X doesn't mark the spot for Taylor's acoustic guitar bracing system rethink
For more than 100 years, most of the soundboards of acoustic guitars have used X-shaped bracing to not only reinforce the top but also to help give the instruments their voice. Now Taylor Guitars has announced what it's calling a groundbreaking innovation in acoustic guitar design that boosts volume and sustain, while helping to improve intonation. The V-Class bracing system makes its debut in Taylor's Grand Auditorium acoustic guitars, as well as a Builder's Edition V-Class guitar.
Acoustic guitar bracing is a pattern of wooden reinforcements attached to the inside of an acoustic guitar's body chamber that, for the most part, helps provide structural supports for the guitar. But the bracing on the underside of the soundboard also plays a key role in how a guitar sounds. For over a century, the soundboard bracing system used for most acoustic guitars has followed slight variations on an X pattern theme, which you can see below.
Taylor has been making high-end acoustic guitars for over 40 years, and has tinkered with minor bracing enhancements during that time but this new development marks a radical departure from the norm.
The V-Class bracing system is the brainchild of the company's master designer Andy Powers, who recognizes that the X-brace system has been effective and popular with guitar makers for a very long time, but sees the design as leading to an unhappy trade-off between volume and sustain – increasing one at the cost of the other. This trade-off bothered him so he started looking for another way.
"I could see that I need to make something very strong to make the notes last a long time, but on the other hand I need something really flexible so that it can produce volume," said Powers. His answer was to move away from the traditional cross brace support structure to a V shape.
The design sees two longitudinal braces mounted to the underside of the guitar's soundboard in a V formation, where each brace fans out from the pointy end of the V at the back of the body and extends to either side of the soundhole towards the neck. This is said to add stiffness in the direction of the strings, which leads to notes that sustain longer, while additional fan braces located low on the V enable enough flexibility so that volume isn't sacrificed.
The V design is also claimed to resolve intonation imperfections by creating a better response from the soundboard. "By modifying the bracing architecture to change the way the guitar vibrates, we can make the guitar respond more readily to what a musician brings to the strings," the master designer explained.
The result is reported to be a more satisfying playing, and listening, experience, with tightened harmonics, consistent tone across the instrument's tonal register, and a focus that brings out the unique sound characteristics of the different tonewoods used for each guitar.
The V-Class bracing system has debuted in three Grand Auditorium models, which kick off with the PS14ce. This high-end beauty has West African ebony back and sides, and a variegated sinker redwood top that's said to blend "the overtone warmth of cedar with the punchy attack of spruce." Player comfort is helped along by a beveled armrest, it features a new black graphite nut, a Micarta saddle and Gotoh 510 tuners. And it comes with a street price of US$8,999.
The K24ce model's back, sides and top are all fashioned from koa, beautified with maple inlay, binding and top trim. Though it has the black graphite nut and Micarta saddle of the V-Class leader, its tuners are Taylor Gold instead of Gotoh, and this model will cost you $4,499.
It's rosewood all around for the "deep lows and sparkling highs" of the 914ce, together with a beveled ebony armrest for improved picking comfort and ebony binding to finish off the classy look. The black graphite nut, Micarta saddle and Gotoh 510 tuners all reappear for this $4,999 Grand Auditorium V-Class model.
Finally, the Builder's Edition K14ce guitar (above) has been treated to Hawaiian koa back and sides, and a torrefied Sitka spruce soundboard. There's a beveled armrest and edges, and a cutaway designed for easier access to higher notes with the fretting hand. As with most of the V-Class instruments, the nut is black graphite, the saddle Micarta and the tuners are Gotoh 510s. "In every way, this K14ce embodies the ultimate player's guitar and testifies to the benefits of innovative craftsmanship," says Taylor of its $4,999 special edition acoustic.
Naturally we can't say for sure whether any of Taylor's bold claims hold water without actually trying the new instruments, but the company has been making top-notch guitars – and winning numerous industry awards – for years, so we're inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt. You can see what Taylor artists think of the V-Class bracing system in the video below.