Guitars coffee table book (page 127). It immediately became my main guitar and continued as such for several years, until I got Taylor to build me a wide neck 912 that served me for more than a decade, and which is still my recording guitar of choice.
Bestowed with the body size number of 12, the Grand Concert entered Taylor’s line at an auspicious time. Fingerstyle was becoming hot. Windham Hill was releasing some of its early groundbreaking solo recordings of folks like Will Ackerman, Alex DeGrassi, and Michael Hedges, to both critical and popular acclaim. Solo guitar was becoming a much more popular art form than it had been in the 70’s and early 80’s. Players were using more adventurous tunings and techniques, and searching for guitars that would provide that unique set of physical parameters that allowed for their fullest expression.
More choices in woods soon followed, cutaways became almost standard equipment, and electronics and amplification started to evolve. The Grand Concert size occupied a prominent place in that parade.
In another great application, Nashville musicians began to notice that the “12” size, especially in maple, (612ce) was a great instrument for adding shimmering additional rhythm tracks to country and Americana recording sessions. The clarity of voice of the Grand Concert made it ideal for adding to the complexity and sparkle of these songs, without muddying up the vocals or getting in the way of the lead lines or other guitar parts. Soon 612ce’s became more or less standard Nashville session equipment.
Of course Taylor continued to grow and create, and as it did, the Grand Auditorium came into existence. Its larger voice and flexibility of use soon helped it become Taylor’s most popular body size, and overshadowed the Grand Concert, and the other sizes, for a time.
Taylor cases, the NT neck, the finger-jointed peghead, the UV-cured finish, the ES, K-4 and T-5, and a dozen other ideas and products like these, all continued to bear testimony to Taylor’s creativity. At this same time the company began investing money and man-hours in researching how and where each of its guitars produced its sound. Research using strumming machines, test microphones and rooms, laser inferometry and photography of guitar tops as they were being played, bracing research, and computer audio comparison software, led to subtle but significant re-thinking of all Taylor’s body sizes and of their internal structures.
The dreadnaught was the first body size to be thoroughly researched, and its shape and bracing were subtly refined as a result. The Jumbo was next, followed by the Grand Auditorium. For Taylor’s 30th anniversary, which began in October of 2004, Bob and the gang decided to revisit the Grand Concert, which at that point was being built largely unchanged from the design that had begun on the lunch napkin some 20 years earlier.
Once the new GC project was launched, I got to play some of the prototypes as Taylor’s ideas developed, and got enthused about the potential for change and improvement in three main areas- top bracing, body depth, and scale length.
The final product is now available across Taylor’s Grand Concert universe- an additional 1/4″ in body depth, some top thinning at the edges of the kerfing, along with some bracing and bridge plate changes, and finally, the new 24 7/8″ scale length.
The guitar now speaks with greater volume, is slightly bassier, but still has those wonderful shimmering mids and highs that I covet. The shorter scale length fits the GC to a “T”. My older GC’s, especially given that I like the 1/78″ wider neck option, always felt a little bit neck-heavy to me. The shorter scale length, interacting with the depth, top and bracing changes, gives the fingerstyle player a physically and aurally balanced instrument, with a stronger but at the same time more intimate voice that is still unmistakably Taylor.
Keep in mind that these opinions are coming from a person who helped develop and test the original GC, and who has his own relatively recent signature model and 5 more of the earlier style GC’s. I love my CPSM, and all of them even though none of them has any of these aforementioned changes.
But despite my commitment to tradition, I must admit that I am now touring mostly with a new, short scale GC which has all of the same new design features that you will find in the new GC’s on your local dealer’s acoustic room wall.