Taylor Guitars, a company that is not satisfied resting on their laurels. At a time when many manufacturers are offering reissue and vintage models of guitars made during their “golden era”, Taylor Guitars is looking ahead. When Bob Taylor and Kurt Listug founded Taylor Guitars in 1974 they were simply two young men with a desire build guitars and make a living doing so. Fast forward forty-four years and Taylor Guitars is one of the largest guitar manufacturers in the world with a reputation for quality, attention to detail; and continual improvement and innovation. These qualities have served them well in crafting some of the best playing acoustic guitars on the market and it has now generated a new bracing pattern that is sure to revolutionize things once again.
The man responsible for many of the recent designs at Taylor and the new bracing pattern is Master Guitar Designer Andy Powers who joined Taylor Guitars in 2011. When Bob Taylor asked Andy Power to join Taylor Guitars he recognize the unique talent that Andy is and knew that he would be the perfect candidate to eventually succeed him. Andy’s formidable talent combined with Taylor’s resources and desire to innovate have yielded continual improvements in the tone of their instruments. His latest design change dramatically changes the bracing inside of the guitars resulting in increased sustain, volume and improved intonation. Understanding the idea behind the new V-class bracing and how it functions is key to understanding the results that Andy Powers has been able to achieve.
Taking a new 914ce with V-class bracing out of the case and sitting down to play it for the first time I was struck by how good the guitar was, but the 914ce has always been a great guitar that has continued to improve with each iteration. It was not until I had the opportunity to play it side by side with the previous years model that the real story comes into focus. The new guitar is magnitudes better than the previous guitar, and that is no small feat! The properties of the V-class bracing are on full display. This guitar has increased volume and sustain and improved intonation. The improvement in intonation was so impressive that it fundamentally changes the guitar’s response and the sound of certain chords that as guitars players we have become so accustomed to being out of tune that we think that is how they should sound.
Volume and Sustain
The new bracing profile is the result of Andy Power’s question to create more sustain and greater volume, two fundamentals that are at odds with one another when it comes to an acoustic guitar. Volume is produced by the movement of the top, put into motion by the vibration of the strings. As the top moves, vibrations travel through it and the body of the guitar and produce sound waves. The volume and response of the guitar is determined, to a large extent, by how much the top is allowed to move based upon the bracing. For this reason, builders have always tried to strike a balance between how rigid the top is, too support the tension of the strings, and how much it is allowed to move. This is accomplished through the design of the braces. Scalloping the bracing is a method often used to strategically lighten the braces “just enough”. This method of compromise has been utilized on X-braced guitars since their introduction in the mid-1800’s.
Sustain comes from a very different place - rigidity. Sustain describes the longevity of a note. When a guitar string is plucked the vibration of that string produces a note that will ring out and decay. The amount of time that the note rings for is the sustain of that note. The more rigid, or stiff that a guitar can be the longer the string will vibrate. When there is flexibility in a design, or a lack of rigidity, vibrations will be robbed from the string, shortening the amount of time that the note will ring before decaying. In the context of an acoustic guitar, making the guitar more rigid will increase the sustain but it has consequences for the volume of the guitar. The lack of flexibility in the movement of the top means that there won’t be much volume. The compromise of scalloped x-brace and other bracing patterns have been employed as a means of dealing with these aspects along with developing a builder’s voice in a guitar.
An Inspired Idea
The V bracing breakthrough for Andy Powers came when faced with a dead end when it came to the X-brace. After the success of the Advanced Performance bracing that he had developed on the 800 series in 2014 there was a limit on what more could be done. Then, while observing the ocean Andy Powers had an epiphany. There was a jetty stretching out into the water with the water moving freely on either side. This notion of a central, stable brace that would create rigidity and support while allowing the sides to move more freely came into focus. Moving through various prototype Andy Powers developed the V-class bracing pattern. It consists of two long braces that spread out from the tail block on the guitar to either side of the sound hole with fan braces supporting the sides in a symmetrical pattern. With the bridge and center of the guitar well supported the sides have more freedom to move. This freer movement creates more volume out of the guitar and more resonance across the tonal spectrum, with richer bass and sweet treble. The sustain is also increased. Strum a chord or pluck a string and you can hold the note for a considerable amount of time.
The most surprising aspect of the change is the improved intonation. Intonation in the guitar world is often discussed in aspects of the neck, fretboard, nut and bridge/saddle. The scale of the guitar, accuracy of the fretwork and changes made to these design aspects to “improve” intonation are the most common discussions. The truth of the matter is that intonation exists beyond the neck of a guitar and this fact is proven when playing the V-class braced Taylor. Most guitarists know that there are certain chords that are typically out of tune. An octave and fifth will often be in tune up and down the neck but the third of the chord is usually a bit off. Most every guitar player has experienced this to an extent. It is often noticed when tuning a guitar and then strumming an open E major chord to find it singing harmoniously, but other chords, like the D major chord is not. Some guitarists will even adjust strings slightly for the chord they are playing in a particular key; compromising in one area to fix another. Builder’s will often attempt to compensate for these tuning idiosyncrasies with changes to the nut or saddle to help resolve the dissonance or warble from an out of tune chord. None of this corrects the underlying cause, it simply attempts to compensate for it.
What Andy Powers discovered when developing the V-class bracing pattern is that when the movement of the top is better controlled the orderly response, along with rigidity inline with the neck improves the intonation, getting rid of the problem areas in a triad and removing the dissonant chord that many guitarists have mis-categorized as “complex”. In truth those chords were often just out of tune, but on a V-class guitar, warble is replaced with stunning sustain and overtones that respond in a linear fashion to the note creating a ring like a seven foot grand piano. It fundamentally changes the response of the guitar and with it, how you play.
Does it matter?
Does this mean that X-braced guitars are a thing of the past? No. At least not in the larger guitar market as a whole. There have been many different bracing patterns utilized by various companies with different results. Some of these patterns improved sustain at the cost of volume and vice-versa. Some also resulted in a radical redesign of the acoustic guitar, changing the established shape to accommodate the bracing, for better or worse. What makes the new V-class bracing different is that it is a large, established and well respected company that has offered something different with noticeable results; and they have done so without compromising the traditional aesthetic of the acoustic guitar.
Taylor Guitars plans to implement the new bracing pattern in all of its U.S. made Grand Auditorium guitars by years end with other body shapes to follow as the bracing is adapted for it. Future Taylors will certainly benefit from this new design and further set the brand apart from other offerings, just as its playability has for many years. It will not be favored by everyone. Some players will prefer the sound of an X-braced guitar because that is what they have become accustomed to. However, those who choose to embrace the new bracing pattern will benefit from the improvements made to the guitar. As these guitars are played, the increased volume, enhanced sustain and improved intonation begin to change your approach to the instrument as a player, making you a better player and that is what playing a fine instrument is all about.
Watch our full comparison and video reviews of the new V-Class Bracing