Monday, June 16, 2014

2013 Taylor GS Mini Acoustic Guitar Review


I have spent a lot of time trying out travel guitars, and have played everything that Martin and Taylor have to offer. A while back I tried the mahogany-topped GS Mini acoustic, and thought it was about time that I tested one with the spruce top.

Taylor guitars are fantastic instruments, and though the sound of their full-sized guitars is not my cup of tea, they have untold numbers of devotees that will say that I am full of it (and maybe I am). Most Taylor guitars are built in their San Diego, California factory, but some of their lower-priced instruments are built just across the border in Tecate, Mexico. These include the 100 and 200 series instruments, as well as the Baby Taylor and the GS Mini models.

For a travel guitar the GS Mini is awfully big -- most parlor and travel guitars are called ¾-sized guitars, and I call this one 7/8-sized. It has a 23.5-inch scale, and it measures almost 5 inches deep with a 15 inch wide body. So, right from the start I am disqualifying this as an airline travel guitar.

But, the Taylor GS Mini is a nice instrument, and it has a definite role to play in the musical world. Before we get to that, let’s take a look at how this thing is put together.

GS Minis are available with either a spruce or a tropical mahogany top, and I chose the one with the solid Sitka spruce top. The top has X braces to keep everything together while still allowing it to vibrate well. The back and sides are made with a sapele laminate, which looks like mahogany to me. The body has a tasteful black and while purfling, a simple rosette and a tortoise shell pickguard. The whole this has an even coating of matte-finish varnish.

The neck and heel are also made of sapele, and the fretboard is hewn from ebony, which is surprising on a guitar at this price point. The nut is a bit narrow at 1 11/16 inches width, but combining this with the shallow V profile of the neck you end up with a guitar that is nice for those with smaller hands. There are 20 frets standard-sized Taylor frets, and you will find 14 of them free from the body. The headstock has a simple overlay with a screen printed logo, and sealed-back chrome tuners. They are unbranded, but seem to be good quality, and they hold tune well between practice sessions.

The craftsmanship is up to Taylor’s high standards, with an even finish and a truly terrific job with the fretwork. The Tusq nut and compensated bridge are perfect, and this GS Mini came out of the box with a surprisingly playable low action with the OEM Elixir medium gauge Nanoweb strings. I worry a little about the durability of the finish, which is thin and has already shown some unsightly yellowing. Fortunately the spruce-topped guitars are bound, which is something that is missing from the hog models.

Playability is also top-notch, taking into account the narrower neck, which makes fingerstyle a little more difficult for clumsy chaps like myself. This is a very easy to play instrument. This one came with a slightly higher action, so it was easier to dig in and I really like the way it plays.

The sound is amazingly big for a smaller guitar, living up to the GS in its name (Grand Symphony). This is helped by the big soundhole and the rounded back, the shape of which eliminates the need for back bracing. Of course the bass is not terribly thunderous, but it certainly has an even tone across the strings when playing with light to medium intensity.

The sound is big, and much less sterile than the mahogany top model. It has the warmth that I like in my little Martin, and it would probably sound great plugged in -- but you will have to add a pickup, as the GS Mini does not ship with electronics.

Taylor makes it amazingly easy to add electronics to these guitars with their ES-Go soundhole mounted humbucker pickup system. If you order this $98 kit, it will answer your questions about the design of the goofy screw-on chrome strap pin. Installation is a breeze with no guitar modifications, and should just take a few minutes, with a screwdriver being the only tool you will need. No soldering is required! I have heard mixed reviews on the pickup’s performance, and I have not had the opportunity to try one out, so I will hold off judgment until I can hear one in person.

In case you were wondering, these guitars ship in a surprisingly sturdy padded soft case. Like all Taylor soft cases, it is that terrible tan color than gets dirty as soon as it comes out of the factory shipping box. It does a nice job of protecting the guitar, thoug

So, where does the Taylor GS Mini fit in if it is too big to take on the plane? Well, it would still be great for a car trip, or if you have to lug your guitar around on the subway or bus. But where it really works is as a modern day parlor guitar. Its small size makes it great for kicking around the house, and as I said it would be a good guitar for smaller people. If you set it up with light gauges strings, it would be a great instrument for kids and beginners.

The Taylor GS Mini has a list price of $678 and a street price of $499, which includes the aforementioned gig bag. Though I do not consider it to be the world’s greatest travel guitar, it is a very nice instrument that would be great for smaller-statured players, or for general playing around the house of campfire. Try one out, and see for yourself!


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